Israel (officially the State of Israel) is a country in Western Asia located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan in the east, and Egypt on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Also adjacent are the West Bank to the east and Gaza Strip to the southwest. Israel is the world’s only predominantly Jewish state with a population of about 7.4 million people, of which approximately 5.62 million are Jewish. The largest ethnic minority group is the segment denominated as Arab citizens of Israel, while minority religious groups include Muslims, Christians, Druze, Samaritans and others, most of which are found within the Arab segment.
The modern state of Israel has its historical and religious roots in the Biblical Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), a concept central to Judaism since ancient times, and the heartland of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Following the birth of political Zionism in 1897 and the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations granted the United Kingdom the British Mandate of Palestine after World War I, with responsibility for establishing “…such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion…” In November 1947 United Nations decided on partition of Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a UN-administered Jerusalem. Partition was accepted by Zionist leaders but rejected by Arab leaders leading to the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine. Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948 and neighboring Arab states attacked the next day. Since then, Israel has fought a series of wars with neighboring Arab states, and in consequence, Israel controls territories beyond those delineated in the 1949 Armistice Agreements. Some international borders remain in dispute, however Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, though efforts to resolve conflict with the Palestinians have so far only met with limited success.
Israel is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system and universal suffrage. The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel’s legislative body. The economy, based on the nominal gross domestic product, is the 44th-largest in the world. Israel ranks highest among Middle Eastern countries on the UN human development index, freedom of the press, and economic competitiveness. Jerusalem is the country’s capital, seat of government, and largest city, while Israel’s main financial center is Tel Aviv.