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Background information | Israel (2008) |

Background information

Jan Schneider

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In terms of area and population, Israel is quite a small country. Its national territory roughly corresponds in size to that of the US state of New Jersey and, with about seven million inhabitants, it is similarly densely populated.

The amount of attention that the Middle East's strongest economy has always attracted bears no relation to these somewhat unspectacular figures. Israel is constantly present in media and political discourse, primarily attributable to the often war-like conflict between Jews and Palestinians that has been smouldering for more than 60 years.

Background InformationIsrael

Capital: Jerusalem
Languages: Hebrew, Arabic
Area: 20,770 km2 (CIA World Factbook)
Population (2008): 7,112,359 (CIA, includes Israeli settlers in der West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights)
Population density (2008): 342 inhabitants per km2 (CIA)
Population growth (2006): +1.8%
Foreign-born population as a percentage of total population (2006): 33.8%
Share of Arab population (2007): 19.9%
Labour force participation rate (2006): 55.4%
Percentage of foreign-born employees amongst gainfully employed (2007): 6.9%
Unemployment rate: 8.4% (2006), 9.0% (2005), 10.4% (2004) Religions (2004): Jews 76.4%, Muslims 16%, Arab Christians 1.7%, other Christians 0.4%, Druze 1.6%, not stated 3.9%

Migration background of the Jewish population of Israel 2006 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

With regard to the subject of migration, too, Israel is unusual in one very important way: the state is virtually built on immigration. Apart from brief interruptions, Jews have immigrated continuously into the originally Ottoman and later British-administered Palestine since 1882. The holocaust in Europe lent the Zionist ideal worldwide legitimacy and accelerated its realisation. Mass immigration characterised various periods of the 20th century, especially the years immediately before and after the founding of the state in 1948. The subsequent war that broke out with the neighbouring Arab states (War of Independence) led, on the other hand, to a wave of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons. Later wars generated further refugee movements, with the result that today almost three quarters of Palestinians (about 7 million) live outside their homeland.

The population of Israel has doubled several times over the past 60 years, in particular as a result of immigration. Today the country has 7.1 million inhabitants. Since 1948 more than three million immigrants have been registered, and in the 1990s Israel was even the country with the highest percentage of immigration worldwide in proportion to the size of its population. At the same time, Israel is also a country with an indigenous Arab-Palestinian population that makes up about 20% of the total population figures.

Given the considerable number of Jewish immigrants, questions of integration and of the co-existence of new immigrants with the indigenous population play an important role in Israel. In recent times, migration and integration policy has been faced with newly developing challenges. These include labour migration, refugeeism and illegal residence – challenges with which western immigration countries have been typically confronted up to now.



  1. Zionism is the term given to a worldwide Jewish national movement and ideology originating in the second half of the 19th century. Its aim was the founding or reconstitution of a Jewish national state in Palestine.

  2. The following account relates primarily to circumstances relevant to migration policy in the state of Israel. The Arab-Israeli conflict, matters of Palestinian statehood and migration movements and policies in the Palestinian-administered or Israeli-controlled areas are not the explicit subject of this country profile.

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Jan Schneider earned a doctorate at the Institute for Political Science of the Justus-Liebig-University Gießen. He is a researcher with the Migration Research Group at the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI) and a member of the editorial board of "focus migration" and the newsletter "Migration and Population".