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Israel

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Continent:Asia National flag
National flag: Israel
Capital city:Jerusalem
Area:20,700 km2 ( 149. )
Population:6,276,883 Person ( 99. )
People density:303 Person / km2
GDP per capita:12,690 $ / Person ( 29. )
GDP:79,653,645,270 $
Official language:hebrew, arabic

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Positioned uniquely between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and at the centre of three major monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - the Holy Land has been fought over since biblical times. Given its extraordinary significance, it often comes as a surprise, therefore, to learn that what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip together take up an area only one and a half times the size of Wales or slightly larger than the state of Maryland, and contain a tiny, yet fractious, population of just 5.5 million.

Packed into this small region is an astonishing range of scenery: from the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean coastal strip, inland to the green valleys of the Galilee and goat-tracked, olive-groved hills of the West Bank - largely unchanged backdrops to many biblical events; from the towering, snowcapped peak of Mount Hermon northeast in the Golan Heights, south to the Dead Sea - the lowest point on earth - and the lunar landscapes of the Negev desert, at whose southernmost tip lie the spectacular coral reefs of the Red Sea. It’s home too, to some of the world’s holiest sites; visiting them and the abundant historic monuments to its troubled past, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of David and Solomon, of Jesus and Mohammed, and of the numerous armies - Roman, Crusader and otherwise - who have conquered the region. Add to the pot a handful of vibrant cities - primarily cosmopolitan Tel Aviv and the holy city of Jerusalem - and you have an unrivalled density and variety of things to see, often only a couple of hours apart.

Sooner or later, however, even on the most hedonistic beach vacation, you’re going to come face to face with the complexities and contrasts of a region that eludes easy definitions - whether geographical, political or cultural. It’s here that East meets West head on, with all the bizarre juxtapositions that brings - religion and secularism, tradition and innovation, Jewish-Arab synthesis and Jewish-Arab conflict. The political situation, in particular, hits you as soon as you arrive. For all the millennia of religious and political strife, the question that has dominated the area since the State of Israel came into being just over fifty years ago is: one country or two? Though increasingly seen as the latter - Israel and Palestine - there are still those on both sides who deny the other’s right to exist. But for all the fits and starts that the peace process has been through, attitudes have mellowed, and most Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, however reluctantly, now accept each other’s claim to nationhood, and even each other’s right to self-determination. Even so, it’s not always clear where one ends and the other begins: Israeli settlements dot the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while in Israel itself, nearly one in five of the population are Arabs, most of whom regard themselves as Palestinians. As a visitor you are unlikely to encounter trouble, but conflict still simmers.

Inhabiting this complicated yet intoxicating melting pot is a multicultural population equally difficult to classify. Though it belongs, for the most part, to one of two ethnic groups - Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs - there are a plethora of subdivisions within both. Israeli Jews can be religious or secular, and ethnically Sephardi or Ashkenazi, while further diversity arises from each Jewish immigrant community retaining something of the culture of its country of origin, be they Yemeni, Russian or Ethiopian, Cochinese Jews from Kerala (south India), the Shinlung of Manipur (northeast India), or Jews from the English-speaking countries of the West. Among Palestinian Arabs, too, there is a religious-secular divide, and further separation into Muslim and Christian. Smaller ethnic communities that have found a home here include the Samaritans of Nablus and Holon, the Druze of the Carmel, the Galilee and the Golan Heights, and the Armenians of Jerusalem, who have one of the Old City’s quarters virtually to themselves.

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Map of country Israel

Map of country  Israel

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