A densely-populated country on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, Israel is the only state in the world with a majority Jewish population.
After the Nazi Holocaust, pressure grew for the international recognition of a Jewish state, and in 1948 Israel declared its independence following a UN vote to partition Palestine.
Much of the history of the area since that time has been one of conflict between Israel on one side and Palestinians – represented by the Palestine Liberation Organisation – and Israel’s Arab neighbours, on the other. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were displaced in the fighting in 1948, during which Israel’s Arab neighbours came to the aid of the Arab Higher Committee in Palestine. Israel lost one percent of its population in the fighting, which ended in a series of uneasy armistices.
Israel has developed from an agrarian state run along collectivist lines into a hi-tech economy in the past 60 years. It has absorbed Jewish immigrants from Europe, the rest of the Middle East, North America and, most recently, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia along the way.