A Brief History of Israel

The people of Israel (the "Jewish People") trace their origin to Abraham, who established the belief that there is only one God, the creator of the universe (according to The Torah). Abraham, his son Yitshak (Isaac), and grandson Jacob (Israel), are referred to as the patriarchs of the Israelites. All three patriarchs lived in the Land of Canaan, that later came to be known as the Land of Israel. They and their wives are buried in the Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Kiriath-arb (Hebron), (Genesis Chapter 23).

The name Israel derives from the name given to Jacob (Genesis 32:29). His 12 sons were the kernels of 12 tribes that later developed into the Jewish nation. The name Jew derives from Yehuda (Judah) one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Reuben, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Yisachar, Zevulun, Yosef, Binyamin) (Exodus 1:1). So, the names Israel, Israeli or Jewish refer to people of the same origin.

The descendants of Abraham crystallized into a nation at about 1300 BCE after their Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Soon after the Exodus, Moses transmitted to the people of this new emerging nation, the Torah, and the Ten Commandments (Exodus Chapter 20). After 40 years in the Sinai desert, Moses led them to the Land of Israel, that is cited in The Bible as the land promised by G-d to the descendants of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 17:8).

The people of modern day Israel share the same language and culture shaped by the Jewish heritage and religion passed through generations starting with the founding father Abraham (ca. 1800 BCE). Thus, Jews have had continuous presence in the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.

The rule of Israelites in the land of Israel starts with the conquests of Joshua (ca. 1250 BCE). The period from 1000-587 BCE is known as the "Period of the Kings". The most noteworthy kings were King David (1010-970 BCE), who made Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, and his son Solomon (970-931 BCE), who built the first Temple in Jerusalem as prescribed in the Tanach (Old Testament Bible).

In 587 BCE, Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar's army captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon (modern day Iraq).

The year 587 BCE marks a turning point in the history of the region. From this year onwards, the region was ruled or controlled by a succession of superpower empires of the time in the following order:

Foreign Empires that ruled in Israel

Period

Empire

Major Events

587 BCE

Babylonian

Destruction of the first Temple.

538-333 BCE

Persian

Return of the exiled Jews from Babylon and construction of the second Temple (520-515 BCE).

333-63 BCE

Hellenistic

Conquest of the region by the army of Alexander the Great (333 BCE). The Greeks generally allowed the Jews to run their state. But, during the rule of the king Antiochus IV, the Temple was desecrated. This brought about the revolt of the Maccabees, who established an independent rule. The related events are celebrated during the Hanukah holiday.

63 BCE-313 CE

Roman

The Roman army led by Titus conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple at 70 CE. Jewish people were then exiled and dispersed to the Diaspora. In 132, Bar Kokhba organized a revolt against Roman rule, but was killed in a battle in Bethar in Judean Hills. Subsequently the Romans decimated the Jewish community, renamed Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina and Judea as Palaestina to obliterate Jewish identification with the Land of Israel (the word Palestine, and the Arabic word Filastin originate from this Latin name). The remaining Jewish community moved to northern towns in the Galilee. Around 200 CE the Sanhedrin was moved to Tsippori (Zippori, Sepphoris). The Head of Sanhedrin, Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi (Judah the Prince), compiled the Jewish oral law, Mishna.

313-636

Byzantine

 

636-1099

Arab

Dome of the Rock was built by Caliph Abd el-Malik on the grounds of the destroyed Jewish Temple.

1099-1291

Crusaders

The crusaders came from Europe to capture the Holy Land following an appeal by Pope Urban II, and massacred the non-Christian population. Later Jewish community in Jerusalem expanded by immigration of Jews from Europe.

1291-1516

Mamluk

 

1516-1918

Ottoman

During the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem were rebuilt. Population of the Jewish community in Jerusalem increased.

1917-1948

British

Great Britain recognized the rights of the Jewish people to establish a "national home in Palestine". Yet they greatly curtailed entry of Jewish refugees into Israel even after World War II. They split Palestine mandate into an Arab state which has become the modern day Jordan, and Israel.
After the exile by the Romans at 70 CE, the Jewish people migrated to Europe and North Africa. In the Diaspora (scattered outside of the Land of Israel), they established rich cultural and economic lives, and contributed greatly to the societies where they lived. Yet, they continued their national culture and prayed to return to Israel through the centuries. In the first half of the 20th century there were major waves of immigration of Jews back to Israel from Arab countries and from Europe. During the British rule in Palestine, the Jewish people were subject to great violence and massacres directed by Arab civilians or forces of the neighboring Arab states. During World War II, the Nazi regime in Germany decimated about 6 million Jews creating the great tragedy of The Holocaust. In 1948, the Jewish Community in Israel under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion reestablished sovereignty over their ancient homeland. The Declaration of independence of the modern State of Israel was announced on the day that the last British forces left Israel (May 14, 1948).

Arab-Israeli wars

A day after the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, armies of five Arab countries, Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq, invaded Israel. This marked the beginning of the War of Independence. Arab states have jointly waged four full scale wars against Israel:

The 1948–49 War

Although Israel's independence on May 14, 1948, triggered the first full-scale war, armed conflicts between Jews and Arabs had been frequent since Great Britain received the League of Nations mandate for Palestine in 1920. From 1945 to 1948 Zionists waged guerrilla war against British troops and against Palestinian Arabs supported by the Arab League, and they had made substantial gains by 1948. The 1948–49 War reflected the opposition of the Arab states to the formation of the Jewish state of Israel in what they considered to be Arab territory. As independence was declared, Arab forces from Egypt, Syria, Transjordan (later Jordan), Lebanon, and Iraq invaded Israel. The Egyptians gained some territory in the south and the Jordanians took Jerusalem's Old City, but the other Arab forces were soon halted. In June the United Nations succeeded in establishing a four-week truce. This was followed in July by significant Israeli advances before another truce. Fighting erupted again in August and continued sporadically until the end of 1948. An Israeli advance in Jan., 1949, isolated Egyptian forces and led to a cease-fire (Jan. 7, 1949). Protracted peace talks resulted in armistice agreements between Israel and Egypt, Syria, and Jordan by July, but no formal peace. In addition, about 400,000 Palestinian Arabs had fled from Israel and were settled in refugee camps near Israel's border; their status became a volatile factor in Arab-Israeli relations.

The 1956 War

From 1949 to 1956 the armed truce between Israel and the Arabs, enforced in part by the UN forces, was punctuated by raids and reprisals. Among the world powers, the United States, Great Britain, and France sided with Israel, while the Soviet Union supported Arab demands. Tensions mounted during 1956 as Israel became convinced that the Arabs were preparing for war. The nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt's Gamal Abdal Nasser in July, 1956, resulted in the further alienation of Great Britain and France, which made new agreements with Israel. On Oct. 29, 1956, Israeli forces, directed by Moshe Dayan, launched a combined air and ground assault into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Early Israeli successes were reinforced by an Anglo-French invasion along the canal. Although the action against Egypt was severely condemned by the nations of the world, the cease-fire of Nov. 6, which was promoted by the United Nations with U.S. and Soviet support, came only after Israel had captured several key objectives, including the Gaza strip and Sharm el Sheikh, which commanded the approaches to the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel withdrew from these positions in 1957, turning them over to the UN emergency force after access to the Gulf of Aqaba, without which Israel was cut off from the Indian Ocean, had been guaranteed.

The 1967 War (The Six-Day War)

After a period of relative calm, border incidents between Israel and Syria, Egypt, and Jordan increased during the early 1960s, with Palestinian guerrilla groups actively supported by Syria. In May, 1967, President Nasser, his prestige much eroded through his inaction in the face of Israeli raids, requested the withdrawal of UN forces from Egyptian territory, mobilized units in the Sinai, and closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel. Israel (which had no UN forces stationed on its territory) responded by mobilizing.The escalation of threats and provocations continued until June 5, 1967, when Israel launched a massive air assault that crippled Arab air capability. With air superiority protecting its ground forces, Israel controlled the Sinai peninsula within three days and then concentrated on the Jordanian frontier, capturing Jerusalem's Old City (subsequently annexed), and on the Syrian border, gaining the strategic Golan Heights. The war, which ended on June 10, is known as the Six-Day War. The Suez Canal was closed by the war, and Israel declared that it would not give up Jerusalem and that it would hold the other captured territories until significant progress had been made in Arab-Israeli relations. The end of active, conventional fighting was followed by frequent artillery duels along the frontiers and by clashes between Israelis and Palestinian guerrillas.

The 1973–74 War (The Yom Kippur War)

During 1973 the Arab states, believing that their complaints against Israel were going unheeded (despite the mounting use by the Arabs of threats to cut off oil supplies in an attempt to soften the pro-Israel stance of the United States), quietly prepared for war, led by Egypt's President Anwar Sadat. On Oct. 6, 1973, the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur, a two-pronged assault on Israel was launched. Egyptian forces struck eastward across the Suez Canal and pushed the Israelis back, while the Syrians advanced from the north. Iraqi forces joined the war and, in addition, Syria received some support from Jordan, Libya, and the smaller Arab states. The attacks caught Israel off guard, and it was several days before the country was fully mobilized; Israel then forced the Syrians and Egyptians back and, in the last hours of the war, established a salient on the west bank of the Suez Canal, but these advances were achieved at a high cost in soldiers and equipment.Through U.S. and Soviet diplomatic pressures and the efforts of the United Nations, a tenuous cease-fire was implemented by Oct. 25. Israel and Egypt signed a cease-fire agreement in November, but Israeli-Syrian fighting continued until a cease-fire was negotiated in 1974. Largely as a result of the diplomatic efforts of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Israel withdrew back across the Suez Canal and several miles inland from the east bank behind a UN-supervised cease-fire zone. On the Syrian front too, Israeli territorial gains made in the war were given up. After the war Egyptian and Syrian diplomatic relations with the United States, broken since the 1967 war, were resumed, and clearance of the Suez Canal began. The 1973–74 War brought about a major shift of power in the Middle East and ultimately led to the signing of the Camp David accords.

The 1982 1st Israel Lebanon War

In 1978 Palestinian guerrillas, from their base in Lebanon, launched an air raid on Israel; in retaliation, Israel sent troops into S Lebanon to occupy a strip 4–6 mi (6–10 km) deep and thus protect Israel's border. Eventually a UN peacekeeping force was set up there, but occasional fighting continued. In 1982 Israel launched a massive attack to destroy all military bases of the Palestine Liberation Organization in S Lebanon and, after a 10-week siege of the Muslim sector of West Beirut, a PLO stronghold, forced the Palestinians to accept a U.S.-sponsored plan whereby the PLO guerrillas would evacuate Beirut and go to several Arab countries that had agreed to accept them. Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 1985 but continues to maintain a Lebanese-Christian–policed buffer zone north of its border.

2nd Lebanon War

The 2006 Israel–Lebanon Hezbollah War was a 34-day military conflict in Lebanon, northern Israel and the Golan Heights. The principal parties were Hezbollah paramilitary forces and the Israeli military. The conflict started on 12 July 2006, and continued until a United Nations-brokered ceasefire went into effect in the morning on 14 August 2006, though it formally ended on 8 September 2006 when Israel lifted its naval blockade of Lebanon. The conflict began when militants from the group Hezbollah fired rockets at Israeli border towns as a diversion for an anti-tank missile attack on two armored Humvee’s patrolling the Israeli side of the border fence. The ambush left three soldiers dead. Two additional soldiers, believed to have been killed outright or mortally wounded, were taken by Hezbollah to Lebanon. Five more were killed in a failed rescue attempt. Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery fire on targets in Lebanon that damaged Lebanese civilian infrastructure, including Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport, an air and naval blockade and a ground invasion of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah then launched more rockets into northern Israel and engaged the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in guerrilla warfare from hardened positions.Despite the numerical superiority of the Arab armies, Israel defended itself each time and won. After each war Israeli army withdrew from most of the areas it captured. This is unprecedented in World history and shows Israel's willingness to reach peace even at the risk of fighting for its very existence each time anew.