The Knesset is Israel’s parliament building where the Israeli ministers and parliamentary representatives meet to debate and pass laws. The word “Knesset” comes from the Hebrew word for “assembly” or “Great Assembly” which was the name of the gathering of Jews in Israel after their return from Babylonian in 5BC. The word Knesset is used as a verb and a noun, every newly formed government is referred to as the 1st, 2nd or whatever number of Knesset. In 2009 the 18th Knesset was elected. The Knesset is also the buildings and the government.
Although the Israeli government has been running since the establishment of the country in 1949 the Knesset met in temporary locations up until 1966. The Knesset is situated in Jerusalem and has been at its present location at Kiryat Ben Gurion since 1966.
The Israeli Government
There are 120 Knesset members who meet in two annual sittings (winter and summer). Much of the governments work is done in the Plenary Hall where debates are held, bills are read and laws are passed. It is also here that foreign dignitaries are occasionally invited to address the members of government. Among those who have been afforded this honor are Former President Bill Clinton; French Premier Jacques Chirac; King Carlos of Spain and even President Anwar Sadat in 1977.
Within the Knesset are several displays of fine art and ancient artifacts they include a photographic exhibit by David Rubinger, work by Moshe Castel and Reuben Rubin Byzantine mosaics, the Seven Species Menorah, the Eternal Flame and the Benno Elkan Menorah. The most important of the Knesset art works are the Chagall tapestry and mosaics as well as the wall behind the speaker’s podium in the Plenary Hall which was created by Karavan.
The three iron gates at the entrance to the Knesset complex were created by the sculpture David Palombo and they are dedicated to those lost in the Holocaust. So that passing through them is a passing from slavery to freedom, the gates are called the “Court Gates“. Once inside you are in the Knesset forecourt.
The Menorah symbolizes the continuity of the Jewish people and is a national symbol. A statue of the Menorah, by Benno Elkan, stands in front of the Court Gates.
The three Knesset doors are large solid wood with bronze sheets covering them. On the acid cauterized bronze are Jewish symbols. The doors were created by Shraga Weil and are called the “Gates of the Tribes” or the “Weil Gate“.
The Chagall State Hall is home to the three large Chagall tapestries which illustrate scenes from the Bible and Jewish heritage (Jacob’s dream; G-d’s relationship with Israel and Jerusalem). On the State Hall floor and northern wall are Italian marble mosaics.
In the Knesset grounds adjacent to the main entrance is the Knesset Archeological Park. Throughout the garden are 6 exhibits of archeological findings made in Jerusalem. Landscaped gardens, paths and park benches surround the archeological displays. At the entrance to the park is a Herodian period stone from brought here from the Old City.
There are guided tours of the Knesset in 10 languages on Sunday and Thursday mornings. Visitors must bring some form of identification (Passport or I.D. card) and the tour lasts for about an hour. Visitors should dress appropriately. On the tour visitors get to see the Committee Rooms, Plenary Chamber, the Chagall Hall and the display of the Declaration of Independence. It is also possible to watch a session of the Knesset form the public gallery on Mondays and Tuesdays at 4pm and on Wednesdays at 11am.