A (very) Brief History of Israel
In reverse chronological order…
The Modern State of Israel
Following the establishment of the state, heavy flows of Jewish immigrants arrived from literally the four corners of the earth.
However, as the young state grew and developed, her Arab neighbours refused to accept her as legitimate. A second major Arab Israeli war occurred in 1967, when Syria, Egypt and Jordan amassed troops along Israeli’s borders. Israel won the conflict in six days, launching pre-emptive strikes against the Arab air forces, and capturing the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank from the Jordanians. This marked the start of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and a large Palestinian population now fell under Israeli control.
The third major Arab Israeli war occurred in 1973, called the Yom Kippur War because the Arab armies launched a surprise attack on Israel on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Heavy fighting ensued, with the Israelis eventually retaining and expanding their territory.
Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan in 1979 and 1994 respectively. However, since the 1960s the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was increasingly organised, launching a series of terror attacks on Israel. From 1970 the PLO was based in the South of Lebanon. In 1982 Israel invaded this PLO controlled territory, forcing the PLO to move headquarters to Tunisia.
The 1990s seemed to herald a time of peace. In 1993 the Oslo Accords were signed between the PLO and Israel containing principles for mutual recognition of separate Israeli and Palestinian states. As the parties worked towards peace, each side experienced opposition from extremists. Hamas and other radical Palestinian factions launched a series of bombings inside Israel. In Israel right wing extremists assassinated then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. After the failure of the Camp David talks of 2000, unrest was on the rise amongst the Palestinian population, and erupted into an intifada . A wave of suicide bombings took place in Israel, and the country sank from a high feeling that peace was possible, to a low feeling that it had been eclipsed.
In 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and democratic elections were held in Gaza. Hamas was elected, an organisation which refuses to recognise Israeli’s right to exist, or to renounce the use of terrorism, and the area around Gaza remains tense.
Ordinary people on both sides of the divide continue to want to get on with their lives in an atmosphere of peace and regional prosperity. Surely, this is our greatest hope for peace.
Pomegranate Travel can organise tours focusing on the modern state and geopolitics of Israel. Please tell us if this is of particular interest to you.
The Zionist Movement & The British Mandate Period
The Jews had maintained a small but continuous presence in Israel since biblical times. Widespread return of the Jews to Israel began in the 19th century when pogroms in Eastern Europe became rampant, and ideas of nationalism were of the moment.
As Jews began to come to Israel, they established agricultural colleges and farming communities, and revived the Hebrew language. In 1909 the first fully Hebrew speaking city (later to be called Tel Aviv) was founded.
In Britain there was growing sympathy for the Zionist movement, and in 1917 the Balfour Declaration proclaimed that the British Government “view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
The British Mandate, endorsed by the League of Nations, granted the Jewish Agency for Palestine semi autonomy with the ability to raise taxes, organise Jewish immigration, drain marshes, build settlements and set up schools and social security systems. In 1925 the Hebrew University was inaugurated.
In the 1930s Jewish immigration dramatically increased as Jews escaped Nazi persecution. However, in 1936 the British severely limited Jewish immigration in response to pressure from the Arab population who were becoming alarmed at the increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants.
Tensions had been mounting with the Arab population since the mid 1920s, and broke into violence in the Arab Revolts of 1929 and 1936-39. The British set up the Peel Commission to investigate, and it was recommended that Palestine be divided between the Jews and Arabs, a plan which split Jewish opinion and which the Arabs rejected.
During the second world war, six million Jews were murdered in Europe, those who survived were refugees, often facing further anti-Semitic violence in post war Europe. However, aware of local Arab sensitivities, the British maintained immigration restrictions.
Former partisans and ghetto fighters organised illegal immigration of holocaust survivors into mandate Palestine, and the Jews began an anti-British campaign of guerrilla warfare. By 1947 British administration of the area had come under international criticism and the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine proposed the creation of separate Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem being held in “International Trusteeship”.
The Jews accepted the partition plan, but it was rejected by the Arab League. Instead of a peaceful two state solution, civil war broke out, culminating in the War of Independence of 1948.
The highly organised Hagana (later the Israel Defence Forces) defended the embryonic state against the armies of Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Ceasefire agreements were signed at Rhodes, with King Abdullah of Jordan annexing the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Gaza becoming an Egyptian territory.
Almost 10% of the Jewish population of Israel died in the War of Independence, and over 700,000 Palestinians either fled their homes or were evicted during the war.
Pomegranate Travel can organise tours focused on the Zionist movement and Zionist history. Please let us know if this is of particular interest to you.
Arab, Mamluk & Ottoman Periods
638 CE marked the conquest of the land by the Rashidun Caliphate, and the start of the Arab period.
From 1099 a time of increasing conflict between Christians and Arabs was marked by the Crusades. Two world empires vied for power and influence – symbolically centring their struggles on occupation of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
In 1291 the Crusaders lost Acre, and their last major battle in the Holy Land, giving way to Mamluk influence.
From 1517 – 1917 the area formed part of the Turk’s Ottoman Empire.
Following World War I the Ottoman empire was broken up and divvied out amongst the great powers. Britain was given a Mandate to administer the area of Palestine.
Pomegranate Travel can organise tours focused on the Crusader wars, or on the Mamluk & Ottoman periods. Please let us know if this is of particular interest to you.
Within the Roman empire, the Jews maintained semi autonomy, and Herod the Great rebuilt the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The temple was magnificent, it was covered with so much gold plate that when the sun shone, it was blinding to look at.
However, tensions arose when the Romans began to restrict religious practice, and this gave rise to Jewish rebellions and ultimately the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE by the Roman General Vespasian.
Later rebellions, the final of which was extinguished at Masada, led the Romans to erect a pagan city in place of Jerusalem, in which Jews were forbidden to live. The Jews were dispersed, and began their two thousand year prayer of return to Jerusalem. The dispersal of the Jews was the primary justification for the redaction of the Mishna in 220 CE at Zippori.
Prior to the destruction of the Temple, a charismatic preacher who would change the face of history and touch the lives of millions, held ministry in the areas around Nazareth. A brave preacher of radical ideas, and critical of both the Jewish establishment and Roman authority, Jesus was eventually tried and executed by the authorities. With the rise of Christianity under later Roman and Byzantine rule, and particularly under Constantine I, key places in the life of Jesus were marked. For example the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built by Constantine’s Mother Helena, at the place of Jesus’ burial and resurrection.
Pomegranate Travel can organise tours focused on the Roman period and antiquity. Please let us know if this is of particular interest to you.
Our earliest written record of the name ‘Israel’ was inscribed for Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah around 1209 BCE: “Israel is laid waste and his seed is not”. Seriously – you need to sit in a buzzy café in Tel Aviv to appreciate the irony of this statement.
Around 1000 BCE the Israelite Kings David and Solomon reigned, and Solomon built his wondrous temple in Jerusalem.
However, following King Solmon’s death, the Israelite kingdom split into two, and fell under the influence of various great powers: Assyrian, Bablyonian, and Egyptian.
In 587-6 BCE the Kingdoms were captured by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, and Solomon’s temple was destroyed. The Israelites were exiled and sang psalms to their beloved home: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion”.
In 539 BCE the Persian Cyrus the Great gave the Israelites permission to return home, but shortly afterwards the region fell into Greek control.
The Greeks restricted the Israelite’s freedom to practice their Jewish religion, and under the leadership of the Maccabees, the Jews rebelled. Miraculously they beat off the Greeks and won Jewish independence. This victory is still commemorated in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.
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