In its Basic Laws, Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state and the nation state of the Jewish people. The country has a liberal democracy (one of only two in the Middle East and North Africa region, the other being Tunisia), with a parliamentary system, proportional representation, and universal suffrage. The prime minister is head of government and the Knesset is the legislature. With a population of around 9 million as of 2019, Israel is a developed country and an OECD member. It has the world’s 31st-largest economy by nominal GDP, and is the most developed country currently in conflict. It has the highest standard of living in the Middle East, and ranks among the world’s top countries by percentage of citizens with military training, percentage of citizens holding a tertiary education degree, research and development spending by GDP percentage, women’s safety, life expectancy, innovativeness, and happiness.
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 the caves Tabun, Qesem and Manot.
The oldest fossils of anatomically modern humans found outside Africa are the Skhul and Qafzeh hominins, who lived in the area that is now northern Israel 120,000 years ago. Around 10th millennium BCE, the Natufian culture existed in the area.
The early history of the territory is unclear. Modern archaeology has largely discarded the historicity of the narrative in the Torah concerning the patriarchs, The Exodus, and the conquest of Canaan described in the Book of Joshua, and instead views the narrative as constituting the Israelites’ national myth. During the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 BCE), large parts of Canaan formed vassal states paying tribute to the New Kingdom of Egypt, whose administrative headquarters lay in Gaza. Ancestors of the Israelites are thought to have included ancient Semitic-speaking peoples native to this area. The Israelites and their culture, according to the modern archaeological account, did not overtake the region by force, but instead branched out of these Canaanite peoples and their cultures through the development of a distinct monolatristic—and later monotheistic—religion centered on Yahweh.
The archaeological evidence indicates a society of village-like centers, 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.
While it is unclear if there was ever a United Monarchy, there is well-accepted archaeological evidence referring to “Israel” in the Merneptah Stele which dates to about 1200 BCE; and the Canaanites are archaeologically attested in the Middle Bronze Age (2100–1550 BCE). There is debate about the earliest existence of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah and their extent and power, but historians and archaeologists agree that a Kingdom of Israel existed by ca. 900 BCE and that a Kingdom of Judah existed by ca. 700 BCE. The Kingdom of Israel was destroyed around 720 BCE, when it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire.