David Gurwitz, Orit Kimchi, Batsheva Bonne-Tamir
National Laboratory for the Genetics of Israeli Populations, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University
Israel is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. More than six million citizens live in an area of about 20,000 square kilometers, slightly smaller than the state of Maryland (pre-June 1967 borders). Most of this population is centred in three metropolitan areas around the cities Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Haifa, while the southern part of Israel is mostly uninhabited desert. Beyond being so densely populated, Israel is distinctive in being exceptionally diverse ethnically, its residents comprise members of over twenty Jewish and Arab ethnic groups, who have kept their discrete cultural identities for many hundreds of years, and who have been exposed to minimal admixture through inter-marriages between the ethnic groups. It is only in recent generations that some degree of inter-marriages is taking place between members of the different Jewish ethnic groups living in Israel. The exceptional ethnic diversity of the Jewish populations of Israel reflects the recent history of Israel – a state declared by the United Nations in 1947 as the homeland for the Jewish people in the aftermath of the Holocaust of European Jewry during the 2nd World War. In addition to holocaust survivors from many European countries, large communities of Jews immigrated to Israel following its establishment, arriving from countries as diverse as Georgia, India, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Yemen in Asia, as well as Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunis, in North Africa, and more recently, also Ethiopia.
Indeed, some countries, such as India, China, and Brazil, and to some extent, the United States, are also distinct in having an exceptional mix of
Bartha Maria Knoppers (éd.), Populations and Genetics: Legal and Socio-Ethical Perspectives. ©2003 Koninklijke Brill NV. Printed in the Netherlands.