The Rapid Growth of Israel
Since the early 20th century the world has seen an amazing growth of Israel in terms of demographics, infrastructure, land restoration and technology. The Jewish population has seen a staggering 7,400 percent increase, Israel now produces 95% of its own food requirements, Israel leads the world in many areas of technology, and Israeli Jews take a disproportionate number of Nobel prizes. Why such success? What is special about Israel?
An Ethnic Mix: At the beginning of the 19th century there were fewer than 5,000 Jews in Palestine. By the early 20th century the land of Israel (Palestine) was a mix of many peoples representing some 50 languages [1911 Encyclopedia Britannica]. The historian Richard Hartmann comments that prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 these communities were “ethnologically a chaos of all the possible human combinations”, and so did not share a common Arab identity. They included Balkans, Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Germans, Afghans, Bosnians, Sudanese, Algerians, and of course, Jews. According to Professor Bernard Lewis, the land was not a “country” and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries. The Arab population, which had remained dormant for centuries, began to blossom only after the beginning of Jewish immigration and the subsequent improvements in economic conditions, infrastructure, and agricultural techniques, link.
First Signs of Growth
The history of modern Israel began in the 1880s when the first Zionist immigrants came to Palestine. They joined the small existing Jewish community, establishing agricultural settlements and some industry, restoring Hebrew as the spoken national language, and creating new economic and social institutions. It is interesting to note that Tel Aviv, now the business hub of Israel, was founded on land purchased from Bedouins, north of the existing city of Jaffa. The photo shows the 1909 auction of the first lots of land. In the period from 1922 to 1947 real net domestic product (NDP) of the Jewish sector grew at an average rate of over 13%, link.
Jewish Population Growth in Palestine/Israel
The growth of Israel in terms of Jewish population is striking. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews living in Palestine. But by the end of 1947 it had reached 630,000 (about 35% of the total population) and by 2015 there were over 6.2 million Jews in Israel, link, link. So in just 100 years the Jewish population saw an amazing 7400% increase! By comparison, over the same period the UK population increased just 55%. We can see this as the natural growth of a young nation (but surely unique?), or as the fulfillment of prophecies in Ezekiel and Isaiah:
Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone … and bring them into their own land … (Ezek 37.21)
I will say to the north ‘Give them up! … bring My sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth’ (Isa 43.6)
Growth of Israel: Infrastructure Development
AIRPORTS: Ben Gurion International Airport was built mainly for military purposes in 1936 during the British Mandate for Palestine, and the first civilian transatlantic route (New York City to Tel Aviv) was inaugurated in 1946. Today, Ben Gurion Airport is Israel’s largest air terminal for international flights and is considered the main air gateway to the country. It has been extensively enlarged with new state-of-the art terminals. Ovda is another airport also used for international flights.
ROADS: In recent years Israel’s road network has been extensively expanded and improved to accommodate the rapid increase in traffic. The new Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6) is a multilane highway transversing Israel from north to south. It is entirely within the 1948 armistice lines (the ‘Green Line’) and bypasses heavily populated areas to provide fast access to most areas of the country. Route 6 will feed a network of highways and bypass roads, so connecting Israel’s peripheral regions to its center and boosting economic growth. Is Route 6 seen in Bible prophecy for a future Israel?
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptians into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians (Isa 19.23, NASB)
WATER SUPPLIES: The National Water Carrier (NWC) was started in 1959 and became Israel’s traditional water ‘artery’. It conveys water from Lake Galilee southwards via a system of giant pipes, open canals and tunnels. Between 2005 and 2015 Israel built five desalination plants on the Mediterranean coast, and a New National Carrier system is planned to connect these to the NWC, link. Desalinated water will flow from west to the north, east, and south. Today some 80% of domestic water in Israeli cities comes from desalinated water, link.
COMMUNICATIONS: In terms of electronic communications, Israel is connected to the world’s major commercial and financial data networks through underwater fiber-optic lines and satellite links. The country ranks high, on a per-capita basis, in telephone lines, computers, and Internet users, and it has one of the world’s highest cellular phone penetration rates.
Israel’s Modern Cities
Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 after Jews decided to leave their poverty infested, squalor stricken neighborhoods in a nearby town. Today, Tel Aviv is Israel’s financial and business capital with an estimated 53,000 businesses operating in the city in 2014, link. Nearby, in Ramat Gan, is the world’s largest diamond exchange and Israel’s tallest skyscraper.
Modern Haifa is Israel’s third largest city and it’s primary port. Ashdod, an old Philistine city, was reborn in 1956 and is now a bustling city full of Jewish immigrants and boasts the nation’s second largest sea port. Eilat, located at the southern tip of Israel is Israel’s premier resort town and a favourite for tourists. Nazareth has grown from an insignificant backwater during the time of Christ (Yeshua) to one of northern Israel’s largest cities. So what we see today is fulfilled prophecy:
They shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations (Isa 61.4)
Economic Growth of Israel
The 1922 British Mandate for Palestine encouraged the establishment of some of the country’s largest factories during the 1920’s, and textile factories were established in the 1930’s. Capital and technical expertise were supplied by Jewish professionals from Europe. Israeli industry underwent rapid development during World War II, and after the war overseas aid from several sources enabled Israel to become economically self-sufficient. Israel’s strong commitment to development led to economic growth rates that exceeded 10% annually, and by the late 1960’s textiles were one of the largest industrial branches in Israel, second only to the foodstuff industry.
Rapid economic growth (nearly 10 percent per-capita) occurred in the six years following the Six Day War (1967-1973). Some attribute this to the so-called ‘occupation’ of Palestinian land from 1967, link. During these years Jewish mega-neighborhoods sprouted around Jerusalem.
The latter half of the twentieth century saw Israel’s economy suffer from war and severe inflation, only the recover due to skilled immigration and several peace processes. The early 21st century again saw an economic down-turn due to the global dot-com bubble, which bankrupted many start-up companies. Today, the main driver of Israel’s economy is the science and technology sector, and there has been an unprecedented inflow of foreign investment into Israel as companies take advantage of Israel’s skilled workforce.
Impressive Economic Statistics
Modern Israel has been described as an “economic miracle” since it has consistently had more companies listed on NASDAQ than all of Europe combined, and consistently scores as one of the top countries for patents per capita, see Venture Capital. The fastest growth rates (typically 8%) are to be found in the hi-tech sectors, which accounted for some 70% of the industrial product in 2006. In 2016 the GDP growth rate for Israel was 4.1% compared to just 1.8% for the UK [World Bank]. In the early 1990’s the total trade volume was $50 million, compared to $11.35 billion in 2017 [Times of Israel].
Israel’s Economic Outlook
Government debt as a percent of GDP is used by investors as a measure of a country’s economic health, and compared to many western countries Israel’s gross debt as a percentage of GDP is low. There has been steady improvement from 94% in 2005 to 67% in 2014. Compare this with the UK debt of 41% in 2005 increasing to 91% in 2014. It is claimed that since 2001 Israel has become a net lender nation in terms of net external debt, and that the country maintained a current account surplus in 2010!
A country’s strength depends upon its economy. So Israel aspires to become the world’s 15th largest economy by 2025 [Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen. 2017].
Technological Growth and Innovation
Since the 1990’s, Israeli industry has been benefiting the world. It started with Intel chips, Windows and laptops. Today, world class companies such as Intel, Google, Apple, Samsung, GE, Philips and Siemens have moved their R&D efforts to Israel because of the talent and ingenuity available, and because of their acquisition of Israeli startup companies. In fact, Israel now has the highest density of start-up companies in the world and ranks first in the world for total expenditure on R&D. The result is that Israeli software products are widely found in the financial and public sectors, healthcare, telecommunications, defense and manufacturing. Cyber-security is big business in Israel, and Israel’s software exports have risen from $90 million in the 1990’s to over $3.6 billion today.
Reasons for Israel’s technological success: This can be attributed, in part, to heavy R&D investment and the fact that Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world. But is there another reason? Why for instance do most Jews have relatively high intelligence? A Jewish average IQ of 115 is approximately 40% higher than the global average IQ of 79, Ashkenazi Jews, link. And why between 1901 and 2014, did Israel’s Nobel Prize winners account for 23% of all individual recipients worldwide when Israel has only 0.1% of the world population, link? Is this because of their biblical heritage?
Growth of Israel: Land Restoration and Agricultural Development
Over half of Israel’s saline soil is arid or semi-arid (only 20% is arable). So around 1900, in an effort to combat desertification, Israel’s new immigrants embarked upon an extensive program of afforestation. As a result, since 1900 some 250 million sub-tropical trees have been planted in all regions of Israel, from the Golan and Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south, link.
Israel’s agriculture has struggled against such adverse land conditions, but since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the country has almost tripled the territory used for farming, and production has multiplied 16 times, link. Today, Israel manages to produce 95% of her own food requirements. Some 40% of these crops are grown in the Negev (a desert area) by exploiting its underground supply of brackish (slightly salty) water and using Israeli advanced drip irrigation systems.
Although Israel is still largely secular in religious belief, has God started to bless Israel as she returns to the land God promised her? At the end of this age the God of Israel promises her a restored land:
On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation … They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations about you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate (Ezek 36.33-36)
And when Israel pleases God they will be blessed economically too:
You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow (Deut 28.12)