Israel: Facts & Figures

Israel is a young state with an ancient, ruthlessly controversial history.

Introduction to Israel

Israel’s borders are not internationally recognised. Its population is therefore disputed. Foreign relations are a minefield. Israel’s politics, and its civilians’ lives, have been heavily affected by war since its birth – and there seems to be no real end in sight.

And yet despite all that, and despite having a small population (around 8.5million, even including disputed areas), Israel is an influential nation that is increasingly attractive to foreigners. In the past few decades, Israel’s economy has transformed into a high-tech powerhouse – fuelled by, and further fuelling, foreign investment and stronger international ties.

It is rare amongst wealthy nations in that heightened immigration is not only accepted but actively encouraged (see ‘Aliyah’). The CIA World Factbook says that Israel received 28,600 immigrants in 2016, most of them Jewish.

History of Israel

See ‘Culture of Israel’

The basics – facts & figures about Israel

The Country

State of Israel – English

מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל – Hebrew

دَوْلَة إِسْرَائِيل (‘iisrayiyl)- Arabic

The Nationality

Israeli – English

ישראלי – Hebrew

إسرائيلي (‘iisrayiyli)  – Arabic

The People

Israelis – English

ישראלים‬ (Yiśraʾelim) – Hebrew

الإسرائيليين‎ (al-ʾIsrāʾīliyyin) – Arabic

Languages

The official and most-spoken language of Israel is Modern Hebrew (עברית חדשה‬/ ʿivrít ḥadašá[h]). Almost everyone in the country speaks it (either natively or as a second language).

Arabic (العَرَبِيَّة / al-ʻarabiyyah) is also widely-spoken: 20% of the population speaks it as a first language. Many Israeli Jews can speak Arabic, although written Arabic is less common.

Until recently, Arabic was the second official language of Israel. However, in July 2018, Israel declared Hebrew as the only official language of the country. This came as part of a controversial bill that identifies Israel first and foremost as a Jewish state. Although Arabic is still a language with ‘special status’, the bill unsurprisingly angered the Arab population of Israel, many of whom consider the laws racist.

Legality aside, Israel is extremely culturally diverse – and with that comes linguistic diversity. Ethnologue lists 36 languages present in Israel. Although four of those don’t have any known native speakers – Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (dormant), Ancient Hebrew (dormant), Samaritan Aramaic (extinct) and Samaritan (extinct) and a few others are verging on death – most languages listed have at least a few thousand native speakers.

Other prominent languages in Israel are Russian (with well over a million speakers), Romanian (250,000 in 1993) and English (125,000 native speakers in 2016, but many more who speak it as a second language).  

Time Zone: Israel Standard time (IST = GMT+2)

Currency

Israeli new shekel ₪

שֶׁקֶל חָדָשׁ (sheqel ẖadash)- Hebrew

شيكل جديد‎ (šēkal jadīd) – Arabic

Currency Code: ILS

ISO 3 International Country Code: ISR

Internet Domain: .il

Telephone Dialling Code: +792

The geography of Israel

Capital City

Here we find more controversy: Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital. Palestine claims the East of the ancient city, occupied by Israel in 1967, as its rightful capital. The rest of the world – well, most of it – has glued itself to the fence and awaits a ‘resolution’.

This millennia-old dispute over Jerusalem’s ownership is showing no realistic sign of ending. The UN favours Jerusalem becoming the capital of both states.

Most countries keep their Israeli embassies in Tel Aviv, with consulates in Jerusalem. However, the US caused a stir in May 2018 by shifting their main embassy to Jerusalem. The symbolic move was imitated quickly by some other countries (Paraguay and Guatemala were first) and condemned by others.

Jerusalem population: 901,302 (2017 estimate, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics)

Tel Aviv population: 443,939 (2017 estimate, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics)

Area: 20,770 sq km (154 out of 254 countries in the world) 

Coastline: 273 km

Terrain: Desert, plains, mountains and valleys

Climate: Mediterranean – that means long, hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. For a small country, the climate varies substantially depending on region. See Climate of Israel for more details.

The people of Israel

Most of this section comes from the CIA World Factbook page on Israel – we’ve linked to other pages where relevant.

Population: 8,299,706 (97 out of 237 countries) 

Population growth: 1.49% per year (2018)

Median age: 30.1 years 

Life expectancy at birth: 82.7 years 

Urban population: 92% of total population (World Bank, 2017)

Foreign-born population: 1.9million – 22.6% of total population (OECD)

Net migration: 2.2 migrant(s)/1,000 population (44 of 254 countries) (2017)

Religion: Jewish 74.7%, Muslim 17.7%, Christian 2%, Druze 1.6%, other 4% (2016 est.)

Ethnicity:  Jewish 74.4% (of which Israel-born 76.9%, Europe/America/Oceania-born 15.9%, Africa-born 4.6%, Asia-born 2.6%), Arab 20.9%, other 4.7% (2018 est.)

UN Human Development Index: 22 of 189 countries (2018). This index attempts to measure a country’s achievements in education, healthcare, wealth generation and a number of other areas. 

UN Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index: 27 of 151 countries (2018). This index is a list measuring the lost development potential arising from all types of inequality in a country. With perfect equality this index and the HDI would show the same result. 

Population Below Poverty Line: 22% est. 2014 (going by Israel’s definition of the poverty line: US$7.30 per day) 

The economy in Israel

Most of this section comes from the CIA World Factbook page on Israel – we’ve linked to other pages where relevant.

GDP (purchasing power parity (‘PPP’): US$317.1trillion (2017 est.) 

GDP per capita: US$36,400 

GDP Growth 2017: 3.3%.

Inflation: 0.80 % (2018 average December-to-December – inflation.eu

Public debt: 60.9% of GDP (2017 est.) 

Unemployment: General: 4.3%; Youth 8.6% (2017, Indexmundi

Currency: Israeli new shekel: ₪. See Currency of Israel.

Health and medical care in Israel

Health in Israel

Israel boasts an impressive life expectancy – 82.5 years, ranking 12/224 in the CIA World Factbook.

Its healthcare system is internationally recognised as being excellent (ranking 6/56 in Bloomberg’s Healthcare Efficiency Index 2018).

Despite these credentials, there are a couple of things to bear in mind.

First is the low air quality. The OECD reports Israel as having one of the highest concentrations of lung-damaging air pollutants in the countries it covers. PM2.5 (tiny particulate matter) is at 21.1 micrograms per cubic metre. That’s well above the OECD’s average of 13.9 micrograms – and even further above the World Health Organisation’s ‘guideline limit’ of 10. If you are a sufferer of asthma or other lung conditions, this is a serious consideration.

The other main chink in Israel’s armour is water quality. Water pollution and scarcity are big issues in the country, although the situation is improving. 

The healthcare system in Israel

Healthcare in Israel is universal. Every citizen is entitled to healthcare services.  

Each resident must be enrolled in a health insurance plan run by one of four official organisations. Collectively known as Kupat Holim (קופת חולים ), these bodies are not-for-profit and subject to strict regulation.

All resident of Israel have a right to join one of these insurance plans – discrimination due to age or state of health is prohibited.

Private health insurance is also available, but must be purchased in addition to participation in one of the four official Kupat Holim.

As well as being available to all, Israel’s healthcare system is excellent. Hospitals have modern equipment and citizens enjoy a reasonably generous allocation of doctors (3.58 per 1,000 population – 27/184 in the CIA World Factbook).

Health Expenditure: 5.64% of GDP (CIA World Factbook) – this is high, with Israel ranking 7/153 countries covered

Doctors: 3.58/1000 (CIA World Factbook) 

Hospital Beds: 3.1/1000 (CIA World Factbook) 

World Health Organization ranking of health systems (last release in 2000): 23 of 191 countries.

The government of Israel

Israel works on a parliamentary democracy with multiple parties. Elections are held every four years (in theory – the gap is rarely that long in reality) and based on proportional representation. All citizens over the age of 18 may vote.

The Prime Minister heads the Government, which holds executive power.

The President has a largely ceremonial role.

The Legislature of Israel is unicameral – so, unlike (say) the US, it only has one house: the Knesset. They pass the laws, elect the Prime Minister and President, and supervise the government.

The Judicial section of government is independent and includes the various religious and secular courts of Israel (see legal system of Israel, below).

The legal system in Israel

Law in Israel is based largely on a common law system – as is the legal system in around a third of the world’s countries.

However, it does contain facets of religious law; and some  echoes of Ottoman law.

Israel does not have a written constitution – plans to create one have been delayed since 1950. But the Basic Laws of Israel act as constitutional laws.

Israel isn’t currently included in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. However, the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators ranks Israel at 38 of 209 countries in 2017 in the Rule of Law category.

Israel also scores reasonably well on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Israel is ranked 32 out of 180 countries included in the 2017 edition of the index. They scored similarly to Botswana and Brunei. New Zealand and Denmark top the rankings, and Somalia and South Sudan sit at the bottom. 

Safety in Israel

The Peace Index

Israel ranks 146 out of 163 countries included in the 2018 edition of the Vision of Humanity “Peace Index”. This is just ahead of Lebanon and just behind Colombia. Iceland comes first. Syria comes last.

The methodology used to make this index may be open to some debate but it is a good snapshot of criminality, conflict, political attitudes and military expenditure. 

The Global Terrorism Index

Israel ranks 41 out of the 138 countries in the 2018 edition of the “Global Terrorism Index”. A low rank/high number is good, so this is a pretty bad score for the country. Iraq is number 1 on the list.

This is another interesting snapshot, from people behind the Peace Index. 

Business in Israel

Israel ranks a high-middling 49/190 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index 2019. It ranks highly in ‘Protecting Minority Investors. It scores poorly in ‘Paying Taxes’ and ‘Registering Property’.

As already mentioned, Israel scores fairly well on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (ranked 32 out of 180 countries).

Further reading

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