There is much strife in the region of Palestine and Israel and it is sometimes difficult to look at both sides of the conflict. Each really has a case for their argument, but many choose sides without knowing the full extent of the situation. Israel as the country we know today didn’t exist before the 1940s. So how did all of this come about; how did Israel become a country? Wading through the history of the region can be daunting. Let’s give it a try.
Ancient Israel and Palestine
Palestine and Israel have a shared and intertwined history which goes back to biblical times. Considered “Ancient Israel” when referred to in this time of Israel’s history, the landscape of the region was much different. Geographically, the region is the lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordon River in Western Asia. The area has a history of being a crossroads for religion, commerce, politics and culture.
According to the Hebrew Bible, the Jews and the Philistines as well as other tribes were in constant conflict. The capital of the Philistine tribes was Gaza. Sometime arouCredit: Photo courtesy of user: ChrisRy5 at Wikimedia Commonsnd 930 BC, the kingdom split into the Kingdom of Judah in the south and Kingdom of Israel in the north. The Philistine States were positioned along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, to the south of the Kingdom of Israel and west of the Kingdom of Judah.
The region was one of the first in the world to have civilization and human populations. Parts of the area were known by various names, including Canaan, Zion, Syria Palaestina and the Land of Israel. Various empires ruled the areas of modern-day Palestine and Israel during the ancient times. Ancient Israel was predominantly Jewish until the Jewish-Roman wars. After the third century, Christianity became increasingly prominent; from the seventh century until about mid-twentieth century the Muslims dominated the region.
Israel and Palestine AD
Fast forward to the years AD in the region. After the Roman conquest, Ancient Israel was called the Holy Land, or Palestine. It became the focus of conflict between Islam and Christianity during the years 1096-1291. After the end of the crusades until the 1917 British conquest, Ancient Israel was part of the Syrian province of the Mamluk Sultante of Egypt and then the Ottoman Empire (the Turks). At that time, the original Palestine was also part of the Ottomon Empire.
Israel During the Ottomon Rule (1517-1920)
Napoleon briefly occupied the country in 1799 and while doing so, planned to invite Jews to create a state; however this never happened. In 1834, an Arab revolt against the policies of Muhammad Ali of Egypt, resulted in massacres of Jewish and Christian communities as well as many causalities of the local Arab peasants. In response the son of Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Pasha, expelled almost 10,000 local peasants to Egypt and brought loyal Arab peasants from Egypt along with ex-soldiers to settle the coastline of Palestine.
In 1839 an agreement was signed with Egypt to establish 100-200 Jewish communities in Palestine. However, in 1840 the Egyptians withdrew from the region and returned the area to the Ottomon governorship. By 1890, Jews represented an absolute majority in the city of Jerusalem even though they were only ten percent of the population in the entire country. In 1874 Jerusalem gained special status as the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem due to Ottomon reforms.
In the late 1800s, Jews began to leave Eastern Europe because of persecution and widespread anti-Semitism. A movement to re-establish an independent nation started about that time as a small percentage of the Jews leaving Eastern Europe settled in Palestine. Although the movement started as a religious one in Yemen and Russia, it soon became popular among Jews worldwide.
In 1878 the first modern Jewish settlement in Palestine was founded; followed by another in 1882 and subsequently other settlements were established by the Bilu and Hovevei Zion movements. The Hebrew language was revived and Zionism attracted all categories of Jews, for example religious, nationalists and socialists. Between 1882 and 1903, about 35,000 Jews settled in Palestine. By 1890 Palestine’s population was comprised of Muslims (the majority), Christian Arabs, Druze, Greeks, Jews and other minorities. The Jews were concentrated in what they called the Four Holy Cities: Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias.
In the late 1890s, the idea of a “Jewish state” surfaced. The Zionist Organization was established and proclaimed the aim was "to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law" [en.wikipedia.org/history of Israel]. The Palestine Bureau was established in 1908 by the Zionist Organization and quickly adopted a systematic Jewish settlement policy in Palestine. Between 1904-1914 about 40,000 Jews settled in Southern Syria. In 1909, Tel-Aviv, called Ahuzat Bayit when it was first founded, became the first entirely Hebrew-speaking city.
Idea of a National Home for the Jewish People Begins
World War I brought support of a Jewish nation from the British government. Under the surface, in part, was Britain’s desire to sway the US for support of the war effort by the American Jewish population. In Britain’s campaign to invade Palestine and expel the Turks’ Credit: photo courtesy of author, Zero0000 at Wikimedia Commons(Ottomon Empire) of the region, many Jews volunteered to aid the Brits. British rule of Palestine went into effect in 1923. Around the same time, France defeated the Arabs in the Kingdom of Syria. The boundaries of Palestine were drawn by the British and the French. Initially, modern Jordan was included in the borders of Palestine, but Churchill removed it a few years later. In response to uprisings after France’s defeat of the Arabs and Britain’s support of a Jewish state, Britain imposed immigration quotas for Jews.
In 1928, the Va’ad Leumi (Jewish National Council, or JNC) became the main institution of the Yishuv (Palestine Jewish Community). The JNC was democratically elected and included non-Zionist Jews. Eventually, the Va’ad was given permission by Britain to raise its own taxes and run independent services for its Jewish peoples.
As the century moved into the 1930s and the Nazis began to flex their power, Palestine saw more influx of Jews escaping persecution. While this mass immigration contributed to the Palestine riots of 1933; it also helped the economy to flourish. While Palestine had bCredit: photo courtesy of user: Ynhockey at Wikimedia Commonseen an agricultural society, it now boasted more professionals such as doctors and professors. Britain tightened the restrictions of Jewish immigrants in response to the large influx.
By 1936 the Arab population had enough of British rule and conducted a large scale revolt to rid the Brits. With the Jewish peoples trying to escape Eastern Europe with no destination available to them; and the riots of the Arabs in the Palestine region, Britain responded with the Peel Commission which was a public inquire recommending an exclusively Jewish territory be created in the Galilee and western coast. This act would expel about 200,000 Arabs from the area. The rest of the region under British rule would be exclusively Arab. The Jews only minimally supported the plan and the Palestinian Arabs rejected it completely. Therefore, the Peel Commission was abandoned as unworkable. In 1938, the Woodhead Commission recommended setting up smaller Jewish and Arab zones, but that too was rejected by both parties and the idea abandoned.
As threats of war grew closer, the British next suggest, via The White Paper, since 450,000 Jews had already arrived in Palestine, a “national home for the Jewish people” had been achieved. They recommended an independent Palestine jointly governed by Arabs and Jews to be established within ten years. An additional 75,000 Jews would be allowed into Palestine in the years 1940-1944; afterwards, new immigrants would require Arab approval. Again, both parties rejected the idea. In 1940 Jews were banned from purchasing land in 95% of Palestine and they resorted to illegal immigration, although few were able to escape Europe between 1939 and 1945.
During World War II, the relationship between Britain and the Jewish population in PaleCredit: Photo courtesy of user: EdoM. At Wikimedia Commonsstine was somewhat contemptuous at times. The Jewish people wanted to help with the war effort, but Britain refused to allow them into the military unless the Arabs had the same number of recruits. Eventually, they allowed a Jewish Brigade to fight in Europe, but this wasn’t until 1944.
After the war, Britain went back to the restrictions of immigration dictated in the 1939 White Paper. Angered, the Jewish people began to revolt against the British. Illegal immigration into Palestine became the normal means of entry; the Zionists waged guerilla warfare. The British responded by arresting Jews trying to migrate to Palestine. With detention centers and internment camps filling quickly with mostly Holocaust survivors, Britain decided to release 750 refugees per month into Palestine. By 1947 Britain’s Labour Government was ready to involve the newly formed United Nations.
The Israel State is Born
In May 1947 the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was created to help resolve thCredit: Photo courtesy of the CIAe issues in Palestine. In July UNSCOP went to Palestine and met with Jewish and Zionist delegates; the Arab Higher Committee refused to attend. In a report to the General Assembly, UNSCOP outlined a plan to replace the British Mandate with an independent Arab State, and independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem which would be under an International Trusteeship System.
The General Assembly made some minor adjustments to the recommendation before presenting it to the United Kingdom on November 29, 1947. The final proposal was to have the independent Arab and Jewish States and a “Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem administered by the United Nations” [en.wikipedia.org/history of Israel]. It further outlined any territory designated as the Jewish State should include a seaport and provide adequate facilities for substantial immigration and should be evacuated as soon as possible but no later than February 1948. Furthermore, the two independent states and city of Jerusalem changes should happen two months after the evacuation of the armed forces had been completed and no later than October 1, 1948. Credit: Photo courtesy of Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Britain did not take immediate action on the resolution. The elation of the Jews and distain of the Arabs over the partition plan and the lack of action on the part of the British escalated to a civil war. On May 14, 1948, the British Mandate expired and the last forces left. In a public ceremony in Tel-Aviv, Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion read the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Both U.S. President Harry Truman and Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin immediately recognized the new state.
Thus began decades of conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Several wars and constant bombing and threats have left the region unstable in many regards. The modern State of Israel comprises part of the site of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, part of the old Phoenician states, and part of the old Philistine states. The Palestinians control the Gaza Strip and Credit: Photographer unknownthe West Bank. Surrounding Arab states deny the status of Israel to exist as a state and are a constant threat. Palestinians claim the territory rightfully belongs to them and not the immigrants who took over. Israel is adamant in their quesCredit: photo courtesy of the CIAt to hold on to lands gained through war. One wonders if there will ever be an answer to settle the dispute peacefully.
The copyright of the article The Formation of the Current Israel is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.