BIBLICAL TIMES (c. 2000 BCE-538 BCE). Jewish history begins in the first half of the second millennium BCE with the patriarchs - Abraham, his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. The Book of Genesis relates how Abraham was summoned to Canaan (later known as the Land of Israel) to bring about the formation of a people with belief in the One God. A famine which spread in the country forced Jacob and his sons, the forebears of the 12 tribes of Israel, to migrate to Egypt, where their descendants were enslaved. Several centuries later, Moses took his people out of Egypt, from bondage to freedom, and led them back to the Land of Israel. For 40 years they wandered through the Sinai desert, where they were welded into a nation and received the Torah (Five Books of Moses), including the Ten Commandments, which gave form and content to the monotheistic faith of their patriarchal ancestors. Under the command of Joshua, the Israelite tribes reconquered the Land and settled it, uniting mainly in times of external threat under leaders known as judges.
A monarchy was set up under Saul (c. 1020 BCE); his successor, King David, unified the tribes and made Jerusalem the country's capital (c. 1000 BCE). David's son, Solomon, developed the kingdom into a flourishing commercial power and built in Jerusalem the Temple to Israel's One God. Archeological remains testify to important urban trading centers founded during his reign, including the fortified cities of Hatzor, Megiddo and Gezer. Upon Solomon's death, the country was split into two kingdoms, Israel (capital: Samaria) and Judah (capital: Jerusalem), which existed side by side for the next two centuries, ruled by Jewish kings and exhorted by the prophets to social justice and observance of the Law. The Kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians (722 BCE), and its people dispersed (the Ten Lost Tribes). Later, Judah was conquered by the Babylonians (586 BCE), who destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and exiled the majority of the Jewish population to Babylonia.
PERIODS OF RENEWED JEWISH SELF-RULE (538 BCE - 60 BCE). After the conquest of the Babylonian Empire by the Persians (538 BCE), many Jews returned to Judah, the Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem and Jewish life in the Land was restored. For the next four centuries, the Jews were granted a large degree of autonomy under Persian and Hellenistic domination. When a series of measures were imposed by the Seleucid Syrians to suppress Jewish religious worship and practices, a revolt broke out (166 BCE) under the leadership of the Maccabees (Hasmoneans), resulting in the establishment of an independent Jewish kingdom under the Jewish kings of the Hasmonean dynasty, which lasted about 80 years.
UNDER FOREIGN RULE (60 BCE-1948). From 60 BCE onward, the country, weakened by civil strife, came increasingly under the domination of Rome. In an attempt to free themselves, the Jews launched a series of uprisings, which climaxed in the revolt of 66 CE. After four years of intermittent fighting, Rome subdued Judea (Judah), burning the Second Temple to the ground and exiling many of the country's Jews (70 CE). The last stand against Rome, made by some 1,000 Jews in the mountaintop fortress of Masada, ended in 73 CE with the mass suicide of the defenders. It became a symbol of the Jewish people's pursuit of freedom in its own land.
Another attempt to regain Jewish national sovereignty (Bar Kochba Revolt, 132 CE) resulted in the setting up of an independent enclave in Judea, with Jerusalem its capital. Three years later, however, the Romans defeated Bar Kochba and, in an effort to stamp out the Jewish connection to the Land, renamed Jerusalem 'Aelia Capitolina' and the country 'Palaestina'.
Under Roman (70-313) and Byzantine (313-636) hegemony, the Jewish community in the Land continued to maintain and develop its own legal, educational and cultural institutions. Jewish laws, dealing with every aspect of life, were codified in the Mishna (2nd century) and elaborated in the Talmud (3rd-5th centuries). These laws, some of which were amended at later dates to meet changing conditions, are still binding on observant Jews today. From the 7th century on, the country was ruled successively by Arabs (636-1091), Seljuks (1091-1099), Crusaders (1099-1291), Mamluks (1291-1516), Ottoman Turks (1517-1917) and the British (1918-1948). Frontiers underwent alterations, and the country's name was changed according to the whim of the current ruler. Many edifices built by various conquerors still bear witness to their presence in the Land.
Though their number decreased during the centuries of foreign occupation, a continuous Jewish presence was maintained in the Land, reinforced from time to time by Jews returning to their ancestral homeland from the countries of dispersion, a trickle which began to gain momentum in the mid-19th century.
The yearning to return one day to Zion, the traditional synonym for Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, has been the focus of Jewish life in the Diaspora for many centuries. By the end of the 19th century, Zionism arose as a national movement in response to continued oppression and persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe and growing disillusionment with the formal emancipation in Western Europe, which had neither put an end to discrimination nor resulted in the integration of Jews into the societies of the countries where they lived.
At the First Zionist Congress (1897) convened by Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland, the Zionist movement was constituted as a formal political organization calling for the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and the revival of its national life in its ancestral homeland. Inspired by Zionist ideology, thousands of Jews began to arrive in the Land, then a sparsely populated and neglected part of the Ottoman Empire. The early pioneers drained swamps, reclaimed wastelands, afforested bare hillsides, established industries and built towns and villages. Community institutions and services were set up, and the Hebrew language, long restricted to liturgy and literature, was revived as the language of daily use.
In recognition of "the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine (Land of Israel)" and "the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country," the League of Nations, which granted (1922) Great Britain a mandate over the Land, charged it, inter alia, with "placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home."
In the same year, Britain set up the Arab Emirate of Transjordan (today the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) in three quarters of the territory entrusted to it, leaving only the part west of the Jordan River for development of the Jewish national home. Extremist Arab leaders, opposing the establishment of the Jewish national home even in that small area, incited attacks against the Jewish community as well as against individual Arabs who advocated Arab-Jewish coexistence. Strict British restrictions on Jewish immigration and settlement did not appease the Arab militants, and outbreaks of violence continued until the start of World War II.
At the end of the war, the immigration quotas for Jews were not rescinded, despite the immediate need to find refuge for the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust in which some six million European Jews, including 1.5 million children, had perished. To circumvent Britain's restrictive immigration policy, the Jewish community in the Land, together with world Jewry, mobilized its resources and organized a network of "illegal" immigration, known as Aliya Bet, which brought some 85,000 refugees from Europe to the Land.
Unable to reconcile mounting Arab opposition to Jews settling the Land with persistent Jewish demands to repeal the restrictions on Jewish immigration, Britain turned the issue over to the United Nations. The UN General Assembly voted (29 November 1947) for the establishment of two states in the area (west of the Jordan River), one Jewish and one Arab. The Jews accepted the partition plan; the Arabs rejected it.
Peace - "...who publishes peace; who brings good tidings of good" (Isaiah 52:7)
Upon the termination of the British Mandate (14 May 1948), the Jewish people proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. Less than 24 hours later, the armies of five Arab countries invaded the new state, launching what became Israel's War of Independence, fought intermittently for over a year. By July 1949, separate armistice agreements, based on ceasefire lines, had been signed with all the adjacent Arab states.
In the Declaration of the Establishment of the State, Israel extends its "hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness." This appeal, reiterated by successive Israeli leaders, was persistently ignored or rejected. Arab terror attacks against Israel's population centers continued, with the support and encouragement of the Arab states, which also instituted economic and diplomatic boycotts, blocked international waterways to Israeli shipping and instigated full-scale wars: in 1956 and 1967, Israel launched preemptive strikes in self-defense against major threats; in 1973, Israel repulsed simultaneous all-out attacks by the neighboring Arab states on two fronts.
The cycle of rejection was broken with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's arrival in Jerusalem (November 1977) at the invitation of Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The visit led to negotiations which resulted in the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty (26 March 1979) and the formulation of the Camp David Accords, which included provisions for peace in the Middle East and a format for self-government for the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
Unfortunately, violence continued on other fronts. In 1982, Israel was forced to operate against the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) terrorist bases in southern Lebanon, from where attacks were being launched against the civilian population of northern Galilee. By the end of this operation, the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure in Lebanon was removed, but due to a security vacuum, Israel had to maintain a minimal military presence in the country.
Despite this, Israel's peace efforts continued. On 30 October 1991, a multilateral Middle East peace conference was convened in Madrid, bringing together representatives of Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians. The formal proceedings were followed by bilateral negotiations between the parties and by multilateral talks addressing regional concerns.
A significant breakthrough was the Declaration of Principles (September 1993) signed by Israel and the PLO (as the representative of the Palestinian people), outlining arrangements for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Consequently, self-government was implemented in Gaza and Jericho (the Palestinian Authority, 1994) and, with the signing of the Interim Agreement (1995), was extended to additional areas in the West Bank.
Further rapprochement in the region was achieved when Israel and Jordan ended the 46-year-long state of war between them (July 1994), followed by a peace treaty (October 1994), which established full diplomatic relations between the two countries. The momentum in the peace process opened the way for expanding contacts and setting up relations with other Arab countries as well.
In January 1997 Israel and the PA signed the Hebron Protocol, and Israel redeployed in that area; in October 1998 they signed the Wye River Memorandum and phase one of the West Bank and Gaza redeployment was implemented by Israel. In September 1999, Israel and the PLO signed the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, after which Israel implemented further redeployments, released prisoners, opened the southern safe passage route and resumed Permanent Status talks.
Unfortunately, the next step, the Camp David Summit of July 2000 failed, due to the Palestinians' refusal to accept Israel's unprecedented proposals for solving the conflict. Instead, in September 2000, the Palestinians initiated a campaign of indiscriminate terror and violence, causing heavy loss of life and suffering to both sides. Hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed in terrorists shooting and suicide bombings. In reaction, Israel constructed an antiterrorist fence, and managed to bring terrorism under control in most of the country.
Meanwhile, in the North, Israel maintained a gradually decreased security presence in Lebanon until May 2000, when the UN confirmed that the last Israel forces had been withdrawn to the international border. While Palestinian terrorism from Lebanon subsided, the Iranian-backed Hizbullah organization took its place. In July 2006, Israel was forced to respond to massive missile attacks on northern Israel as well as the kidnapping of two IDF soldiers, and reentered southern Lebanon in a military operation to counter the Hizbullah terrorism. This operation, later know as "The Second Lebanon War" lasted about a month, and was followed by a period of calm on Israel's northern border.
Throughout this period, Israel continued in its quest for peace with its Palestinian neighbors. In 2003, Israel accepted the 'Roadmap' to peace, proposed by an international Quartet (US, EU, Russian and the UN), beginning with an end to Palestinian terrorism, to be followed by the final settlement of all issues and an end to the conflict.
In August 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon implemented an initiative meant to advance peace, called the 'Disengagement Plan'. In it, Israel withdrew all forces from the Gaza Strip and removed all the Jewish settlements there, as well as four Jewish communities in northern Samaria.
Yet, despite Israel's conciliatory move, Palestinian terrorism from the Gaza Strip continued and even escalated, especially after Hamas seized power there in 2007. In December 2008, after enduring an ongoing barrage of 12,000 rockets against its cities, and after having exhausted all other options, Israel launched a military operation against Hamas in Gaza aimed at stopping the bombardment.
Peace remains Israel's primary goal. Its hopes for a negotiated peace settlement can be realized through reasonable historical compromises with its neighbors, in which the right of Israel to exist in security, as the homeland of the Jewish people, is recognized and respected.