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Monday, 19 October, 1998, 13:43 GMT
Israel - key facts
Israel Map
The state of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, when the United Kingdom's mandate for Palestine ended. The Israelis observe a lunar calendar and in 1998 celebrate the anniversary on April 30.

  • Population: 5,759,400 (1996), of which
    Jews 4,636,300 (80,5%),
    Muslims 840,800 (14.6%),
    Christians 184,300 (3,2%),
    Druze and others 97,900 (1.7%).
  • Capital: Jerusalem, population 578,800 - including East Jerusalem (1994 estimate).
    Israel maintains Jerusalem is the country's "eternal and undivided capital."
    No country in the world has recognised this, all embassies are based in Tel Aviv.
    Palestinian politicians say Jerusalem should be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.
  • Official Language: Hebrew, which is spoken by about two thirds of the population.
  • Religion: The official religion of Israel is Judaism.
  • Neighbours: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria.
  • Government:
    The Knesset (Assembly) has supreme authority, and has 120 members elected by universal suffrage for a four year term under a system of proportional representation.
    The prime minister and his cabinet have executive power.
    The prime minister is directly elected.
  • Economy (1996)
    Gross Domestic Product (GDP): $79 billion
    GDP per capita: $17,400
    Growth: 4.4%
  • Armed Forces:
    175,000 active
    430,000 reserves.

Since independence in 1948, Israel has become an increasingly diverse country. Immigration from North Africa, the former Soviet Union and other areas has transformed the country as it has grown from a nation of 600,000 to one of more than 5.5 million.

Due to massive immigration, Israel's population soared by 8% a year in the first 10 years after its founding. The Israeli population is expected to hit 6 million soon as it maintains a growth rate of about 2.5% a year.

One crucial divide in the country is over place of origin. About 48% of the Israeli population are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, known as Sephardic Jews. They tend to be poorer than the Ashkenazi, or European Jews.

The most recent immigrants have been the 800,000 Russians who came in the late 1980s and 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The largest number of newcomers to reach Israel in one day was recorded in May 1991, when 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to the country during Operation Solomon.

As well as ethnic divisions, Israel is suffering from increasingly fractious disputes between orthodox and other Jews, including both secular and the reform and conservative Jews.

Around half of Israel's Jews are secular, not actively practising their religion but identifying themselves as Jewish, while about 30% are orthodox and about 18% ultra-orthodox.

Reform and conservative Jews advocate a less strict interpretation of Jewish law than the Orthodox. The greatest source of anger directed towards the Orthodox comes from those who criticise the fact that while making more and more demands on the country, they are exempt from military service, which all other Israelis have to take part in.

Nearly 20% of Israel's population are Arabs, who are exempt from the mandatory military service required of all Jews.

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