Population of Israel

The State of Israel has some 7.4 million inhabitants.

The most prominent characteristic of Israel's population is its diversity. The main division of the inhabitants is into Jews (80%) and Arabs (20%) with many more subdivisions. The Jews, for example, are divided into religious and secular; the latter include various immigrant communities who preserve their culture. Likewise, the Arabs are divided into Muslims, Christians and Druze. The country has additional small ethnic religious groups such as the Circassians and the Samaritans, plus small Christian communities from Europe such as the German Beit El community in Zikhron Ya'akov.

Another major characteristic is the rapid growth rate, which is atypical of developed countries. Since the establishment of the State, the population 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. It's also young (the median age is 28.3 years), the infant mortality rate is low (5.8 deaths for each 1,000 births) and life expectancy is high (78.7 years).

 

The Jewish Population

The State of Israel was established in 1948, at the height of the War of Independence. It expressed the culmination of a long process during which the Jewish people had started returning to their homeland. Indeed, since Israel's establishment, some 2.7 million Jews have come from about 130 countries. These continuous waves of immigration have left their mark on the country's politics and society.

The growth in the Jewish population has not been uniform, but rather occurred during four major waves of Aliya (the immigration of Jews to Israel). Between the years 1948 – 1951, Israel absorbed some 700,000 immigrants, with its population doubling as a consequence. In the mid 1950s, around 170,000 people immigrated from North Africa and Romania. In the early 1960s, about 180,000 people arrived from North Africa. In the 1990s, some 900,000 immigrants came from the former USSR and another 60,000 from Ethiopia.

Due to the profusion of origins, the Jewish population is quite varied. Since the State was founded, its different administrations have adopted a "melting pot" policy. Still, many immigrants have preserved their traditions to various degrees. Simultaneously, the percentage of native-born Israelis gradually grew and today they represent the majority of the Jewish population (65%). This process, and in particular the increased rate of intermarriage among members of the various communities and the growing influence of Western culture, have caused a gradual blurring of the differences between the different Jewish communities.

Jews in Israel are also divided according their level of religious observance: Ultra-Orthodox (12%), religious (10%), traditional (35%) and secular (43%).

 

The Non-Jewish Population

The largest non-Jewish group in the country is Arab, representing about one fifth of the population. Most of the group lives in Arab settlements in the Galilee, the eastern coastal plain and the northern Negev. There are also large concentrations in mixed cities such as Haifa, Jerusalem, Akko and Ramle.

The vast majority of Israel's Arabs are Sunnite Muslims, with only about one tenth being Christian (mostly members of the Greek-Orthodox Church). Others are the Bedouins, Muslim Arabs whose forefathers lived as nomads, but nowadays they live in permanent settlements, mainly in the northern Negev. The Druze, although a separate religious community, are also Arabs.

The main additional ethnic and religious groups are:

Druze: Members of a religion that developed from Shiite Islam in the 11th century and whose adherents are concentrated in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Some 115,000 Druze currently live in Israel, in 17 settlements on Mount Carmel, in the Galilee and the Golan Heights.

Circassians: Members of a Muslim, non-Arab people who came from the Caucasus. When their country was captured by the Russians in the 19th century, many immigrated to the Ottoman Empire, some arriving in the Land of Israel, where they established the villages of Rikhaniya and Kafr Kama.

Samaritans: Members of a national-religious community that's very close to Judaism. The Samaritan community developed following the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel, when members of the kingdom who remained in the land mixed with people exiled by the Assyrians to the region. In ancient times, the community was large and strong. However, unsuccessful rebellions during the Byzantine Period along with pressure exerted by the Muslims to convert to Islam gradually reduced their numbers. There now remain some 700 Samaritans, living in Nablus and Holon.

 

Israeli Communities

Around 300 persons per square kilometer populate Israeli, living mostly in towns and cities. However, the population distribution is not uniform: the majority is concentrated along the coastal plain, while the Negev (over half of the country's total area) is thinly populated.

Some 91% of the inhabitants of Israel live in urban settlements with populations of over 2000. About a quarter live in one of the four major cities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Rishon Le'Tziyon). The largest city is Jerusalem, with a population of around 746,300. About 392,000 people live in Tel Aviv, while over 1.6 million people live in its metropolitan area, which extends to Herzliya in the north and Rishon Le'Tziyon in the south.

The beginning of the 20th century saw the development of the kibbutz and the moshav, two types of agricultural settlement specific to Israel. The former is a community based on communal ownership of property, means of production and consumption. The moshav is an agricultural village combining elements of individual ownership with elements of a cooperative such as mutual aid and communal purchases and marketing. In the 1990s, following social changes in Israel and a farming crisis, many of the principles of the moshav were eroded and most of the kibbutzim have undergone massive reforms and different degrees of privatization.

Other types of settlement unique to Israel include the Moshava, typical of the beginning of the new Jewish settlement, an agricultural settlement of small farms with private means of production. During the first years of its existence, Israel also established urban settlements called development towns, designed to provide a housing solution for new immigrants and to implement a policy of population dispersion. Most were established far from the urban centers.

 

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