Some facts about Israel
SOS family having dinner - photo: SOS Archives
The State of Israel is situated in the Middle East. It has borders with Lebanon in the north, Syria in the north east, Jordan in the east and Egypt in the south west. The Mediterranean Sea lies to the west of the country.
Israel has approximately 7.5 million inhabitants (July 2010) with the capital city of Jerusalem being home to around one tenth of the total population. Most of the people (76.4 per cent) are Jewish, around 17 per cent are Muslim and about two per cent are Christians.
The State of Israel was officially proclaimed in 1948. The conflicts with the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbours intensified over the decades that followed, which led to Israel occupying territories such as the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. Although the international community has been involved in several attempts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, the tensions between the communities continue to affect the lives of children and families in the area.
A high level of poverty in spite of a strong economy
Israel is a service-based economy – the sector employs 82 per cent of the labour force. The country has developed its agriculture and industrial sectors, in spite of limited natural resources. Industry employs 16 per cent of the working population. At present, agriculture employs two per cent of the population and they produce fruit, vegetables, cotton, meat and dairy products. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 caused a brief recession, but the country recovered quickly; by 2010, the unemployment rate had fallen to 6.4 per cent.
Although in general terms Israel has a high and improving standard of living, there is a widening wealth gap; nearly a quarter of the population lives below the nationally-defined poverty line. Most of these are Israeli Arab or Haredi Jewish families, but elderly people and children are also found among this group.
Israel has a good health care system. The country has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world and a very low infant mortality rate. However, the Arab population suffers from some disadvantages regarding health; the life expectancy rate is about five years lower than for the general population and the infant mortality rate is nearly double the average.
Situation of the children in Israel
Demographically speaking, Israel is a young country: 28 per cent of the population is under the age of 14. The recent social changes have affected the lives of children, especially as economic crises and political conflicts have led to cuts in social welfare programmes.
Child's drawing from the SOS art contest - photo: SOS Archives
Israel ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, and although many measures have been introduced and implemented to improve the lives of children, the country has one of the highest rates of child poverty among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries; more than a quarter of Israeli children live in poor households . Most of these children live in families of Arab origin or in Haredi Jewish households. In some cases the carers are working but the wages are very low.
Israel invests over six per cent of its gross domestic product in education. The majority of children attend state schools but the option of attending private schools also exists. Israeli children have to attend school from the age of six, and after completing secondary education most are conscripted into the Israel Defence Forces.
SOS Children's Villages in Israel
SOS Children's Villages supports the communities in two locations in Israel. The SOS Social Centres provide programmes to fit the local needs; child care is provided for poor children from the surrounding areas while their parents work or receive training. In other areas after-school programmes ensure that children have a daily hot meal. SOS Children's Villages works with local agencies in order to enable children to grow up in their families. The participating families are organized into committees, who run community homes and child-minding centres. When children cannot stay with their families, they can be looked after by the SOS mothers. As the children get older, they can move into special houses where they are guided on their path to an independent life with the help of professionals.