Embassy of Israel Washington, D.C.

Did You Know?
Religious Diversity in Israel

Israeli society is a diverse tapestry of religions, ethnicities, and cultures. Citizens of Israeli society include members of the world’s three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Israel’s population of approximately seven million is 76 percent Jewish and 20 percent Arab, most of whom are Muslim. Approximately one quarter of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish, and they include a vibrant mixture of Muslims, Christians, Druze, Circassians, Bahá’í and others. All of Israel’s citizens enjoy equal rights, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race or gender. The largest Christian denomination represented in Israel is the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, in addition to a vibrant Protestant community. Christian holy sites in Israel include the Via Dolorosa and the Room of the Last Supper in Jerusalem, the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Jordan River and Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. In 2000, the late Pope John Paul II visited Israel and many of these holy sites. Israel’s approximate 1.4 million Arab citizens are

mostly Sunni Muslims and a large percentage reside in towns in northern Israel. Arabs live throughout the entire country, and the largest Arab cities are Nazareth and Umm El Fahm. In addition, Jerusalem is home to the largest overall Arab population. All Israelis enjoy the same rights under the law, including the right to vote and be elected and freedoms of religion and speech, all of which are exercised by both men and women. The Arab community is entitled to operate its own schools, which teach Arabic and Islamic studies in addition the Ministry of Education’s general curriculum. Arabic is one of Israel’s two official languages.

Israel Ministry of Tourism

Christian pilgrims praying along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

Israel National Photo Collection

Muslim pilgrims visit the Dome of the Rock

Israel Ministry of Tourism

Jews praying at the Kotel (Western Wall)

www.israelemb.org

Israeli-Arabs serve in different parties in Israel’s Knesset (the parliament), and there are currently three Arab parties. Members of the Arab community are serving as both Israeli government officials and ambassadors. Justice Salim Joubran, an Israeli-Arab-Christian, sits on the Supreme Court. In 1995, Ali Yahya, an Israeli-Arab-Muslim, was appointed as Israel’s Ambassador to Finland and today serves as Ambassador to Greece. For his work in promoting coexistence between Israelis and Arabs, Yahya received the Knesset Speaker’s Prize and the Histadrut (Israeli Labor Union) Prize for Coexistence.
Cathleen MacLearie

In 1949, Israel enacted a series of Basic Laws that practically serves as a national constitution. Israel’s Basic Laws include chapters on all branches of government as well as on the basic human right to liberty, dignity, and freedom of livelihood.

Deputy Consul General of Israel to San Francisco Ismail Khaldi

Ismail Khaldi was the first Bedouin to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Today he serves as Deputy Counsel General of Israel to the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco. Prior to his post Khaldi served in the IDF, the Defense Ministry, and the Israeli police.

Israel Ministry of Tourism

Bahá’í Temple and Gardens in Haifa

The Druze and the Bedouin
Israel’s social fabric is composed of many religious and ethnic groups. Two large minority populations are the Druze and Bedouin, which each have their own unique contributions to Israeli society. The Druze are an Arabic-speaking religious community of approximately 113,000, most of whom reside in the northern Galilee. The largest Druze towns are Ussafiya and Daliyat el-Carmel, located on Mount Carmel, near Haifa. One of the most important Druze gathering sites is the tomb of Nebi Shu'eib (the prophet Jethro). The Druze religious code is a secret kept by the community and seldom shared with outsiders. The Druze are fully integrated into Israeli society, and have been serving in the Israel Defense Force since the state’s establishment in 1948.
Israel Ministry of Tourism

Unique Minorities in a Diverse Country
The Bedouin Arabs are a Muslim community of approximately 170,000, scattered across the country but with a large concentration in the southern Negev Desert. Formerly nomadic shepherds, the Bedouin are currently in transition from a tribal social framework to a permanently settled society and are gradually entering Israel's labor force. In 1948, there were Bedouin who joined the Israeli army to defend the country in the War of Independence. Bedouin today continue to serve in the Israeli military on a voluntary basis. Bedouin serve in all military units and the border police. Because of their traditional familiarity with the desert landscape, elite units of Bedouin trackers have been set up to monitor Israel’s borders. The Wall of Tears of the Yad Ed monument in northern Israel is inscribed with the names of 110 Bedouin IDF soldiers who fell in the service of their country.

Israel Ministry of Tourism

Traditional Bedouin hospitality tent

Woman baking pita in a park in Daliat el-Carmel, the biggest Druze village in Israel

The Druze are involved in Israeli government and politics, and have served as members of the Knesset.