Israel is a very small country. It is 424 km in length. Its east-west width varies from 114 km at its widest to 14 km at its narrowest point. In an Australian context, Israel’s land area would occupy an area from Wollongong to Newcastle in length and Sydney to Parramatta in width.
Israel’s population of 7 million comprises approximately 5.7 million Jews (about 80%), and 1.3 million Arabs (about 20%). Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens enjoy equal voting rights and complete equality before the law. There are Arab political parties, several Arab members of parliament and an Arab judge on the Supreme Court bench.
To both Israelis and world Jewry, Israel’s survival and security are of paramount emotional and spiritual significance. It is the universal hope of the Jewish people that Israel will prosper and live in peace.
“By the waters of Babylon,
There we sat, there we wept,
When we remembered Zion…
If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget its skill.”
Twice in ancient times the Jews had a Temple in Jerusalem. The First Temple was built by King Solomon on Mount Moriah (now known as the “Temple Mount”) and dedicated in about 950BCE. It was destroyed in 586BCE by the Babylonians. The leaders of the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon, which became a renowned seat of Jewish learning.
The building of the Second Temple began after the return from Babylonian exile in 516 BCE. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE after a four-year war in which the Jews revolted against Roman oppression. The Romans celebrated their victory by constructing the Arch of Titus in Rome, showing the treasures of the Temple, including the Menorah described in the Book of Exodus, being carried by the Roman legions in triumph.
Only a remnant of the western wall of the Temple remains, known as the Kotel (‘Wall’), and it is the most sacred site in Judaism.
For the last 19 centuries Jews have prayed for the restoration of the Temple. However, when the modern State of Israel was founded in 1948, the Western Wall came under Jordanian control and no Jew was allowed to pray there or to enter East Jerusalem.
Since the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel reunified Jerusalem, the places that are sacred to each of the three monotheistic faiths are freely accessible for worship to their followers. The Kotel has thus been available to Jews as the most sacred place for prayer. However, the ritual use of the Temple Mount (the site of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock) is, under Israeli law, controlled by the Islamic Authority. Also the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sacred to a number of Christian denominations, is traditionally held by a Muslim.