Head of government Binyamin Netanyahu (replaced Ehud Olmert in March)
Death penalty abolitionist for ordinary crimes
Population 7.2 million (Israel); 4.3 million (OPT)
Life expectancy 80.7 years (Israel); 73.3 years (OPT)
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 6/5 per 1,000 (Israel); 23/18 per
Adult literacy 97.1 per cent (Israel); 93.8 per cent (OPT)
Israeli forces committed war crimes and other serious breaches of international law in the Gaza Strip during a 22-day military offensive code-named Operation "Cast Lead" that ended on 18 January. Among other things, they carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians, targeted and killed medical staff, used Palestinian civilians as "human shields", and indiscriminately fired white phosphorus over densely populated residential areas. More than 1,380 Palestinians, including over 330 children and hundreds of other civilians, were killed. Much of Gaza was razed to the ground, leaving vital infrastructure destroyed, the economy in ruins and thousands of Palestinians homeless.
Israeli forces continued to impose severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) throughout 2009, hampering access to essential services and land. The restrictions included a military blockade of the Gaza Strip, which effectively imprisoned the 1.5 million residents and resulted in a humanitarian crisis. Despite this, Israel often stopped international aid and humanitarian assistance from entering Gaza. Permission to leave Gaza to receive medical treatment was denied or delayed for hundreds of seriously ill Palestinians and at least 28 individuals died while waiting for permission to travel. Israeli forces continued to forcibly evict Palestinians, demolish their homes and expropriate their land in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, while allowing Israeli settlements to expand on illegally confiscated Palestinian land.
Throughout the year, Israeli forces used excessive and, at times, lethal force against Palestinian civilians. Allegations of ill-treatment against Palestinian detainees continued and were rarely investigated. Hundreds were administratively detained without charge; others were serving sentences imposed after unfair military trials. Israeli soldiers and settlers who committed serious human rights abuses against Palestinians enjoyed virtual impunity.
Israeli parliamentary elections in February saw a growth in support for right-wing parties and the formation of a coalition government that included the Labour party, the right-wing Likud party and the ultra right Yisrael Beitenu.
The US government increased calls for Israel to stop settlement building as an initial step in reviving the peace process, but its calls were not heeded.