Israel's population reaches 7,150,000

Israel's population increased by 121,000, or 1.8 percent, since last year's Independence Day, reaching a total of 7,150,000. The Central Bureau of Statistics released the data ahead of Independence Day, which starts Monday evening. The population growth was mainly a product of a high birthrate. Some 148,000 babies were born in 2006, and 18,400 new immigrants arrived. According to the latest CBS figures, out of 24,000 Israelis who left the country in 2004 for a period of more than 12 months, 10,000 have returned. Israel's 5,415,000 Jews and 310,000 "others" - mostly non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union or those whose Jewish status is undetermined - make up 76% of Israel's population. The Arab and Druse population numbers 1,425,000, or 20% of Israel's citizens. The country's five largest cities, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon Lezion and Ashdod, account for a quarter of the population, or 1,810,300 people. Another 462,200, or 6%, live in small towns, while just 119,700 - less than 2% - live on kibbutzim. Approximately 47% of the population would, if born again, prefer for that to happen somewhere other than Israel, according to an "alternative survey" conducted by the Geocartographic Institute's iGeo subsidiary. The survey, conducted in early April among 500 Israeli Jews, found that 70% of Israelis from the FSU would prefer to be reborn outside Israel, 19% of them specifying Russia as their country of choice and 15% the US. Among wealthy local-born Israelis, 62% said they would like to be reborn abroad, 18% in the US or Canada, 8% in Switzerland and 6% in Sweden. The survey revealed surprising findings from pensioners; 59% said they would rather live abroad. Twelve percent would choose the US, 9% Switzerland, 6% Australia and 3% would seek retirement in New Zealand. Among the poor, 58% would have preferred to be reborn abroad, a figure close to that among the wealthy, which stands at 52%. Most in both groups mentioned the US and Canada as their chosen alternative homeland. In contrast, 83% of the modern Orthodox sector, 80% of those living in rural towns and kibbutzim, and 65% of Israel's well off pensioners said they would choose to be reborn in Israel. According to Prof. Avi Degani, president of iGeo, similar studies in India and China reported that 89% of Indians would choose to be reborn in India, apparently for cultural and religious reasons. Among the Chinese, 64% said they wished to be reborn elsewhere. Not all the news was so dire, however. A poll carried out by the Geocartographic Institute for the Immigrant Absorption Ministry found that olim were proud Israelis. Eighty percent of immigrants said they felt "at home" in Israel, while 7% did not; half said they felt Israeli in every way. Sixty-eight percent said they primarily followed Israeli news, while 23% followed mainly international news. These figures are not so different from those for native-born Israelis, 81% of whom followed primarily Israeli news, while 8% mostly followed international reports. Over 70% of immigrants from the FSU said they felt more Israeli than Russian (or any other FSU nationality), and 70% defined themselves as Jewish. Of the remaining 30%, only 2% referred to themselves as Christian, with the rest saying they were atheist. Still, only a third of immigrants from the FSU reported having native-born friends. Perhaps most importantly, 72% of immigrants from the FSU said that, if given the chance, they would repeat their decision to come to Israel.