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Israel - Statistics israeli flag

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Geography

regional mapIsrael (shown in blue) is located in the Middle East, along the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel is bordered by the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

Long and narrow in shape, the country is about 470 km (290 miles) in length and 135 km (85 miles in width at its widest point. (In Canadian terms, it easily fits inside Lake Winnipeg.)

Although small, Israel has a variety of topographical features ranging from forested highlands and fertile green valleys to mountainous deserts, and from the coastal plan to the semitropical Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Approximately half of Israel's land area is semi-arid.

snow 2003 The climate is sunny much of the time, with a rainy season from November to April. Total annual precipitation ranges from 50-125 cm (20-50 inches) in the north, to less than 2.5 cm (1 inch) in the far south. Regional climatic conditions vary considerably: hot, humid summers and mild, wet winters on the coastal plain; dry warm summers and moderately cold winters with rain and occasional light snow in the hill regions (photo at right shows snow on Temple Mount in 2003); hot, dry summers and pleasant winters in the Jordan Valley; and semi-arid conditions with warm to hot days and cool nights in the south.

Israel and Palestine are home to over 380 kinds of birds, some 150 species of mammals and reptiles, and nearly 3,000 plant varieties (of which 150 are native to the region).

dead sea The scarcity of water in the region has generated intense efforts to maximize use of the available supply and to seek new resources. In the 1960s Israel's freshwater sources were joined in an integrated grid whose main artery, the National Water Carrier, brings water from the north and center to the semi-arid south. Ongoing projects for utilising new sources include cloud seeding, recycling of sewage water and desalinization of sea water. In recent years, population growth and expansion of agriculture combined with drought conditions have increased water usage to the point at which there are fears of major irreversible ecological damage to Lake Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee or Lake Kinneret) and other areas.

Population

Israel is a country of immigrants. Since its birth in 1948 the population has grown 700%. Its over six million inhabitants comprise a mosaic of people from varied ethnic backgrounds, lifestyles, religions, cultures and traditions. At the end of the 20th century, close to 79% of the population was Jewish from various parts of the world while the remaining 21% were mostly Muslim with a tiny Christian minority. Due to birth rate, religious conversions and immigration away from Israel, the Jewish percentage of the population is falling. Without a "two state" solution (creation of the State of Palestine) the majority of the population is expected to be Moslem before 2020.

Approximately 90% of the population lives in some 200 urban centers, some of which are located on ancient historical sites. Tel Aviv, on the coast, is the largest city and is the center of commerce. Jerusalem is considered by Israel to be its "undivided" capital, and is (including the areas occupied since 1967) the second largest city.

Government

Israel is a parliamentary democracy with legislative, executive and judicial branches. Unfortunately the judicial branch is virtually toothless when it comes to ruling on legislation. The government has no system of "checks and balances" such as that existing in the USA, and other government bodies are free to ignore rulings of the Supreme Court if they disagree with them.

The Head of State is the President, whose duties are mainly ceremonial and formal. The office symbolizes the unity and sovereignty of the state. The Knesset, Israel's legislative authority, is a 120 member unicameral parliament which operates in plenary session and through 14 standing committees. Its members are elected every four years in nationwide elections, or sooner if the government falls. The Government (a cabinet of ministers) is charged with administering internal and foreign affairs. It is headed by a Prime Minister and is collectively responsible to the Knesset.

Because of the large number of political parties, and because for party representation in the Knesset only a tiny percentage of the national vote is required, it is almost impossible for an election to produce a majority government. In recent decades, Israel has lurched through a series of relatively unstable coalition governments.

Education

School attendance is compulsory from age five, and free through age 18. Almost all three and four-year olds attend some kind of preschool program. This school system does not mesh well with either the Canadian, American, British or International Baccalaureate systems. There are a few barely adequate international schools in the country, but Diplomats and Expatriates should consider boarding schools in their home countries for children over 10 to 12 years of age.

Israel's universities offer a wide range of subjects in science and humanities and serve as research institutions of worldwide repute. There are also colleges which offer academic courses and many vocational schools. The country's high level of scientific research and development, and the application of R&D, help to compensate for its lack of natural resources.

Health Care and Social Services

The National Health Insurance Law, in effect since January 1995, provides for a standarized basket of medical services, including hospitalization, for all residents of Israel. All medical services continue to be supplied by the country's four health care organizations. Unfortunately, there have been rumours in the press about the low standard of care offered by some of these "for profit" HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations). During our stay in Jerusalem (2001 to 2004), we noticed that the general level of cleanliness in the local hospitals, both campuses of Haddassah General as well as St Joseph's and several smaller clinics, seemed to be significantly lower than in comparable Canadian facilities. As we are not medically trained we were not qualified to judge the level of medical competence available, although I was prescribed a penicillin derivative after informing an English speaking doctor that I had an allergy to penicillin. Caveat Emptor.

Life expectancy for the majority Jewish population is 80 years for women and 75.9 years for men. The infant mortality rate is 5.8 per 1,000 live births. The ratio of physicians to population and the number of specialists compare favourably with those in most developed countries. Health statistics for the Arab minority are considerably lower.

The social service system is based on legislation which provides for worker protection and a range of national and community services including care of the elderly, assistance for single parents, programs for children and youth, adoption agencies, as wel as prevention and treatment of alcoholism and drug abuse. The National Insurance Institute provides all permanent residents (including non-citizens) with a range of benefits including unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, survivors' benefits, maternity grants and allowances, child allowances, and income support payments.

Economy

Israel's industry concentrates on manufacturing products, primarily based on technological innovation, with a high added value. These include medical electronics, agro-technology, telecommunications, computer hardware and software, solar energy, food processing and fine chemicals.

Agriculture represents some 2.5% of GNP and 3.5% of exports. Israel produces 95% of its own food requirements, supplemented by imports of grain, oil seeds, meat, coffee, cocoa and sugar. Imports are more than offset by agricultural exports.

55% of imports and 37% of exports are with Europe, boosted by Israel's free trade agreement with the EU (concluded in 1975). As similar agreement was signed with the USA (1985), whose trade with Israel accounts for 19% of Israel's imports and 35% of exports.

Languages

The official languages of the country are Hebrew and Arabic. English and Russian are also widely spoken.

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We lived in East Jerusalem, in a neighbourhood called Beit Hanina. It is one of the safest places in the region. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) doesn't attack it because they consider it to be part of Jerusalem. The Palestinian suicide bombers don't attack it because it is a Palestinian neighbourhood. Click here to learn about our life in Beit Hanina.

This is a very sad time in the history of Israel and Palestine. Almost everyone in the civilian population, on each side, is a victim.

Even though this is an extremely troubled and troubling part of the world, it is also a fascinating region. To live within minutes of the old city of Jerusalem where one can see sections of wall dating back to the third century BC is awe inspiring. To walk in the old city, in a place which has known human habitation for so long is a humbling experience. To visit places mentioned in the Bible is amazing.

Links to the rest of the Israel section of this website:

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Patti

This page was updated on 18 December 2007.

Contact me at: patti.primeau@sympatico.ca

This site was updated using Nvu and Style Master.

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