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Israel hails highest immigration figures in a decade

Dec. 31, 2014 9:34 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 2, 2015 5:26 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The number of Jews moving to Israel leapt in 2014 to its highest figure in a decade, with western Europe leading the way, the immigration ministry said Wednesday.

Immigration hit a 10-year high, with the arrival of some 26,500 new residents, according to a joint statement with the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental organization tasked with encouraging Jews to move to Israel.

This marks a significant 32 percent increase over last year's approximately 20,000 immigrants, the statement said.

This "was a year of record-breaking aliyah," Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said, using the Hebrew word for immigration to Israel.

It "also saw a historic shift: for the first time in Israel's history, the number of immigrants who came to Israel from the free world is greater than that of immigrants fleeing countries in distress."

For the first time ever, France provided the biggest number, as more than 6,600 Jews moved to Israel. That was nearly twice the 3,400 who arrived in 2013.

Overall, immigration from Western Europe increased 88 percent, with the arrival of some 8,640 people, compared with 4,600 a year earlier.

Some 620 arrived from Britain, compared with 520 a year earlier, and the number from Italy doubled to 340. Around 240 arrived from Belgium, a slight decrease, and the number from Germany remained stable, at approximately 120. Immigration from former Soviet Union countries saw a 50 percent increase, with the arrival of some 11,430 people, compared with 7,610 in 2013.

That was largely driven by an exodus from conflict-wracked Ukraine, where the number surged 190 percent to 5,840.

More than half of all people moving to Israel in 2014 were under 35, among them 5,300 children and some 8,200 adults aged between 18-34.

Tel Aviv was the city which received the highest number of immigrants, at around 3,000. It was followed by the northern coastal city of Netanya and then Jerusalem.

More than three million Jews have immigrated to Israel since its creation in 1948 -- including one million from former Soviet states since 1990 -- under the Law of Return, which offers citizenship and benefits to Jews from anywhere in the world.

However, millions of Palestinians in exile -- those whose descendants were among the 750,000 who fled or were driven from their homes during the war that led to Israel's creation in 1948 -- are barred from returning to their land in what is now Israel.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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