Despite war and lack of water and natural resources, Israel is the Middle East’s most industrialized country. In addition, agriculture provides high returns. However, without extensive US military and financial support (which, however, has led to Israel having the world’s highest foreign debt per inhabitant), the economy would hardly be viable. The country has a mixed economy with state, cooperative and private companies.
Agriculture employs 2 percent of the labor force and accounts for an equal share of GDP. The lack of water and the large desert areas means that only 1/5 of the area is cultivated, of which just over 3/4 is irrigated. The most important cultivation areas are the northern parts of the country, especially the Yizre Valley, the coastal plain and the northern Negev. The highly mechanized Jewish agriculture is mainly focused on cereals, sugarcane, potatoes and fruits (especially citrus fruits) and vegetables. Arab agriculture is more traditional, extensive and needs-oriented. About 80 percent of Israel’s land is owned by the state or the Jewish National Fund. In occupied areas, land ownership is contentious. Jewish colonists have created various forms of cooperative and collective farming.
Fishing takes place mainly in Lake Kinnerets, in the Mediterranean coastal waters and in fish farms. The latter has the greatest economic significance. Sea fishing accounts for about 20 percent of the catch.
Israel is relatively mineral-poor, but phosphate from the Negev and mineral salts from the Dead Sea are exported. Israel accounts for 12-15 percent of world calcium carbonate production and is one of the world’s largest exporters of bromine and bromine derivatives.
Israel’s oil and gas deposits are insignificant, and pipelines lead imported oil from Eilat on the Red Sea to Haifa and Ashqelon on the Mediterranean. In 1994, electricity generation was based entirely on coal and oil-fired power plants. Controversial plans exist to divert water from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea for the production of electricity.
The industry was initially protected by import restrictions and customs walls. Important products were soap, vegetable oil, preservatives and building materials. The many small industries at the kibbutz were of great importance.
Despite the lack of domestic raw materials and fuels, Israel today has a versatile industrial structure, especially in the engineering and chemical industries. The production is mainly based on imports and further processing of semi-finished products. The electronics and weapons industries are also significant. Israel is a world leader in diamond grinding; the approximately 650 grinding mills handle more than half of the world’s rough diamonds, which are imported from mainly South Africa. The most important industrial areas are located in and around Tel Aviv and Haifa.
According to Countryaah, Israel has long had a significant trade deficit. This has been partly covered by gifts from Jews living outside Israel and through revenues from the tourism industry, but above all through extensive US assistance. Imports mainly consist of processed goods (gemstones, textiles, iron and steel, workshop products, electronics) and coal and oil. Exports consist largely of the same products as well as citrus fruits. Israel’s most important trading partners are the EU countries, China and the US.
Tourism and gastronomy
Tourism is an important part of the Israeli economy. However, the number of visitors varies considerably periodically due to political unrest and terrorism. In 2015, the country was visited by 2.8 million tourists. Most came from the US, followed by Germany and the UK.
Many tourists are attracted by Israel’s numerous historical sites and monuments, not least religious ones. The country also has extensive bathing tourism, which seeks for the warm climate and beaches of the Mediterranean as well as Eilat on the Red Sea. Popular among young people is also working on kibbutz to get to know the country and meet new people.
The gastronomic conditions in Israel can be said to consist of a mixture of a variety of cultures, strict religious regulations, a climate that permits the cultivation of most and a marked dominance of Middle Eastern cuisine. Vegetables and fruits occupy a prominent place. In combination with the most common dishes hummus (chickpea pasta with olive oil) with pita bread and foul (beans), falafel (fried chickpea balls) and schwarma (shawarma) or kebab on lamb or turkey, the result is a useful and inexpensive eating attitude. Turkey and chicken meat mainly dominates the Western or Eastern European inspired kitchens. Chicken soup, dishes on the intestines, on the skin and on the chicken fat are foods that testify that the diet is adapted to a lean cash register. Helzel is the neck skin of a chicken filled with a spiced dough of onions and bread crumbs and baked in the oven, the vultures being the crispy fried, shredded skin of a cooked chicken.
Lamb predominates in oriental cuisine; Common in Jerusalem are malukki (rice, lamb, eggplant and other vegetables). The spice is generally dominated by coriander, cumin, mint, turmeric, chili and black pepper, cardamom, onion and garlic. Carp are grown in males, redfish are found in Lake Kinnerets and octopus in the sea. The desserts are oriental sweet and powerful, full of honey, nuts and almonds.