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Israel is a country in the Middle East, on the southeastern shore of

the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. It has
land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east,
the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the east and west,
respectively, and Egypt to the southwest. The country contains geographically
diverse features within its relatively
small area. Israel's economy and technology center is Tel Aviv, while its seat of
government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem, although the state's sovereignty
over Jerusalem is internationally unrecognized.

The population of Israel, as defined by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, was
estimated in 2017 to be 8,681,580 people. It is the world's only Jewish-majority
state, with 74.8% being designated as Jewish. The country's second largest group of
citizens are Arabs, at 20.8% (including the Druze and most East Jerusalem Arabs).
The great majority of Israeli Arabs are Sunni Muslims, including significant numbers
of semi-settled Negev Bedouins; the rest are Christians and Druze. Other minorities
include Arameans, Armenians, Assyrians, Black Hebrew
Israelites, Circassians, Maronites and Samaritans. Israel also hosts a significant
population of non-citizen foreign workers and asylum seekers from Africa and
Asia, including illegal migrants from Sudan, Eritrea and other Sub-Saharan Africans.

In its Basic Laws, Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state. Israel is
a representative democracy with a parliamentary system, proportional
representation and universal suffrage. The prime minister is head
of government and the Knesset is the legislature. Israel is a developed country and
an OECD member, with the 35th-largest economy in the world by nominal gross
domestic product as of 2016. The country benefits from a highly skilled workforce
and is among the most educated countries in the world with one of the highest
percentage of its citizens holding a tertiary education degree. The country has the
highest standard of living in the Middle East and the third highest in Asia, and
has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
The oldest evidence of early humans in the territory of modern Israel, dating to 1.5
million years ago, was found in Ubeidiya near the Sea of Galilee. Other
notable Paleolithic sites include caves Tabun, Qesem and Manot. The oldest fossils
of anatomically modern humans found outside Africa are the Skhul and Qafzeh
hominids, who lived in northern Israel 120,000 years ago. Around 10th millennium
BCE, the Natufian culture existed in the area.

The notion of the "Land of Israel", known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been
important and sacred to the Jewish people since Biblical times. According to
the Torah, God promised the land to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people. On
the basis of scripture, the period of the three Patriarchs has been placed somewhere
in the early 2nd millennium BCE. The first record of the name Israel (as ysrr)
occurs in the Merneptah Stele, erected for Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah c. 1209
BCE, "Israel is laid waste and his seed is not." This "Israel" was a cultural and
probably political entity of the central highlands, well enough established to be
perceived by the Egyptians as a possible challenge to their hegemony, but an ethnic
group rather than an organised state. The Merneptah Stele is one of four known
contemporary inscriptions from antiquity containing the name of Israel, the others
being the Tel Dan Stele, the Mesha Stele, and the Kurkh Monolith. The name
appears much earlier, as a personal name, in material from Ebla.
Modern scholars see Israel arising peacefully and internally from existing people in
the highlands of Canaan. McNutt says, "It is probably safe to assume that sometime
during Iron Age I a population began to identify itself as 'Israelite'", differentiating
itself from the Canaanites through such markers as the prohibition of intermarriage,
an emphasis on family history and genealogy, and religion. Ancestors of the
Israelites may have included Semites native to Canaan and the Sea Peoples. The
archaeological evidence indicates a society of village-like centres, but with more
limited resources and a small population. Villages had populations of up to 300 or
400, which lived by farming and herding, and were largely self-sufficient; economic
interchange was prevalent. Writing was known and available for recording, even in
small sites. The first Kingdom of Israel was established around the 11th century
BCE. Subsequent Israelite kingdoms and states ruled intermittently over the next
four hundred years, and are known from various extra-biblical sources.
Around 930 BCE, the kingdom split into a southern Kingdom of Judah and a
northern Kingdom of Israel. From the middle of the 8th century BCE Israel came into
increasing conflict with the expanding Neo-Assyrian Empire. Under Tiglath-Pileser
III it first split Israel's territory into several smaller units and then destroyed its
capital, Samaria (722 BCE). An Israelite revolt (724722 BCE) was crushed after the
siege and capture of Samaria by the Assyrian king Sargon II. Sargon's
son, Sennacherib, tried and failed to conquer Judah. Assyrian records say he leveled
46 walled cities and besieged Jerusalem, leaving after receiving extensive tribute.
In 586 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah. According to the
Hebrew Bible, he destroyed Solomon's Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylon. The
defeat was also recorded in the Babylonian Chronicles. In 538 BCE, Cyrus the
Great of Persia conquered Babylon and took over its empire. Cyrus issued a
proclamation granting subjugated nations, including the people of Judah, religious
freedom (for the original text, which corroborates the biblical narrative only in very
broad terms, see the Cyrus Cylinder). According to the Hebrew Bible, 50,000
Judeans, led by Zerubbabel, returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple. A second
group of 5,000, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, returned to Judah in 456 BCE although
non-Jews wrote to Cyrus to try to prevent their return.

Classical period

With successive Persian rule, the autonomous province Yehud Medinata was
gradually developing back into urban society, largely dominated by Judeans.
The Greek conquests largely skipped the region without any resistance or interest.
Incorporated into Ptolemaic and finally Seleucid empires, the southern Levant was
heavily hellenized, building the tensions between Judeans and Greeks. The conflict
erupted in 167 BCE with the Maccabean Revolt, which succeeded in establishing an
independent Hasmonean Kingdom in Judah, which later expanded over much of
modern Israel, as the Seleucids gradually lost control in the region.

Masada fortress, location of the final battle in the First JewishRoman War

The Roman Empire invaded the region in 63 BCE, first taking control of Syria, and
then intervening in the Hasmonean Civil War. The struggle between pro-Roman and
pro-Parthian factions in Judea eventually led to the installation of Herod the
Great and consolidation of the Herodian kingdom as a vassal Judean state of Rome.
With the decline of the Herodian dynasty, Judea, transformed into a Roman
province, became the site of a violent struggle of Jews against Greco-Romans,
culminating in the JewishRoman wars, ending in wide-scale destruction, expulsions,
and genocide. Jewish presence in the region significantly dwindled after the failure
of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE.
Nevertheless, there was a continuous small Jewish presence and Galilee became its
religious center. The Mishnah and part of the Talmud, central Jewish texts, were
composed during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE in Tiberias and Jerusalem. The region
came to be populated predominantly by Greco-Romans on the coast
and Samaritans in the hill-country. Christianity was gradually evolving over Roman
paganism, when the area stood under Byzantine rule. Through the 5th and 6th
centuries, the dramatic events of the repeated Samaritan revolts reshaped the land,
with massive destruction to Byzantine Christian and Samaritan societies and a
resulting decrease of the population. After the Persian conquest and the installation
of a short-lived Jewish Commonwealth in 614 CE, the Byzantine
Empire reconquered the country in 628.