Though small with a total population less than that of Greater London, Israel is a country blessed with extraordinary cultural abundance and diversity. Throughout its troubled history the region has always been a place for the meeting of civilisations, each of which has made its own significant contribution to the cultural life of the modern Israeli state.
The volume and intensity of cultural activity in Israel today is by all accounts quite remarkable. Statistics for 1997 indicate per capita levels of attendance at arts facilities far in excess of those in most European countries, including 5.5 million visits per annum (nearly one per head of population) to the country's c180 museums and just over 3.4 million visits per annum to performing arts activities, made up of 2.1 million visits to the theatre, 1 million visits to musical events and 350,000 visits to dance performances. Over 18% of the population are registered in libraries and on average 10 to 11 new books are published every day. The country sustains several world-class orchestras and theatre groups, contemporary Israeli art has a high profile overseas and well-appointed arts facilities (theatres, galleries, concert halls) may be found in almost every major centre of population. The arts serve to stimulate and provoke discussion at all levels of society as well as being enjoyed as part of everyday Israeli life.
Some commentators regard the intensive nature of Israeli cultural life as an inevitable consequence of the acute tensions in Israeli society. These tensions are caused by a number of factors, most notably the profound and in many cases irreconcilable divisions (ethnic, cultural, religious) within a largely immigrant and second-generation community; the ever-widening gulf between the Zionist vision of the founding fathers (based on 4,000-years of Jewish heritage) and the reality of the modern, high-tech Israeli state; and the constant threat of war between Israel and its neighbours. These factors, it is argued, have created a desire amongst Israelis to live life intensely and to search for a cultural identity - expressed through creativity in every arts discipline - which transcends the reality of Israel's divided society.