Israel's roots stretch back to the second millennium BCE and the settlement of the ancient land of Canaan (an area roughly approximate to modern Israel and the occupied West Bank) by Hebrew-speaking nomads who believe in a single deity.
A unified Jewish state with it's capital at Jerusalem is not established until the time of King David around 1000 BCE. The first Temple in Jerusalem is built by David's son and successor, Solomon. At the end of the 6th Century BCE Jerusalem is captured by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. The Temple is destroyed and the Israelites are sent into their first exile, many settling in Babylon.
Fifty years later, after the Babylonians are conquered by the Persians, Jews are allowed to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple. While some do return the majority prefer to remain in the Diaspora.
The Roman Empire seizes Jerusalem in 65 BCE. Under the Romans the surrounding region comes to be known as Palestina (Palestine), after the Philistines.
Jewish nationalists revolt against Roman rule in CE 66. After four years Jerusalem is again captured by the Romans and the Temple is again destroyed, beginning the second exile of the Jews. Many will eventually settle in Europe.
Palestine is conquered by Arab-Muslims in the year 638. Jerusalem is designated as the third holiest place in Islam, second only to Mecca and Medina, and the Dome of the Rock is built on the site of the destroyed Temple. In 1516 the Ottoman Empire occupies the region.
By 1880 there are fewer than 25,000 Jews living in Palestine, while the total world population of Jews is estimated at 10 million.
Meanwhile, in the European Jewish Diaspora, the Zionist movement begins to grow amid rising antisemitism. Largely secular in nature, the movement's prime goal is the creation of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine. Funds are set up to buy land and Jewish resettlement is encouraged. By the start of the First World War there are around 85,000 Jews in Palestine, comprising about 12% of the total population.
Inside Palestine the Zionist movement adopts socialist methods of organisation, exemplified by the "kibbutz" collective settlements. The new approach is known as Labor Zionism. One of it's foremost advocates is David Ben-Gurion, later to be the first prime minister of Israel.
The increasing influx of Jews into Palestine begins to concern the Arab residents, who start to agitate for their own independent state.
After the outbreak of the First World War the British promise to back the creation of independent Arab states.
However, the British will never honour their pledge to the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular, shifting their commitment in the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917 to "the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People."
At the same time, the declaration states "that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
On 31 October 1918, following the defeat of the Ottomans, Palestine comes under British rule. As the number of Jews arriving in Palestine increases relations between the British and Arabs and between the Arabs and the Jews quickly break down. A break between the British and the Jews will soon follow.
Jewish immigration continues to climb. Between 1924 and 1931 approximately 80,000 Jews arrive in Palestine from Central Europe. Following the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany the migration of European Jews to Palestine jumps to new records, from 37,000 in 1933 to 45,000 in 1934 and 61,000 in 1935. Between 1929 and 1936 the Jewish population of Palestine increases from 170,000 or 17% of the population, to 400,000, or approximately 31% of the total.
As the Jewish population increases so does the acquisition of Arab land. By 1930 30% of the Arab population is landless. Arab resentment mounts, breaking out in riots during April 1920. In August 1929 Arabs attack Jews in Hebron and Jerusalem. In April 1936 the 'Palestinian Revolt' begins. The Arabs demand the cessation of Jewish immigration, an end to all further land sales to the Jews and the establishment of an Arab national government.
With the Second World War brewing history is this time on the Arab's side. The British begin to look for ways to address their demands.
In May 1939 the British announce their support for the establishment of an Arab Palestinian state within 10 years. The British also advocate limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine and restrictions on the sale of land.
Four months later the Second World War begins when Nazi Germany invades Poland. The war in Europe will last until May 1945 and see the murder of approximately six million European Jews in what known as 'The Holocaust'.
After the war ends the Jews in Palestine rebel against British authority, forcing the British to abandon their support for the formation of a Palestinian state and refer the problem to the United Nations (UN) for resolution.
On 31 August 1947 the UN announces its support for the partitioning of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. The plan is adopted by the UN General Assembly on 29 November 1947.
The Arab states reject the proposal. Violence between Arabs and Jews escalates. On 14 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion proclaims the State of Israel. Arab military forces invade the following day, beginning the 'War of Independence'.
- Israel - A Country Study - Library of Congress Country Studies Series