Country Profile: Israel

20,770 sq. km

Middle East

5.74 million

Multiparty republic with one legislative house (Knesset [120])


Head of Government:
Prime Minister Ehud Barak

Monetary Unit:
1 New (Israeli) sheqel (NIS) = 100 agorot; valuation (Sept. 25, 1998) 1 U.S.$ = NIS 3.85; 1 = NIS 6.55.

Official Languages:
Hebrew, Arabic

Ethnic composition:
Jewish 80.5%; Arab and other 19.5%.


National Anthem:
Listen to with RealAudio

Officially STATE OF ISRAEL , Hebrew MEDINAT YISRA'EL , Arabic ISRA'IL country in the Middle East, located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bounded to the north by Lebanon, to the northeast by Syria, to the east and southeast by Jordan, to the southwest by Egypt, and to the west by the Mediterranean Sea. The total area is 7,992 square miles (20,700 square kilometers) excluding East Jerusalem and other territories occupied in the 1967 war. Jerusalem is the capital and the seat of government.

Following the United Nations partition of Palestine, Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948. It was the first Jewish state to be established in nearly 2,000 years. Its creation represented a fulfillment of the historic ideal of the Jewish people stemming from the traditional religious belief in God's promise of the land of Israel to the people of Israel. The ideal found practical expression in a desire to forge a nation without dependence on the goodwill of others. The establishment of Israel as a member of the family of nations signified a decisive step in modern Jewish history.

Among the population of Israel are hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of them survivors of Nazi persecution in Europe or victims of anti-Semitism elsewhere. Israeli society has engaged in pioneering activities, including the rehabilitation of neglected agricultural lands. This has led to the creation of a Jewish rural population, which, though it makes up only about one-tenth of the total, also represents something almost unknown in the Diaspora (the historical scattering of the Jews in countries outside of Palestine). The revival of the Hebrew language has helped to make possible the cultural integration of the newcomers.

Hostile relations between Israel and its neighboring Arab states have prevailed from the outset, with Israel obtaining victories over the Arabs after battles fought in 1948-49, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982.



Hebrew (official), Arabic used officially for Arab minority, English most commonly used foreign language
Major Religions Judaism 82%, Islam 14% (mostly Sunni Muslim), Christian 2%, Druze and other 2%
Ethnic groups Jewish 82% (Israel-born 50%, Europe/Americas/Oceania-born 20%, Africa-born 7%, Asia-born 5%), non-Jewish 18% (mostly Arab) (1993 est.)
Growth rate 1.91%
Birth rate 19.99 births/1,000
Death rate 6.19 deaths/1,000
Fertility rate 2.71 children/woman
Male life expectancy 76
Female life expectancy 80
Infant mortality rate 8.02 deaths/1,000 live births


Labor force

2.3 million (1997)
Unemployment rate 7.7% (1997)
Inflation Rate 9% (1997)
Gross domestic product
(total value of goods and services produced annually)
$96.7 billion (1997 est.)
Budget $58.0 billion
Debt $18.7 billion (1997)
Exports $20.7 billion (1997 est.), primarily machinery and equipment, cut diamonds, chemicals, textiles and apparel, agricultural products, metals
Imports $28.6 billion (1997 est.), primarily military equipment, investment goods, rough diamonds, oil, consumer goods
Defense spending 9.5% of GDP (1997 est.)
Highways 15,065 km (1996)

Source: 1998 CIA World Factbook, 2000 Encyclopedia Britannica

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