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A Mediterranean country bordering Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel's exact borders are a matter of contention. Established in 1948 after violence between Jewish nationalists, local Arab Palestinians and the militaries of the surrounding States, Israel operates as a democracy with both a presidential head of state and a prime minister as head of government. Human rights concerns in Israel include restrictions on NGO and media activities, discrimination against Arab Israeli citizens and the ongoing systematic abuses of human rights by Israeli security forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Israel is located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and shares borders with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The territories of the West Bank and the Gaza strip are on the border of Jordan and the Mediterranean respectively. The Israeli government claims Jerusalem as its capital city, though it is not recognised as such by many States.
Population and language
The population of Israel is 7.8 million and has been rising at between two to three per cent per year since 1980. A large majority of those living in Israel are Jewish (76 percent), making Israel the only majority Jewish state in the world. There is a also a sizeable minority of Arabs (20 per cent).
Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian are widely spoken in the country.
History and politics
Modern day Israel was formed in 1948 following the “Proclamation of Independence”. The country has been in a persistent state of conflict since, with notable flash-points during the Suez/Sinai campaign of 1956, the six-day-war of 1967 and two wars with Lebanon in 1982 and 2000. Israel's modern history has also been marked by territorial struggles over the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. For more information on this, see the wiki page for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Israeli political system draws on a number of European and Westminster political models, but also bears U.S. influences. The Prime Minister is the head of government which usually takes the form of a coalition. The Knesset (Parliament) is a single chamber legislature elected at least every four years, though it is not uncommon for elections to be held more frequently. The President, elected by the Knesset, is officially the Head of State, though it is a largely ceremonial role.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party, became Prime Minister in 2009 and currently leads a coalition of six parties. Veteran politician, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former leader of the Labour Party, Shimon Peres is the President.
Israel has an unusual legal system without a Constitution but with a series of eleven “Basic Laws” that deal largely with institutional aspects of the State and human rights. The system also draws, in varying degrees, from the region's experience of common law under the British Mandate and the civil law traditions of Ottoman Empire
The Israeli economy has experienced substantial growth and development over the past decade, achieving annual GDP growth of around 4.5 per cent. The high-tech sector has been key in this growth, accounting for 10 per cent of the workforce, but 40 per cent of exports. Natural gas discovered off the north coast of the country also presents a source of future economic development, with quantities found that could fulfil the country's energy requirements for decades or provide substantial export revenue.
Media and civil society
Reporters Without Borders rated Israel 93 out of 178 countries in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, a situation it considered “satisfactory”, but has raised a number of concerns about media freedom in the country. Particular concerns have surrounded proposed reforms to libel laws, bans on foreign journalists in the Gaza strip during periods of military activity, the closure of a radio station in East Jerusalem, and the arrest of Palestinian journalists in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Israeli government also faced severe criticism for its approach to civil society in November 2011, when a draft law that sought to limit the foreign funding of NGOs was introduced in the Knesset.
Human rights and children's rights
Beyond concerns regarding media and civil society freedom, a number of concerns have been raised with regards to human rights more generally with regards to the Israeli state. With regards to the Gaza strip, UN treaty bodies have been particularly critical of the demolition of homes and civilian infrastructure, as well as on the extensive limitations on freedom of movement posed by checkpoints and the wall. These actions have had a particular effect on children with regards to access to education and health facilities as well as in restricting aid agencies' access to the area.
- Ynetnews.com, "Central Bureau of Statistics Census: 75.6% of Israelis Jews" 24 September 2008
- BBC, "Profile: Benjamin Netanyahu" 20 February 2009
- BBC, "Israel Profile" 31 August 2011
- The Economist, "Beyond the start-up nation" 29 December 2009
- The Economist, " Israel and its natural resources: What a gas!" 11 November 2010
- Reporters Without Borders, "Draconian measures threaten democracy" 22 November 2011
- Reporters Without Borders, " More Israeli arrests of Palestinian journalists in Jerusalem and West Bank" 19 November 2011
- CRIN, "Israel: Prime Minister stalls hearing on draft bill that would cap foreign funding of NGOs" 22 November 2011 and The Jewish Daily Forward, "U.S. Ambassador criticises anti-NGO law" 4 December 2011
- CRIN, "Israel: Children's Rights in UN Treaty Body Reports"
- OHCHR, " Israel Homepage"
- Hauser Global Law School Programme, Michal Tamir and Esther Mann Snyder, " UPDATE: A Guide to Legal Research in Israel"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, " Israel Country Profile"
- World Bank Data: Israel
- Reporters Without Borders, "World Report: Israel"
- BBC, " Israel Profile" and see footnotes
- The Economist, see footnotes