The State of Israel has some 8.7 million inhabitants. The most prominent characteristic of Israel’s population is its high diversity. Besides the main division of the country’s inhabitants into Jews (80%) and Arabs (20%), there are many more subdivisions. The Jews, for example, are divided into religious and secular, while the latter include various immigrant communities who preserve their culture. Likewise, the Arabs are divided into Moslems, Christians and Druze. Alongside these groups, Israel has additional small ethnic religious groups such as the Circassians and the Samaritans, and small Christian communities from Europe such as the German Beit El community in Zikhron Ya’akov.
Another major characteristic of the Israeli population is its rapid growth rate, which is atypical of developed countries. Since the establishment of the State, the population of Israel has increased almost tenfold, mainly due to the immigration of Jews from around the world. Today, Israel is a densely populated country, even though large regions are thinly populated. The population of Israel is young (the median age is 28.3 years), its infant mortality rate is low (5.8 deaths for each 1,000 births), and the life expectancy is high (78.7 years).
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, at 1,315 feet below sea level at its lowest point. That’s more than 4 football fields, end-to-end.
Israel’s greatest commodity is its ingenuity. Israel is only 2nd to Silicone Valley for the amount of tech start-ups. On average, there are about 3000 at any given time.
The State of Israel was created in the Land of Israel which was promised to the Hebrew slaves who Moses led out of Egypt, as told in the book of Exodus. It had been promised to them since the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 6:8).
According to the book of Joshua, Israel was established after Canaan was defeated by the Israelites, starting with the city of Jericho, in which the army circled the city for seven days and then blew their horns as God instructed.
For some time, Israel was made up of 12 tribes during the period of Judges, eventually asking God for a king, which led to the anointing and rule of Saul. His reign was short-lived, being conquered by King David (father of and predecessor to King Solomon, builder of the first Temple), whom Jesus was a descendent of.
Jesus Christ’s entire life and ministry took place in Israel, having been born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth and being crucified and raised from the dead in Jerusalem.
Israel went through many wars and turnovers of power throughout its history, falling to various other nations including the Philistines, Assyrians and Romans, ultimately leading to the diaspora, when Jews were scattered around the earth.
Eventually, Jewish people began to return to the land that was Israel in the 1800’s and continued to do so, eventually leading to the establishment of the Jewish state, Modern-day Israel, in 1949, led by David Ben-Gurion.
For a more detailed history, expand the different time periods below.
Settlement and Conquest – The Land of Israel in Biblical Times
The Canaanite tribes were the first settlers in Israel and its principal inhabitants till the second millennium BCE. In this early time the country was already a meeting place of different cultures: Egypt to the south, Assyria Mesopotamia and Asia Minor to the north. During the second millennium BCE several tribes started an invasion of the country, including the Philistines who came from the Aegean and settled in the southern coastal plain, and the Hebrews who came from Mesopotamia and settled in the hills.
The Hebrews, known as the Sons of Israel lived in the framework of 12 tribes who were united towards the end of the second millennium BCE by the first King of Israel, Saul. His successor, David, expanded the borders of the country and made Jerusalem, till then a Jebusite city, into his capital. It was here that his son King Solomon built the Temple with the Holy Ark. After Solomon’s death the kingdom was divided into two, with the ten northern Tribes setting up the Kingdom of Israel while the remaining two tribes set up the Kingdom of Judah in the Jerusalem Hills. In the year 721 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians; the 10 tribes were sent into exile and are considered “lost” till this day. The kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in the year 586 BCE, the Temple was destroyed and the Sons of Israel went into the first Babylonian exile.
Between Empires – From the Babylonians to the Byzantines
In the year 539 BCE, Babylon was conquered by the Persians and the tribe of Judah was allowed to return to Jerusalem, which was part of the Persian Empire. Jerusalem was erected from the rubble and the Second Temple was built. In the year 333 BCE, the Persian Empire, with the Land of Israel, was conquered by Alexander the Great, and in the year 66 BCE it was conquered by the Roman general Pompey. For the next 200 years the country was ruled by Jewish kings as a Roman vassal state. These were troubled times. In the year 70 CE the Temple was destroyed after a Jewish rebellion and in the year 135 BCE the Jews were sent into exile after another rebellion. Jerusalem was destroyed to its foundations and a Roman city was set up in its place.
Jesus, the Christian messiah and the founder of Christianity, was born when the country was under Roman rule, but it took 300 years until Christianity was legitimized in the Roman Empire which in turn became Byzantium in the east.
As Christianity was legitimized and became the official religion the view of the Land of Israel as the Holy Land developed. It became a destination for pilgrims and a huge building enterprise got under way with churches and monasteries built all over the country. It was at this time that parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem were built. Remnants of the building from this era can be seen at Ovdat, Capernaum (Kfar Nakhum,) Khamat Gader and Latroun.
Between East and West – From the Moslem Conquest to the Crusaders
In the year 640, the country was conquered by the Moslem Caliph Omar, beginning the period of Moslem rule in the country. In this very important period for the entire region routes of communication were opened between the eats and the west: goods, religious art and cultural and scientific knowledge started to flow from the East to Europe, mutually enriching each other.
According to Moslem tradition, the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven from Jerusalem and as such it is perceived as the third holiest city. In the first years of Arab rule Christians were allowed to enter Jerusalem, but this was stopped in the 11th century, prompting Pope Urban II to call for the crusade to liberate Jerusalem from Moslem rule.
The first crusade ended with the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. During the crusader era the country became one of the most important commercial centers in the world with routes of commerce connecting China, India, Madagascar and Africa to European markets. The crusader cities became meeting points for Moslem and Armenian Christian merchants and their European counterparts. The remnants of these crusader cities can be seen in Acre (Ako), Caesarea, Jerusalem, Latroun and Kil’at Namroud.
The crusader era did not last long. In the year 1187, the crusader armies were defeated by Saladin in the battle of Karnei Khitin (Hattin). The crusaders then lost successive battles ending with their defeat to the Mamluks in the battle of Acre, their last stronghold, in 1291. From the beginning of the Mamluk conquest the country diminished in its economic and political importance. The Ottoman conquest of 1517 did not add to its stature. The Land of Israel was a backwater in the Ottoman Empire and except for a few pilgrims of the three monotheistic religions, traffic between east and west declined.
From the Old to the New – The British Mandate and the creation of the State of Israel
The turning point in the country’s importance came with Napoleon’s arrival in the country in 1799. Napoleon’s eastern campaign showed the west the country’s strategic and economic importance – a process that led to increased European involvement in the country. New routes of communication and travel were set up and Christian missionary institutions were set up in the country. More pilgrims started to come and Jews started to immigrate to the country.
These and other events led to increased interest in the country – an interest that peaked with the British conquest in 1918 at the end of the First World War.
In the year 1948, the British Mandate came to an end and the state of Israel was created. It founders said in the Declaration of Independence: “The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews and for the Ingathering of the Exiles from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace… will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions…”
The State of Israel, set up at the meeting places of continents, history and cultures embodies this rich web of cultures. Its population includes different peoples and religions, religious and secular, Arab Moslems and Arab Christians, Druze, Bedouins, Circassians, Samaritans and Jews from 70 Diasporas, from East and Western Europe, North Africa, Asia, North and South America. The people are settled all over the country in the Negev, Arava, Galilee and coastal plain, in moshavim, kibbutzim, vivacious cities and quiet villages busily engaged in industry and commerce, farming and scientific research. All of these cultures, peoples and religions created a rich tapestry of tradition, beliefs and customs that encapsulate the holy and the secular, the past and the present, the east and the west
Hebrew and Arabic
Israel’s official languages are Hebrew and Arabic. English is the main language for purposes of external relations. Most Israelis speak English, and most of the signposts are also in English.
The most common language in Israel is Hebrew, which is spoken by six million people. This is followed by Arabic, which is spoken by over a million people. Since Israel is a land of immigration, additional languages are spoken among the various immigrant communities, the major languages being Russian (some 900,000 speakers), Jewish-Arabic (300,000 speakers) and Yiddish (200,000 speakers).
What People are Saying about Immanuel Tours