Some Interesting Facts about Israel
What follows is a list of interesting tidbits for the traveler to Israel (whether first-time or seasoned). This is being sent to you to add to your knowledge of the Holy Land.
Israel is the only land which God specifically says He owns and can give to whomever He wishes. (Lev 25:23) He also speaks specifically of the personal attention He pays to it. (Deut 11:12)
Although Israel is, basically, a mountainous country, it also contains a deep gash on its eastern border known as the Great Syrian-African Rift Valley, which includes the lowest point on the planet (at the Dead Sea).
In Hebrew, the Sea of Galilee is called Kinneret, meaning “harp”, because the Sea is shaped like David’s harp.
In ancient times the Dead Sea was called the Salt Sea and, eventually, the Romans called it Lacus Asphaltitus (the Asphalt Lake). This lake has no outlet and evaporates at a rate of about 5 feet per year.
One of Israel’s great valleys is the Valley of Esdraelon, also known as Har Megiddo (Har means “valley of”), the Jezreel Valley, and the Valley of Armageddon (see Rev. 16:16). When Napoleon conquered Israel in 1799, he called this valley “The greatest arena for battle to be found anywhere in the world.”
Rain is critical to Israel. Jerusalem and London share the same annual rainfall (22”). In London, it takes 300 days for this amount of rain to fall; in Israel it takes about 6 weeks.
In western Israel, dew falls almost daily (about 11” per year). Farmers leave rocks in the soil because the rocks cool quickly during the evenings and collect the dew, keeping the soil moist.
Due to its diverse climate regions, Israel produces one of largest number of species of plants, fruits and vegetables in the world (about 3,000). It also contains one of the world’s largest assortment of animals.
30% of adult Israeli Jews are unmarried, creating a huge dating and matchmaking industry in the land. Jewish marriage rates are declining and Jews are marrying later in life, having fewer children and becoming more and more secular. By contrast, Israeli Arabs are marrying younger, having more children and turning back to traditional Islamic ways. Today 20% of Israeli citizens are Muslim. If current demographics continue, within 15 years, one of three Israelis will be Muslim.
Nearly 60% of Israelis say they are interested in mysticism, astrology, numerology and the supernatural.
- There are over 70 descriptive names for Jerusalem found in Scripture, “Zion” being used most often.
- God specifically chose Jerusalem as His dwelling place (Ps 132:13-15)
- The “City of Peace” has known more sieges and battles than any other city in history. It has undergone 37 complete conquests and has changed hands 86 times though it has been the capital of no other people than the Jews.
- Herod’s Temple took 10,000 laborers 8 years to build. It was the grandest construction project ever attempted to that time. The largest stone weighs 400 tons, yet only recently has a piece of equipment been created capable of moving and placing a stone that size. No one has ever determined how this particular stone was set in place. The stones were so precisely cut, a piece of paper cannot be slipped between the stones and no mortar was used to hold them in place, though the walls were over 70 feet high.
- Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Koran.
- Jerusalem lacks everything needed to recommend it as a nation’s capital city. It has no waterway, is located on no trade route and has no strategic importance to any conquering army. David chose Jerusalem as his capital because of its location in relation to all the tribes he ruled.
- In 1996, Jerusalem celebrated 3,000 years since David conquered it and made it his capital.
- Numerous scriptures speak to how the world’s nations will treat Jerusalem. Among them is Zech 12:2-9.
When the Roman emperor, Hadrian, suppressed the second Jewish revolt of 135AD, he was so angry with the Jews that he renamed Israel “Palestine” after the Jews’ ancient archenemy, the Philistines. He also changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina after his own family name, Aelia. He forbade any Jew to enter Jerusalem except on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, which is the day that both Solomon’s and Herod’s temples were destroyed by invading armies. Jews could enter Jerusalem only to mourn.
There has never been a time when the land was totally devoid of God’s people. However, in 1517, at the beginning of the Ottoman Empire, it is estimated that only 1,000 Jewish families lived in all of Palestine.
In the mid-1800’s, Mark Twain said of Palestine, “Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land….We never saw a human being on the whole route.”
In Isaiah, God asks the question, “Can a nation be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment?” On May 14, 1948, the modern state of Israel was declared and was immediately recognized by the United Nations.
Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem would be under the control of gentiles until just before His return when the “times of the gentiles” would be fulfilled (Luke 21:24). Israel took control of Jerusalem from the gentiles in 1967, ending 1832 years of gentile control. And, since the 1880’s, when Jews from Yemen began to return to Palestine, the land has been progressively fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies, including Ezek 36:1-7.
Isaiah prophesied that a day would come when “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.” (Isa 35:1). That day has arrived and we are alive to see it! The people are returning; the malarial swamps have been drained; the ruined cities have been reestablished; the ancient terraces have been rebuilt; 300 million trees have been planted by hand; the rocky fields now yield such excess that over 150,000 tons of fruits and vegetables and 1.5 billion flowers are exported from Israel annually. In no other country of the world can oranges and apples grow in the same field. Israel is alive again.
Isaiah also prophesied that he would cause the hearts of the gentiles to turn toward Israel to help Jews from other lands to return home: “See, I will beckon to the gentiles. I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders.” (Isa 49:22). Today, many gentiles are actively promoting the return of Jews to their Land.
God’s original promise to Abraham included more land area than the people have ever owned. God’s promise included all of modern-day Israel, plus all of Jordan and Lebanon, and much of Syria.
The miracle we get to watch unfold:
The Turkish Muslim Ottoman Empire had ruled the entire Middle East for over 400 years. This empire ended during WW I as Britain and France gained victory in the Middle East and ended Ottoman rule. A Jewish citizen of Britain, a chemist by the name of Chaim Weizmann, had invented TNT during the war, an invention which greatly helped Britain win the war. When the war ended, the British government asked Weizmann what could be done for him to show Britain’s gratitude. Weizmann responded that it was his wish that Britain (now overseeing the rebuilding of Palestine) open up the entire area so that Jews throughout the world might return and resettle their ancestral homeland. The government of Britain agreed and produced the Balfour Declaration, giving to the Jews of the world almost all of the land promised to them in the Bible.
During this time, a British and French diplomat began to create national entities along ethnic lines that would provide the various Middle Eastern ethnic groups with their own countries. As Jews continued to flow into Palestine and prosper the land, Arabs followed, looking for work and a better life. Many of these Arabs became today’s “Palestinians”.
The acknowledged leader of all the Arabs was a Chieftain named Sherif Hussein. His son, Emir Faisal, met with Chaim Weizmann and the two men signed a document stating that the Arabs understood the aspirations of the Jews and agreed that their presence in Palestine would be profitable for all concerned. Faisal wrote to the Jewish U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter, stating that the Arabs would agree to promote mass immigration of Jews to Palestine on the condition that the Arabs would also be granted their own countries as the British and French were dividing up the lands won from the Ottoman Empire’s demise. Faisal stated that neither Jew nor Arab could be successful in the area without the other.
Faisal had set up his kingdom in Damascus, Syria. However, the French ejected him from Syria and gave him the kingship of Iraq, instead. So as not to offend the Arabs further, the British Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill, took 80% of the lands the Balfour Declaration had promised to the Jews and created a huge country called Transjordan (later renamed Jordan) and made Faisal’s brother, Abdullah, king of this new entity. When all the partitioning had been accomplished, the Arabs had 21 separate nations, comprising over 5,000,000 square miles, which included half of Jerusalem and the land where most of the stories of the Bible took place (known today as the “West Bank”). The Jews had to accept the 8,000 square miles which was left to them as they had no one to whom they could appeal.
Each time Israel has been invaded by its Arab neighbors, Arab losses have given Israel some of the territory promised in the Balfour Declaration and later taken away by Winston Churchill. Although Israel usually returns some of the territory it has won in battle, Israel has never returned the “West Bank” nor Jerusalem. One of the most controversial decisions Israel’s leadership has ever made occurred at the end of the 1967 war. When the war ended, Israel had control of all Jerusalem (for the first time in nearly 2,000 years), including the Temple Mount. Israel’s Minister of Defense, the war hero Moshe Dayan, made a unilateral decision to return control of the Temple Mount, Israel’s most sacred site, to the Muslims. This decision has divided Israelis for decades and caused many Jews to consider Dayan a traitor.
There is a saying that every Israelite is an archaeologist. From the time Jews began returning to their land, young and old were fascinated with the prospect of rediscovering their biblical roots as they unearthed what their ancestors had left behind in the soil. At the same time, liberal theologians have used the lack of archaeological evidence to point out that most Bible stories could not be true because there was so little physical evidence to prove that these stories ever took place.
Today more and more evidence is turning up to show the truth of the biblical record. King Herod’s tomb was discovered in the fall of 2008. Also, in 2008, a necklace belonging to the daughter of Zerubbabel was unearthed in Jerusalem’s Old City. Many scholars believe that the script on a recently discovered ossuary refers to James, the brother of Jesus. If any construction uncovers a potential archaeological site, Israeli law forbids the continuation of construction. This is why it takes so long to build anything in Israel. In Israel, citizens are continually uncovering their history, especially beneath their own houses. Archaeologists are currently working on the recently discovered palace of King David.
One of the most important archaeological finds is the accidental discovery of the Pool of Siloam. Ancient writings indicate that this pool was created for the use of pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the thrice annual festivals which the Law required all Jews to attend. The pool was supposed to have been built around 50 BC and was large enough for 10,000 visitors to use for ritual bathing, drinking, watering of animals being brought for sacrifice and as a place for the pilgrims to camp before ascending the Temple Mount. According to theologians, a pool as large at this one, and so close to the Temple, could not possibly have disappeared over the ages. Therefore, it must have never existed at all. Because the pool was only mentioned in ancient writings, including in a story of Jesus healing a blind man, such stories were always considered part of the “fables” of the Bible. Then, in 2006, a piece of heavy equipment, being used to repair a sewage leak, broke through the pavement and revealed the Pool of Siloam which had not been seen for 2,000 years. It is currently under reconstruction for visitors.
According to Jews living in Israel, one of the most important prophecies to be fulfilled in our day is that of Zechariah 8, which says, in part, “The Lord says this: I will return to Zion and will live in the midst of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem will be called The City of Truth; and the mountains of the Lord of hosts The Holy Mountain. The Lord of hosts says this: Old men and old women will sit in the courtyards, every man with his staff in his hand because of his age. And the streets will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets.” Today, visitors to Israel are able to see this prophecy being fulfilled before their eyes.