Government type: parliamentary democracy
Administrative divisions: 6 districts (mehozot, singular - mehoz); Central, Haifa, Jerusalem, Northern, Southern, Tel Aviv
Independence: 14 May 1948 (from League of Nations mandate under British administration)
Constitution: no formal constitution; some of the functions of a constitution are filled by the Declaration of Establishment (1948), the Basic Laws of the parliament (Knesset), and the Israeli citizenship law; note - since May 2003 the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee of the Knesset has been working on a draft constitution.
Legal system: mixture of English common law, British Mandate regulations, and, in personal matters, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim legal systems; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.
Executive branch: chief of state: President Shimon PERES (since 15 July 2007)
head of government: Prime Minister Binjamin NETANYAHU (since 31 March 2009); Vice Prime Minister Silvan SHALOM (since 31 March 2009); Vice Prime Minister Moshe YAALON (since 31 March 2009)
cabinet: Cabinet selected by prime minister and approved by the Knesset
elections: president is largely a ceremonial role and is elected by the Knesset for a seven-year term (one-term limit); election last held 13 June 2007 (next to be held in 2014 but can be called earlier); following legislative elections, the president assigns a Knesset member - traditionally the leader of the largest party - the task of forming a governing coalition
election results: Shimon PERES elected president; number of votes in first round - Shimon PERES 58, Reuven RIVLIN 37, Colette AVITAL 21; PERES elected president in second round with 86 votes (unopposed).
Legislative branch: unicameral Knesset (120 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) elections: last held 10 February 2009 (next scheduled election to be held in 2014)
election results: percent of vote by party - Kadima 23.2%, Likud-Ahi 22.3%, Yisrael Beiteinu 12.1%, Labor 10.2%, SHAS 8.8%, United Torah Judaism 4.5%, United Arab List 3.5%, NU 3.4%, Hadash 3.4%, The Jewish Home 3%, The New Movement-Meretz 3%, Balad 2.6%; seats by party - Kadima 28, Likud-Ahi 27, Yisrael Beiteinu 15, Labor 13, SHAS 11, United Torah Judaism 5, United Arab List 4, NU 4, HADASH 4, The Jewish Home 3, The New Movement-Meretz 3, Balad 3.
Judicial branch: Supreme Court (justices appointed by Judicial Selection Committee - made up of all three branches of the government; mandatory retirement age is 70)
Diplomatic representation in the US: Chief of Mission - Ambassador Michael Oren
Diplomatic representation from the US: Chief of Mission - Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro
Population: 7,473,052 (note: includes about 296,700 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, about 19,100 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and fewer than 198,800 in East Jerusalem (July 2010 est.)
Religions: Jewish 75.5%, Muslim 16.8%, Christians 2.1%, other 3.9% (2008)
Languages: Hebrew (official), Arabic used officially for Arab minority, English most commonly used foreign language.
Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt and Lebanon
Area: 20,770 sq km
Climate: temperate; hot and dry in southern and eastern desert areas
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than New Jersey
Click here to see map of Israel.
GDP (2010 est.): $217.8 billion.
Annual growth rate (2010): 3.4%.
Per capita GDP (2010): $29,500.
Currency: Shekel (3.75 shekels = 1 U.S. dollar; 2010 est.).
Natural resources: Copper, phosphate, bromide, potash, clay, sand, sulfur, bitumen, manganese.
Agriculture: Products--citrus and other fruits, vegetables, beef, dairy, and poultry products.
Industry: Types--high-technology projects (including aviation, communications, computer-aided design and manufactures, medical electronics, fiber optics), wood and paper products, potash and phosphates, food, beverages, tobacco, caustic soda, cement, construction, plastics, chemical products, diamond cutting and polishing, metal products, textiles, and footwear.
Trade: Exports (2010 est.)--$54.31 billion. Exports include polished diamonds, electronic communication, medical and scientific equipment, chemicals and chemical products, electronic components and computers, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, rubber, plastics, and textiles. Export Partners: U.S. 35.05%, Hong Kong 6.02%,Belgium 4.95%(2009)
Imports (2010 est.)--$55.6 billion: raw materials, diamonds, energy ships and airplanes, machinery, equipment, land transportation equipment for investment, and consumer goods. Import Partners: U.S. 12.35%,China 7.43%,Germany 7.1%,Switzerland 6.94%,Belguim 5.42%,Italy 4.49%, UK 4.03%,Netherland 3.98% (2009)
Of the approximately 7.5 million Israelis in 2010, about 76% were counted as Jewish, though some of those are not considered Jewish under Orthodox Jewish law. Since 1989, nearly a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union have arrived in Israel, making this the largest wave of immigration since independence. In addition, an estimated 105,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community have immigrated to Israel, 14,000 of them during the dramatic May 1991 Operation Solomon airlift. 32.9% of Israelis were born outside of Israel.
The three broad Jewish groupings are the Ashkenazim, or Jews who trace their ancestry to western, central, and eastern Europe; the Sephardim, who trace their origin to Spain, Portugal, southern Europe, and North Africa; and Eastern or Oriental Jews, who descend from ancient communities in Islamic lands.
Education is compulsory from age 6 to 16 and is free up to age 18. The school system is organized into kindergartens, 6-year primary schools, 3-year junior secondary schools, and 3-year senior secondary schools, after which a comprehensive examination is offered for university admissions. There are seven university-level institutions in Israel, a number of regional colleges, and an Open University program.
With a population drawn from more than 100 countries on 5 continents, Israeli society is rich in cultural diversity and artistic creativity. The arts are actively encouraged and supported by the government. The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra performs throughout the country and frequently tours abroad. The Jerusalem Symphony and the New Israel Opera also tour frequently, as do other musical ensembles. Almost every municipality has a chamber orchestra or ensemble, many boasting the talents of gifted performers from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Israel has several professional ballet and modern dance companies, and folk dancing, which draws upon the cultural heritage of many immigrant groups, continues to be very popular. There is great public interest in the theater; the repertoire covers the entire range of classical and contemporary drama in translation as well as plays by Israeli authors. Of the three major repertory companies, the most famous, Habimah, was founded in 1917.
Active artist colonies thrive in Safed, Jaffa, and Ein Hod, and Israeli painters and sculptors exhibit works worldwide. Israel boasts more than 120 museums, including the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls along with an extensive collection of regional archaeological artifacts, art, and Jewish religious and folk exhibits. Israelis are avid newspaper readers, with more than 90% of Israeli adults reading a newspaper at least once a week. Major daily papers are in Hebrew; others are in Arabic, English, French, Polish, Yiddish, Russian, Hungarian, and German.
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