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History of Israel

This article discusses the history of the State of Israel, from 1948 A.D. to the present. See also History of Palestine for history of the region from approximately 600 B.C. to 1948 A.D., and History of ancient Israel and Judah for history prior to approximately 600 B.C. This article concerns controversial issues.

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Zionism and Israel

The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by more than 50 years of efforts by Zionist leaders to establish a sovereign nation as a homeland for Jews. The desire of Jews to return to what they consider their rightful homeland was first expressed during the Babylonian exile and became a universal Jewish theme after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. and the dispersal that followed.

But whilst Israel was a universal Jewish theme, that universal Jewish theme is not the same thing as Zionism. Until the rise of Zionism, most Jews believed that the Jewish people would return to Israel with the coming of the Messiah, i.e. only after divine intervention; some proposed that Jews attempt to return earlier, by their own devices, but until the rise of Zionism in the 19th century they were in a minority.

While today all but a few Jews support Zionism (to one degree or another), when it was first proposed it was highly controversial and a great many Jews opposed it. The Reform Jews of 1800s and early 1900s Germany were, at the time, anti-Zionist; they were opposed to any conception of Jewry as anything other than a religion. Secular Zionists, by contrast, were intent on seeing it primarily as an ethnic group -- many of the Zionists had rejected Judaism, but still viewed themselves as in some sense "Jewish". Many Hasidim and other ultra-Orthodox Jews believed that any attempt to return to Israel before the coming of the Messiah was sacriligeous. The Lubavitcher Rebbes[?], for instance, were anti-Zionist. Conservative Judaism, which in the 1800s was more of a scholarly school of thought than a formal denomination, has always been Zionist.

Since the Holocaust, however, Judaism has become overwhelmingly Zionist. Today all of Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodoxy is staunchly Zionist; and even the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jews) have changed from anti-Zionism (active opposition to Zionism) to non-Zionism (neutrality towards Zionism.) Secular non-Zionist Jewish movements no longer exist.

It was not until the founding of the Zionist movement by Theodore Herzl at the end of the 19th century that practical steps were taken toward securing international sanction for large-scale Jewish settlement in Palestine--then a part of the Ottoman Empire.

The Balfour declaration of 1917 asserted the British Government's support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This declaration was supported by a number of other countries, including the United States, and became more important following World War I, when the United Kingdom was assigned the Palestine mandate by the League of Nations.

Early History of Modern Israel

Jewish immigration grew slowly in the 1920s; it increased substantially in the 1930s, due to political turmoil in Europe and Nazi persecution, until restrictions were imposed by the United Kingdom in 1939. After the end of World War II, and the near-extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis, international support for Jews seeking to settle in Palestine overcame British efforts to restrict immigration.

Following World War II, the British announced their intention to withdraw from the mandate of Palestine. The United Nations General Assembly (GA Resolution 181, November 29, 1947) proposed the partition of Palestine into two states, an Arab state and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem to be under United Nations administration (see map (http://www.israel-mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0dt70)). Most Jews in Palestine accepted the proposal, while most of the Arabs in Palestine rejected it. Although the Arabs were not under any legal obligation to accept the plan (as General Assembly resolutions are not binding), it is often claimed that their main motivation in doing so was the total rejection of the idea of a Jewish state. The Arab nations in the UN proposed an alternative settlement in which there would be a federal Palestinian state with separate governments for Arab and Jewish countries, with a constitution based on that of the United States of America.

Violence between Arab and Jewish communities erupted almost immediately. Toward the end of the British mandate, the Jews planned to declare a separate state, a development the Arabs were determined to prevent. On May 14, 1948, the last British forces withdrew from Palestine, and the Jews in Palestine declared the creation of the State of Israel, in accordance with the Partition Plan.

On the same day, the Arabs announced their rejection of the Partition Plan. Shortly after, Syrian, Iraqi, and Egyptian troops invaded Israel. Israel successfully repelled the armies, and then advanced its forces to occupy most of the territory set aside under the Partition Plan for the Arabs and for the City of Jerusalem. A cease fire agreement was signed between the two sides, with the current front line becoming the boundary between Israel and the Arab territories. As a result of the 1948 war, Israel controlled all the territory allotted to them under the Partition Plan, much of the territory allotted to the Arabs under the Plan, and half of what was to be the UN-administered City of Jerusalem. The remaining Arab territories were the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; the West Bank was administered by Jordan, while the Gaza Strip was administered by Egypt. For details, see 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1949, under UN auspices, four armistice agreements were negotiated and signed at Rhodes, Greece, between Israel and its neighbors Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The 1948-49 war of independence resulted in a 50% increase in Israeli territory, including western Jerusalem. No general peace settlement was achieved at Rhodes, however, and violence along the borders continued for many years.

As a result of this war, almost 600,000 Arab refugees and, according to pro-Israeli sources, also over 800,000 Jewish refugees were created. The latter figure was obtained by adding up numbers of all the Jews who moved from Arab states after Israel was created, and they are emmigrants, rather than refugees according to non-pro-Israeli sources. In the view of a vast majority of Arabs the birth of Israel is a case of major ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their homes. About 600,000 of the Jewish refugees settled in the State of Israel; many of the Arab refugees, and their descendants, remain to this day in refugee camps run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency[?] for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Further information from pro-Israel sources: [1] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/refugees)

Then on July 5, 1950 the Knesset passed the Law of Return[?] which granted all Jews the right to immigrate to Israel.

From 1947 to 1950 some 250,000 Holocaust survivors made their way to Israel. "Operation Magic Carpet" brought thousands of Yemenite Jews to Israel.


1947 UN resolution (http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/db942872b9eae454852560f6005a76fb/6232f2ac638dc241852560e5005c1f2b!OpenDocument)

Map of 1947 UN division (http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/qpal/maps/M0103_1b.gif)

The Lavon Affair

After Gamal Abdal Nasser came to power in Egypt of 1952, relations between the U.S. and Egypt improved. This was viewed as a threat to Israel. In an incident which later shocked the Israeli public when the facts came to light, and which then brought down its government, a handful of individuals in the Israeli government and the Mossad conspired to undermine relations between America and Egypt. This group orchestrated a bombing campaign against American governmental and civilian installations in Egypt, including an American library in Alexandria & Cairo, an MGM Cinema and other American owned business buildings.

The campaign was halted in 1954 by the arrest of two agents who had attempted to place a bomb; this led to the collapse of the cell and the imprisonment or execution of most of its members by Egypt. Some quarters maintain that Israel did not do enough to protect its agents, prompted by allegations of torture and mistreatment of the bombers by the Egyptian authorities.

In the following investigation, Brigadier Abraham Gibli claimed that the Defence Minister, Pinhas Lavon gave the order to carry out the operation orally. The Chief of Staff of that time, Moshe Dayan agreed with him. As a result of the scandal, Lavon, was forced to resign, David Ben Gurion replacing him in office. In 1960, following new evidence from a secret 1958 trial of a suspected double agent, Lavon has asked Ben Gurion to exonerate him. Ben-Gurion refused, since he could not believe that officers of the Israeli army, which he had built himself, would be able to commit such a dishonest action as framing Lavon.

In 1960 a committee of 7 ministers that was set up to investigate the matter nevertheless revealed the forging of a document used by Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres, then Deputy Minister of Defense, to deflect responsibility for the botched 1954 Egyptian operation on to Lavon. A subsequent hearings revealed that Peres, Dayan and Brigadier Abraham Givli were also involved. The conclusions of the committee were accepted by the government. Despite attempts to censor the details of the case on grounds of national security, the Lavon Affair led to a second scandal, and Ben Gurion's resignation, which he had argumented by the inability of the government to decide on the matter due to political considerations. The Israeli public reacted with outrage when they learned the truth about the conspiracy.

In the following 1961 elections, Ben-Gurion declared that he would only accept office if Lavon was fired from the position of the head of Histadrut, Israel's labor union organization. His demands were accepted; however in 1963 he quit again in the wake of the scandal. His attempts to make his political party MAPAI resolve this issue during 1964-1965 turned against him, and Ben-Gurion was forced to leave.

Further information:

1956 Suez War

Throughout 1956 conflict increased between Israel and Egypt, with Egypt sending guerilla forces into Israeli territory and Israel launching frequent incursions into Egyptian territory in response. Egypt blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba[?], and closed the Suez canal to Israeli shipping. Egypt also nationalized the canal, to the fury of its previous European controllers. In response, France and the UK entered into a secret agreement with Israel to take back the canal by force. In accordance with this agreement (which was not officially admitted until very much later), Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula in October 1956. Israeli forces reached the canal in short order and then French and British forces stepped in on the pretext of restoring order.

The Israeli, French and UK forces were victorious, but were forced to withdraw in March 1957 by pressure from their ally the United States, which did not approve of the Suez War. The United Nations established the UN Emergency Force[?] (UNEF) to keep peace in the area.

Six-Day War

In June 1967, the united Arab military command massed troops along the borders, while Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran and Nasser insisted that the UNEF leave Egypt. On June 5 of that year, the Israeli air force launched simultaneous attacks on the air forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. King Hussein of Jordan then ordered the Jordanian army to respond. By June 11 the Arab forces were routed and all parties had accepted the cease-fire called for by UN Security Council Resolutions 235 and 236.

Israel gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the formerly Jordanian-controlled West Bank of the Jordan River, including East Jerusalem as 'Greater Israel'. On November 22, 1967, the Security Council adopted Resolution 242, the "land for peace" formula, which called for the establishment of a just and lasting peace based on Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967 in return for the end of all states of belligerency, respect for the sovereignty of all states in the area, and the right to live in peace within secure, recognized boundaries.

In the 1969-1970 war of attrition, Israeli planes made deep strikes into Egypt in retaliation for repeated Egyptian shelling of Israeli positions along the Suez Canal. In early 1969, fighting broke out between Egypt and Israel along the Suez Canal. The United States helped end these hostilities in August 1970, but subsequent U.S. efforts to negotiate an interim agreement to open the Suez Canal and achieve disengagement of forces were unsuccessful.

The Yom Kippur War

On October 6, 1973 (the Jewish Day of Atonement) the Syrian and Egyptian armies launched a simultaneous attack on Greater Israel and inflicted a heavy defeat on the surprised Israeli Defence Force (IDF). After a three week struggle the invaders were pushed back, the land recaptured and a UN peacekeeping force put in place.

"Zionism is Racism" Resolution

On November 10th, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which asserted Zionism to be a form of racism.

The text of the resolution can be found here: [2] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/UN/unga3379)

(The General Assembly rescinded this resolution in Resolution 46/86 of December 16, 1991 (http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/46/a46r086.htm).)

Egyptian-Israeli Peace Process

In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke 30 years of hostility with Israel by visiting Jerusalem at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. During a 2-day visit, which included a speech before the Knesset, the Egyptian leader created a new psychological climate in the Middle East in which peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors seemed a realistic possibility. Sadat recognized Israel's right to exist and established the basis for direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel. Sadat was later assassinated by members of the Egyptian army which opposed his efforts to make peace with Israel.

In September 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter invited President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to meet with him at Camp David, and on September 11 they agreed on a framework for peace between Israel and Egypt and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. It set out broad principles to guide negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. It also established guidelines for a West Bank-Gaza transitional regime of full autonomy for the Palestinians residing in the occupied territories and for a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The treaty was signed on March 26, 1979, by Begin and Sadat, with President Carter signing as witness. Under the treaty, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in April 1982. In 1989, the Governments of Israel and Egypt concluded an agreement that resolved the status of Taba, a resort area on the Gulf of Aqaba.

Further information from pro-Israel sources: [3] (http://www.jajz-ed.org.il/100/concepts/d4), [4] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Peace/camp_david_accords)


In the years following the 1948 war, Israel's border with Lebanon was quiet compared to its borders with other neighbors. After the expulsion of the Palestinian fedayeen (fighters) from Jordan in 1970 and their influx into southern Lebanon, however, hostilities on Israel's northern border increased. In March 1978, after a series of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon. After passage of Security Council Resolution 425, calling for Israeli withdrawal and the creation of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon[?] peace-keeping force (UNIFIL), Israel withdrew its troops.

In July 1981, after additional fighting between Israel and the Palestinians in Lebanon, President Ronald Reagan's special envoy, Philip C. Habib[?], helped secure a cease-fire between the parties. During this time the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) launched attacks against northern Israel using rockets and artillery. The PLO simultaneously engaged Lebanese Christian forces.

Further information from a pro-Israel source: [5] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Lebanon_War)

In June 1982, Israel responded by invading the southern half of Lebanon to drive out the PLO. While a few Lebanese did at first welcome the Israelis, almost all Lebanese came to resent Israeli occupation. Heavy Israeli casualities and a lack of clear goals led to increasing disquiet among Israelis at the war as well. Within six months after the war began, Israel withdrew from most of the Lebanese territory it occupied but continued to occupy a ten mile wide area of Lebanese territory along the Israeli-Lebanese border; it referred to this area as its "security zone". Israel finally withdrew from the "security zone" in 2000, during the Prime Ministership of Ehud Barak. Israel continues to occupy a small area called "Sheeba Farms", which Lebanon claims to be Lebanese territory but Israel insists is Syrian, not Lebanese, territory.

Further information from pro-Israel sources: [6] (http://ortnet.ort.org/jpr/AWRweb/Middleeast/lebanon.htm), [http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Syria's_role_in_Leb]

In August 1982, the PLO withdrew its forces from Lebanon. With U.S. assistance, Israel and Lebanon reached an accord in May 1983 that set the stage to withdraw Israeli forces from Lebanon. The instruments of ratification were never exchanged, however, and in March 1984, under pressure from Syria, Lebanon canceled the agreement. In June 1985, Israel withdrew most of its troops from Lebanon, leaving a small residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported militia in southern Lebanon in a "security zone," which Israel considered a necessary buffer against attacks on its northern territory.

First Intifada

Main article: first Intifada

In response to the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians began the first Intifada (uprising) in 1987. Israel responded with strong military and police resistance, but failed to end the fighting. The first intifada continued until 1991.

Gulf War

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, triggering a war between Iraq and a large allied force, led by the United States. Iraq, seeking to inflame Arab public opinion and draw Arab states out of the alliance (and possibly to Iraq's side), attacked Israel with 30 Scud missiles. Under pressure from the United States, Israel did not retaliate. Instead, it accepted U.S. assistance in deflecting the attacks.

Immigration from the former Soviet Union

In 1990, the Soviet Union permitted Soviet Jews to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel. Prior to this the Soviet government had prohibbited those members of its Jewish population (approximately three million) who wished to emigrate from doing so. Several hundred thousand chose leave once the restrictions were eased. There has been some doubt expressed as to how many of these emigrants were Jewish according to Jewish law. Traditional Jews expressed these concerns due to issues of Jewish unity.

Further information from a pro-Israel source: [7] (http://www.jajz-ed.org.il/100/concepts/aliyah6)

Middle East Peace Process

The coalition's victory in the Gulf war opened new possibilities for regional peace, and in October 1991 the Presidents of the United States and the Soviet Union jointly convened an historic meeting in Madrid of Israeli, Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, and Palestinian leaders. This meeting became the foundation for ongoing bilateral and multilateral negotiations designed to bring lasting peace and economic development to the region.

In 1991 the United Nations General Assembly rescinded its resolution equating Zionism with racism.

Further information from a pro-Israel source: [8] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/UN/unga86)

On September 13, 1993, Israel and the PLO signed a Declaration of Principles (DOP) on the South Lawn of the White House. The declaration was a major conceptual breakthrough achieved under the Madrid framework. It established an ambitious set of objectives relating to a transfer of authority from Israel to an interim Palestinian authority. The DOP established May 1999 as the date by which a permanent status agreement for the West Bank and Gaza Strip would take effect. Israel and the PLO subsequently signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement[?] on May 4, 1994, and the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities[?] on August 29, 1994, which began the process of transferring authority from Israel to the Palestinians.

Further information from pro-Israel sources: [9] (http://www.jajz-ed.org.il/100/maps/oslo), [10] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Peace/dop)

On October 26, 1994, Israel and Jordan signed an official peace treaty. Israel ceded a small amount of contested land to Jordan, and the countries opened official diplomatic relations, with open borders and free trade.

Further information from an Israeli government source: [11] (http://www.israel-mfa.gov.il/peace/jordan)

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the historic Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on September 28, 1995, in Washington, D.C.. The agreement, witnessed by the President on behalf of the United States and by Russia, Egypt, Norway, and the European Union, incorporates and supersedes the previous agreements and marked the conclusion of the first stage of negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

The accord broadens Palestinian self-government by means of a popularly elected legislative council. It provides for election and establishment of that body, transfer of civil authority, Israeli redeployment from major population centers in the West Bank, security arrangements, and cooperation in a variety of areas. Negotiations on permanent status began on May 5, 1996 in Taba, Egypt. As agreed in the 1993 DOP, those talks will address the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, final security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with neighboring states, and other issues of common interest.

Israel signed a non-belligerency agreement with Jordan (the Washington Declaration) in Washington, DC, on July 25, 1994. Jordan and Israel signed a historic peace treaty at a border post between the two countries on October 26, 1994, witnessed by President Bill Clinton, accompanied by Secretary Warren Christopher[?].

Assassination of Rabin

The assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a right-wing Jewish radical on November 4, 1995 climaxed an increasingly bitter national debate over where the peace process was leading. Rabin's death left Israel profoundly shaken, ushered in a period of national self-examination, and produced a new level of national consensus favoring the peace process.

Election of Netanyahu

In February 1996 Rabin's successor, Shimon Peres, called early elections. Those elections, held in May 1996 and the first featuring direct election of the prime minister, resulted in a narrow election victory for Likud Party[?] leader Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu and his center-right National Coalition and the defeat of Peres and his left-of-center Labor/Meretz government.

Despite his stated differences with the Oslo Accords, Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed to continue their implementation, but his Prime Ministership saw a marked slow-down in the Peace Process. (Netanyahu supporters argue that this slow-down was in response to Palestinian terrorism.)

Hebron and Wye River Agreements

He signed the Hebron Protocol[?] with the Palestinian Authority on January 15, 1997. The Protocol resulted in the redeployment of Israeli forces in Hebron and the turnover of civilian authority in much of the area to the Palestinian Authority. Since that agreement, there has been little progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. A crisis of confidence developed between the parties as the parties had difficulty responding to each other and addressing each other's concerns. Israel and the Palestinians did agree, however, in September 1997, to a four-part agenda to guide further negotiations: security cooperation in the fight against terror; further redeployments of Israeli forces; a "time-out" on unilateral actions that may prejudge the outcome of the permanent status talks; and acceleration of these talks. The U.S. sought to marry continued implementation of the 1995 Interim Agreement with the start of the accelerated permanent status talks. In order to overcome the crisis of confidence and break the negotiating impasse, President Clinton presented U.S. ideas for getting the peace process back on track to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat in Washington in January 1998. Those ideas included all aspects of the September 1997 four-part agenda and would allow for the start of accelerated permanent status negotiations. The Palestinians agreed in principle to the U.S. ideas.

The U.S. continued working intensively with the parties to reach agreement on the basis of U.S. ideas. After a 9-day session at the Wye River Conference Center[?] in Maryland, agreement was reached on October 23, 1998. The Wye agreement is based on the principle of reciprocity and meets the essential requirements of both the parties, including unprecedented security measures on the part of the Palestinians and the further redeployment of Israeli troops in the West Bank. The agreement also permits the launching of the permanent status negotiations as the May 4, 1999 expiration of the period of the Interim Agreement.

Recent History

On March 21, 2000 Pope John Paul II arrived in Israel for a historic visit. [12] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/anti-semitism/jp).

In 2000, Israeli folk and pop singer Ofra Haza died of AIDS, forcing the Israeli public to publicly confront the AIDS pandemic. [13] (http://www.ma.huji.ac.il/~dafid/news/00/ofra).

In 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew its remaining forces from the "security zone" in southern Lebanon. Lebanon claims that Israel continues to occupy Lebanese territory called "Sheeba Farms"; but Israel insists that Sheeba Farms is Syrian, not Lebanese, territory. Further information from pro-Israel source: [14] (http://www.us-israel.org/Peace/lebwith)

Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon, visited the Temple Mount in 2000, sparking Palestinian riots. This marked the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada. Israel claims that the Palestinians had been planning violence far in advance of Sharon's visit, and that his visit was used as an excuse for the planned violence to be launched.

In October 2000, Palestinians destroyed a Jewish shrine in Nablus, Joseph's Tomb. They also stoned worshipers at the Western Wall and attacked another Jewish shrine, Rachel?s Tomb. Further information from pro-Israel source: [15] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/myths/mf19a)

With the Peace Process increasingly in dissaray, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called a special election for Prime Minister. Barak was hoping that a victory for him would give him renewed authority in negotiations with the Palestinians. But Barak's hopes were not to be, and in 2001, opposition leader Ariel Sharon was elected as Prime Minister of Israel. Further information from pro-Israel source: [16] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/biography/sharon) A map of Barak's proposal at the Camp David Talks in October 2000 may be found here: [17] (http://www.pmwatch.org/pmw/maps/finalstatus/2000campdavid.jpg)

In recent years much of the Israeli public, and political leadership, has lost confidence with the Palestinian Authority as a peace partner, as many Palestinian views of the peace process are that the peace treaty with Israel is a temporary measure only. By the same token, Israeli peace groups have pointed out that Israel has never abided by the terms of any proposal it has agreed with the Palestinians: [18] (http://www.gush-shalom.org/archives/oslo) and has attempted to discredit all genuine peace proposals, regardless of their origin: [19] (http://www.gush-shalom.org/archives/article184)

Official Documents

The UNISPAL web site [20] (http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf) has the full texts of hundreds of official documents, including the League of Nations and the United Nations, the British government, the Israeli government, the Palestinian authority, and many others.


see also: History of Levant, Israel, Palestine

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