Israel is a country in the Levant region of the Middle East, in Western Asia by the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Lebanon and Syria to the north, Jordan to the east, Egypt to the south and the Mediterranean to the west. Israel was established as a state in 1948, becoming the first and only predominantly Jewish state in the modern era. Israel has a population of nearly 9 million (2018). Of these 9 million, approximately 75% are Jewish, 20% are Arab, and 5% belong to other ethnic minorities. The most widely spoken languages in the country are Hebrew and Arabic, though Russian, French, and English are widely spoken as well. Israel is quite small geographically - its territory covers about 21,000 square kilometers (8,100 square miles). Despite its size, its topography is varied, ranging from a dry desert climate to mountains and forests. Israel has four distinct geographic regions: the Negev Desert, the Great Rift Valley, the Mediterranean coastal valley, and the mountainous regions in the north. The Dead Sea, the lowest dry-land point on Earth, is on the border between Israel and Jordan. Jerusalem, Israel’s declared though internationally-disputed capital, houses the country’s government buildings. Israel is a democratic republic with a 120-seat parliament (called the Knesset), a prime minister who is head of government and a president whose job is largely ceremonial. Upon its establishment Israel declared itself both Jewish and Democratic. Israel was established in order to be a “safe haven” for the Jewish people. In the years subsequent to its establishment it received an influx of Jewish immigrants and refugees from war-torn Europe and various countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Though originally established as a state with socialist values, the right-winged Likud party has now been in power for over forty years, since former prime minister Menahem Begin took office in 1977. The judicial system in Israel is three-tiered, with the Supreme Court being the top-standing authority on most cases. Religious courts have complete jurisdiction over annulment of marriages. Israel started off as an isolated entity in the predominantly Arab-Muslim Middle East. In 1979, Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt, and in 1994 it signed one with Jordan. Though ties between Israel and much of the Arab world remain hostile, its relationships with countries such as Saudi Arabia have been improving in recent years as the common Iranian threat improves cooperation between the countries. The United States is Israel’s strongest ally. Relations between the two countries have remained relatively constant since Israel’s establishment, with both countries prioritizing the relationship regardless of which administrations are in office. Israel has been in an ongoing conflict with its Palestinian neighbors for decades. It spends a large proportion of its budget on security and defense, and the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) is the largest and strongest military in the Middle East. Israel has a mandatory military draft for most 18-year-old Israeli men and women. Israel has earned itself the nickname “Startup nation” due to the multitude of high-tech companies and scientific startups within its borders.`
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