02/25/2011 General information about Israel


Israel is a parliamentary republic in Western Asia, part of the Middle East. Israel located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank in the east, Egypt and the Gaza Strip on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area.

Israel is the world's only Jewish-majority state, and is defined as "a Jewish and democratic state" by Israeli constitutional law. Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Israel was legally constituted within the Green Line borders, as defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreements. Israel later annexed East JerUSAlem, and applied Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to the Golan Heights in 1981. The annexation of East JerUSAlem has not been recognized by the international community, which also regards the Golan Heights as remaining under occupation. Most East JerUSAlem Arabs have declined Israeli citizenship, as has much of the Druze population of the northern Golan. Israel has also effectively annexed the largely suburban Israeli-populated Seam Zone which is today largely separated from the West Bank by the separation barrier. Citizens of the State of Israel also live in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The population, defined by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics to include all citizens and permanent residents within Israel and in Israeli settlements was estimated in May 2010 to be 7,602,400 people, of whom 5,776,500 are Jewish. Arab citizens of Israel form the country's second-largest ethnic group, which includes Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Samaritans. According to the May 2010 population estimate, including 300,000 non-citizen Arabs living in East JerUSAlem and the Golan Heights, this minority numbers 1,551,400.

The modern State of Israel was declared in 1948, and traces its historical and religious roots to the Biblical Land of Israel, also known as Zion, a concept central to Judaism since ancient times.

 Israel is a developed country and a representative democracy with a parliamentary system and universal suffrage.The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel's legislative body. The economy, based on the nominal gross domestic product, was the 41st-largest in the world in 2008. Israel ranks highest among Middle Eastern countries on the UN Human Development Index, and it has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

Israel has two official languages- Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew is the primary language of the state and is spoken by the majority of the population, and Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority. Many Israelis communicate reasonably well in English, as many television programs are broadcast in this language and English is taught from the early grades in elementary school. As a country of immigrants, many languages can be heard on the streets. Due to mass immigration from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia (some 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel), Russian and Amharic are widely spoken. Between 1990 and 1994, the Russian immigration increased Israel's population by twelve percent.

The total number of Israeli settlers is over 500,000 (6.5% of the Israeli population). Approximately 7,800 Israelis lived in settlements in the Gaza Strip until they were evacuated by the government as part of its 2005 disengagement plan. Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people and is often referred to as a Jewish state. The country's Law of Return grants all Jews and those of Jewish lineage the right to Israeli citizenship. Just over three quarters, or 75.5%, of the population are Jews from a diversity of Jewish backgrounds. Approximately 68% of Israeli Jews are Israeli-born, 22% are immigrants from Europe and the Americas, and 10% are immigrants from Asia and Africa (including the Arab World). Jews who left or fled Arab and Muslim lands and their descendants constitute approximately 50% of Jewish Israelis.

Tourism, especially religious tourism, is an important industry in Israel, with the country's temperate climate, beaches, archaeological and historical sites, and unique geography also drawing tourists. Israel's security problems have taken their toll on the industry, but the number of incoming tourists is on the rebound. In 2008, over 3 million tourists visited Israel. Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world.

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