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Archaeological evidence reveals that Israelite kingdoms existed in what is today Israel from at least 1200 B.C. The Jewish people have inhabited the land since, albeit in widely varying numbers and degrees of cultural and sociopolitical importance.

The modern State of Israel is young. In the aftermath of World War II, waves of Jewish refugees from Europe flooded Palestine, which the British administered under a mandate established in 1922 by the League of Nations. In November 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two independent states, Arab and Jewish, and to place the Holy City of Jerusalem under international jurisdiction. The departure of British troops in May 1948, the declaration of the State of Israel and the subsequent war between the Arabs and Israel provoked a massive refugee crisis and opened the door for the development of a Jewish state.

Demographics. Over three-quarters of Israel’s seven million people are Jews, representing a melting pot of cultures that originated in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Some 20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab. Most Israeli Arabs are Sunni Muslims and make up about 16 percent of the Israeli population. Israel’s Arab Druze community makes up about 1.5 percent of the total population.

At the time of the creation of Israel, Christians numbered some 149,000 people — almost 20 percent of the total population. Of the 750,000 Palestinians who fled their homes between 1948 and 1949, some 52,000 were Christian, about 35 percent of the entire Christian community or 7 percent of the total number of refugees.

Today, Israeli Arab Christians number less than 150,000 people — about 2 percent of Israel’s total population. The largest community is Melkite Greek Catholic, with an estimated 95,000 faithful. Others include the Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Latin and Maronite Catholic communities. The majority of Arab Christians — about 110,000 — live in Haifa, Nazareth and in the Galilee.

About 300,000 people classified as non-Jewish live in Israel, most emigrated from traditionally Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe. Some 30,000 non-Arab Christians — Filipinos, Moldavians and Romanians — also live there.

Sociopolitical situation. Since its creation, Israel has been a democratic state with a parliamentary system of government. While it has no formal constitution, Israeli law combines elements of English common law, regulations from the British Mandate and individual Israeli laws, such as the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which seeks to safeguard civil rights. In personal matters, Jewish, Christian, Druze and Muslim legal systems take precedence.

Discrimination against Israeli Arabs, nevertheless, is commonplace. On 31 July, 2003, the Israeli government passed the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law (5763), which makes Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank ineligible for Israeli citizenship should they marry an Israeli citizen. Though a temporary emergency measure, the law has been extended annually by the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). The law has prevented thousands of couples from living together as man and wife. For those who do reside in Israel, it prevents them from obtaining health insurance, work permits and other benefits.

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Tags: Israel Christian-Muslim relations Arabs Jewish-Catholic relations