Israel – Minorities Coexistence & Religious Freedom

2.1 million Israelis identify themselves as not Jewish, representing 25% of the population. Their choices of lifestyle vary widely. Arab Sunni Muslims constitute the largest minority (some 1.5 million), including approximately 300,000 formerly nomadic Bedouins. Two additional Muslim groups are the Circassian community of the Galilee (about 4000 members) and the Ahmedi community in the city of Haifa (about 1000 members).

The Christian communities number about 162,000. While the majority of Israeli Christians are Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic, dozens of Christian denominations find representation in Israel, as befits the cradle of Christianity. Additionally, several lesser-known monotheistic religions flourish in Israel – the Druze faith, with over 130,000 followers living in the north of the country, the Baha’i faith, whose global center is in Haifa, and the ancient communities of Karaites (about 40,000) and Samaritans (about 800), which evolved in parallel with Judaism.

Israel’s minorities, like all Israeli citizens, enjoy full equality and liberty The minorities also enjoy collective community rights, such as regulating their own rules about marriage and divorce and running the Arab, Druze and Christian school systems. Israel remains committed to ensuring civil and political rights among its diverse population.

The Christian Communities – While some of the local churches trace their origins to the earliest days of Christianity, today, Israel is almost unique in the MiddleEast as a country where the Christian population is growing and prospering.

Who are the Druze? The first followers of the Druze faith settled in areas of modern-day Israel, Lebanon and Syria during the 11th century. Israel’s Druze community, over 130,000 strong, populates 22 villages in the north of the country, maintaining its distinct religious, cultural, and social community life. Among the religion’s core values is complete loyalty by its members to the country in which they reside. As a result, the Druze often attain top positions in the Israeli public service and military.

Islamic Art Islam arrived in the region with the Arabian conquest of the 7th century. Jerusalem’s Museum of Islamic Art, inaugurated in 1974, hosts one of the world’s foremost collections showcasing Islam’s unique artistic influences, both historical and contemporary

The Israeli Declaration of Independence states “The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace; … it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

While urban life offers integration of the various streams in Israeli society, rural Israel features many villages with a distinct ethnic identity – Jewish, Arab, Druze, Bedouin or Circassian. These villages play a crucial role in sustaining the heritage of each community. For Israelis and visitors who choose religious practice of any faith or denomination, freedom of worship is assured as one of Israel’s basic tenets. Those who prefer freedom from religion are equally protected. All Israeli citizens enjoy the full civil, legal and political rights guaranteed by a democratic society. Some examples include the right to elect and to be elected, the right to free education, the freedom of expression and association, and many more.

A Multi-Cultural Celebration Haifa, Israel’s northern metropolis, annually hosts the Holiday of Holidays Festival which honors Hanukkah, Christmas and Ramadan (or another Muslim festivity) and celebrates the good neighborly relations enjoyed by the city’s diverse population. The event attracts 200,000 people annually. Haifa has been a multi-cultural city for centuries, with Jews, Muslims (Sunni and Ahmedi), Christians and Baha’i leading a respectful and inclusive way of life.

A visit to Israel reveals a diverse population mix, evident in all social settings. Israelis of all backgrounds enjoy a high degree of interaction, living, working and relaxing alongside each other

Via Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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