The history of Israel includes both Jewish history in the Land of Israel and the history of Israel as a contemporary state. The modern state of Israel and the West Bank are approximately where the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah formerly stood. It includes places holy to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Samaritanism, Druze, and the Bahá’ Faith, and is the origin of the Hebrew language and Abrahamic faiths.
The Land of Israel remained primarily Jewish until the 3rd century, despite being ruled by several empires and home to a diverse ethnic population. After the 3rd century, the region became predominantly Christian, then mainly Muslim after the 7th century invasion and until the middle of the 20th century. Between 1096 and 1291, it was a hotbed of Christian-Muslim warfare, and from the conclusion of the Crusades until the British invasion in 1917, it was part of the Syrian province of the Mamluk Sultanate and later the Ottoman Empire.
Zionism, a Jewish national movement, arose in the late 1800s. Aliyah (Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel) increased following the British capture of Ottoman territories in the Levant, the Balfour Declaration in World War I, and the formation of the Mandate of Palestine, causing Arab–Jewish tensions and a collision of Arab and Jewish nationalist movements. Following Israel’s independence in 1948, there was a large influx of Jews from Europe and Muslim nations to Israel, as well as a major exodus of Arabs from Israel, which was followed by an extended Arab–Israeli war. Today, Israel is home to around 43 percent of the world’s Jews, making it the world’s biggest Jewish population.
Since about 1970, the United States has been Israel’s most important ally. Based on the Camp David Accords, an uneasy Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1979. The Oslo I Accord was reached by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, followed by the creation of the Palestinian National Authority and the signing of the Israel–Jordan peace treaty in 1994. Despite attempts to bring the peace accord to a close, the conflict continues to dominate Israeli and worldwide political, social, and economic life.
Until the 1970s, Israel’s economy was mainly socialist, and the nation was controlled by social democratic parties. Since then, Israel’s economy has progressively shifted to capitalism and a free market economy, while keeping the social safety system in place to some extent.
At least four instances of hominine migration from Africa to the Levant are documented, each culturally different, between 2.6 and 0.9 million years ago. Early human flint tool items have been unearthed on the present state of Israel’s land, including the world’s earliest stone tools discovered outside of Africa in Yiron. The 1.4 million-year-old Acheulean industry, the Bizat Ruhama group, and Gesher Bnot Yaakov are among the other groups.
Neanderthal and early modern human bones were discovered in the Carmel mountain range at el-Tabun and Es Skhul, including the skeleton of a Neanderthal female called Tabun I, which is considered one of the most significant human fossils ever discovered. The excavation at el-Tabun yielded the region’s longest stratigraphic record, covering 600,000 years or more of human activity from the Lower Paleolithic to the present day, or approximately a million years of human evolution.
From c.1550 to c. 1180 BCE, the New Kingdom of Egypt ruled over Canaan, which eventually became known as Israel.
The Merneptah stele, built for Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah (son of Ramses II) c. 1209 BCE, has the earliest mention of the name Israel (as ysrr), “Israel is laid waste and his offspring is not.” This “Israel” in the central highlands, according to William G. Dever, is a cultural and likely political entity, more of an ethnic group than an organized state.
Semites from Canaan and the Sea Peoples may have been among the Israelites’ ancestors. “It is probably fair to infer that sometime around Iron Age I a people started to define itself as ‘Israelite,'” according to McNutt, distinguishing itself from the Canaanites via such indicators as intermarriage restriction, a focus on family history and genealogy, and religion.
The earliest usage of grapheme-based writing occurred in the region, most likely with Egyptian Canaanite peoples. This writing system is the ancestor of all current alphabetical writing systems. From about 1000 BCE, there is written evidence of the usage of Classical Hebrew. The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet was used to write it.
Villages with populations of up to 300 or 400 people relied on farming and herding for a living and were generally self-sufficient; commercial exchange was common. Even in tiny towns, writing was recognized and accessible for recording. The data points to a civilization with village-like centers, but with less resources and a smaller population.
Israel and Judah
The Jews and other tribes, notably the Philistines, whose city was Gaza, were constantly at odds throughout the Hebrew Bible. According to the Bible, King David established a dynasty of monarchs and his son Solomon constructed a Temple. Yigael Yadin’s excavations at Hazor, Megiddo, Beit Shean, and Gezer uncovered structures that he and others claim date from Solomon’s reign, but others, such as Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman (both of whom agree that Solomon was a historical king), argue that they should be dated to the Omrideperiod, more than a century later. This structure is not referenced in any extra-biblical sources that have survived. The Tel Dan Stele and the Mesha Stele, both of which chronicle an 840 BCE Judean invasion of Moab, may include allusions to the “House of David.” In Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures, both David and Solomon are mentioned often.
Following Solomon’s death in 930 BCE, the kingdom was divided into two parts: a southern Kingdom of Judah and a northern Kingdom of Israel. Pharoh “Shishaq” attacked the nation shortly after the separation, ravaging Jerusalem, according to the Bible’s Books of Kings. An inscription on a gate at Karnak, Egypt, recalls Pharoh Sheshonq I’s invasion.
It’s conceivable that an alliance between Ahab of Israel and Ben Hadad II of Aram Damascus was successful in repelling Assyrian invasions at the Battle of Qarqar (854 BCE). However, in 750 BCE, Assyrian ruler Tiglath-Pileser III destroyed the Kingdom of Israel. The kingdom of the Philistines was likewise destroyed. The Assyrians exiled the majority of the northern Israelite monarchy, resulting in the “Lost Tribes of Israel.” The Samaritans claim to be descendants of Assyrian conquering survivors. Following the Assyrian king Sargon II’s assault and conquest of Samaria (724–722 BCE), an Israelite rebellion was suppressed. Sennacherib, Sargon’s son, attempted but failed to conquer Judah. According to Assyrian chronicles, he demolished 46 walled towns and besieged Jerusalem before fleeing after collecting a large payment.
Modern historians think that during the reign of King Hezekiah (ruler from 715 to 686 BCE), refugees from the destruction of Israel migrated to Judah, significantly increasing Jerusalem and leading to the building of the Siloam Tunnel, which could supply water during a siege. The exiles carried with them new theological beliefs, which led to the creation of the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, as well as the chronicles of David and Solomon’s reign in the book of Kings, under King Josiah (ruler from 641 to 619). The writings are known as Deuteronomist, and they are regarded as a crucial milestone in the development of Monotheism in Judah. They were written at a period when Assyria was being undermined by the rise of Babylon, and they may represent a transcription of older oral traditions.
Babylonian, Persian, Ptolemaic and Seleucid rule (586–135 BCE)
King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon invaded Judah in 586 BCE. He demolished Solomon’s Temple and deported the Jews to Babylon, according to the Hebrew Bible. The Babylonians documented the loss as well. According to Babylonian and Biblical accounts, Jehoiachin, the Judean monarch, shifted allegiances between the Egyptians and the Babylonians, and that the invasion was a retaliation for allying with Babylon’s main enemy, Egypt. It’s possible that the deported Jews were limited to the upper crust. The Babylonians ultimately freed Jehoiachin (see Jehoiachin’s Rations Tablets), and the Judean royal family (the Davidic dynasty) continued to lead the exile in Babylon, according to both the Bible and the Talmud.
Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated Babylon and seized control of its kingdom in 538 BCE. Cyrus issued a decree giving religious freedom to enslaved peoples (including the people of Judah) (for the original text see the Cyrus Cylinder). 50,000 Judeans headed by Zerubabel returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple, according to the Hebrew Bible. In 456 BCE, a second party of 5,000 Jews headed by Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Judah, despite non-Jews writing to Cyrus to prevent their return. The final Hebrew translations of the Torah and Books of Kings are thought to date from this time period, and that the returning Israelites adopted an Aramaic script (also known as the Ashuri alphabet) that they brought back from Babylon; this is the present Hebrew script. The Hebrew calendar is quite similar to the Babylonian calendar and is most likely from this time period.
Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king, fought Persia and captured the area in 333 BCE. The Septuagint, the earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible, was started in Alexandria shortly after. Alexander’s generals battled over the land he had conquered after he died. At the Battle of Panium in 200 BCE, Judah became the border between the Seleucid Empire and Ptolemaic Egypt, ultimately becoming a part of the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king in the 2nd century BCE, attempted to eliminate Judaism in favor of Hellenistic religion. This sparked the Maccabean Revolt of 174–135 BCE, headed by Judas Maccabeus (whose victory is celebrated in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah). The revolt and the end of Greek domination are described in the Maccabees Books. The Hasideans, a Jewish group that opposed both Hellenism and the rebellion, ultimately came to embrace the Maccabees. According to modern views, this era was marked by a civil war between Hellenized and orthodox Judaism.
Hasmonean dynasty (135–47 BCE)
Judea was governed by the Hasmonean dynasty of (Jewish) priest-kings, with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes being the major Jewish social groups. Simeon ben Shetach, a Pharisee leader, founded the first schools centered on meeting rooms as part of the fight against Hellenistic culture. Rabbinical Judaism arose as a result of this. The Sanhedrin, a Rabbinical council and law court whose head was known as the Nasi, was in charge of administering justice. The religious authority of the Nasi eventually eclipsed that of the Temple’s high priest (under the Hasmoneans this was the king).
The Hasmoneans maintained authority over a large part of the area. Hasmonean King John Hyrcanus conquered Edom in 125 BCE and forcefully converted the people to Judaism.
Roman rule (64 BCE–390 CE)
Pompey, a Roman commander, invaded Syria in 64 BCE and engaged in a Hasmonean civil war in Jerusalem. In 47 BCE, 3,000 elite Jewish soldiers sent by King Hyrcanus II and led by Antipater, whose successors Caesar crowned rulers of Judea, rescued the lives of Julius Caesar and his protégé Cleopatra.
Herodian dynasty and Roman province
From 37 BCE to 6 CE, Judea was governed by the Herodian dynasty, a line of Jewish-Roman client monarchs descending from Antipater. The temple was greatly expanded by Herod the Great (see Herod’s Temple), making it one of the world’s biggest religious buildings. Despite its renown, Rabbinical Judaism, headed by Hillel the Elder, rose to dominance over the Temple priesthood during this time period. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was given special permission not to exhibit an emperor’s effigy, making it the Roman Empire’s sole religious building to do so. For Jewish inhabitants of the Roman Empire, a special permission was given to pay a temple tax.
In the year 6 CE, Judea became a Roman province. During the next decades, the civilization prospered, but tensions between Greco-Roman and Judean people grew.
Jesus is believed to have been born during Herod’s last years, most likely in the Judean city of Bethlehem. Between 25 and 35 CE, the Roman ruler Pontius Pilate killed Jesus in Jerusalem, believing him to be a Galilean Jewish reformer (from Nazareth). All of Jesus’ main disciples, the Twelve Apostles, were Jews, including Paul the Apostle (5–67 CE), who made important moves toward establishing a new religion by proclaiming Jesus to be the “Son of God.” The Council of Jerusalem, headed by Paul, agreed to abolish the Jewish practice of circumcision and the Torah in the year 50 CE, resulting in a version of Judaism that was extremely accessible to non-Jews. Peter, a Jewish disciple, is said to have been the first Pope.
Joshua ben Gamla, the Temple High Priest, instituted a religious obligation for Jewish boys to learn to read at the age of six in 64 CE. This obligation grew more entrenched in Jewish tradition over the following several hundred years.
The Jews of Judea rose up against Rome in 66 CE, calling their new state “Israel.” The defense of Jotapata, the siege of Jerusalem (69–70 CE), and Eleazar ben Yair’s desperate final fight at Masada (72–73 CE) were all recorded by Jewish leader and historian Josephus.
The siege of Jerusalem killed nearly a million people, according to Josephus. The Temple, as well as the majority of Jerusalem, was destroyed. During the Jewish rebellion, the majority of Christians, who were at the time a sub-sect of Judaism, fled Judea. Yochanan ben Zakai’s rabbinical/Pharisee movement, which fought the Sadducee temple priesthood, made peace with Rome and survived. Following the battle, Jews were taxed in the Fiscus Judaicus, which was used to finance a Jupiter temple. The remains of a Roman triumph arch may still be seen today.
From 115 to 117, tensions and assaults on Jews across the Roman Empire sparked a major Jewish revolt against Rome. Jews battled Rome in Libya, Egypt, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia. Both sides committed large-scale killings throughout this war. Cyprus was so depopulated that new immigrants were brought in and Jews were forbidden to live there.
Hadrian renamed Jerusalem “Aelia Capitolina” and built a Temple of Jupiter on the site of the old Jewish temple in the year 131. No Jews were allowed to live in Jerusalem (a prohibition that lasted until the Arab conquest), and the Roman province of Iudaea was renamed Palaestina; no previous rebellion resulted in the renaming of a province. This is where the names “Palestine” (in English) and “Filistin” (in Arabic) come from.
Simon Bar Kokhba, a Jewish leader, staged another great rebellion against the Romans from 132 to 136, calling the nation “Israel” once again. The Romans were undoubtedly more troubled by the Bar-Kochba rebellion than by the better-documented revolt of 70. Because Christians declined to join the rebellion, the Jews began to consider Christianity as a distinct religion. Emperor Hadrian personally ultimately put down the rebellion. A rabbinical council determined which works might be considered part of the Hebrew Bible during the Bar Kokhba rebellion, excluding the Jewish apocrypha and Christian literature. As a consequence, several Hebrew manuscripts, notably the Books of Maccabees, have lost their original text (Greek translations survived).
Simeon bar Yochai, a rabbi of this time, is credited with writing the Zohar, the fundamental book of Kabbalistic philosophy. Modern academics, on the other hand, think it was composed in Medieval Spain.
Decline of the Roman Empire
The Romans deported the Jews of Judea, but not of Galilee, after crushing the Bar Kochba rebellion, and allowed a hereditary Rabbinical Patriarch (from the House of Hillel, located in Galilee) to represent the Jews in negotiations with the Romans. The most renowned of them was Judah haNasi, who is credited with writing the final edition of the Mishnah (a vast collection of Jewish religious literature interpreting the Bible) and reinforcing Judaism’s educational standards by declaring uneducated Jews to be outcasts. Many uneducated Jews may have converted to Christianity as a consequence. Jewish seminaries such as those at Shefaram and Bet Shearim continued to produce scholars, and the finest of them joined the Sanhedrin, which was initially situated at Tzippori and then at Tiberias. Prior to the Bar-Kochba revolt, an estimated 2/3 of Gallilee’s population and 1/3 of the coastline region’s population were Jewish. Many synagogues from this time period have been discovered in the Galillee. Persecution and the Roman empire’s economic problems in the third century, however, led to further Jewish migration from Syria Palaestina to the more lenient Persian Sassanid Empire, where a wealthy Jewish community with large seminaries flourished in the Babylon region.
Emperor Constantine established Constantinople as the capital of the East Roman Empire and declared Christianity the official religion early in the fourth century. Helena, his mother, went to Jerusalem (326-328) and oversaw the building of the Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem), and other important churches that are still standing. Aelia Capitolina was given the name Jerusalem and became a Christian city. Jews were still not permitted to live in Jerusalem, but they were allowed to visit, and it was during this time that the temple’s remaining Western Wall became holy to Judaism.
Another Jewish uprising broke out in the Galilee in 351–2, this time against a corrupt Roman ruler. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Roman Emperor, declared intentions to restore the Jewish Temple in 362. In 363, he died while battling the Persians, and the project was abandoned.
Byzantine rule (390–634)
In 390 CE, the Roman Empire divided, and the area became a part of the (Christian) East Roman Empire, which was known as the Byzantine Empire. The (Greek) Eastern Orthodox Church dominated Byzantine Christianity, and its vast property holdings continues to this day. The Western Roman Empire fell apart in the fifth century, resulting in Christian migration to the Roman province of Palaestina Prima and the formation of a Christian majority. Jews made about 10–15 percent of the population, with the most of them located in the Galilee. Although Jews were allowed to construct new houses of worship, hold public office, and own slaves, Judaism was the only non-Christian religion permitted. Several Samaritan Revolts occurred during this time, reducing the Samaritan population from a million to near extinction. The Gemara (400), the Jerusalem Talmud (500), and the Passover Haggadah are sacred Jewish writings composed in Palestine at this period.
Sassanid Persia attacked the Byzantine Empire in 611, and after a lengthy siege, Khosrau II, with Jewish assistance, conquered Jerusalem in 614, perhaps with the aid of the Jewish Himyarite Kingdom in Yemen. When the Persians conquered Jerusalem, the Jews were left in charge. Heraclius, the Byzantine Emperor, pledged to restore Jewish rights in exchange for Jewish assistance in fighting the Persians, but after reconquering Palaestina Prima, he broke his word and issued an edict banning Judaism from the Byzantine Empire. Coptic Christians in Egypt accepted responsibility for the unfulfilled promise and fasted in penance.
According to Muslim legend, Muhammed was led on a spiritual trip from Mecca to the “farthest mosque,” which many believe to be the Temple Mount, and back the same night. The Arabs captured Palaestina Prima and renamed it Jund Filastin in 634–636, lifting the Byzantine prohibition on Jews residing in Jerusalem. Over the following several centuries, Islam supplanted Christianity as the region’s main religion.
From 636 until the start of the Crusades, Jund Filastin was governed by the Rashidun Caliphs of Medinah, then by the Damascus-based Umayyad Caliphate, and finally by the Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphs. Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik (685–705) built the Dome of the Rock sanctuary on the Temple Mount in 691. Jews believe it houses the Foundation Stone (also known as the Holy of Holies), the holiest place in Judaism. In 705, a second structure, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, was built on the Temple Mount.
The Masoretic Text, the final text of the Hebrew Bible, was produced between the 7th and 11th centuries by Jewish scribes known as Masoretes in Galilee and Jerusalem.
The first crusade captured Jerusalem in 1099, establishing a Catholic state known as the Kingdom of Jerusalem. During the conquest, both Muslims and Jews were slaughtered or sold into slavery indiscriminately. The Crusaders murdered Jews while they journeyed through Europe and continued when they arrived in the Holy Land. Ashkenazi orthodox Jews still say a prayer in remembrance of the Crusades’ death and devastation.
Saladin, the Ayyubid Sultan, defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin (above Tiberias) at 1187, capturing Jerusalem and the majority of the ancient Kingdom of Jerusalem. Maimonides was Saladin’s court physician, and his work had a huge impact on Judaism. Maimonides was laid to rest at Tiberias. A Crusader kingdom centered on Acre lasted for another century in reduced shape.
From 1260 until 1291, the region served as a border between Mongol invaders (occasional Crusader allies) and Egyptian Mamluks. The war depleted the country’s resources and drastically decreased its population. Sultan Qutuz of Egypt ultimately beat the Mongols in the Battle of Ain Jalut (near Ein Harod), and his successor (and murderer), Baibars, conquered the remaining Crusader Kingdom of Acre in 1291, bringing the Crusades to an end.
Mamluk rule (1291–1517)
Baibars (1260–1277), an Egyptian Mamluk Sultan, seized the area, and the Mamluks controlled it until 1517, considering it to be part of Syria. Baibars forbade Jews from praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs (the second holiest site in Judaism); the prohibition stayed in effect until Israel conquered Hebron 700 years later.
Following the end of the Crusades, there was an upsurge in Jewish persecution and expulsions throughout Europe. Expulsions started in England (1290), and France soon followed (1306). Persecution of the well integrated and prosperous Jewish community in Spain started, involving killings and forced conversions. Many Jews were killed during the Black Death after being suspected of polluting wells. Following the conclusion of the Christian reconquest of Spain, the Jews of Spain were expelled in 1492 and Portugal in 1497. These were Europe’s richest and most integrated Jewish communities. Many Jews converted to Christianity, but many covertly practiced Judaism, and prejudice towards converts (regardless of sincerity) remained, prompting many former Jews to go to the New World (see History of the Jews in Latin America). The majority of exiled Spanish Jews settled in North Africa, Poland, the Ottoman Empire, and the area of Bilad a-Sham, which approximately corresponds to the ancient Kingdom of Israel (united monarchy). Jews in the Papal States of Italy were forced to reside in ghettos. In the 1880s, Rome’s final forced ghetto was eliminated.
Ottoman rule (1517–1920)
The region was a province of Bilad a-Sham during the Mamluks (Syria). It was captured by Turkish Sultan Selim I in 1516–17, and it became a part of Ottoman Syria’s province for the next four centuries, first as the Damascus Eyalet and then as the Syria Vilayet (following the Tanzimat reorganization of 1864).
Suleiman the Magnificent constructed the present Jerusalem Walls between 1535 and 1538, after the city had been without walls since Roman times. The building followed the city’s historic territory but left out one portion that was formerly inside the walls and is now known as Silwan.
Individual Jewish migration to the Land of Israel began in the Middle Ages and tended to rise when persecution was severe elsewhere. The Jewish population was concentrated on Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias, which are regarded as the Four Holy Cities in Jewish tradition. Following a surge of Spanish immigration in the 16th century, Safed became a center for Kabbalah study. However, economic deterioration and warfare between the Druze and the Ottomans eventually led to the community’s demise by the mid-17th century. A Druze uprising in 1660 resulted in the destruction of the main Old Yishuv towns of Safed and Tiberias. Sabbatai Zevi arrived in Jerusalem in 1663, declaring himself to be the Jewish Messiah. He gathered a huge following before traveling to Istanbul in 1666, when the Sultan compelled him to convert to Islam. Local Arab sheikh Zahir al-Umar established a de facto autonomous Emirate in the Galilee in the late 18th century. Ottoman efforts to capture the Sheikh were unsuccessful, but following Zahir’s death, the Ottomans reestablished their authority in the region.
Napoleon temporarily controlled the area in 1799 and prepared a proclamation encouraging Jews to form a state. Following his loss at Acre, the declaration was put on hold. In 1831, Egypt’s Muhammad Ali captured Ottoman Syria and planned to resurrect and resettle most of its territory. His conscription tactics sparked a popular Arab rebellion in 1834, resulting in significant fatalities among local Arab peasants and murders of Christian and Jewish populations by the insurgents. Following the rebellion, Muhammad Pasha, Muhammad Ali’s son, evicted almost 10,000 local peasants to Egypt, while importing loyal Arab peasants from Egypt and discharging troops to settle the Ottoman Syrian coastline. His Sudanese soldiers inhabited the northern Jordan Valley.
The Druze staged another uprising in 1838. In 1839, Moses Montefiore met with Muhammed Pasha in Egypt and negotiated an agreement to create 100-200 Jewish communities in Ottoman Syria’s Damascus Eyalet, but the Egyptians departed before the arrangement could be executed, returning the region to Ottoman administration. In 1844, Jews were the biggest demographic group in Jerusalem, and by 1890, they were an absolute majority, although the Jewish population as a whole was much less than 10% of the nation. The Ottomans exiled one of the Bahá’ Faith’s founders, Bahá’u’lláh, to Acre, where he is buried, in 1868, and the organization afterwards built its worldwide administrative center in neighboring Haifa. Ottoman reforms resulted in Jerusalem obtaining unique status as the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem in 1874.
Birth of Zionism
Throughout the nineteenth century, Jews in Western Europe were progressively given citizenship and legal equality; but, in Eastern Europe, they suffered rising persecution and legal limitations, including numerous pogroms. Half of the world’s Jews resided in the Russian Empire, where they were treated as a distinct national group and were confined to the Pale of Settlement. National groups in the Empire, such as Poles, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians, were fighting for independence, and Jews, who were typically the only non-Christian minority and spoke a different language, were viewed as foreigners (Yiddish). The Russian Empire was the birthplace of an autonomous Jewish national movement, and the millions of Jews leaving the country (primarily to the United States) took the seeds of this nationalism with them wherever they went.
The Alliance Israelite Universelle, a French Jewish organization, established the Mikveh Israel, an agricultural school in Jaffa, in 1870. Petah Tikva was founded in 1878 by “Russian” Jewish immigrants, followed by Rishon LeZion in 1882. To aid settlers, “Russian” Jews founded the Biluand Hovevei Zion (“Love of Zion”) organizations, which spawned new communities that, unlike conventional Ashkenazi-Jewish communities, aspired to be self-sufficient rather than relying on contributions from outside. Existing Ashkenazi-Jewish communities were centered in the Four Holy Cities, were impoverished, and relied on European contributions. The newcomers avoided these towns and instead established tiny agricultural settlements. In Jaffa, a thriving business community emerged, with both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews coexisting. Many early migrants departed because it was difficult to find employment, and the early communities were often reliant on foreign contributions. Despite the challenges, additional villages sprung up, and the community grew.
The new migration was followed by a resurgence of the Hebrew language, and it drew Jews of all stripes, including religious, secular, nationalists, and left-wing socialists. Socialists want to recapture the land by transforming themselves into peasants or laborers and establishing collectives. The many waves of Jewish settlement are known as “aliyah” in Zionist history. Between 1882 and 1903, about 35,000 Jews immigrated to what is now Israel during the First Aliyah. The first wave was accompanied by a surge of Jewish migration and Messianism among Yemenite and Bukharan Jews. By 1890, Jews became the majority in Jerusalem, despite the fact that the nation was mostly inhabited by Muslim (settled and nomadic Bedouins) and Christian Arabs.
In 1896, Theodor Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), in which he claimed that establishing a Jewish state was the answer to Europe’s increasing antisemitism (the so-called “Jewish Question”). The Zionist Organization was established in 1897, and the First Zionist Congress declared its goal to “create a home for the Jewish people in Palestine protected by public law.” However, the Ottoman authorities viewed Zionism with mistrust and it was unable to make any headway.
Between 1904 and 1914, about 40,000 Jews settled in what is now known as Israel (the Second Aliyah). The Zionist Organization established the Palestine Bureau (also known as the “Eretz Israel Office”) in Jaffa in 1908 and started a systematic Jewish colonization program. Migrants were mostly from Russia (which included a portion of Poland at the time), fleeing persecution. Degania, the first Kibbutz, was established in 1909 by nine Russian socialists. Jaffa inhabitants founded the first fully Hebrew-speaking city, Ahuzat Bayit, in 1909. (later renamed Tel Aviv). Hebrew newspapers and publications were produced, as well as Hebrew schools, Jewish political parties, and labor groups.
World War I
During World War I, most Jews sided with the Germans because they were battling the Russians, who were seen as the Jews’ primary adversary. In the United Kingdom, the government sought Jewish support for the war effort for a variety of reasons, including an incorrect antisemitic perception of “Jewish power” over the Ottoman Empire’s Young Turks movement and a desire to secure American Jewish support for US intervention on Britain’s behalf.
The British government, notably Prime Minister Lloyd George, was already sympathetic to Zionist goals. In late 1917, the British Army pushed the Turks out of Southern Syria, prompting British Foreign Minister Lord Balfour to write a public letter to Lord Rothschild, a prominent member of his party and Jewish community leader. The letter was later dubbed the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It claimed that the British Government “viewed[ed] with favor the creation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.” The proclamation served as an excuse for the British government to claim and control the nation. An accord between British and French officials determined new Middle Eastern borders. The deal granted Britain authority over what political parties began to refer to as “Palestine.”
The British invasion was aided by a Jewish Legion comprised mostly of Zionist volunteers led by Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor. It also took part in the botched Gallipoli campaign. The British received information on Ottoman soldiers via a Zionist spy network.
British Mandate of Palestine (1920–1948)
The League of Nations affirmed the British Mandate (in effect, British control) over Palestine, including the Balfour Declaration, in 1922, and it went into force in 1923. The borders of Palestine originally included modern Jordan, which was withdrawn from the area a few years later by Churchill. Britain and the United States (which did not join the League of Nations) signed a treaty in which the United States accepted the conditions of the Mandate.
Between 1919 and 1923, an additional 40,000 Jews came in Palestine, mostly to escape the post-revolutionary turmoil of Russia (Third Aliyah), since over 100,000 Jews were murdered in Ukraine and Russia during this time. Many of these immigrants were known as “pioneers” (halutzim), capable of creating self-sustaining economies and having expertise or training in agriculture. The wetlands of the Jezreel Valley and the Hefer Plain were drained and converted to agricultural use. The Jewish National Fund, a Zionist organization that raised funds from all over the world for this purpose, purchased the land. Haganah (“Defense”), a mostly socialist clandestine Jewish militia, was formed to protect remote Jewish communities.
In 1920 and 1921, the French victory over the Arab Kingdom of Syria, along with the Balfour Declaration, resulted in the development of Palestinian nationalism and Arab riots. In response, the British government established Jewish immigration quotas. Exceptions were granted for Jews who had more than 1,000 pounds in cash (about 100,000 pounds at year 2000 prices) or for Jewish professionals who had more than 500 pounds. The British immigration permits were granted by the Jewish Agency, which also dispersed money contributed by Jews throughout the world. Between 1924 and 1929, 82,000 additional Jews came (Fourth Aliyah), escaping antisemitism in Poland and Hungary, as well as the United States Immigration Act of 1924, which now barred Jews from entering the country. Many middle-class families relocated into towns and started small companies and workshops, but due to a lack of economic prospects, roughly a quarter subsequently departed. Under the direction of Pinhas Rutenberg, a former Commissar of St Petersburg in Russia’s pre-Bolshevik Kerensky Government, the first electrical generator was constructed in Tel Aviv in 1923. The Jewish Agency founded the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Technion (technical university) in Haifa in 1925.
The democratically elected Va’ad Leumi (Jewish National Council or JNC) became the primary institution of the Palestine Jewish community (“Yishuv”), which included non-Zionist Jews, beginning in 1928. The JNC took on more government-like responsibilities as the Yishuv expanded, including as education, health care, and security. The Va’ad, with British authority, levied its own taxes and provided autonomous services to the Jewish community. Since 1929, its leadership has been chosen by Jews from 26 different nations.
Tensions rose in 1929 over the Kotel (Wailing Wall), a small passageway where Jews were forbidden from using chairs or any other furniture (many of the worshipers were elderly). The Mufti said it was Muslim property and that Jews were attempting to seize control of the Temple Mount. This (together with widespread hostility) resulted in the August 1929 Palestine riots. The primary casualties were the historic Jewish community of Hebron, which was destroyed. Following the riots, right-wing Zionists formed their own militia, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, in 1931. (National Military Organization, known in Hebrew by its acronym “Etzel”).
Private education and health care were supplied by Zionist political parties: the General Zionists, the Mizrahi, and the Socialist Zionists each created separate health and education services and ran sports groups financed by local taxes, donations, and fees (the British administration did not invest in public services). Throughout the interwar era, the British, citing the provisions of the Mandate, opposed the concept of majority rule or any other action that would transfer authority over Palestinian land to the Arab people, who made up the majority of the population.
Increase of Jewish immigration
In 1933, the Jewish Agency and the Nazis negotiated the Ha’avara Agreement (transfer agreement), which called for the relocation of 50,000 Jews to Palestine. The Nazis seized the Jews’ property in exchange for allowing the Ha’avara group to buy 14 million pounds worth of German products for shipment to Palestine (which was used to compensate the immigrants). Normally, the Nazis did not let Jews to escape with any money or more than two bags. The pact was contentious, and Haim Arlosoroff, the Labour Zionist leader who negotiated it, was murdered in Tel Aviv in 1933. The assassination has long been a subject of contention between the Zionist left and the Zionist right. Arlosoroff was friends with Magda Ritschel before she married Joseph Goebbels. There has been conjecture that he was murdered by the Nazis in order to conceal the link, which was just recently discovered, although there is no proof for this. In Palestine, Jewish immigration (together with Ha’avara products) aided the economy’s growth. A port and oil refineries were constructed in Haifa, and industrialisation increased in the mainly rural Palestinian economy.
250,000 Jews came in Palestine between 1929 and 1938. (Fifth Aliyah). Between 1933 and 1936, 174,000 people came, following which the British tightened immigration controls. The inflow aided the 1933 Palestine riots. Professionals, physicians, attorneys, and academics from Germany were among those who migrated primarily from Europe. As a result, German Bauhaus architects transformed Tel Aviv into the world’s first city with entirely Bauhaus districts, and Palestine had the greatest per-capita proportion of physicians in the world.
As fascist governments arose throughout Europe, Jewish persecution grew dramatically, and Jews returned to being non-citizens devoid of civil and economic rights and vulnerable to arbitrary punishment. Significantly antisemitic regimes came to power in Poland (the government banned Jews and by 1937 had completely excluded all Jews), Hungary, Romania, and the Nazis established republics of Croatia and Slovakia, while Germany seized Austria and the Czech lands.
Arab revolt and the White Paper
Jewish immigration and Nazi propaganda aided the large-scale Arab rebellion in Palestine in 1936–1939, a mainly nationalist movement aimed at overthrowing British authority. To avoid polarization, Ben-Gurion, the director of the Jewish Agency, reacted to the Arab Revolt with a policy of “Havlagah”—self-control and a refusal to be inflamed by Arab assaults. In response to this policy, the Etzel faction split from the Haganah.
The British reacted to the rebellion with the Peel Commission (1936–37), a public investigation that proposed establishing an entirely Jewish state in the Galilee and western coast (including the relocation of 225,000 Arabs), with the remainder becoming an exclusively Arab region. The two major Jewish leaders, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, had persuaded the Zionist Congress to endorse the Peel proposals unequivocally as a foundation for further negotiations. The Palestinian Arab leadership flatly rejected the proposal, resuming the rebellion, forcing the British to placate the Arabs and dismiss the plan as impractical.
Weizmann testified before the Peel Commission, saying, “There are 6,000,000 individuals in Europe… for whom the world is divided between areas where they cannot dwell and places where they cannot enter.” In 1938, the United States convened an international conference to address the issue of the large number of Jews attempting to flee Europe. Britain agreed to attend if Palestine was kept out of the debate. There were no Jewish delegates present. The Nazis offered their own plan, which was to transfer the Jews of Europe to Madagascar (the Madagascar Plan).
With millions of Jews attempting to flee Europe and every nation in the globe refusing to accept Jewish migrants, the British decided to shut Palestine. The White Paper of 1939 advocated for the establishment of an independent Palestine administered jointly by Arabs and Jews within ten years. The White Paper stipulated that 75,000 Jewish immigrants would be allowed into Palestine between 1940 and 1944, after which entry would need Arab consent. The White Paper was rejected by both Arab and Jewish authorities. The British High Commissioner for Palestine issued an order in March 1940 prohibiting Jews from buying land in 95 percent of Palestine. Jews resorted to illegal immigration (Aliyah Bet or “Ha’apalah”), which was often orchestrated by the Mossad Le’aliyah Bet and the Irgun. Between 1939 and 1945, very few Jews were able to flee Europe. Those apprehended by the British were mainly sent to Mauritius.
World War II and the Holocaust
During World War II, the Jewish Agency sought to create a Jewish army to fight alongside British troops. Churchill backed the proposal, but it was rejected due to resistance from the British military and administration. The British requested that the number of Jewish recruits be equal to the number of Arab recruits, but few Arabs would fight for Britain, and the Palestinian leader, the Mufti of Jerusalem, sided with the Nazis in Europe.
The Palmach was formed in May 1941 to protect the Yishuv against the anticipated Axis invasion via North Africa. The British reluctance to supply weapons to the Jews, even as Rommel’s troops advanced through Egypt in June 1942 (bent on conquering Palestine), and the 1939 White Paper resulted in the development of a Zionist leadership in Palestine that thought war with Britain was unavoidable. Despite this, the Jewish Agency of Palestine encouraged Palestinian Jewish youngsters to join the British Army (both men and women). During the war, 30,000 Palestinian Jews and 6,000 Palestinian Arabs joined in the British military services. The British agreed in June 1944 to form a Jewish Brigade to fight in Italy.
Approximately 1.5 million Jews served in every branch of the allied forces, mostly in the Soviet and American troops. Only in the Soviet army did 200,000 Jews perish. Many of these war veterans subsequently volunteered to fight for Israel or actively supported it.
Avraham Stern headed the “Lehi” (Stern Gang), a small group of activists devoted to opposing the British rule in Palestine. They broke away from the Etzel (which supported support for Britain throughout the war) and established the “Lehi” (Stern Gang). In 1943, the Soviet Union freed Revisionist Zionist leader Menachem Begin from the Gulag, and he returned to Palestine, assuming leadership of the Etzel organization and pursuing an aggressive anti-British campaign. Around the same time, Yitzhak Shamir escaped from the Eritrean camp where the British were imprisoning Lehi members without charge, assuming leadership of the Lehi (Stern Gang).
The conflict also had an impact on Jews in the Middle East. The majority of North Africa was taken over by the Nazis, and many Jews were exploited as slaves. The pro-Axis takeover in Iraq in 1941 was followed by Jewish killings. The Jewish Agency devised preparations for a final struggle in the event that Rommel invaded Palestine (the Nazis intended to kill Palestine’s Jews).
Between 1939 and 1945, the Nazis, backed by local groups, conducted systematic attempts to murder everyone of Jewish ancestry in Europe (The Holocaust), killing roughly 6 million Jews. Children made up one-quarter of those murdered. The Polish and German Jewish communities, which played a significant role in shaping the pre-1945 Jewish world, mostly vanished. Jews of European descent were estranged from their relatives and origins in the United States and Palestine. Sepharadi and Mizrahi Jews, who had previously been a minority, rose to prominence in the Jewish world. Those Jews who survived in central Europe were displaced people (refugees); an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, formed to investigate the Palestine problem, polled them and discovered that more than 95 percent desired to move to Palestine.
The moderate Pro-British (and British citizen) Weizmann, whose son died flying in the RAF, was weakened in the Zionist movement by Britain’s anti-Zionist actions. The movement’s leadership moved to the Jewish Agency in Palestine, which is currently headed by the anti-British Socialist-Zionist party (Mapai), which is commanded by David Ben-Gurion. The Zionist movement in the diaspora was now controlled by Jews from the United States.
Illegal Jewish immigration and insurgency
The conflict significantly damaged the British Empire. The conflict in the Middle East had made Britain aware of its reliance on Arab oil. British companies owned Iraqi oil, while Britain governed Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Shortly after VE Day, the Labour Party won the British general election. Despite the fact that Labour Party congresses had long advocated for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, the Labour administration chose to stick to the objectives outlined in the 1939 White Paper.
Illegal migration (Aliyah Bet) became the most common way for Jews to enter Palestine. Bricha (“flight”), an organization of former partisans and ghetto fighters operating throughout Europe, transported Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe to Mediterranean ports where tiny boats attempted to break the British blockade of Palestine. Meanwhile, Jews from Arab nations started crossing the border into Palestine. Despite British attempts to limit immigration, approximately 110,000 Jews entered Palestine during the 14-year Aliyah Bet. By the conclusion of World War II, the Jewish community in Palestine had grown to account for 33% of the overall population.
In order to achieve independence, Zionists began waging guerilla warfare against the British. To resist the British, the Haganah, the primary underground Jewish militia, established an alliance dubbed the Jewish Resistance Movement with the Etzel and Stern Gang. Following reports of Jewish sabotage, the British conducted Operation Agatha in June 1946, detaining 2700 Jews, including the leadership of the Jewish Agency, whose offices were searched. Those arrested were detained without charge or trial.
The Kielce Pogrom (July 1946) in Poland resulted in a flood of Holocaust survivors leaving Europe for Palestine. 100,000–120,000 Jews fled Poland between 1945 and 1948. Their flight was mainly orchestrated by Zionist activists in Poland working under the cover of the semi-secret group Berihah (“Flight”). Berihah was also in charge of the orchestrated exodus of Jews from Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, totalling 250,000 Holocaust survivors (including Poles). In the Atlit prisoner camp and the Cyprus internment camps, the British imprisoned Jews attempting to reach Palestine. Those detained were mostly Holocaust survivors, including many youngsters and orphans. In response to Cypriot concerns that the Jews would never depart (because to a lack of a state or documents), and since the 75,000 limit set by the 1939 White Paper had never been met, the British permitted 750 refugees to enter Palestine each month.
After Etzel attacked the British Military Headquarters in the King David Hotel, killing 91 people, the united Jewish resistance organization disbanded in July 1946. In the days after the explosion, Tel Aviv was put under curfew, and approximately 120,000 Jews, or almost 20% of Palestine’s Jewish population, were questioned by police. In the United States, Congress condemned Britain’s handling of the issue and delayed financing critical to Britain’s postwar rebuilding. By 1947, the Labour government was prepared to submit the Palestine issue to the newly formed United Nations.
United Nations Partition Plan
On April 2, 1947, the United Kingdom asked that the General Assembly consider the Palestine issue. The General Assembly established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to investigate “the issue of Palestine.” The UNSCOP visited Palestine in July 1947 and met with Jewish and Zionist representatives. The sessions were boycotted by the Arab Higher Committee. During the visit, British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin ordered the return of an illegal immigration ship, the Exodus 1947, to Europe. British soldiers forcefully took the migrants off the ship at Hamburg.
Agudat Israel, the main non-Zionist Orthodox Jewish (or Haredi) group, proposed to UNSCOP that a Jewish state be established after striking a religious status quo agreement with Ben-Gurion about the future Jewish state. The deal would exclude a certain number of yeshiva (religious seminary) students and all orthodox women from military duty, declare the Sabbath a national holiday, guarantee Kosher food in government institutions, and enable them to retain their own educational system.
The majority report of UNSCOP advocated “an autonomous Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem,” the last of which would be subject to “an International Trusteeship System.” The General Assembly approved the majority report of UNSCOP, with minor changes, in Resolution 181 (II) on November 29, 1947. The Plan also called for the British to permit “significant” Jewish migration by 1 February 1948.
Neither Britain nor the UN Security Council took any action to put the resolution into effect, and Britain continued to arrest Jews trying to enter Palestine. Concerned that division would wreak havoc on Anglo-Arab ties, Britain restricted UN officials access to Palestine between the passage of Resolution 181 (II) and the end of the British mandate. The British withdrew from the war in May 1948. However, until March 1949, Britain held Jews of “fighting age” and their families in Cyprus.
The decision of the General Assembly generated jubilation in the Jewish community and dissatisfaction in the Arab community. Violence erupted between the parties, culminating into civil war. With the involvement of a number of Arab Liberation Army units within Palestine, each operating in a variety of unique areas surrounding the several coastal cities, activities grew more militaristic beginning in January 1948. They established a firm foothold in Galilee and Samaria. Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni arrived from Egypt with several hundred members of the Holy War Army. He coordinated the blockade of Jerusalem’s 100,000 Jewish inhabitants with the help of a few thousand volunteers. The Yishuv attempted to supply the city with convoys of up to 100 armored vehicles, but were mostly unsuccessful. By March, nearly all of Haganah’s armored vehicles had been destroyed, the blockade had been fully implemented, and hundreds of Haganah members who had attempted to smuggle supplies into the city had been slain.
Up to 100,000 Arabs from the urban elite and middle classes in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem, as well as Jewish-dominated regions, were evacuated overseas or to Arab centers in the east. As a result of this scenario, the United States withdrew its support for the Partition Plan, leading the Arab League to think that the Palestinian Arabs, aided by the Arab Liberation Army, might put a stop to the partition plan. The British, on the other hand, agreed on 7 February 1948 to back Transjordan’s annexation of the Arab portion of Palestine.
David Ben-Gurion restructured the Haganah and mandated conscription. Every Jewish man and woman in the nation was required to go through military training. The Jewish delegates of Palestine were able to buy significant weapons in Eastern Europe thanks to money provided by Golda Meir from sympathisers in the United States and Stalin’s determination to assist the Zionist cause.
Ben-Gurion delegated responsibility for planning the Arab nations’ announced involvement to Yigael Yadin. His research resulted in Plan Dalet, which saw Haganah shift from defensive to offensive mode. By capturing mixed zones, the strategy aimed to create Jewish territorial continuity. Tiberias, Haifa, Safed, Beisan, Jaffa, and Acre were all destroyed, forcing almost 250,000 Palestinian Arabs to flee. The crisis compelled the leaders of neighboring Arab countries to act.
On May 14, 1948, the day after the last British troops departed Haifa, the Jewish People’s Council met in the Tel Aviv Museum and declared the creation of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.
State of Israel (1948–present)
War of Independence
Both superpower leaders, US President Harry S. Truman and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, acknowledged the new state immediately after its proclamation. Arab League members Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq refused to accept the UN partition proposal and declared the right of Arabs across Palestine to self-determination. The Arab nations marched their troops into what had been the British Mandate for Palestine until the previous day, launching the first Arab–Israeli War. The Arab nations had significant military weapons at their disposal and went on the attack at first (the Jewish forces were not a state before 15th of May and could not buy heavy arms). The British sponsored United Nations Security Council Resolution 50, imposing a weapons embargo on the area, on May 29, 1948. Czechoslovakia breached the resolution by failing to provide the Jewish state with vital military gear to match the invading Arab nations’ (mostly British) heavy weapons and aircraft. On June 11, a month-long UN ceasefire went into force.
Following Israel’s independence, the Haganah was renamed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Palmach, Etzel, and Lehi were forced to stop their autonomous activities and join the IDF. Etzel tried to smuggle in a private weapons cargo onboard the “Altalena” during the truce. Ben-Gurion ordered the ship to be destroyed when they refused to give over the weapons to the government. The battle claimed the lives of many Etzel members.
Many Jewish immigrants, many of them World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors, started arriving in the nascent state of Israel, and many of them joined the IDF.
Following an early loss of land by the Jewish state and occupation by Arab forces, the tide gradually reversed in Israel’s favor beginning in July, when they drove the Arab armies out and conquered part of the area that had been included in the planned Arab state. At the end of November, Israelis, Syrians, and Lebanese agreed to a shaky local truce. Only Britain acknowledged the annexation on December 1, when King Abdullah proclaimed the unification of Transjordan with Arab Palestine west of the Jordan.
Israel concluded armistices with Egypt on February 24th, Lebanon on March 23rd, Jordan on April 3rd, and Syria on April 3rd (20 July). There were no genuine peace treaties signed. With the implementation of a lasting cease-fire, Israel’s new boundaries, subsequently known as the Green Line, were established. The Arab nations did not recognize these borders as international boundaries. The IDF had taken control of the Galilee, the Jezreel Valley, West Jerusalem, the coastal plain, and the Negev. The Syrians maintained control of a strip of land around the Sea of Galilee that had been allotted to the Jewish state, the Lebanese controlled a small piece near Rosh Hanikra, and the Egyptians retained control of the Gaza strip and had some troops encircled within Israeli territory. Jordanian troops remained in control of the West Bank, where British forces had been stationed prior to the conflict. Jordan annexed the territories it seized, but Egypt maintained Gaza as an occupied zone.
Following the cease-fire declaration, Britain freed nearly 2,000 Jewish prisoners held in Cyprus and recognized Israel as a state. Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949. In the battle, 6,000 Israeli men and women were murdered, including 4,000 IDF troops, out of a population of 650,000. According to UN statistics, between 1947 and 1949, 726,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled by Israelis. Except in Jordan, Palestinian refugees were housed in congested, overcrowded refugee camps. In response to a British request, the UN created an organization (UNRWA) in December 1949 to offer assistance to Palestinian refugees. It grew to become the biggest single UN organization and the only one that serves a single population.
1948–1955: Ben-Gurion I; Sharett
After the 1949 truce, the Knesset, a 120-seat parliament, convened in Tel Aviv before moving to Jerusalem. Israel conducted its first elections in January 1949. Mapai and Mapam, both socialist-Zionist parties, got the most seats (46 and 19 respectively). David Ben-Gurion, the head of Mapai, was named Prime Minister; he created a coalition that did not include Mapam who were Stalinists and loyal to the USSR (another Stalinist party, non-Zionist Maki won 4 seats). Chaim Weizmann was chosen as Israel’s first (mostly ceremonial) President by the Knesset. The new state’s official languages were declared to be Hebrew and Arabic. No party has ever gained a majority in the Knesset, thus all administrations have been coalitions. From 1948 until 1977, all governments were headed by Mapai and the Alignment, the Labour Party’s predecessors. Labour Zionists, originally headed by David Ben-Gurion, controlled Israeli politics during those years, and the economy was mainly socialist.
Within three years (1948–1951), immigration more than quadrupled Israel’s Jewish population and left an everlasting mark on Israeli society. During this time, 700,000 Jews settled in Israel. As part of the Jewish migration from Arab and Muslim countries, 300,000 people came from Asian and North African countries. The biggest group (almost 100,000) came from Iraq. The remaining immigrants were from Europe, including approximately 270,000 from Eastern Europe, mostly Romania and Poland (over 100,000 each). Although nearly all Jewish immigrants could be classified as refugees, only 136,000 who immigrated to Israel from Central Europe had international recognition because they were among the 250,000 Jews registered by the allies as displaced after WWII and living in Displaced Persons camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy.
The Knesset enacted the Law of Return in 1950, granting all Jews and those of Jewish heritage, as well as their spouses, the right to reside in Israel and become citizens. 50,000 Yemenite Jews (99 percent) were covertly transported to Israel that year. Iraqi Jews were given temporary permission to leave the nation in 1951, and 120,000 (more than 90%) chose to go to Israel. Lebanese, Syrian, and Egyptian Jews also fled. By the late 1960s, about 500,000 Jews had fled Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Over a twenty-year period, about 850,000 Jews from Arab nations (99 percent) migrated to Israel (680,000), France, and the Americas. The land and property left behind by the Jews (most of it in Arab city centers) are still disputed. Today, there are about 9,000 Jews residing in Arab countries, with Morocco accounting for 75% and Tunisia accounting for 15%.
Between 1948 and 1958, Israel’s population increased from 800,000 to two million. Food, clothing, and furniture had to be rationed during what became known as the Austerity Period (Tkufat haTsena). Immigrants were mainly refugees with little money or belongings, and many were placed in ma’abarot, or temporary camps. By 1952, over 200,000 immigrants were living in government-built tents or prefabricated shacks. Private contributions from outside the country provided financial assistance to Israel (mainly the United States). Because of the strain on the nascent state’s resources, Ben-Gurion agreed to negotiate a reparations deal with West Germany. 5,000 protesters gathered during the Knesset discussion, forcing riot police to block off the premises. In exchange for several billion marks, Israel agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Germany.
Ben-Gurion retired to Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev at the end of 1953.
Education became free and obligatory for all residents till the age of 14 in 1949. The state is now funding the party-affiliated Zionist education system as well as a new organization established by the Haredi Agudat Israel party. A separate organization was established to educate the remaining Palestinian-Arab people. The main political parties are increasingly competing to attract immigrants to their educational institutions. The government barred existing educational institutions from the transit camps and attempted to impose a unified secular communist education under the supervision of “camp administrators,” who were also responsible for providing employment, food, and shelter for the immigrants. Teachers attempted to compel traditional Yemenite youngsters to embrace a secular lifestyle, including many cases of Yemenite children having their side-curls clipped. This resulted in the first Israeli public investigation (the Fromkin Inquiry), the coalition’s dissolution, and an election in 1951 with no change in the outcomes. The party-affiliated education system was abolished in 1953, and a secular state education system and a state-run Modern Orthodox system were established in its stead. Agudat Israel was permitted to keep its current educational system.
During its early years, Israel tried to retain a non-aligned stance among the world’s superpowers. However, an antisemitic public trial was held in Moscow in 1952, in which a group of Jewish physicians were accused of attempting to poison Stalin (the Doctors’ conspiracy), followed by a similar trial in Czechoslovakia (the Slánsk trial). This, along with Israel’s exclusion from the Bandung Conference (of non-aligned nations), essentially terminated Israel’s pursuit of non-alignment. Egypt declared the Suez Canal closed to Israeli ships and trade on May 19, 1950. In Egypt, a military coup brought Abdel Nasser to power in 1952. The US sought strong ties with the emerging Arab nations, especially the Nasser-led Egyptian Free Officers Movement and Saudi Arabia’s Ibn Saud. The answer to Israel’s diplomatic isolation was to develop strong ties with newly independent African nations as well as France, which was involved in the Algerian War.
Moshe Sharett became Prime Minister of Israel at the head of a left-wing government after Mapai won 40 seats and the Labour Party ten in the January 1955 elections. Between 1953 and 1956, there were sporadic confrontations along all of Israel’s borders as a consequence of Arab terrorism and violations of the cease-fire, which led in Israeli counter-raids. Egyptians often coordinated and supported Palestinian fedayeen assaults from (Egyptian-occupied) Gaza. As a result of the Fedayeen assaults, Israel conducted retaliatory strikes against Gaza, escalating the cycle of bloodshed. The Israel Defense Forces initially used the Uzi submachine gun in 1954. The Egyptian government started recruiting ex-Nazi rocket experts for a missile program in 1955.
General Yigael Yadin, an archaeologist, acquired the Dead Sea Scrolls on behalf of the State of Israel. The whole original batch found was now held by Israel and kept in the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book.
The Lavon Affair, a crude plot to undermine US–Egyptian ties involving Israeli operatives placing explosives at American installations in Egypt, brought down Sharett’s administration. When eleven agents were apprehended, the plot was foiled. Despite his denial of culpability, Defense Minister Lavon was accused. Sharett resigned as a result of the Lavon incident, and Ben-Gurion resumed his position as Prime Minister.
1955–1963: Ben-Gurion II
Egypt’s increasingly pro-Soviet President Nasser announced the nationalization of the (French and British-owned) Suez Canal, which was the country’s major source of foreign money, in 1956. Egypt also obstructed Israeli access to the Red Sea by blockading the Gulf of Aqaba. At Sèvres, Israel forged a covert agreement with the French to coordinate military actions against Egypt. Britain and France have already started covert war preparations. It has been claimed that the French also promised to construct a nuclear facility for the Israelis, which would be capable of producing nuclear weapons by 1968. Britain and France planned for Israel to use the Suez Canal as a pretext for taking control. Israel was to launch an assault on Egypt, while Britain and France were to demand that both sides leave. When the Egyptians refused, as anticipated, Anglo-French troops would invade to seize control of the Canal.
On October 29, 1956, Israeli troops led by General Moshe Dayan launched an assault on Egypt. On October 30, Britain and France issued their pre-arranged appeal for both sides to cease combat and retreat from the Canal region, while allowing them to take up positions at critical locations along the Canal. Egypt refused, and on October 31, the allies launched air attacks aimed at eliminating Egypt’s air force. The Israelis had taken control of Sinai by the 5th of November. That was the start of the Anglo-French invasion. The United Nations was in uproar, with the United States and the Soviet Union, for the first time, agreeing to condemn the acts of Israel, the United Kingdom, and France. On November 7, a cease-fire demand was grudgingly accepted.
The UN deployed an Emergency Force (UNEF) comprised of 6,000 peacekeeping soldiers from ten countries to monitor the ceasefire at Egypt’s request. This was the first UN peacekeeping mission. Beginning on November 15, UN soldiers established a buffer zone throughout Sinai to separate Israeli and Egyptian forces. The Israelis retreated to the Negev after obtaining US assurances of Israeli access to the Suez Canal, freedom of access out of the Gulf of Aqaba, and Egyptian intervention to halt Palestinian attacks from Gaza. In reality, Israeli ships was barred from using the Suez Canal. The war effectively ended Western-European supremacy in the Middle East.
Nasser emerged as the conflict’s winner, having won the political fight; nevertheless, the Israeli military discovered that it did not need British or French assistance to capture Sinai, and that it could overrun the Sinai peninsula in a matter of days. The Israeli political leadership realized that Israel only had a limited time frame in which to engage militarily before international political pressure would limit Israel’s freedom of action.
In 1956, the National Religious Party was formed by the merger of two modern-orthodox (and religious-zionist) parties, Mizrachi and Hapoel HaMizrachi. Until 1992, the party was a component of every Israeli coalition, typically controlling the Ministry of Education. In the 1959 elections, Mapai won again, raising its seat total to 47, while Labour got 7. Ben-Gurion retained his position as Prime Minister.
There were fresh clashes near Israel’s borders in 1959, which lasted into the early 1960s. The Arab League maintained its economic embargo, and there was a disagreement over water rights in the Jordan River basin. The Arab nations, especially Egypt, were continuing to build up their armies with Soviet support. France was Israel’s primary military gear supplier.
Rudolph Kastner, a small political figure, was accused of Nazi collaboration and sued his accuser. Kastner was acquitted and murdered two years later. The Supreme Court acquitted him in 1958. The Mossad tracked down Adolf Eichmann, one of the main administrators of the Nazi Holocaust, in Argentina in May 1960 and abducted him to Israel. He was placed on trial in 1961, and after many months he was found guilty and condemned to death. He was executed by hanging in 1962, and he is the first person ever condemned to death by an Israeli court. The testimony of Holocaust survivors during the trial, as well as the enormous media surrounding it, have contributed to the trial being seen as a watershed moment in public understanding of the Holocaust.
Ben-Gurion resigned in 1961 as a result of a Herut no-confidence vote over the Lavon incident. Ben-Gurion said that he would only take the job if Lavon was dismissed as leader of the Histadrut, Israel’s labor union organization. His requests were met, and Mapai won the 1961 election (42 seats, retaining Ben-Gurion as Prime Minister) despite a small decrease in its share of the seats. With 17 seats apiece, Menachem Begin’s Herut party and the Liberals finished in second. After one of them revealed that the missile program was intended to carry chemical warheads, the Mossad started assassinating German rocket scientists working in Egypt in 1962. This conduct was criticized by Ben-Gurion and resulted in the resignation of Mossad director Isser Harel. Ben-Gurion resigned in 1963 due to the Lavon Affair. His efforts to persuade his party Mapai to back him on the matter were futile. Levi Eshkol was elected Mapai’s leader and the country’s next prime minister.
Yigael Yadin started excavating Masada in 1963. Egypt, Jordan, and Syria established a single military command in 1964. Israel finished construction on a national water carrier, a massive engineering project aimed at relocating Israel’s share of Jordan river waters to the country’s south in order to realize Ben-goal Gurion’s of widespread Jewish colonization of the Negev desert. The Arabs reacted by attempting to reroute the Jordan’s headwaters, escalating war between Israel and Syria.
In 1964, Israeli Rabbinical authorities recognized that the Bene Israel of India were Jewish, and the majority of the surviving Indian Jews immigrated to Israel. Cochin’s 2,000-strong Jewish population had already fled in 1954. Ben-Gurion left Mapai to found Rafi, which he co-founded with Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan. Begin’s Herut party merged with the Liberals to create the Gahal coalition. For the 1965 elections, Mapai and Labour teamed together, gaining 45 seats and keeping Levi Eshkol as Prime Minister. Ben-Rafi Gurion’s party won 10 seats, while Gahal received 26 seats, making it the second biggest party.
France was Israel’s primary weapons supplier until 1966, when, after the departure from Algeria, Charles de Gaulle declared that France would no longer provide Israel with armaments (and refused to refund money paid for 50 warplanes). The United States declared on February 5, 1966, that it would assume the old French and West German responsibilities to maintain military “stabilization” in the Middle East. Over 200 M48 tanks would be included in the military hardware. In May of same year, the United States also committed to provide Israel with A-4 Skyhawk tactical aircraft. Security limitations imposed on Arab-Israelis were relaxed in 1966, and attempts were made to incorporate them into Israeli society.
Black and white television transmissions started in 1966. The first public performance of Naomi Shemer’s famous song “Jerusalem of Gold” took place on May 15, 1967, and it dominated the Israeli radios for the following several weeks. Syria, Egypt, and Jordan deployed soldiers around Israel’s borders two days later, and Egypt blocked the Tiranto Strait to Israeli ships. Nasser ordered that the UNEF leave Sinai, risking a full-fledged war. Egyptian radio programs predicted a holocaust. On May 26, Nasser stated, “The war will be broad, and our primary goal will be to annihilate Israel.” The blockade of the Straits of Tiran was seen as a Casus belli by Israel. Israel reacted by mobilizing its civilian reserves, effectively shutting down most of the Israeli economy. The Israelis formed a national unity government, incorporating Menachem Begin’s Herut party for the first time. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol stuttered during a nationwide radio address, instilling panic across Israel. To assuage popular fears, Moshe Dayan (Chief of Staff during the Sinai conflict) was named Defense Minister.
On the morning of Dayan’s inauguration, 5 June 1967, the Israeli air force began pre-emptive strikes, first eliminating the Egyptian air force and then, later that day, the air forces of Jordan and Syria. Egypt, Jordan, and Syria were all vanquished (nearly simultaneously) by Israel. By the 11th of June, the Arab troops had been defeated, and all parties had agreed to the cease-fire demanded by UN Security Council Resolutions 235 and 236. Israel seized control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the previously Jordanian-controlled Jordan River West Bank. Israel may have annexed East Jerusalem. Residents were granted permanent residence and the opportunity to seek for Israeli citizenship. Internationally, the annexation was not acknowledged (the Jordanian annexation of 1948 was also unrecognized).
Other occupied regions remained under military control (Israeli civil law did not apply to them) until a permanent solution was reached. In 1981, the Golan Heights were annexed as well. The Security Council adopted Resolution 242, the “land for peace” formula, on November 22, 1967, calling for the establishment of a just and lasting peace based on Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967 in exchange for the cessation of all states of belligerency, respect for the sovereignty of all states in the region, and the right to live in peace within secure, recognized borders. The resolution was adopted by both parties, although with differing interpretations, and has served as the foundation for all future peace talks. After 1967, the United States started providing Israel with aircraft, and the Soviet bloc (save Romania) severed ties with Israel. Anti-Semitic purges resulted in the ultimate exodus of Polish Jews to Israel.
For the first time since the end of the British Mandate, Jews were allowed to enter the Old City of Jerusalem and worship at the Western Wall (the holiest place in contemporary Judaism), which the Jordanians had forbidden them access to in violation of the 1949 Armistice accord. For the first time in centuries, worshipers were permitted to sit or use other furniture in the four-meter-wide public lane alongside the Wall, which was enlarged into a huge plaza. For the first time since the 14th century, Jews got access to the Cave of the Patriarchs (Judaism’s second holiest place) in Hebron (previously Jews were only allowed to pray at the entrance). Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, a third Jewish sacred place, also became accessible. The Sinai oil resources provided Israel with energy independence.
Moshe Levinger led a group of Religious Zionists in establishing the first Jewish community, Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, in 1968. Until 1974, there were no additional religious colonies. Rafi, Ben-party, Gurion’s united with the Labour-Mapai coalition. Ben-Gurion remained an autonomous outsider. In 1968, the government extended obligatory schooling to all people until the age of 16 (it had previously been 14), and the government began on a large-scale integration program in education. Children from mostly Sephardi/Mizrahi neighborhoods in large cities were bused to newly constructed middle schools in better regions. The system was in effect until beyond the year 2000.
In March 1968, Israeli troops assaulted the Fatah Palestinian militia in the Jordanian village of Karameh. The assault was carried out in reaction to the placement of land mines on Israeli roadways. After demolishing the camp, the Israelis withdrew. Despite high losses, Palestinians declared victory, and Fatah and the PLO (of which it was a member) became well-known across the Arab world. Fighting erupted between Egypt and Israel around the Suez Canal in early 1969. In response for Egyptian bombardment of Israeli positions near the Suez Canal, Israeli aircraft launched deep attacks into Egypt during the “War of Attrition” in 1969–1970.
Levi Eshkol died of a heart attack in office in early 1969, and Golda Meir became Prime Minister with the highest proportion of the vote ever obtained by an Israeli party, gaining 56 of the 120 seats following the 1969 election. Meir was Israel’s first female prime minister and the first woman to lead a Middle Eastern country in modern times. Gahal retained its second-largest party status, with 26 seats.
In December 1969, Israeli navy commandos seized five missile boats from Cherbourg Harbour in France during the night. The boats had been paid for by Israel, but the French had refused to deliver them. In July 1970, Israel shot down five Soviet fighters that were assisting the Egyptians during the War of Attrition. Following this, the United States attempted to defuse the situation, and a cease-fire agreement was reached in August 1970.
Jordan’s King Hussein pushed the Palestine Liberation Organization out of his nation in September 1970. On September 18, 1970, Syrian tanks entered Jordan with the intention of assisting the PLO. Israel deployed soldiers to the border and threatened Syria at the request of the US, forcing the Syrians to retreat. The focus of PLO activities subsequently moved to Lebanon, where the 1969 Cairo Accord granted Palestinians autonomy in the country’s south. The PLO-controlled territory became known as “Fatahland” by the world press and residents, and it played a role in the 1975–1990 Lebanese Civil War. The incident also resulted in the ascension of Hafez al-Assad to power in Syria. Egyptian President Nasser died shortly after, and Anwar Sadat took his place.
The increased hostility and excitement created by the Soviet triumph in 1967 resulted in a flood of Soviet Jews seeking to move to Israel. Those who departed were only allowed to bring two bags. The majority of Jews were denied departure permits and were persecuted by the government. Some were arrested and detained in Gulag camps, earning the moniker “Prisoners of Zion.” Violent protests by the Israeli Black Panthers in 1971 made the Israeli public aware of Mizrahi Jews’ anger of continuing discrimination and socioeconomic inequalities. Meyer Lansky, the head of the United States’ Jewish Mafia who had sought shelter in Israel, was extradited to the United States in 1972.
Eleven Israeli athletes were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. They were all murdered, along with five of the eight hijackers, as a result of a failed German rescue effort. In return for the hostages of hijacked Lufthansa Flight 615, the surviving Palestinians were released by West German authorities eight weeks later without being tried. The Israeli government retaliated with a bombardment, an assassination campaign targeting the massacre’s leaders, and a raid on the PLO’s Lebanon headquarters (led by future Prime Minister, Ehud Barak).
In 1972, Egypt’s new president, Anwar Sadat, dismissed the Soviet advisors. This, along with Egypt’s and Syria’s regular invasion drills, led to Israeli complacency regarding the danger posed by these nations. Furthermore, the desire not to be considered accountable for starting a confrontation, along with an election campaign emphasizing security, resulted in an Israeli reluctance to mobilize, despite getting indications of an imminent assault.
The Yom Kippur War (also known as the October War) started on October 6, 1973 (the Jewish Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and a day when adult Jews must fast. Syria and Egypt launched a well-planned surprise assault against the unprepared Israeli Defense Forces. For the first several days, there was much doubt regarding Israel’s ability to resist the invaders. Both the Soviets and the Americans (under Richard Nixon’s instructions) rushed weapons to their friends. Although the Egyptians had seized a strip of land in Sinai, Israeli troops crossed the Suez Canal, trapping the Egyptian Third Army in Sinai and were 100 kilometers from Cairo. The conflict cost Israel approximately 2,000 lives, incurred a large weapons expenditure (on both sides), and made Israelis more conscious of their vulnerability. It also increased superpower rivalry. Both Israelis and Egyptians were more ready to talk after the conflict. Extensive diplomacy by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger resulted in a Disengagement of Forces agreement with the Egyptian government on January 18, 1974, and with the Syrian government on May 31, 1974.
The conflict prompted the Saudi government to launch the 1973 oil crisis, an oil embargo against nations dealing with Israel in collaboration with OPEC. As a consequence of severe shortages and huge rises in the price of oil, several nations severed or degraded ties with Israel, and Israel was barred from participating in the Asian Games and other Asian sports events.
State financing for political parties was made available. The new approach freed parties from rich donors and offered Knesset members greater control over party financing, but it also freed them from established party structures and allowed them to seek money elsewhere. Prior to the December 1973 elections, Gahal and a number of right-wing parties formed the Likud party (led by Begin). Labour gained 51 seats in the December 1973 elections, leaving Golda Meir as Prime Minister. The Likud received 39 seats.
In May 1974, Palestinians stormed a school in Ma’alot and kidnapped 102 students. There were 22 children murdered. The PLO was given observer status at the United Nations in November 1974, and Yasser Arafat addressed the General Assembly. Later that year, the Agranat Commission, formed to examine accountability for Israel’s lack of war preparations, exonerated the government and held the Chief of Staff and director of military intelligence accountable. Despite the findings, popular outrage directed at the government resulted in Golda Meir’s departure.
1974–1977: Rabin I
Following Meir’s resignation, Yitzhak Rabin (Chief of Staff during the Six-Day War) took over as Prime Minister. Modern Orthodox Jews (Religious Zionists who follow Rabbi Kook’s teachings) established the Gush Emunim organization and embarked on an organized campaign to populate the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Under the leadership of Austrian Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 in November 1975, declaring Zionism to be a form of racism. With Resolution 46/86, the General Assembly repealed this resolution in December 1991. In March 1976, Israeli-Arabs went on strike in protest of a government proposal to expropriate land in the Galilee.
In July 1976, a hijacked Air France aircraft with 260 passengers was taken to Uganda, which was then controlled by Idi Amin Dada. The Germans segregated the Jewish passengers from the non-Jewish passengers and freed the non-Jews. The hijackers threatened to murder the remaining Jewish passengers, numbering in the hundreds (and the French crew who had refused to leave). Despite the vast distances involved, Rabin authorized a daring rescue mission that resulted in the release of the abducted Jews. The raid was characterized by UN Secretary General Waldheim as a “severe breach of a United Nations member state’s national sovereignty” (meaning Uganda). Waldheim was a former Nazi and accused war criminal with a history of upsetting Jewish feelings.
Due to the continuing Lebanese Civil War, Israel allowed South Lebanese to enter the border and work in Israel in 1976. Abu Daoud, the mastermind of the Munich massacre, was detained in France in January 1977 and released a few days later. Anatoly Sharansky, a prominent Refusenik and spokesperson for the Moscow Helsinki Group, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in March 1977.
Rabin resigned in April 1977 when it was revealed that his wife had a dollar account in the United States (which was illegal at the time) that she had established while Rabin was Israeli ambassador. The event was dubbed “The Dollar Account Affair.” Shimon Peres took over as Prime Minister unofficially and led the Alignment in the following elections.
The Likud party, headed by Menachem Begin, gained 43 seats in the 1977 elections, a surprising outcome (Labour got 32 seats). The government was not headed by the left for the first time in Israeli history. Anger among Mizrahi Jews over discrimination was a major cause for the triumph, which would play a significant role in Israeli politics for many years. Begin quickly welcomed talented small-town Mizrahi social activists who had been unable to progress in the Labour party. Moroccan-born David Levy and Iranian-born Moshe Katzav were among those who helped Begin gain Mizrahi support. In response to high-profile corruption trials, many Labour supporters supported the Democratic Movement for Change (15 seats). The party formed a partnership with Begin and then vanished in the next election.
Begin’s government, in addition to beginning the process of healing the Mizrahi–Ashkenazi schism, included Ultra-Orthodox Jews and was instrumental in healing the Zionist–Ultra-Orthodox schism, but it did so at the expense of expanding the exemption from military service to all Haredi Jewish students of military age. As a result, a large number of jobless Haredi Jews were created (the exemption was conditional on attendance of a religious seminary, so they kept studying until they were too old for military service). They were a huge burden on the state by staying students while simultaneously declining to engage in the military burden.
Begin’s economic reform resulted in hyperinflation (about 150 percent inflation), but it allowed Israel to begin receiving financial assistance from the United States. Begin strongly backed Gush Emunim’s attempts to colonize the West Bank, and Jewish colonies in the occupied territories gained official backing, setting the groundwork for severe confrontation with the seized areas’ Palestinian population.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat ended 30 years of enmity with Israel by visiting Jerusalem at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in November 1977. Sadat’s two-day visit, which included an address before the Knesset, marked a watershed moment in the conflict’s history. The Egyptian president established a new psychological environment in the Middle East, making peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors seem feasible. Sadat acknowledged Israel’s right to exist and laid the groundwork for direct talks between Egypt and Israel. Following Sadat’s visit, 350 Yom Kippur War veterans formed the Peace Now organization to press Israeli administrations to make peace with the Arabs.
In March 1978, eleven armed Palestinians from Lebanon arrived in Israel by sea and seized a bus transporting families on a day trip, murdering 38 people, including 13 children. The assailants were opposed to the Egyptian–Israeli peace process. Three days later, Israeli troops entered Lebanon, launching Operation Litani. Israel withdrew its forces after the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 425, which called for Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeeping force.
President Jimmy Carter of the United States invited President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to meet with him at Camp David in September 1978, and on September 11, they agreed on a framework for peace between Israel and Egypt, as well as a broader peace in the Middle East. It outlined broad guidelines to govern future talks between Israel and the Arab nations. It also laid the groundwork for a West Bank–Gaza transitional government with complete autonomy for Palestinians living in these areas, as well as a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Begin and Sadat signed the pact on March 26, 1979, with President Carter present as a witness. In accordance with the terms of the deal, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in April 1982. Taba, close to Eilat, was the last piece of land to be reclaimed in 1989. In response to the peace accord, the Arab League suspended Egypt from the organization and relocated its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis. Sadat was murdered in 1981 by Egyptian army personnel who were Islamic fundamentalists opposed to peace with Israel. Following the deal, Israel and Egypt became the two most significant beneficiaries of US military and financial assistance (Iraq and Afghanistan have now overtaken them).
The Israeli Merkava combat tank first saw service with the IDF in December 1978. Over 40,000 Iranian Jews emigrated to Israel in 1979 to escape the Islamic Revolution. The Israeli air force destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor, which France was constructing for Iraq, on June 30, 1981. Begin won again three weeks later, in the 1981 elections (48 seats Likud, 47 Labour). Ariel Sharon was appointed Defense Minister. The new administration seized the Golan Heights and prohibited the national airline from operating on Saturdays and Sundays. By the 1980s, Israel had established a diversified range of high-tech businesses.
In the decades after the 1948 war, Israel’s border with Lebanon was relatively calm in comparison to its other neighbors. However, the Cairo Accord of 1969 allowed the PLO full rein to strike Israel from South Lebanon. The region was administered independently of the Lebanese government by the PLO and became known as “Fatahland” (Fatah was the largest faction in the PLO). The Israeli north was regularly attacked by Palestinian irregulars, particularly the town of Kiryat Shmona, a Likud stronghold populated mainly by Jews who had left the Arab world. The lack of authority over Palestinian territories was a major element in Lebanon’s civil war.
The attempted murder of Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, in June 1982, was used as a pretext for an Israeli invasion aimed at driving the PLO out of Lebanon’s southern half. Sharon and Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan decided to extend the assault far into Lebanon, despite the fact that the cabinet had only approved a 40-kilometer-deep invasion. The invasion became known as the 1982 Lebanon War, and the Israeli army seized Beirut, the first time Israel has invaded an Arab capital. Some of South Lebanon’s Shia and Christian populations welcomed the Israelis since PLO troops had mistreated them, but Lebanese hatred of Israeli occupation increased over time, and the Shia became increasingly radicalized under Iranian direction. Constant fatalities among Israeli troops and Lebanese civilians increased Israeli resistance to the war.
The PLO withdrew its troops from Lebanon in August 1982. (moving to Tunisia). Israel aided in the election of a new Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayel, who agreed to recognize Israel and negotiate a peace deal with Israel. Before an agreement could be reached, Gemayal was murdered, and one day later, Phalangist Christian troops headed by Elie Hobeika stormed two Palestinian refugee camps and slaughtered the residents. The murders sparked the largest anti-war protest in Israel’s history, with up to 400,000 people (almost 10% of the population) assembling in Tel Aviv. An Israeli public investigation concluded in 1983 that Israel’s defense minister, Ariel Sharon, was indirectly but personally responsible for the murders. It further suggested that he never be permitted to occupy the position again (it did not forbid him from being Prime Minister). The May 17 Agreement was signed by Israel and Lebanon in 1983, opening the path for an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese land in phases. Israel continued to fight against the PLO until its final withdrawal in 1985, and maintained a small force in Southern Lebanon to assist the South Lebanon Army until May 2000.
1983–1992: Shamir I; Peres I; Shamir II
Begin resigned as prime minister in September 1983, and Yitzhak Shamir took his place. The 1984 election resulted in a power-sharing agreement between Shimon Peres of the Alignment (44 seats) and Shamir of the Likud (41 seats). Peres was Prime Minister from 1984 to 1986, and Shamir was Prime Minister from 1986 to 1988. In 1984, Aryeh Deri, a political activist, left the Agudat Israel party to join former chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in forming Shas, a new party aimed at the non-Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox vote, in response to the Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox establishment’s continued discrimination against Sephardi Ultra-Orthodox Jews. The party gained four seats in the first election it ran in and went on to become the third biggest party in the Knesset for the following twenty years. Shas developed a network of free Sephardi Orthodox schools throughout the country. 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were covertly transferred to Israel in 1984, amid a terrible famine in Ethiopia. Natan Sharansky, a well-known Russian human rights activist and Zionist refusenik (someone refused an exit ticket), was freed from the Gulag in exchange for two Soviet spies in 1986.
Israel withdrew the majority of its soldiers from Lebanon in June 1985, leaving a residual Israeli force and an Israeli-backed militia in southern Lebanon to serve as a “security zone” and buffer against assaults on its northern territories. Since then, the IDF has battled for many years against Hezbollah, a Shia group that has become a major danger to Israel. By July 1985, Israel’s inflation rate had reached 480 percent per year, the highest in the world, thanks to complicated index linkage of wages. Peres effectively brought inflation under control by instituting emergency price controls and cutting government spending. The old Israeli shekel currency was replaced and renamed the Israeli new shekel at a rate of 1,000 old shkalim = 1 new shekel. In response to a Palestinian terrorist assault in Cyprus, Israel bombed the PLO headquarters in Tunis in October 1985. Growing Israeli settlement and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip triggered the first Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in 1987, which continued until the Madrid Conference in 1991, despite Israeli efforts to quell it. Human rights violations by Israeli soldiers prompted a group of Israelis to establish B’Tselem, an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of and compliance with Israel’s human rights obligations.
The Israeli government canceled the IAI Lavi project, an effort to build an independent Israeli fighter aircraft, in August 1987. The Israelis were unable to sustain the massive development expenditures, and they faced US resistance to a project that endangered US control in Israel as well as US worldwide military dominance. In September 1988, Israel used a Shavit rocket to launch an Ofeq reconsaissance satellite into orbit, making Israel one of only eight nations capable of autonomously launching satellites into space (two more have since developed this ability). In the 1988 elections, the Alignment and the Likud were neck and neck (39:40 seats). Shamir was successful in forming a coalition of national unity with the Labour Alignment. Shimon Peres, the head of the Alignment, orchestrated the cabinet’s loss in a non-confidence vote in March 1990, and then attempted to establish a new government. He was defeated, and Shamir was elected prime minister as the leader of a right-wing coalition.
The Soviet Union eventually allowed unrestricted emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel in 1990. Prior to this, Jews attempting to flee the Soviet Union faced persecution; those who were successful came as refugees. One million Soviet people moved to Israel during the following several years. Despite concerns that some of the new immigrants had only a tenuous connection to Judaism and that many were accompanied by non-Jewish relatives, this massive wave of migration gradually transformed Israel, bringing large numbers of highly educated Soviet Jews and establishing a powerful Russian culture in Israel.
Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, sparking the Gulf War between Iraq and a massive coalition force headed by the United States. Iraq launched 39 Scud missiles towards Israel. At the urging of the US, Israel did not react, believing that if Israel retaliated against Iraq, other Arab countries might abandon the allied alliance. Israel supplied gas masks to both the Palestinian and Israeli populations. During a 36-hour period in May 1991, 15,000 Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) were surreptitiously flown to Israel. Following the coalition’s victory in the Gulf War, US President George H.W. Bush and Soviet Union Premier Mikhail Gorbachev organized a historic conference of Israeli, Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, and Palestinian leaders in Madrid in October 1991. Shamir was opposed to the proposal, but accepted in exchange for financial guarantees to aid in the integration of former Soviet Union immigrants. His attendance at the conference resulted in the dissolution of his (right-wing) alliance.
1992–1996: Rabin II; Peres II
In the 1992 elections, the Labour Party, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, scored a substantial victory (44 seats), promising to seek peace while portraying Rabin as a “tough general” and vowing not to engage in any manner with the PLO. Meretz, a pro-peace Zionist party, gained 12 seats, while Arab and communist parties won another 5, giving peace treaty supporters a complete (although tiny) majority in the Knesset. Later that year, Israel’s electoral system was modified to allow for direct election of the prime minister. It was anticipated that this would limit the ability of minor parties (particularly religious groups) to demand concessions in exchange for coalition agreements. The new system had the opposite impact; voters could separate their vote for prime minister from their (interest-based) party vote, resulting in fewer votes for bigger parties and smaller parties being more appealing to voters. As a result, the influence of the minor parties grew. By the 2006 election, the system had been dismantled.
On July 25, 1993, Israel launched a week-long military campaign in Lebanon to target Hezbollah strongholds. On the South Lawn of the White House on September 13, 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords (a Declaration of Principles). In return for mutual recognition, the principles set goals related to a transfer of power from Israel to an interim Palestinian Authority as a precursor to a definitive treaty creating a Palestinian state. The DOP set May 1999 as the deadline for the implementation of a permanent status agreement for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In February 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a Kach party member, murdered 29 Palestinians and injured 125 others in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, which became known as the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre. Kach was banned from voting in the 1992 elections (on the grounds that the movement was racist). It was later declared unlawful. In May 1994, Israel and the PLO signed the Gaza–Jericho Agreement, and in August, they signed the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities, which started the process of transferring power from Israel to the Palestinians. Jordan and Israel signed the Washington Declaration on July 25, 1994, officially ending the state of war that had existed between them since 1948, and the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace on October 26, 1994, witnessed by US President Bill Clinton.
On September 28, 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Israeli–Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in Washington. The agreement was witnessed by President Bill Clinton on behalf of the United States, as well as Russia, Egypt, Norway, and the European Union, it includes and overrides earlier accords, bringing the first stage of talks between Israel and the PLO to a close. The deal enabled the PLO leadership to move to the occupied areas and gave Palestinians autonomy, with final status negotiations to follow. In exchange, the Palestinians agreed to refrain from using violence and to amend the Palestinian National Covenant, which had called for the deportation of all Jews who migrated after 1917 and the annihilation of Israel.
The deal was rejected by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, which carried out suicide bombing assaults against Israel. To avoid assaults, Rabin ordered a fence built around Gaza. The increasing schism between Israel and the “Palestinian Territories” resulted in a labor shortage in Israel, particularly in the building sector. Israeli companies started importing workers from the Philippines, Thailand, China, and Romania; some of these workers remained without permits. Furthermore, an increasing number of Africans started illegally moving to Israel. On November 4, 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a far-right religious Zionistopponent of the Oslo Accords. Shimon Peres, Rabin’s successor, sought early elections in February 1996. As a consequence of Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket strikes on Israeli population centers near the border, Israel began an operation in southern Lebanon in April 1996.
1996–2001: Netanyahu I; Barak
The May 1996 elections were the first to include direct election of the prime minister, and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu won by a small margin. A slew Israeli suicide attacks bolstered the Likud’s security stance. The majority of the bombs were claimed by Hamas. Despite his expressed disagreements with the Oslo Accords, Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to execute them, although the Peace Process slowed significantly throughout his tenure. Netanyahu also promised that the United States will progressively decrease its assistance to Israel.
A Palestinian riot broke out in September 1996 in protest over the construction of an outlet in the Western Wall tunnel. As a consequence, about 80 individuals were murdered over the next several weeks. In January 1997, Netanyahu signed the Hebron Protocol with the Palestinian Control, which resulted in the relocation of Israeli troops in Hebron and the transfer of civilian authority to the Palestinian Authority in most of the region.
Ehud Barak of the Labour Party was elected Prime Minister in July 1999. With 26 seats in the Knesset, his party was the biggest. The Israeli Supreme Court decided in September 1999 that the use of torture in the questioning of Palestinian detainees was unlawful. Pope John Paul II arrived in Israel for a historic visit on March 21, 2000.
Israel unilaterally withdrew its remaining troops from the “security zone” in southern Lebanon on May 25, 2000. Several thousand South Lebanon Army soldiers (and their families) fled with the Israelis. The UN Secretary-General determined that Israel has withdrawn its troops from Lebanon in line with UN Security Council Resolution 425 as of June 16, 2000. Lebanon alleges that Israel continues to occupy “Sheba’a Farms” in Lebanon (however this area was governed by Syria until 1967 when Israel took control). The Sheba’a Farms served as a pretext for Hezbollah to continue fighting Israel. In violation of the UN Security Council decision, the Lebanese government did not claim authority over the territory taken over by Hezbollah. In the fall of 2000, negotiations in Camp David were conducted in order to achieve a final solution on the Israel/Palestine issue. Ehud Barak promised to fulfill the majority of the Palestinian teams’ demands for territorial and political concessions, including Arab areas of east Jerusalem; however, Arafat walked out of the negotiations without presenting a counterproposal.
Following its withdrawal from South Lebanon, Israel was admitted to the United Nations as a member of the Western European and Others Group. Prior to this, Israel was the only country at the UN that was not a member of any group (the Arab nations would not allow it to join the Asia group), which meant it could not serve on the Security Council or nominate anybody to the International Court of Justice or other important UN positions. It has been a permanent member of the group since December 2013.
Aryeh Deri was convicted to three years in jail for bribery in July 2000. Deri is widely recognized as the architect behind Shas’s ascent, and by the age of 24, he was a cabinet minister. Because of political sabotage, the inquiry dragged on for years. Deri later sued a police officer who claimed he was involved in the death of a witness in a traffic accident in New York by a motorist who had previously worked for a Deri partner.
The Palestinians began the al-Aqsa Intifada the day after Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Al-Aqsa complex, or Temple Mount, on September 28, 2000. According to David Samuels and Khaled Abu Toameh, the revolt was organized far earlier. Palestinians demolished Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish monument in Nablus, in October 2000.
Israel was the first to use the Arrow missile, which was intended to counter ballistic missiles such as Scud missiles. With the Peace Process in shambles, Ehud Barak called a snap election for Prime Minister in 2001. Barak believed that victory would provide him more negotiating power with the Palestinians. Instead, Ariel Sharon, the leader of the opposition, was elected Prime Minister. The method of directly choosing the Premier was abolished after this election.
The failure of the peace process, increasing Palestinian violence, and periodic assaults by Hezbollah from Lebanon caused many Israelis to lose faith in the Palestinian Authority as a peace partner. Many Palestinians, according to the majority, saw the peace deal with Israel as a stopgap solution. As a result, many Israelis were eager to distance themselves from the Palestinians. In response to a series of suicide bombings, culminating in the “Passover massacre,” Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in March 2002, and Sharon started building a barrier around the West Bank. At the same time, the Israeli town of Sderot and other Israeli towns near Gaza were subjected to continuous bombardment and mortar bomb assaults from Gaza.
Thousands of Jews from Latin America started coming in Israel as a result of economic difficulties in their home countries. Separate elections for the Knesset were conducted in January 2003. The Likud party got the most seats (27). Shinui, an anti-religious party headed by television commentator Tommy Lapid, gained 15 seats on a secularist platform, making it the third biggest party (ahead of orthodox Shas). Shinui was defeated in the following election as a result of internal strife. The Black Hebrews were given permanent citizenship in Israel in 2004. The group had started moving to Israel from the United States 25 years before, but had not been recognized as Jews by the state and therefore had not been given citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return. They had established themselves in Israel without official recognition. Citizenship privileges were granted to them beginning in 2004.
The Sharon administration embarked on a massive program of desalinization plant building, relieving Israel of its dread of drought. Some of Israel’s desalination facilities are among the biggest in the world.
In May 2004, Israel began Operation Rainbow in southern Gaza to make the Philadelphi Route safer for IDF troops. On September 30, 2004, Israel launched Operation Days of Penitence in northern Gaza to eliminate Palestinian rocket launch facilities used to target Israeli cities. All Jewish settlers in Gaza were evacuated (some forcefully) in 2005, and their houses were destroyed. The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was completed on September 12, 2005. Ten days later, the military withdrew from the northern West Bank.
Sharon quit the Likud in 2005 to found the Kadima party, which recognized that the peace process will result in the establishment of a Palestinian state. He was accompanied by a number of senior leaders from both the Likud and Labour parties.
The Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006 was won by Hamas, the first and only really free Palestinian elections. Hamas leaders refused to sign any agreements with Israel, refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, refused to renounce violence, and sometimes claimed the Holocaust was a Jewish plot. The departure and Hamas triumph left the status of Gaza in doubt; Israel claimed it was no longer an occupying force but maintained control over air and sea access to Gaza while exercising no authority on the ground. Egypt persisted on remaining occupied and refused to open border crossings with Gaza, despite the fact that it was free to do so.
Ariel Sharon was disabled by a severe haemorrhagic stroke in April 2006, and Ehud Olmert took over as Prime Minister.
Ehud Olmert was elected Prime Minister in 2006 after his Kadima party gained the most seats (29) in Israel’s parliamentary election. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was formally elected in 2005; since then, Iran’s stance toward Israel has been increasingly hostile. Analysts in Israel think Ahmadinejad has tried to sabotage the peace process by supplying guns and assistance to Hezbullah in South Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and that he is building nuclear weapons, potentially for use against Israel. Iran’s backing for Hezbollah and its nuclear weapons development violates UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1747. Iran also fosters Holocaust denial. Following Israel’s departure from Lebanon, Hezbollah launched occasional assaults on Israel, which were met with little response from Israel. Similarly, Israel’s departure from Gaza resulted in constant bombardment of communities in the Gaza Strip, with no reaction from the Palestinians. The inability to respond drew criticism from Israel’s right and weakened the administration.
On 14 March 2006, Israel conducted an operation at the Palestinian Authority prison of Jericho to apprehend Ahmad Sa’adat and other Palestinian Arab detainees who had murdered Israeli lawmaker Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001. The operation was carried out in response to the newly elected Hamas government’s stated intention to free these detainees. On June 25, 2006, a Hamas group crossed the border from Gaza and assaulted a tank, kidnapping Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and igniting violence in Gaza.
On July 12, Hezbollah launched an assault from Lebanon on Israel, shelling Israeli communities and attacking a border patrol, killing or injuring two Israeli troops. These events prompted Israel to launch the Second Lebanon War, which lasted until August 2006. Israeli troops invaded several towns in southern Lebanon, while the Israeli air force struck sites across the nation. Israel made only little advances on the ground until the start of Operation Changing Direction 11, which lasted three days and had contested outcomes. Israeli forces seized Wadi Saluki just before a UN ceasefire went into effect. Hezbollah evacuated their troops from Southern Lebanon after the end of the conflict, but the IDF stayed until its positions could be turned over to the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL.
Education was declared obligatory for all residents till the age of 18 in 2007. (it had been 16). Refugees fleeing the Darfur genocide, mainly Muslim, came in Israel illegally, and some were granted asylum. Illegal immigrants, mostly from Africa, came, as did international employees who overstayed their visas. The exact number of such migrants is unknown, although estimates range from 30,000 to over 100,000.
During the Battle of Gaza in June 2007, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, seizing government facilities and replacing Fatah and other government personnel with its own. Following the takeover, Egypt and Israel established a partial blockade, claiming that Fatah had left and was no longer providing security on the Palestinian side, as well as to prevent terrorist organizations from transporting weapons. The Israeli Air Force attacked a nuclear plant in Syria on September 6, 2007. On February 28, 2008, Israel began a military operation in Gaza in response to Hamas terrorists’ continuous use of Qassam rockets. Hezbollah exchanged the corpses of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, abducted in 2006, for the Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, four Hezbollah detainees, and the dead of 199 Palestinian Arab and Lebanese combatants on July 16, 2008.
Olmert was investigated for corruption, prompting him to declare on July 30, 2008, that he would resign as Prime Minister after the election of a new leader of the Kadima party in September 2008. Tzipi Livni won the election, but she was unable to build a coalition, thus Olmert stayed in power until the general election. From December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, Israel conducted Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket launches by Hamas terrorists, resulting in a reduction in Palestinian rocket assaults.
2009–present: Netanyahu II
In the 2009 parliamentary election, Likud received 27 seats and Kadima received 28; nevertheless, the right-wing group received a majority of seats, and President Shimon Peres asked Netanyahu to form the government. The Russian immigrant-dominated Yisrael Beiteinu finished third with 15 seats, while Labour dropped to fourth with 13 seats. Yitzhak Tshuva, an Israeli millionaire, claimed the discovery of vast natural gas reserves off Israel’s coast in 2009.
On May 31, 2010, an international incident occurred in the Mediterranean Sea when foreign activists attempting to breach the naval blockade of Gaza fought with Israeli soldiers. Nine Turkish activists were murdered during the conflict. Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians failed in late September 2010. As a defensive countermeasure to the rocket threat against Israel’s civilian population, Israel started operating the sophisticated mobile air defense system “Iron Dome” in the southern area of Israel and along the border with the Gaza Strip at the end of March 2011.
On July 14, 2011, the largest social protest in Israel’s history began, with hundreds of thousands of protesters from various socioeconomic and religious backgrounds in Israel protesting against the country’s continuing rise in the cost of living (particularly housing) and the deterioration of public services (such as health and education). The protests reached a climax on September 3, 2011, when about 400,000 people protested throughout the nation.
In October 2011, Israel and Hamas struck an agreement in which the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1,027 Palestinians and Arab-Israeli detainees. Zuhir al-Qaisi, Secretary-General of the Popular Resistance Committees, a prominent PRC member, and two other Palestinian militants were killed by Israeli troops in Gaza in March 2012. In response, Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, headed by the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, launched a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, triggering five days of fighting along the Gaza border.
In May 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal with the Leader of the Opposition, Shaul Mofaz, enabling Kadima to join the cabinet, thus canceling the September election. However, the Kadima party quit Netanyahu’s cabinet in July owing to a disagreement over military conscription for ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel.
In June 2012, Israel transferred the bodies of 91 Palestinian suicide bombers and other militants to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in what Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, described as a “humanitarian gesture” to help revive the peace talks and reinstate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. On October 21, 2012, the United States and Israel launched their largest combined air and missile defense exercise, known as Austere Challenge 12, which was scheduled to last three weeks and included about 3,500 US soldiers in the area as well as 1,000 IDF personnel. Germany and the United Kingdom also took part. In response to over a hundred rocket attacks on southern Israeli cities, Israel launched an operation in Gaza on 14 November 2012, beginning with the targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing, and airstrikes on twenty underground sites housing long-range missile launchers capable of striking Tel Aviv. The primary portion of the barrier along the Israeli-Egyptian border was finished in January 2013.
After the Likud Yisrael Beiteinualliance won the most seats (31) in the 2013 legislative election, Netanyahu was re-elected Prime Minister and formed a coalition government with the secular centrist Yesh Atid party (19), the rightist The Jewish Home (12), and Livni’s Hatnuah (6), excluding Haredi parties. Labour finished third with 15 seats. In July 2013, Israel promised to free 104 Palestinian inmates, the majority of whom had been imprisoned since before the 1993 Oslo Accords, including terrorists who had murdered Israeli citizens, as a “good will gesture” to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Israel halted peace negotiations in April 2014 after Hamas and Fatah agreed to establish a unity government.
Following an increase in Hamas rocket strikes, Israel launched an operation in the Gaza Strip on July 8, 2014, including a ground invasion targeted at destroying the cross-border tunnels. Disagreements over the budget and a law establishing a “Jewish state” prompted early elections in December 2014. Following the 2015 Israeli elections, Netanyahu was re-elected Prime Minister after Likud won 30 seats and formed a right-wing coalition government with Kulanu (10), The Jewish Home (8), and Orthodox parties Shas (7) and United Torah Judaism (6), the bare minimum of seats required to form a coalition. With 24 seats, the Zionist Union coalition finished in second.