TEL AVIV (Apr. 17)
Israel’s Jewish population, put at 4 million, or 86 percent of the country’s total populace, has been given a healthy boost by the influx of some 220,000 immigrants in the last year, most of them from the Soviet Union.
The latest population figures were released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday, the eve of Israel Independence Day, marking the 43rd year of statehood.
Buoyed by the Soviet Jewish arrivals, the Jewish population grew faster than the overall population. Jewish population growth was 6.4 percent, compared with 5.9 percent for the population as a whole.
The demographics in Galilee, Israel’s northern region, heralded the most dramatic change.
The Interior Ministry disclosed that 806,000 Jews now live there. While the Arab population is still larger in Galilee, its majority has been reduced to 51 percent of the total, down from 52 percent a year ago.
Interior Ministry sources said the continued immigration trend should result in parity between Jews and Arabs in Galilee within a year.
In fact, immigrant absorption was the theme of this year’s Independence Day celebrations. In Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, a spectacular fireworks display marked the abrupt transition from the sober aspect of Yom Hazikaron, the Memorial Day for Israel’s war dead, to the carnival atmosphere of Yom Ha’atzmaut.
The theme of immigrant absorption was stressed by President Chaim Herzog and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who spoke at the official opening ceremonies on Mount Herzl.
Veteran citizens and newcomers alike were selected to kindle each of the 12 Mount Herzl beacons, which symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles.
Unlike as in earlier years, Israel no longer feels it necessary to parade its military might on Independence Day.
It is a festive occasion in which thousands of families take off for the beaches and parks, partaking in picnics and fun. There is, however, no relaxation of guard for the hundreds of soldiers and police assigned extra duty to protect the holiday-makers.