Modern Israel is roughly located on the site of ancient Jewish kingdoms which were the birthplace of Monotheism, Judaism and Christianity and contains sites sacred to all of the world's principal monotheistic religions. The Jews were mostly driven out of the country by the Romans over the course of centuries of conflict, although some Jews remained. In the Middle-Ages, the area formed the focal point of conflict between Christianity and Islam. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain led to an increased, though still small, Jewish presence. In modern times, persecution in Europe led to the creation of the Zionist movement, which was able to win international support and establish the world's only Jewish-majority state.
 Introduction: Jewish history in IsraelIn the Hebrew Bible the Book of Genesis gives one of Abraham's grandsons as Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel and who has twelve sons who father twelve tribes known as the "children of Israel". Judah is the fourth of Israel's sons.
 Early Israelites (1200–950 BCE)ysrỉꜣr) occurs in the Merneptah stele, erected for Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah c. 1209 BCE, "Israel is laid waste and his seed is not." William Dever sees this "Israel" in the central highlands as a cultural and probably political entity, but an ethnic group rather than an organised state.
Ancestors of the Israelites may have included Semites who occupied Canaan and the Sea Peoples. McNutt says, "It is probably safe to assume that sometime during Iron Age I a population began to identify itself as 'Israelite'", differentiating itself from the Canaanites through such markers as the prohibition of intermarriage, an emphasis on family history and genealogy, and religion.
Villages had populations of up to 300 or 400, which lived by farming and herding and were largely self-sufficient; economic interchange was prevalent. Writing was known and available for recording, even in small sites. The archaeological evidence indicates a society of village-like centres, but with more limited resources and a small population.
 Israel and Judah (c.1200–576 BCE)
|Kings of Judah|
| Saul • David • Solomon • Rehoboam • Abijah • Asa • Jehoshaphat • Jehoram • Ahaziah • Athaliah • J(eh)oash • Amaziah • Uzziah/Azariah • Jotham • Ahaz • Hezekiah • Manasseh • Amon • Josiah • Jehoahaz • Jehoiakim • Jeconiah/Jehoiachin • Zedekiah |
Around 930 BCE, the kingdom split into a southern Kingdom of Judah and a northern Kingdom of Israel.
An alliance between Ahab of Israel and Ben Hadad II of Damascus managed to repulse the incursions of the Assyrians, with a victory at the Battle of Qarqar (854 BCE). However, the Kingdom of Israel was eventually destroyed by Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III around 750 BCE. The Philistine kingdom was also destroyed. The Assyrians sent most of the northern Israelite kingdom into exile, thus creating the 'Lost Tribes of Israel'. The Samaritans claim to be descended from survivors of the Assyrian conquest. An Israelite revolt (724-722 BCE) was crushed after the siege and capture of Samaria by Sargon II.
Assyrian King, Sennacherib, tried and failed to conquer Judah. Assyrian records claim he punished Judah and then left (Herodotus also described the invasion).
 Babylonian, Persian and Greek rule (586 BCE – 2nd century BCE)The Assyrian Empire was overthrown by the Medes and the Chaldean, or New Babylonian, Empire in 612 BCE. In 586 BCE King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, he destroyed Solomon's Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylon.
In 538 BCE Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and took over its empire. Cyrus issued a proclamation granting subjugated nations (including the people of Judah) their freedom. According to the Hebrew Bible 50,000 Judeans, led by Zerubabel returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple. A second group of 5000, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, returned to Judah in 456 BCE although non-Jews wrote to Cyrus to try to prevent their return.
In 333 BCE Alexander the Great defeated Persia and conquered the region. Sometime thereafter, the first translation of the Hebrew Bible, (the Septuagint), was begun in Alexandria. After Alexander's death, his generals fought over the territory he had conquered. Judah became the frontier between the Seleucid Empire and Ptolemaic Egypt, eventually becoming part of the Seleucid Empire.
In the 2nd century BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ruler of the Seleucid Empire) tried to eradicate Judaism in favour of Hellenistic religion. This provoked the 174–135 BCE Maccabean Revolt led by Judas Maccabeus (whose victory is celebrated in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah). The Books of the Maccabees describe the uprising and the end of Greek rule. A Jewish party called the Hasideans opposed Hellenism and the revolt but eventually gave their support to the Maccabees.
 Hasmonean kingdom (2nd century BCE – 64 BCE)The Hasmonean dynasty of priest-kings ruled Judea with the Pharisees, Saducees and Essenes as the principal social movements. As part of their struggle against Hellenistic civilization, the Pharisees established what may have been the world's first national male (religious) education and literacy program, based around meeting houses. This led to Rabbinical Judaism. Justice was administered by the Sanhedrin, whose leader was known as the Nasi. The Nasi's religious authority gradually superseded that of the Temple's high priest (under the Hasmoneans this was the king).
In 125 BCE the Hasmonean King John Hyrcanus subjugated Edom and forcibly converted the population to Judaism. This is the only known case of forced conversion to Judaism.
 Roman Rule
 Pre-Christian Rome (64 BCE – 324 CE)In 64 BCE the Roman general Pompey conquered Judea. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem became the only religious structure in the Roman Empire which did not contain an effigy of the emperor.
From 37 BCE to 6 CE the Herodian dynasty, Jewish-Roman client kings, descended from Edom, ruled Judea. Herod the Great considerably enlarged the temple (see Herod's Temple), making it one of the largest religious structures in the world. Despite its fame, it was in this period that Rabbinical Judaism, led by Hillel the Elder, began to assume popular prominence over the Temple priesthood.
In 66 CE the Jews of Judea rose in revolt, naming their new kingdom "Israel" (see also First Jewish Revolt coinage). The events were described by the Jewish leader/historian Josephus, including the desperate defence of Jotapata, the siege of Jerusalem (69-70 CE) and heroic last stand at Massada under Eleazar ben Yair (72-73 CE). Much of Jerusalem and the Temple lay in ruins.
During the Jewish revolt, most Christians, at this time a sub-sect of Judaism, removed themselves from Judea. The rabbinical/Pharisee movement led by Yochanan ben Zakai, who opposed the Sadducee temple priesthood, made peace with Rome and survived.
In 131 the Emperor Hadrian renamed Jerusalem "Aelia Capitolina" and constructed a Temple of Jupiter on the site of the former Jewish temple. Jews were banned from living in Jerusalem itself (a ban which persisted until the Arab conquest) and the Roman province, until then known as Iudaea Province, was renamed Palaestina, no other revolt led to a province being renamed. The names "Palestine" (in English) and "Filistin" (in Arabic) are derived from this.
From 132 to 136, the Jewish leader Simon Bar Kokhba led a another major revolt against the Romans, again renaming the country "Israel", (see Bar Kochba Revolt coinage). The Bar-Kochba revolt probably caused more trouble for the Romans then the more famous (and better documented) revolt of 70. The Christians refused to participate in the revolt and from this point the Jews regarded Christianity as a separate religion. The revolt was eventually crushed by Emperor Hadrian himself.
Although uncertain, it is widely thought that during the Bar Kokhba revolt, when a rabbinical assembly decided which books could be regarded as part of the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish apocrypha were left out.
After suppressing the Bar Kochba revolt, the Romans permitted a hereditary Rabbinical Patriarch (from the House of Hillel) to represent the Jews in dealings with the Romans. The most famous of these was Judah haNasi. Jewish seminaries continued to produce scholars and the best of these became members of the Sanhedrin. The Mishnah, a major Jewish religious text, was completed in this period.
Before the Bar-Kochba uprising, an estimated 2/3 of the population of Gallilee and 1/3 of the coastal region were Jewish. However, persecution and the economic crisis that affected the Roman empire in the 3rd century led to further Jewish migration from Palestine to the more tolerant Persian Sassanid Empire, where a prosperous Jewish community existed in the area of Babylon.
 Christian Roman and Byzantine rule (324–636)Early in the 4th century, Constantinople became the capital of the East Roman Empire and Christianity was adopted as the official religion. The name Jerusalem was restored and it became a Christian city. Jews were still banned from living in Jerusalem, but were allowed to visit, and it is in this period that the surviving Western Wall of the temple became sacred.
In 351-2, there was another Jewish revolt against a corrupt Roman governor. In 362, the last pagan Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate, announced plans to rebuild the Jewish Temple. He died whilst fighting the Persians in 363 and the project was discontinued.
The Roman Empire split and the region became part of the East Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire. Under the Byzantines, Christianity was dominated by the (Greek) Orthodox Church. In the 5th century, The Western Roman Empire collapsed leading to Christian migration into Palestine and development of a Christian majority. Jews numbered 10–15% of the population. Judaism was the only non-Christian religion tolerated, but there were bans on Jews building new places of worship, holding public office or owning slaves. There were two Samaritan revolts in this period.
Sacred Jewish texts written in Israel at this time are the Gemara (400), the Jerusalem Talmud (500) and the Passover Haggadah.
According to Procopius, in 533 Byzantine general Belisarius took the treasures of the Jewish temple from Vandals who had taken them from Rome.
In 611, Sassanid Persia invaded the Byzantine Empire and, after a long siege, Chosroes II captured Jerusalem (614) with Jewish help, including possibly the Jewish Himyarite Kingdom in Yemen. Jews were left to govern Jerusalem until in 617, when the Persians took over. The Byzantine Emperor, Heraclius, promised to restore Jewish rights and received Jewish help in defeating the Persians, but he soon reneged on the agreement after reconquering Palestine by issuing an edict banning Judaism from the Byzantine Empire. (Egyptian) Coptic Christians took responsibility for this broken pledge and still fast in penance. Jews fleeing Byzantium settled in the Baltic area, where the Khazar nobility and some of the p-population subsequently converted to Judaism.
 Arab rule (636–1099)According to Muslim tradition, in 620 Muhammed flew from Mecca to the "farthest mosque", whose location is considered to be the Temple Mount, returning the same night. In 634-636 the Arabs conquered Palestine, ending the Byzantine ban on Jews living in Jerusalem. Over the next few centuries, Islam replaced Christianity as the dominant religion of the region.
From 636 until the beginning of the Crusades, Palestine was ruled first by Medinah-based Rashidun Caliphs, then by the Damascus-based Umayyad Caliphate and after that the Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphs. In 691, Ummayad Caliph Abd al-Malik (685–705) constructed the Dome of the Rock shrine on the Temple Mount. Jews consider it to contain the Foundation Stone (see also Holy of Holies), which is the holiest site in Judaism. A second building, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, was also erected on the Temple Mount in 705.
Between the 7th and 11th centuries, Jewish scribes, called the Masoretes and located in Galilee and Jerusalem, established the Masoretic Text, the final text of the Hebrew Bible.
 Crusader rule (1099 – 13th century)During the Crusades, both Muslims and Jews in Palestine were indiscriminately massacred or sold into slavery. The murder of Jews began during the Crusaders' travels across Europe and continued in the Holy Land. Ashkenazi orthodox Jews still recite a prayer in memory of the death and destruction caused by the Crusades.
In 1187, the Ayyubid Sultan, Saladin, defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin (above Tiberias), taking Jerusalem and most of Palestine. A Crusader state centred round Acre survived in weakened form for another century.
From 1260 to 1291 the area became the frontier between Mongol invaders (occasional Crusader allies) and the Mamluks of Egypt. The conflict impoverished the country and severely reduced the population. Sultan Qutuz of Egypt eventually defeated the Mongols in the Battle of Ain Jalut (near Ein Harod) and his successor (and assassin), Baibars, eliminated the last Crusader Kingdom of Acre in 1291, thereby ending the Crusades.
 Mamluk rule (13th century – 1517)Egyptian Mamluk Sultan, Baibars (1260–1277) conquered Palestine and the Mamluks ruled it until 1517. In Hebron, Baibars banned Jews from worshiping at the Cave of the Patriarchs (the second holiest site in Judaism) until its conquest by Israel 700 years later.
The collapse of the Crusades was followed by increased persecution and expulsions of Jews in Europe. Expulsions began in England (1290) and were followed by France (1306). In Spain persecution of the highly integrated and successful Jewish community began, including massacres and forced conversions. During the Black Death, many Jews were murdered after being accused of poisoning wells.
The completion of the Christian reconquest of Spain led to expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497. These were the wealthiest and most integrated Jewish communities in Europe. Many Jews converted to Christianity, however, prejudice against Jewish converts persisted and led many of these former Jews to move to the New World (see History of the Jews in Latin America). Most of the expelled Spanish Jews moved to North Africa, Poland, to the Ottoman Empire and to Israel. In Italy, Jews were required to live in ghettos.
 Ottoman Turkish rule (1516–1917)Palestine was conquered by Turkish Sultan Selim II in 1516-17, becoming a province of Syria for the next four centuries.
In the 1648—1654 Khmelnytsky Uprising in the Ukraine over 100,000 Jews were massacred, leading to some migration to Israel.
There was a massacre of Jews in Palestine during Muhammad Ali of Egypt's occupation in 1834. In 1844, Jews constituted the largest population group in Jerusalem and by 1890 an absolute majority in the city, but as a whole the Jewish population made up far less than 10% of the region. By 1890, Palestine was populated mainly by Muslim and Christian Arabs, as well as Jews, Greeks, Druze, Bedouins and other minorities. The small Jewish population was concentrated in the Four Holy Cities.
 Emancipation in Western EuropeThe Age of Enlightenment in Europe led to an 18th and 19th century Jewish enlightenment movement in Europe, called the Haskalah. In 1791, the French Revolution led France to grant Jews legal equality and civil rights for the first time since antiquity. The Napoleonic Empire spread Jewish equal rights across Europe.
Britain gave Jews full equal rights in 1856, Germany in 1871.
The spread of Western liberal ideas among newly emancipated Jews created for the first time a class of secular Jews who absorbed the prevailing ideas of enlightenment, including rationalism, romanticism, and nationalism.
 Growth of Persecution in Eastern EuropeThe formation of modern nations and national identities was accompanied by a change in anti-Jewish prejudice. Prejudice that had previously been justified on grounds of religion was now defined in pseudo-scientific, racial "anti-Semitic" terms. While Jews were attaining basic civil rights, other groups saw a decline in their power, including the Russian Tsars and the Church, and these groups were easily persuaded that a Jewish conspiracy was behind their difficulties.
In the 19th century most Jews lived within the Russian Empire. Jews were banned from Russia in the 1790s, but as its empire grew it acquired vast areas of Eastern Europe with extensive Jewish populations. Jews were restricted to a Pale of Settlement (some Jews circumvented the regulations).
By 1897 there were 5 million Jews, forming 10% of the population of the Pale. From 1827 -1855, Russian authorities sought to forcibly convert Jews by requiring a six-year education followed by 25 years military service for Jewish boys aged 12. From 1881–1917, the May Laws banned Jews from rural communities in the Pale (many were driven out) and restricted the number of Jewish students in universities and high schools to 10% inside the Pale, 5% outside and 3% in major cities. In Tsarist Russia, for different reasons, the state and the Church sought to benefit from setting up the Jew as the enemy. In the early 1880s the government encouraged and organized pogroms (attacks by mobs), blaming Jews for any problems it faced and diverting resentment from the Tsarist regime. Jews were also banned from practising medicine or law.
Anti-Semitism was not confined to eastern Europe, International Anti-Jewish Congresses were held in Germany: Dresden in 1882, Chemnitz in 1883. In France, the Dreyfus Affair (1894–1906) revealed widespread anti-Semitism in the highest echelons of the French Army and government.
 Migration from Eastern EuropeMillions of Jews left eastern Europe in the late 19th century, mainly for the USA, but a small percentage headed for Israel and some Jews began to consider the possibility of re-establishing themselves as an independent nation.
In 1870, an agricultural school, the Mikveh Israel was founded near Jaffa by the Alliance Israelite Universelle. The first modern Jewish settlement in Palestine, Petah Tikva, was founded in 1878, followed by Rishon LeZion (1882). Other settlements were established by members of the Bilu and Hovevei Zion ('Love of Zion') movements. This was accompanied by a revival of the Hebrew language. 'Zionism' attracted Jews of all kinds; religious, secular, nationalists and left-wing socialists. Socialists aimed to reclaim the land by becoming labourers and forming collectives. In Zionist history, the different waves of Jewish settlement are known as 'aliyah'. During the First Aliyah, between 1882 and 1903, approximately 35,000 Jews moved to Palestine.
 Formation of the Zionist MovementFor a full account of the emergence of the Zionist movement see the History of Zionism.
In 1896 Theodor Herzl published "Der Judenstaat" ('The Jewish State') in which he asserted that the solution to growing antisemitism in Europe (the so-called "Jewish Question") was to establish a Jewish state. In 1897, the Zionist Organisation was founded and the First Zionist Congress proclaimed its aim "to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law." However, Zionism was regarded with suspicion by the Ottoman rulers and was unable to make major progress.
Between 1904 and 1914, around 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine (the 'Second Aliyah'). In 1908 the Zionist Organisation set up the Palestine Bureau (also known as the 'Eretz Israel Office') in Jaffa and began to adopt a systematic Jewish settlement policy in Palestine. Migrants were mainly from Russia (which then included Poland), escaping persecution. The first kibbutz, Degania, was founded by Russian socialists in 1909. The first entirely Hebrew-speaking city, Ahuzat Bayit was established in 1909 (later renamed Tel Aviv). Hebrew newspapers and books were published, and Jewish political parties and workers organizations were established.
 The Balfour DeclarationWorld War I, Jews fought on both sides with more than 100,000 Jews served in the German Army. Jewish and non-Jewish casualties were in almost exactly the same ratio in all the respective countries. In Britain, the government sought and received the support of British Jews for the war effort.
There was already sympathy for the aims of Zionism in the British government, including the Prime-Minister Lloyd-George. In late 1917, as the British Army (including a mainly Zionist Jewish Legion) drove the Turks out of Palestine, the British foreign minister, Lord Balfour sent a letter to Lord Rothschild. The letter subsequently became known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It stated that the British Government "view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people"..."it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".
In 1918 Chaim Weizmann, President of the British Zionist Federation, formed a Zionist Commission which went to Palestine to promote Zionist objectives there.
 British Mandate of Palestine (1917–48)The British Mandate (in effect, British rule) of Palestine, including the Balfour Declaration, was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922 and came into effect in 1923. The boundaries of Palestine were drawn by the British and included modern Jordan. Britain signed an additional treaty with the USA (which did not join the League of Nations) in which the USA endorsed the terms of the Mandate.
In 1921, the Zionist Commission was granted official status as the Jewish Agency for Palestine in Article 4 of the Mandate. An offer to create a similar Arab Agency was rejected by Arab leaders.
The Mandate permitted the Jewish Agency to oversee Jewish immigration into Palestine and land purchases from the local Arabs. The Jewish Agency soon operated as an arm of the Zionist leadership. It ran schools and hospitals, and later formed a militia, the Haganah. Chaim Weizmann was the leader of both the Zionist Organisation and the Jewish Agency until 1929. The Jewish Agency distributed entry permits to new immigrants (the number was fixed by the British) and funds donated by Jews abroad.
From 1920, the Va'ad Leumi (or Jewish National Council, or JNC) was the main institution of the Jewish community ('Yishuv') within the British Mandate of Palestine. It was democratically elected and included non-Zionist Jews. This body functioned as a virtual government for the Jews in Palestine. The Political Department of the JNC was responsible for relations with the Arabs, ties with the Jewish Agency and negotiations with the British. As the Yishuv grew, the JNC adopted more functions, such as education, health care and welfare services, internal defence and security matters.
Most of the revenue raised by the Mandate came from the Jewish minority but was spent on funding the British administration. Therefore, with British permission, the Va'ad raised its own taxes and ran independent services for the Jewish population. Education and health care for Jews in Palestine were in the hands of the major Zionist political parties: the General Zionists, the Mizrahi and the Socialist Zionists, with each operating independent services and (except for Mizrahi) sports organizations funded by local taxes, donations and fees. The Zionist movement also established the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Technion (technological university)in Haifa (both 1925).
During the whole interwar period, the British, appealing to the terms of the Mandate, rejected the principle of majority rule or any other measure that would give the Arab majority control over the government of Palestine.
 Jewish immigration and Arab oppositionBetween 1919 and 1923, 40,000 Jews arrived in Palestine, mainly escaping the post-revolutionary chaos of Russia (3rd Aliyah). Many of these immigrants became known as 'pioneers' (halutzim), experienced or trained in agriculture and capable of establishing self-sustaining economies. The Jezreel Valley and the Hefer Plain marshes were drained and converted to agricultural use.
The combination of Jewish immigration and the terms of the Mandate led to Arab rioting in 1920 and 1921. In response, the British authorities enacted a system of immigration quotas. Exceptions were made for Jews with over 1000 Pounds in cash (roughly 100,000 pounds at year 2000 rates), or Jewish professionals with over 500 Pounds. Arab attacks on isolated Jewish settlements and the British failure to protect them led to the creation of the Haganah ("Defense"), a mainly socialist underground Jewish militia dedicated to defending Jewish settlements.
By 1923 the number of Jews in Palestine had reached 90,000. Between 1924 and 1929, 82,000 more Jews arrived (4th Aliyah), fleeing anti-Semitism in Poland and Hungary and because United States immigration policy now kept Jews out. The new arrivals included many middle class families who moved into towns and established small businesses and workshops – although lack of economic opportunities meant that approximately a quarter later left Palestine.
The 1929 Palestine riots (see also the Hebron Massacre), led Ze'ev Jabotinsky to create a right-wing militia group called the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (National Military Organization, known in Hebrew by its acronym "Etzel").
Despite Arab opposition, the increased persecution of European Jews in the 1930s led to a marked increase in Jewish immigration. With the emergence of fascist regimes across Europe, Jews reverted to being non-citizens, deprived of all civil and economic rights and subject to arbitrary persecution. As countries came under Nazi rule or became Nazi allies (Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia were Nazi allies) the numbers of those wanting to flee grew more. Between 1929 and 1939, 250,000 Jews arrived in Palestine (5th Aliyah). The majority of these, 174,000, arrived between 1933 and 1936, after which the British increasingly restricted immigration. Migration was again mostly from Europe and included professionals, doctors, lawyers and professors from Germany.
In 1933, the Nazis negotiated the Ha'avara Agreement, under which 50,000 Jews and $100 million of their assets would be moved to Palestine. In Palestine, Jewish immigration helped the economy to flourish. With the completion of the port at Haifa and its oil refineries, significant industry was added to the predominantly agricultural Palestinian economy. With the British enforcing quotas and the situation in Europe increasingly desperate, Jews were forced to resort to illegal immigration. Illegal immgration, (Aliyah Bet or 'Ha'apalah') was organized by the Mossad Le'aliyah Bet, and the Irgun. Jewish refugees arrived in secret by sea, or, to a lesser extent, overland through Syria.
Increased Jewish immigration contributed to the large-scale Arab Revolt in Palestine (1936–1939), a largely nationalist uprising directed at ending British rule. The British responded with the Peel Commission (1936–37), which recommended that an exclusively Jewish territory be created in the north and along much of the western coast, the rest becoming an exclusively Arab area. Jewish opinion was divided as to the merits of this scheme, but it was rejected outright by the Palestinian Arabs as the plan involved the removal of 225,000 Arab people and just 1,250 Jewish people from their homes.
The Woodhead Commission (1938) reported that the Peel Commission was unworkable and recommended setting up smaller Arab and Jewish zones, but this plan was rejected by both Arabs and Jews. 20 years later, the Jewish Agency leader, Ben-Gurion wrote: "Had partition [referring to the Peel Commission partition plan] been carried out, the history of our people would have been different and six million Jews in Europe would not have been killed — most of them would be in Israel". Ben-Gurion responded to the Arab Revolt with a policy of "Havlagah" - self-restraint and a refusal to be provoked by Arab attacks in order to prevent polarization. The Etzel group broke off from the Haganah in opposition to this policy.
With war in Europe increasingly likely, the British tried to placate the Arab population of Palestine. The White Paper of 1939, stated that with over 450,000 Jews having now arrived in Palestine, the Balfour Declaration aim of "a national home for the Jewish people" had been achieved. The White Paper recommended an independent Palestine, governed jointly by Arabs and Jews, be established within 10 years. The White Paper agreed to allow 75,000 Jewish immigrants into Palestine over the period 1940–44, after which migration would require (unlikely) Arab approval. Both the Arab and Jewish leadership rejected the White Paper. In March 1940 the British High Commissioner for Palestine issued an edict banning Jews from purchasing land in 95% of Palestine.
 The 2nd World War and the Holocaust (1939–45)During the 2nd World War, the Jewish Agency called on Palestine's Jewish youth to volunteer for the British Army (both men and women). The Etzel supported this policy. Over a million Jews served in every branch of the allied armies, mainly in the Soviet and US armies. 200,000 Jews died serving in the Soviet army alone.
A small group (with about 200 activists), dedicated to Jewish resistance to the British administration in Palestine, broke away and formed the "Lehi" (Stern Gang), led by Avraham Stern. In 1943 the USSR released the Revisionist Zionist leader, Menachem Begin from the Gulag and he went to Palestine, taking command of the Etzel organisation with a policy of increased conflict against the British. At about the same time Yitzhak Shamir escaped from the camp in Eritrea where the British were holding Lehi activists without trial, taking command of the Lehi (Stern Gang).
Jews in the Middle East were also affected by the war, parts of North Africa came under Nazi control and many Jews were used as slaves. In 1941 there was a pro-Axis coup in Iraq, accompanied by massacres of Jews. In 1942 Rommel advanced into Egypt with the intention of occupying Palestine, exterminating the Jewish population and linking up with Nazi forces in Russia. The Zionist community made plans for a last stand.
Between 1939 and 1945, 6 million Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were murdered. Almost a quarter of those killed were children. The Holocaust had an overwhelmingly decisive impact on the Jewish world (and beyond). The Polish and German Jewish communities which had played such an important role in defining the pre-1945 Jewish world, now virtually ceased to exist. In the USA and Palestine, Jews of European origin became disconnected from their families and roots. Sephardi Jews, who had been a minority, became a much more significant factor in the Jewish world. The Second World War left the surviving remnant of Jews in central Europe as displaced persons (refugees); a survey of their ambitions found that 97% wanted to migrate to Palestine.
 The Post-War Years (1945–47)The British Empire was severely weakened by the war. In the Middle East, Britain attached more importance to cordial relations with the Arabs than to helping the Jewish people establish a homeland. Shortly after VE Day, the Labour Party won the general election in Britain. Although Labour Party conferences had for years called for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, the Labour government now decided to maintain the 1939 White Paper restrictions.
Aliyah Bet became the main form of Jewish entry into Palestine. Bricha ("flight"), an organization of former partisans and ghetto fighters, smuggled Jewish holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe to Italy and from there on to Palestine. Despite British efforts to curb immigration, during the 14 years of the Aliyah Bet, over 110,000 Jews secretly entered Palestine.
In an effort to win independence, Zionists now waged a bitter guerilla war against the British. The underground Jewish militias, the Haganah, formed an alliance called the Jewish Resistance Movement with the Etzel and Stern Gang to fight the British. In June 1946, following instances of Jewish sabotage, the British launched Operation Agatha, arresting 2700 Jews, including the leadership of the Jewish Agency, whose headquarters were raided. Those arrested were held without trial.
In Poland, the Kielce Pogrom (July 1946) lead to a wave of Holocaust survivors escaping Europe and the British responded by imprisoning the growing numbers of Jews trying to illegally enter Palestine in Cyprus internment camps. Those held were mainly Holocaust survivors, including large numbers of children and orphans. In response to Cypriot fears that the Jews would never leave (since they lacked a state or documentation) the British later allowed the refugees to enter Palestine at a rate of 750 per month.
The unified Jewish resistance movement broke up in July 1946, after Etzel bombed the British Military Headquarters in the King David Hotel killing 92 people. In the days following the bombing, Tel Aviv was placed under curfew and over 120,000, nearly 20% of the Jewish population of Palestine, were questioned by the police. In the US, Congress criticized British handling of the situation and delayed loans which were vital to British post-war recovery. By 1947 the Labour Government was ready to refer the Palestine problem to the United Nations.
 United Nations Partition PlanUnited Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). In July 1947 the UNSCOP visited Palestine and met with Jewish and Zionist delegations. The Arab Higher Committee boycotted the meetings. At this time, there was further controversy when the British Foreign Secretary Bevin ordered an illegal immigrant ship, the Exodus 1947, to be sent back to Europe. The migrants on the ship were forcibly removed by British troops at Hamburg after a long period in prison ships.
The principal non-Zionist Orthodox Jewish (or haredi) party, Agudat Israel, recommended to UNSCOP that a Jewish state be set up after reaching a religious status quo agreement with Ben-Gurion regarding the future Jewish state. The agreement granted future exemption of yeshiva (religious seminary) students and orthodox women from military service, made the Sabbath the national weekend, promised Kosher food in government institutions and allowed them to maintain a separate education system.
In September 1947, one month after the Partition of India, UNSCOP recommended the partition in Palestine, a suggestion ratified by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947. The UN resolution stipulated the establishment of two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish, with the city of Jerusalem to be under the direct administration of the United Nations. The date for the proposed British withdrawal was to be 1 October 1948.
The UN resolution called upon Britain to evacuate a seaport and sufficient hinterland to support substantial Jewish migration, by February 1, 1948. Neither Britain nor the UN Security Council acted to implement the resolution and Britain continued detaining Jews attempting to enter Palestine. Concerned that partition would severely damage Anglo-Arab relations, Britain refused to cooperate with the UN, denying the UN access to Palestine during the interim period (a requirement of the partition decision). The British withdrawal was finally completed in May 1948. However, Britain continued to hold Jews of "fighting age" and their families on Cyprus until March 1949.
 Escalation of Hostilities, January–May 1948Fighting between the Arab and Jewish communities of Palestine began soon after the UN decision to partition Palestine in November 1947. Neighbouring Arab states declared that they would greet any attempt to create a Jewish state with war, but they made very little effort to prepare or organise to stop it. In January 1948 Arab volunteers from Palestine and from all over the Middle East began to gather in Syria to form the Arab Liberation Army (ALA). ALA raids into Palestine were repulsed by the British and by troops of the Palmach, a small elite force of the Haganah. A three-way war spread over much of Palestine, with the British trying to keep order, but conscious of the need to avoid casualties as they prepared for their withdrawal. The Arab-Jewish violence increased in the spring of 1948 as the British gradually withdrew. Britain imposed an arms embargo, which only really affected the Jews as supplies reached the Palestinian Arabs from neighbouring Arab states across the land borders of Palestine.
Palestinian Arab forces consisted of village militias buttressed by the Arab Liberation Army. In contrast, the Yishuv was highly organised, better educated and prepared under the able leadership of Ben-Gurion. The Jewish Agency had several underground militias, including many World War II veterans and an elite, professional force, several thousand strong called the Palmach. The Jews had a manpower advantage over the local Arabs among males in the twenty to forty-four age group and a motivational advantage as they believed they faced extermination.
In the north, the Jews were successful at Tiberias (April 18) and after a fierce battle (April 21–23) in Haifa and Safad (May 6–12). However 100,000 Jews were under siege in Jerusalem as the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road ran through Arab land. Clashes in and around Jaffa (April 25-May 13) resulted in mass evacuation of the Arab population. Around Jerusalem, the Arabs besieged and captured 4 Jewish settlements in the Kfar Etzion area (May 14).
In the early stages of the conflict as many as 100,000 Palestinian Arabs, mainly the better-off, fled to neighbouring states. By May 1948, 150,000 more had fled or were evicted. In Haifa, the Arab Higher Committee refusal to allow the Arab population to remain under Jewish control contributed to the departure of the city's Arab population. The Jews destroyed most of the Arab villages along the route between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Jewish preparations for the expected Arab invasion included the forced eviction of Arab communities from strategic areas and from along major routes leading from the borders. In late April 1948, the neighbouring Arab states - Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Transjordan began preparations for their invasion of the Jewish areas of Palestine.
 Establishment of the State of IsraelOn May 14, 1948, the last British forces left Haifa. The Jewish Agency, led by David Ben-Gurion, declared the establishment of the State of Israel, in accordance with the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Ben-Gurion became Prime Minister of the new state. Both superpower leaders, U.S. President Harry S. Truman and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, immediately recognized the new state. At this time the Jewish population of Palestine was approximately 650,000, the Arab population around 1.2 million.
 Israel's War of Independence, or First Arab-Israeli War (1948-49)
 Arab Invasion (May 14-June 11, 1948)The Arab League members Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq refused to accept the UN partition plan and proclaimed the right of self-determination for the Arabs across the whole of Palestine. They declared war on the new state of Israel and immediately invaded. Saudi-Arabia and Sudan also contributed some troops. UN Secretary General Trygve Lie described the conflict as
"the first armed aggression which the world had seen since the end of the war".The new state of Israel had an organised and efficient army, the Haganah, under the command of Israel Galili. It numbered around 30,000 men, including the Palmach under General Yigael Allon. There were also another 30,000 trained men in the Haganah reserve. In addition, each Israeli settlement was protected by well-trained guards. The Etzel with about 3,500 men, and the Stern Gang with 500 men, were nominally under the command of the Haganah.
The Arab forces were of varying quality, but Arab states had heavy military equipment at their disposal. The ALA consisted of about 4,000 poorly trained men in 4 main groups. The Transjordan Arab Legion consisted of less than 10,000 men and were by far the best trained Arab forces with 40 British officers in command. Iraq sent two air squadrons, an armoured battalion and 10,000 men; Egypt sent two air squadrons and about 7.500 men, including some independent units; Syria contributed a tank battalion, an air squadron and 5,000 men; Lebanon sent 2,500 men and some artillery. The Palestinian Arabs had formed 'Army of Salvation' numbering 4,000. There was also an unknown number, probably in excess of 50,000, of armed local Palestinian Arabs who were poorly organised and badly equipped, but who were a continuous threat to the Israelis.
Many Arab Legion forces were already in Palestine when the British left. Arab Legion commanders were high-ranking British officers (who resigned from the British Army in 1948) and the Commander-in-Chief was a British General, John Glubb Pasha. However, the Jordanian forces generally did not invade areas allocated to the Jewish state, focusing instead on occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Jordan later annexed.
In northern Palestine, the Syrian and Lebanese forces were initially halted close to the frontier. The Iraqis advanced into the Nablus-Jenin area but could get no further. An Israeli attempt to take Jenin was repulsed (June 1–4). The Syrians and Lebanese renewed their offensive (June 6–10) and, together with the ALA, overrun much of Galilee.
General Glubb's Arab Legion occupied much of the Old City of Jerusalem without opposition and then captured and held the eastern and southern parts of New Jerusalem after hard fighting (May 15–25). Helped by local Palestinian Arabs, the Arab Legion then captured and held the Jewish quarter of Old Jerusalem (May 15–28). The Arab Legion also captured Latrun and held it against repeated Israeli attacks to drive them out (May 25–30 and June 9–10). Israeli forces under American volunteer David 'Mickey' Marcus, attacked along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road but failed to break through to Jerusalem. They did, however, provide protection to allow the building of a new road through the mountains farther south. This road was completed on June 10. Marcus was killed next day by one of his own sentries.
Meanwhile, the Egyptians advanced along the coast, through ALA-held Gaza, and advanced to Ashdod (May 29) just 25 miles from Tel Aviv. A small force, mostly ALA, advanced towards Jerusalem. An Israeli attempt to regain Ashdod was repulsed (June 2–3). The Egyptians then advanced inland, took Beersheba (May 20), Hebron (May 21) and linked up with the Arab Legion at Bethlehem (May 22).
The invading Arab armies had initially been successful but the Israelis soon recovered from the initial shock of being invaded on all sides. On May 29, 1948 the British initiated United Nations Security Council Resolution 50 and declared an arms embargo on the region. Czechoslovakia violated the resolution supplying the Jewish state with critical military hardware to match the (mainly British) heavy equipment and planes already owned by the invading Arab states. On May 20, the UN Security Council appointed Count Folke-Bernadotte of Sweden to act as a mediator. On June 11, a month-long UN truce was put into effect. Both sides wanted the opportunity to recover and reorganise.
Following the announcement of independence, the Haganah became the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Palmach, Etzel and Lehi were required to cease independent operations and join the IDF. During the ceasefire, Etzel attempted to bring in a private arms shipment aboard a ship called "Altalena". When they refused to hand the arms to the government, Ben-Gurion ordered that the ship be sunk. Several Etzel members were killed in the fighting. Large numbers of Jewish immigrants, many of them World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors now began arriving in the new state of Israel, and many joined the IDF.
 "Ten-Day Offensive" (July 9–18, 1948)An Israeli offensive to drive the Syrians back across the Jordan was repulsed (July 9–14). However, a second offensive extended Israeli control along the coast north of Haifa and swept inland to seize Nazareth (July 12–16). Through fierce fighting, the Israelis captured the towns of Lydda and Ramle (July 9–12), but were again repulsed by the Arab Legion from Jerusalem (July 9–18) and Latrun (July 14–18). Further south, the Israelis kept up probing raids against the Egyptians though no advances were made.
The IDF had seized the initiative and was on the offensive in most of Palestine. By now the Israelis had mobilized an army of 49,000. Their organisation and equipment were improving all the time. Arab supply routes were long and fragile and as the war dragged on they had problems replenishing their supplies.
 Second Truce (July 18-October 15, 1948)Both sides were once again keen to rest and regroup. In the recent fighting, the Israelis had met with limited successes, but felt that the tide was turning in their favour and wanted more time to prepare for an offensive. They used the truce to double the strength of the IDF to over 90,000, giving them a large numerical advantage over the Arab forces. The Arabs had been surprised by the strength of Israeli resistance and their ability to launch attacks on all fronts. The Arab states were increasingly anxious to end the war as soon as possible. However, confident of victory, many Israelis now resented the UN mediation efforts, which would prevent further Israeli expansion and try to force them to give up hard-won territory. On September 17, 1948, Count Bernadotte was assassinated by three unidentified men, possibly members of the Stern Gang.
By mid-September the truce was being broken by Isaraeli and Egyptian forces in the south. Israeli pressure was focused on Faluja, as they aimed to cut communications between Egyptian forces in the coastal and inland areas.
 Renewed Fighting (October 6-November 5, 1948)An ALA attack on the northern border at Manara (October 22) prompted a major Israeli counter-offensive. Manara and the Hula Valley were cleared of Arab fighters and ALA were driven back into Lebanon and the Israelis halted just inside southern Lebanon (October 22–31).
In the central sector, Israeli attacks attempted to widen the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem pocket and to push to the north and south of Jerusalem. However, they were defeated by the Arab Legion at Beit Gubrin.
The Israelis main effort was in the south, where they concentrated their best forces against the Egyptians (now reinforced to about 15,000). The main offensive against Ashdod and Gaza failed to capture either town and the main Egytian line of communications at Rafah remained intact (October 15–19). However, an offensive against Beersheba (October 19–21) was successful in capturing the town and opening the way to the Negev. Huleiqat was captured after heavy fighting (October 19), cutting Egyptian lines of communications and leaving Egyptian forces near Hebron and at Faluja isolated. The Egyptians were forced to withdraw from Ashdod (October 27) and Majdal (November 5) and concentrate their remaining forces in the Gaza area.
At the end of November, tenuous local ceasefires were arranged between the Israelis, Syrians and Lebanese. On December 1, King Abdullah announced the union of Transjordan with Arab Palestine west of the Jordan, the new state name being the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He adopted the title 'King of Arab Palestine', much to the disgust of most other Arab states.
 Defeat of the Egyptians (November 19, 1948-January 7, 1949)The Egyptians tried but failed to break through to the Faluja pocket (November 19-December 7). With ceasefires holding on all other fronts, the Israelis were now in a position to launch a major offensive against the Egyptians (December 20). The Israelis surrounded Rafah (December 22), then captured Asluj (December 25) and Auja (Decemebr 27). Colonel Allon advanced south into the Sinai, then swung back north to El Arish. Determined Egptian resistance prevented further eastward movement, so the Israelis swung back northeast to Rafah. As the Israelis were getting ready to attack Rafah, the Egyptians asked the UN Security Council to arrange an armistice which was immediately put into effect (January 7, 1949).
 Armistice Agreements (March–July 1949)Dr Ralph Bunche. Israel signed armistices with Egypt (February 24), Lebanon (March 23), Jordan (April 3) and Syria (July 20). No actual peace agreements were signed. With permanent ceasefire coming into effect, Israel's new borders, later known as the Green Line, were established. The IDF had overrun Galilee and theNegev. The Syrians remained in control of a strip of territory along the Sea of Galilee originally allocated to the Jewish state, the Lebanese occupied a tiny area at Rosh Hanikra and the Egyptians retained the Gaza strip and still had some forces surrounded inside Israeli territory. Jordanian forces remained in occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, exactly where the British had stationed them before the war. Jordan annexed the areas it occupied while Egypt kept Gaza as an occupied zone.
Following the ceasefire declaration, Britain released over 2,000 Jewish detainees it was still holding in Cyprus and recognized the state of Israel. On May 11, 1949, Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations. Out of an Israeli population of 650,000, some 6,000 men and women were killed in the fighting, including 4,000 soldiers in the IDF.
According to United Nations figures, 726,000 Palestinians had fled or were evicted by the Israelis between 1947 and 1949. Except in Jordan, the Palestinian refugees were settled in large refugee camps in poor, overcrowded conditions. They were denied citizenship and civil rights by the Arab countries that hosted them. In December 1949, the UN (in response to a British proposal) established an agency (UNRWA) to provide aid to the Palestinian refugees. The agency still operates and is the only UN agency dedicated to a single group of refugees.
 Government and politicsA 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, met first in Tel Aviv then moved to Jerusalem after the 1949 ceasefire. In January 1949, Israel held its first elections. David Ben-Gurion was elected prime minister. The Knesset elected Chaim Weizmann as the first (largely ceremonial) President of Israel.
From 1948 until 1977 all governments were led by Mapai and the Alignment, predecessors of the Labour Party. Labour Zionists led by David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics and the economy was run on primarily socialist lines; however, all governments have been coalitions.
 ImmigrationWithin three years (1948 to 1951), immigration doubled the Jewish population of Israel and left an indelible imprint on Israeli society. Most immigrants were either Holocaust survivors or Jews fleeing Arab lands; the largest groups (over 100,000 each) were from Iraq, Romania and Poland, although immigrants arrived from all over Europe and the Middle East.
In 1949–1951, 30,000 Jews fled from Libya. In 1950 the Knesset passed the Law of Return which granted to all Jews and those of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses, the right to settle in Israel and gain citizenship. That year, 50,000 Yemenite Jews (99%) were secretly flown to Israel. In 1951 Iraqi Jews were granted temporary permission to leave the country and 120,000 (over 90%) opted to move to Israel. Jews also fled from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. By the late sixties, about 500,000 Jews had left Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Over the course of twenty years, some 850,000 Jews from Arab countries (almost the entire Jewish population of the Arab lands) re-located to Israel. The land and property left behind the Jews (much of it in Arab city centres) is still a matter of some dispute. Today there are about 9,000 Jews living in Arab states, of whom 75% live in Morocco and 15% in Tunisia.
Between 1948 and 1958, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million. During this period, food, clothes and furniture had to be rationed in what became known as the Austerity Period (Tkufat haTsena). Immigrants were mostly refugees with no money or possessions and many were housed in temporary camps known as ma'abarot.
By 1952, over 200,000 immigrants were living in tents or pre-fabricated shacks built by the government. Israel received financial aid from private donations from outside the country (mainly the USA). The pressure on the new state's finances led Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany. During the Knesset debate some 5,000 demonstrators gathered and riot police had to cordon the building. In the heated debate, the Herut leader Menachem Begin and Ben-Gurion called each other fascists and Begin branded Ben-Gurion a "hooligan." Israel received several billion marks and in return agreed to open diplomatic relations with Germany. At the end of 1953, Ben Gurion retired to Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev.
 EducationIn 1949, the new Government passed a law making education free and compulsory for all citizens until the age of 14. The state now funded the existing party-affiliated Zionist education system and a new body created by the Haredi Agudat Israel party. A separate body was created to provide education for the remaining Palestinian-Arab population.
Under the existing system major political parties ran their own education systems and these now competed for immigrants to join them. Fearing that the immigrants lacked sufficient "Zionist motivation", the government banned the existing educational bodies from teaching in the transit camps and instead tried to mandate a unitary secular socialist education. Education came under the control of "camp managers" who also had to provide work, food and housing for the immigrants. There were attempts to force orthodox Yemenite children to adopt a secular life style by teachers, including many instances of Yemenite children having their side-curls cut by teachers. Immigrants who dissented from political lines sometimes faced discrimination, although no one went hungry and all were eventually housed. This treatment of Orthodox children led to the first Israeli public enquiry (the Fromkin Inquiry). The crisis led to the collapse of the coalition and an election in 1951, with little change in the results from the previous election.
In 1953 the party-affiliated education system was scrapped. The General Zionist and Socialist Zionist education systems were united to become the secular state education system while the Mizrahi became the State Modern-Orthodox system. Agudat Israel were allowed to maintain their existing school system.
 Foreign RelationsWhilst both the USA and the USSR supported the new state, in its early years Israel sought to maintain a non-aligned position between the super-powers. However, in 1952, an anti-Semitic public trial was staged in Moscow in which a group of Jewish doctors were accused of trying to poison Stalin (the Doctors' plot), followed by a similar trial in Czechoslovakia (Slánský trial). This, and the failure of Israel to be included in the Bandung Conference (of non-aligned states), effectively ended Israel's pursuit of non-alignment. At this time the United States pursued close relations with the new Arab states, particularly the Egyptian Free Officers Movement and Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. Israel's solution to diplomatic isolation was to establish good relations with newly independent states in Africa and with France, which was engaged in the Algerian War.
In January 1954 Moshe Sharett became Prime-Minister of Israel. However his government was soon brought down by the Lavon Affair, a crude plan to disrupt US-Egyptian relations, involving Israeli agents planting bombs at American sites in Egypt. The plan failed when eleven agents were arrested. Defense Minister Lavon was blamed despite his denial of responsibility. The Lavon affair led to Sharett's resignation and Ben-Gurion returned to the post of Prime-Minister winning the 1955 election.
Archaeologist and General Yigael Yadin, purchased the Dead Sea Scrolls on behalf of the State of Israel. The entire first batch to be discovered were now owned by Israel and housed in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum. In 1954 the Uzi submachine gun first entered use by the Israel Defense Forces.
 The 1956 War (Suez or Sinai War), October 29-November 6, 1956On May 19, 1950, Egypt announced that the Suez Canal was closed to Israeli ships and commerce. In 1952 a military coup in Egypt brought Abdel Nasser to power. Between 1953 and 1956, there were intermittent clashes along all of Israel's borders as Arab terrorism and breaches of the ceasefire resulted in Israeli counter-raids. Palestinian "Fedayeen" attacks, often organized and sponsored by the Egyptians, were made from (Egyptian occupied) Gaza. Fedayeen attacks led to a growing cycle of violence as Israel launched reprisal attacks against Gaza.
In 1955 the Egyptian government began recruiting former German rocket scientists for a missile program. Rising tensions led to an increase in clashes on Israel's borders and Israeli punitive attacks on Gaza, Jordan and Syria (December 1955-July 1956). Arab states, supported by the USSR, complained to the U.N..
The US decision to withdraw promised aid to Egypt for the Aswan Dam project angered the Egyptian President, General Abdel Nasser and strengthened Egypt's growing ties with the USSR. In retaliation, Nasser announced the nationalization of the (French and British owned) Suez Canal so canal revenues could be used for the Aswan project. Egypt also blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba preventing Israeli access to the Red Sea. Israel made a secret agreement with the French at Sèvres to coordinate military operations against Egypt. Britain and France had already begun secret preparations for military action. It has been alleged that the French also agreed to build a nuclear plant for the Israelis and that by 1968 this was able to produce nuclear weapons.
Britain and France arranged for Israel to give them a pretext for seizing the Suez Canal. Israel was to attack Egpyt, and Britain and France would then call on both sides to withdraw. When, as expected, the Egyptians refused, Anglo-French forces would invade to take control the Canal.
Israeli forces, under General Moshe Dayan, attacked Egypt on October 29, 1956. On October 30, Britain and France made their pre-arranged call for both sides to stop fighting and withdraw from the Canal area and for them to be allowed to take up positions at key points on the Canal. Egypt refused and the allies commenced air strikes on October 31 aimed at neutralizing the Egyptian air force.
By November 5 the Israelis had overrun the Sinai. The Anglo-French invasion began that day. There was uproar in the UN, with the USA and USSR for once in agreement in denouncing the actions of Israel, Britain and France. A demand for a ceasefire was reluctantly accepted on November 7.
At Egypt's request, the UN sent the UN Emergency Force (UNEF), consisting of 6,000 peacekeeping troops from 10 nations to supervise the ceasefire. From November 15, the UN troops marked out a zone across the Sinai to separate the Israeli and Egyptian forces. Upon receiving US guarantees of Israeli access to the Canal, freedom of access out of the Gulf of Aqaba and Egyptian action to stop Palestinian raids from Gaza, the Israelis withdrew to the Negev. In practice the Suez Canal remained closed to Israeli shipping.
In combat with the Israelis, the Egyptians lost around 1,000 killed, 4,000 wounded and 6,000 captured (Israel claimed 3,000 Egyptian dead and 7,000 prisoners taken ). The Israelis lost 189 killed, 899 wounded and 4 captured. Israel lost 15 aircraft to 8 Egyptian. Some $50 million worth of Egyptian equipment, vehicles and supplies fell into Israeli hands. The Israeli offensive had been greatly helped in by the element of surprise and by the Anglo-French destruction of 200 Egyptian aircraft before they could get off the ground.
 Ben-Gurion II (1956–63)Rudolph Kastner, a minor political functionary, was accused of collaborating with the Nazis and sued his accuser. Kastner lost the trial and was assassinated two years later. In 1958 the Supreme Court exonerated him.
In October 1957 a deranged man threw a handgrenade inside the Knesset wounding Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion was once again victorious in the 1959 elections.
In 1959, there were renewed skirmishes along Israel's borders which continued throughout the early 1960s. The Arab League continued to maintain an economic boycott and there was a dispute over water rights in the River Jordan basin. With Soviet backing, the Arab states, particularly Egypt, were continuing to build up their forces. Israel turned to the West, especially the USA, for military hardware.
In May 1960 the Mossad located Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief administrators of the Nazi Holocaust, in Argentina and kidnapped him to Israel. In 1961 he was put on trial and after several months found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hanged in 1962 and is the only person ever sentenced to death by an Israeli court. Testimonies by Holocaust survivors at the trial and the extensive publicity which surrounded it has led the trial to be considered a turning point in public awareness of the Holocaust.
In 1961 a Herut non-confidence motion over the Lavon affair led to Ben-Gurion's resignation. Ben-Gurion declared that he would only accept office if Lavon was fired from the position of the head of Histadrut, Israel's labor union organization (due to his role in the Lavon Affair). His demands were accepted and he won the 1961 election.
In 1962 the Mossad began assassinating German rocket scientists working in Egypt after one of them reported the missile program was designed to carry chemical warheads. This action was condemned by Ben-Gurion and led to the Mossad director, Isser Harel's resignation. On September 26, 1962, the United States agreed to sell missiles to Israel in order to restore a perceived threat to the balance of power in the Middle East.
In 1963 Ben-Gurion quit again over the Lavon scandal. His attempts to make his party Mapai support him over the issue failed, and Ben-Gurion left the party to form Rafi. Levi Eshkol became leader of Mapai and the new Prime-Minister.
 Eshkol (1963–69)Yigael Yadin began excavating Massada. In 1964, Egypt, Jordan and Syria developed a unified military command. Israel completed work on a national water carrier, a huge engineering project designed to transfer Israel's allocation of the Jordan river's waters towards the south of the country in realization of Ben-Gurion's dream of mass Jewish settlement of the Negev desert. The Arabs responded by trying to divert the headwaters of the Jordan and this led to growing conflict between Israel and Syria. In 1964, Israeli Rabbinical authorities accepted that the Bene Israel of India were indeed Jewish and most of the remaining Indian Jews migrated to Israel. The 2000 strong Jewish community of Cochin had already migrated in 1954.
As part of an agreement between West Germany and Israel in January 1965, including West German recognition of Israel, Israel began to receive some $80 million worth of weapons, tanks, helicopters and other equipment from West Germany. The shipments were only halted after Arab states had broken off relations with the West Germans, and threatened to recognise communist East Germany. In the 1965 elections Levi Eshkol was victorious. Until 1966, Israel's principal arms supplier was France, however in 1966, following the withdrawal from Algeria, Charles de Gaulle announced France would cease supplying Israel with arms (and refused to refund money paid for 50 warplanes). On February 5, 1966 the USA announced that it was taking over the former French and West German obligations, to maintain military "stabilisation" in the Middle East. Included in the military hardware would be over 200 M48 tanks. In May of that year the USA also agreed to provide A-4 Skyhawk tactical aircraft to Israel. In 1966 security restrictions placed on Palestinians were eased and efforts made to integrate them into Israeli life. Black and white TV broadcasts began.
On May 15, 1967 the first public performance of Naomi Shemer's classic song "Jerusalem of Gold" took place and over the next few weeks it dominated the Israeli airwaves. Two days later Syria, Egypt and Jordan amassed troops along the Israeli borders and Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Nasser demanded that the UNEF leave Sinai, threatening escalation to a full war. Egyptian radio broadcasts talked of a coming genocide. Israel responded by calling up its civilian reserves, bringing much of the Israeli economy to a halt. The Israelis set up a national unity coalition, including for the first time Menachem Begin's party, Herut in a coalition. During a national radio broadcast, Prime-Minister Levi Eshkol stammered, causing widespread fear in Israel. To calm public concern Moshe Dayan (Chief of Staff during the Sinai war) was appointed defense minister.
On the morning before Dayan was sworn in, June 5, 1967, the Israeli air force launched pre-emptive attacks destroying first the Egyptian air force and then later the same day destroying the air forces of Jordan and Syria. Israel then defeated (almost successively) Egypt, Jordan and Syria. By June 11 the Arab forces were routed and all parties had accepted the cease-fire called for by UN Security Council Resolutions 235 and 236.
Israel gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the formerly Jordanian-controlled West Bank of the Jordan River. East Jerusalem was immediately arguably annexed by Israel and its population granted Israeli citizenship. Other areas occupied remained under military rule (Israeli civil law did not apply to them) pending a final settlement. The Golan was also annexed in 1981.
On November 22, 1967, the Security Council adopted Resolution 242, the "land for peace" formula, which called for the establishment of a just and lasting peace based on Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967 in return for the end of all states of belligerency, respect for the sovereignty of all states in the area, and the right to live in peace within secure, recognized boundaries. The resolution was accepted by both sides, though with different interpretations, and has been the basis of all subsequent peace negotiations.
For the first time since the end of the British Mandate, Jews could visit the Old City of Jerusalem and pray at the Western Wall (the holiest site in modern Judaism) to which they had been denied access by the Jordanians in contravention of the 1949 Armistice agreement. The four meter wide public alley which formed the Wall was expanded into a massive plaza and worshippers were allowed to sit, or use other furniture, for the first time in centuries. In Hebron, Jews gained access to the Cave of the Patriarchs (the second most holy site in Judaism) for the first time since the 14th century (previously Jews were only allowed to pray at the entrance). A third Jewish holy site, Rachel's Tomb, in Bethlehem, also became accessible. Sinai oil fields made Israel self-sufficient in energy.
After 1967 the USA began supplying Israel with aircraft and the Soviet block (except Romania) broke off relations with Israel. Anti-Semitic purges led to the final migration of the last Polish Jews to Israel. In 1968 Moshe Levinger led a group of Religious Zionists who created the first Jewish settlement, a town near Hebron called Kiryat Arba. There were no other religious settlements until after 1974. In 1968, compulsory education was extended until the age of 16 for all citizens (it had been 14) and the government embarked on an extensive program of integration in education. In the major cities children from mainly Sephardi/Mizrahi neighbourhoods were bused to newly established middle schools in better areas. The system remained in place until after 2000.
In March 1968, Israeli forces attacked the Palestinian militia, Fatah at its base in the Jordanian town of Karameh. The attack, in response to land mines placed on Israeli roads, was badly planned and vehicles got stuck in heavy mud. The Israelis retreated with 29 dead. The failure, so soon after the Six Day war, made Fatah and the PLO (of which it formed part) famous across the Arab world. In early 1969, fighting broke out between Egypt and Israel along the Suez Canal. In retaliation for repeated Egyptian shelling of Israeli positions along the Suez Canal, Israeli planes made deep strikes into Egypt in the 1969–1970 "War of Attrition". The United States helped end these hostilities in August 1970, but subsequent U.S. efforts to negotiate an interim agreement to open the Suez Canal and achieve the disengagement of forces were unsuccessful.
In 1969 some 50 of the remaining Iraqi Jews were executed, 11 were publicly executed after show trials and several hundred thousand Iraqis marched past the bodies amid a carnival-like atmosphere. In late 1969, Levi Eshkol died in office, of a heart attack, and was succeeded by Golda Meir.
 Meir (1969–74)1969 election, Golda Meir became Prime Minister with the largest percentage of the vote ever won by an Israeli party. Meir was the first female prime minister of Israel and is the only woman to have headed a Middle Eastern state in modern times.
In December 1969, Israeli naval commandos took five missile boats during the night from Cherbourg Harbour in France. Israel had paid for the boats but the French had refused to supply them.
In September 1970 King Hussein of Jordan drove the Palestine Liberation Organization out of his country. On 18 September 1970 Syrian tanks invaded Jordan, intending to aid the PLO. At the request of the USA, Israel moved troops to the border and threatened Syria, causing the Syrians to withdraw. The center of PLO activity then shifted to Lebanon, where the 1969 Cairo agreement gave the Palestinians autonomy within the south of the country. The area controlled by the PLO became known by the international press and locals as "Fatahland" and contributed to the 1975–1990 Lebanese Civil War. The event also led to Hafez al-Assad taking power in Syria. Egyptian President Nasser died immediately after and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. During 1971, violent demonstrations by the Israeli Black Panthers, made the Israeli public aware of resentment among Mizrahi Jews at ongoing discrimination and social gaps. Increased Soviet antisemitism and enthusiasm generated by the 1967 victory led to a wave of Jews applying to emigrate to Israel. Those who left could only take two suitcases. Most Jews were refused exit visas and persecuted by the authorities. Some were arrested and sent to Gulag camps, becoming known as Prisoners of Zion.
In 1972 the US Jewish Mafia leader, Meyer Lansky, who had taken refuge in Israel, was deported to the USA. At the Munich Olympics, 11 members of the Israeli team were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists. A botched German rescue attempt led to the death of all 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Five of the terrorists were shot and three survived unharmed. The three surviving Palestinians were released without charge by the German authorities a month later. The Israeli government responded with an assassination campaign against the organizers and a raid on the PLO headquarters in Lebanon (led by Ehud Barak).
In 1971 the new Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had shown willingness to sign a peace treaty with Israel in return for the Sinai territories Israel captured in the 1967 war, but Israel refused the offer. In 1972 Sadat publicly announced that Egypt was "committed to going to war with Israel" and was willing to "sacrifice one million Egyptian soldiers". The 1972 expulsion of Soviet advisors by Sadat, and frequent invasion simulations by Egypt and Syria, led to Israeli complacency about the military threat, despite warnings of an impending attack.
The Yom Kippur War (also known as the October War) began on October 6, 1973 (the Jewish Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and a day when adult Jews are required to fast. The Syrian and Egyptian armies launched a well-planned surprise attack against the unprepared Israeli Defense Forces. For the first few days there was a great deal of uncertainty about Israel's capacity to repel the invaders. Both the Soviets and the Americans (at the orders of Richard Nixon) rushed arms to their allies. The Syrians were repulsed by the tiny remnant of the Israeli tank force on the Golan and, although the Egyptians captured a strip of territory in Sinai, Israeli forces crossed the Suez Canal, trapping the Egyptian Third Army in Sinai and were 100 kilometres from Cairo. The war cost over 2,000 dead, resulted in a heavy arms bill (for both sides) and made Israelis more aware of their vulnerability. It also led to heightened superpower tension. Following the war, both Israelis and Egyptians showed greater willingness to negotiate. On January 18, 1974, extensive diplomacy by US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, led to a Disengagement of Forces agreement with the Egyptian government and on May 31 with the Syrian government.
The war led the Saudi Government to initiate the 1973 oil crisis, an oil embargo in conjunction with OPEC, against countries trading with Israel. Severe shortages led to massive increases in the price of oil, and as a result, many countries broke off relations with Israel or downgraded relations and Israel was banned from participation in the Asian Games and other Asian sporting events.
In May 1974, Palestinians attacked a school in Ma'alot, holding 102 children hostage. Twenty-two children were killed. In November 1974 the PLO was granted observer status at the UN and Yasser Arafat addressed the General Assembly. Later that year the Agranat Commission, appointed to assess responsibility for Israel's lack of preparedness for the war, exonerated the government of responsibility and held the Chief of Staff and head of military intelligence responsible. Despite the report, public anger at the Government led to Golda Meir's resignation.
 Rabin I (1974–76)Following Meir's resignation, Yitzhak Rabin (Chief of Staff during the Six Day War) became prime minister.
Modern Orthodox Jews (Religious Zionist followers of the teachings of Rabbi Kook), formed the Gush Emunim movement and began an organized drive to settle the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In November 1975 the United Nations General Assembly, under the guidance of Austrian Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, adopted Resolution 3379 which asserted Zionism to be a form of racism. The General Assembly rescinded this resolution in December 1991 with Resolution 46/86.
In March 1976 there was a massive strike by Israeli-Arabs in protest at a government plan to expropriate land in the Gallillee.
In July 1976, an Air France plane carrying 260 people was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists and flown to Uganda, then ruled by Idi Amin Dada. There, the Germans separated the Jewish passengers from the Non-Jewish passengers, releasing the non-Jews. The hijackers threatened to kill the remaining, 100-odd Jewish passengers (and the French crew who had refused to leave). Despite the distances involved, Rabin ordered a daring rescue operation in which the kidnapped Jews were freed.
UN Secretary General Waldheim described the raid as "a serious violation of the national sovereignty of a United Nations member state" (meaning Uganda). Waldheim was a former Nazi and suspected war criminal, with a record of offending Jewish sensibilities.
In 1976, the ongoing Lebanese Civil War led Israel to allow South Lebanese to cross the border and work in Israel.
Rabin resigned in late 1976 after it emerged that his wife maintained a dollar account in the United States (illegal at the time), which had been opened while Rabin was Israeli ambassador. The incident became known as the Dollar Account affair.
 Peres I (1976–77)Shimon Peres replaced him as prime minister, leading the Alignment in the subsequent elections. In January 1977, French authorities arrested Abu Daoud, the planner of the Munich massacre, releasing him a few days later. In March 1977 Anatoly Sharansky, a prominent Refusenik and spokesman for the Moscow Helsinki Group, was sentenced to 13 years' hard labour.
 Begin (1977–82)In a surprise result, the Likud led by Menachem Begin won the 1977 elections. This was the first time in Israeli history that the government was not led by the left. A key reason for the victory was anger among Mizrahi Jews at discrimination, which was to play an important role in Israeli politics for many years. Talented small town Mizrahi social activists, unable to advance in the Labour party, were readily embraced by Begin. Moroccan-born David Levy and Iranian-born Moshe Katzav were part of a group who won Mizrahi support for Begin.
Many Labour voters voted for the Democratic Movement for Change in protest at high-profile corruption cases. The party joined in coalition with Begin and disappeared at the next election.
Ashkenazi divide, Begin's government included Ultra-Orthodox Jews and was instrumental in healing the Zionist – Ultra-Orthodox rift. Begin's liberalization of the economy led to hyper-inflation but enabled Israel to begin receiving US financial aid. Begin actively supported Gush Emunim's efforts to settle the West Bank and Jewish settlements began in the occupied territories received government support , thus laying the grounds for intense conflict with the Palestinian population of the occupied territories.
Begin had been tortured by the KGB as a young man and one of his first acts was to instruct the Israeli secret service to "use wisdom rather than violence" in interrogations.
In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke 30 years of hostility with Israel by visiting Jerusalem at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Sadat's two-day visit included a speech before the Knesset, and was a turning point in the history of the conflict. The Egyptian leader created a new psychological climate in the Middle East in which peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours seemed possible. Sadat recognized Israel's right to exist and established the basis for direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel.
Following Sadat's visit, 350 Yom Kippur War veterans organized the Peace Now movement to encourage Israeli governments to make peace with the Arabs.
In March 1978, eleven armed Lebanese-Palestinians reached Israel in boats and hijacked a bus carrying families on a day outing, killing 35 people, including 13 children. The attackers opposed the Egyptian-Israeli peace process. Three days later, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon beginning Operation Litani. After passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 425, calling for Israeli withdrawal and the creation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peace-keeping force, Israel withdrew its troops.
In September 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter invited President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to meet with him at Camp David, and on September 11 they agreed on a framework for peace between Israel and Egypt and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. It set out broad principles to guide negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. It also established guidelines for a West Bank-Gaza transitional regime of full autonomy for the Palestinians residing in these territories and for a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The treaty was signed on March 26, 1979, by Begin and Sadat, with President Carter signing as witness. Under the treaty, Israel returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt in April 1982. The final piece of territory to be repatriated was Taba, adjacent to Eilat, returned in 1989. The Arab League reacted to the peace treaty by suspending Egypt from the organisation and moving its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis.
|% of world's Jews||7%||20%||25%||30%||39%|
|GDP per capita 1995 NIS||10,100||16,800||27,800||36,000||42,400|
In December 1978 the Israeli Merkava battle tank entered use with the IDF. In 1979, over 40,000 Iranian Jews migrated to Israel, escaping the Islamic Revolution there.
On 30 June 1981, the Israeli air-force destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor that France was building for Iraq. Three weeks later, Begin won yet again, in the 1981 elections (48 seats Likud, 47 Labour). Ariel Sharon was made defense minister. The new government annexed the Golan Heights and banned El Al from flying on the Sabbath.
In the decades following the 1948 war, Israel's border with Lebanon was quiet compared to its borders with other neighbours. But the 1969 Cairo agreement gave the PLO a free hand to attack Israel from South Lebanon. The area was governed by the PLO independently of the Lebanese Government and became known as "Fatahland" (Fatah was the largest faction in the PLO). Palestinian irregulars constantly shelled the Israeli north, especially the town of Kiryat Shmona, which was a Likud stronghold inhabited primarily by Jews who had fled the Arab world. Lack of control over Palestinian areas was an important factor in causing civil war in Lebanon.
In June 1982, the attempted assassination of Shlomo Argov, the ambassador to Britain, was used as a pretext for an Israeli invasion aiming to drive the PLO out of the southern half of Lebanon. Sharon agreed with Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan to expand the invasion deep into Lebanon even though the cabinet had only authorized a 40 kilometer deep invasion. The invasion became known as the 1982 Lebanon War and the Israeli army occupied Beirut, the only time an Arab capital has been occupied by Israel. Some of the Shia and Christian population of South Lebanon welcomed the Israelis, as PLO forces had maltreated them, but Lebanese resentment of Israeli occupation grew over time and the Shia became gradually radicalized under Iranian guidance. Constant casualties among Israeli soldiers and Lebanese civilians led to growing opposition to the war in Israel.
In August 1982, the PLO withdrew its forces from Lebanon (moving to Tunisia). Israel helped engineer the election of a new Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayel, who agreed to recognize Israel and sign a peace treaty. Gemayal was assassinated before an agreement could be signed, and one day later Phalangist Christian forces led by Elie Hobeika entered two Palestinian refugee camps and massacred the occupants. The massacres led to the biggest demonstration ever in Israel against the war, with as many as 400,000 people (almost 10% of the population) gathering in Tel Aviv. In 1983, an Israeli public inquiry found that Israel's defense minister, Sharon, was indirectly but personally responsible for the massacres. It also recommended that he never again be allowed to hold the post (it did not forbid him from being Prime Minister).
 Shamir (1983–91)In September 1983, Begin resigned and was succeeded by Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister. The 1984 election was inconclusive and led to a power sharing agreement between Shimon Peres of the Alignment (44 seats) and Shamir of Likud (41 seats). Peres was prime minister from 1984 to 1986 and Shamir from 1986 to 1988. In 1984, continual discrimination against Sephardi ultra-orthodox Jews by the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox establishment led political activist Aryeh Deri to leave the Agudat Israel party and join former chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in forming Shas, a new party aimed at the non-Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox vote. The party won 4 seats in the first election it contested and over the next twenty years was the third largest party in the Knesset. Shas established a nationwide network of free Sephardi orthodox schools. In 1984, during a severe famine in Ethiopia, 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were secretly transported to Israel. In 1986 Natan Sharansky, a famous Russian human rights activist and Zionist refusenik (denied an exit visa) was released from the Gulag in return for two Soviet spies.
In June 1985, Israel withdrew most of its troops from Lebanon, leaving a residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported militia in southern Lebanon as a "security zone" and buffer against attacks on its northern territory. By July 1985 Israel's inflation, buttressed by complex index linking of salaries, had reached 480% per annum and was the highest in the world. Peres introduced emergency control of prices and cut government expenditure successfully bringing inflation under control. The currency (known as the Israeli lira until 1980) was replaced and renamed the Israeli new shekel. In August 1987, the Israeli government cancelled the IAI Lavi project, an attempt to develop an independent Israeli fighter aircraft. The Israelis found themselves unable to sustain the huge development costs and faced US opposition to a project that threatened US influence in Israel and US global military ascendancy. In September 1988, Israel launched an Ofeq reconsaissance satellite into orbit, using a Shavit rocket, thus becoming one of only eight countries possessing a capacity to independently launch satellites into space (two more have since developed this ability).
Growing Israeli settlement and continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, led to the first Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in 1987 which lasted until the Madrid Conference of 1991, despite Israeli attempts to suppress it. Human rights abuses by Israeli troops led a group of Israelis to form B'Tselem, an organization devoted to improving awareness and compliance with human rights requirements in Israel.
The Alignment and Likud remained neck and neck in the 1988 elections (39:40 seats). Shamir successfully formed a national unity coalition with the Labour Alignment.
In March 1990, Alignment leader Shimon Peres engineered a defeat of the government in a non-confidence vote and then tried to form a new government. He failed and Shamir became Prime-Minister at the head of a right-wing coalition. In 1990, the Soviet Union finally permitted free emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel. Prior to this, Jews trying to leave the USSR faced persecution; those who succeeded arrived as refugees. Over the next few years some one million Soviet citizens migrated to Israel, and there was concern that some of the new immigrants had only a very tenuous connection to Judaism and many were accompanied by non-Jewish relatives.
In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, triggering the Gulf War between Iraq and a large allied force, led by the United States. Iraq attacked Israel with 39 Scud missiles. Israel did not retaliate. Israel provided gas masks for both the Palestinian population and Israeli citizens. In May 1991, during a 36 hour period, 15,000 Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) were secretly airlifted to Israel. The coalition's victory in the Gulf War opened new possibilities for regional peace, and in October 1991 the U.S. President, George H.W. Bush and Soviet Union Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, jointly convened a historic meeting in Madrid of Israeli, Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, and Palestinian leaders. Shamir opposed the idea but agreed in return for loan guarantees to help with absorption of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. His participation in the conference led to the collapse of his (right-wing) coalition.
 Rabin II (1992–95)1992 elections, the Labour Party, led by Yitzhak Rabin, won a significant victory (44 seats) promising to pursue peace while promoting Rabin as a "tough general" and pledging not to deal with the PLO in any way. The pro-peace Zionist party Meretz won 12 seats and the Arab and communist parties a further 5 meaning that parties supporting a peace treaty had a full (albeit small) majority in the Knesset.
On September 13, 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords (a Declaration of Principles) on the South Lawn of the White House. The principles established objectives relating to a transfer of authority from Israel to an interim Palestinian authority, as a prelude to a final treaty establishing a Palestinian state. The DOP established May 1999 as the date by which a permanent status agreement for the West Bank and Gaza Strip would take effect. In February 1994, a follower of the Kach movement killed 25 Palestinian-Arabs at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (Cave of the Patriarchs massacre). Kach had been barred from participation in the 1992 elections (on the grounds that the movement was racist). It was subsequently made illegal. Israel and the PLO signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in May 1994, and the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities in August, which began the process of transferring authority from Israel to the Palestinians. On July 18, 1994, a Jewish day centre in Argentina was blown up, killing 85 people. Argentine investigators concluded the attack was by Lebanese Hezbollah with Iranian assistance.
On July 25, 1994 Jordan and Israel signed the Washington Declaration which formally ended the state of war that had existed between them since 1948 and on October 26 the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace, witnessed by US President Bill Clinton.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on September 28, 1995, in Washington. The agreement was witnessed by President Bill Clinton on behalf of the United States and by Russia, Egypt, Norway and the European Union and incorporates and supersedes the previous agreements, marking the conclusion of the first stage of negotiations between Israel and the PLO. The agreement allowed the PLO leadership to relocate to the occupied territories and granted autonomy to the Palestinians with talks to follow regarding final status. In return the Palestinians promised to abstain from use of terror and changed the Palestinian National Covenant which had called for the expulsion of all Jews who migrated after 1917 and the elimination of Israel.
The agreement was opposed by Hamas and other Palestinian factions which launched suicide bomber attacks at Israel. Rabin had a barrier constructed around Gaza to prevent attacks. The growing separation between Israel and the "Palestinian Territories" led to a labour shortage in Israel, mainly in the construction industry. Israeli firms began importing labourers from the Philippines, Thailand, China and Romania; some of these labourers stayed on without visas. In addition, a growing number of Africans began illegally migrating to Israel. Tensions in Israel arising from the continuation of terrorism led to the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a right-wing Jewish radical on November 4, 1995.
 Direct elections 1996–2005In 1992 the Israeli electoral system was changed to allow for direct election of the prime minister. It was hoped this would reduce the power of small parties to extract concessions in return for coalition agreements. The new system had the opposite effect; voters could split their vote for prime-minister from their (interest based) party vote and as a result larger parties won fewer votes and smaller parties becoming more attractive to voters. It thus increased the power of the smaller parties. By the 2006 election the system was abandoned.
 Netanyahu I (1996–99)In February 1996 Rabin's successor, Shimon Peres, called early elections. The May 1996 elections were the first featuring direct election of the prime minister and resulted in a narrow election victory for Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. A spate of suicide bombings reinforced the Likud position for security. Hamas claimed responsibility for most of the bombings. Despite his stated differences with the Oslo Accords, Prime Minister Netanyahu continued their implementation, but his Prime Ministership saw a marked slow-down in the Peace Process. Netanyahu also pledged to gradually reduce US aid to Israel.
In January 1997 Netanyahu signed the Hebron Protocol with the Palestinian Authority, resulting in the redeployment of Israeli forces in Hebron and the turnover of civilian authority in much of the area to the Palestinian Authority.
 Barak (1999–2001)In the election of July 1999, Ehud Barak of the Labour Party became Prime Minister. His party was the largest in the Knesset with 26 seats. On March 21, 2000 Pope John Paul II arrived in Israel for a historic visit. In 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew its remaining forces from the "security zone" in southern Lebanon. Several thousand members of the South Lebanon Army (and their families) left with the Israelis. The UN Secretary-General concluded that, as of June 16, 2000, Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425. Lebanon claims that Israel continues to occupy Lebanese territory called "Sheba'a Farms" (however this area was governed by Syria until 1967 when Israel took control). The Sheba'a Farms provide Hezbollah with a ruse to maintain warfare with Israel. The Lebanese government did not assert sovereignty in the area (in contravention of the UN resolution) which came under the control of Hezbollah.
On September 28, 2000, Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, the following day the Palestinians launched the al-Aqsa Intifada. Both Palestinian and Israeli sources allege the uprising was planned much earlier.
In October 2000, Palestinians destroyed Joseph's Tomb, a Jewish shrine in Nablus. The Arrow missile, a missile designed to destroy ballistic missiles, including Scud missiles, was first deployed by Israel. In 2001, with the Peace Process increasingly in disarray, Ehud Barak called a special election for Prime Minister. Barak hoped a victory would give him renewed authority in negotiations with the Palestinians. Instead opposition leader Ariel Sharon was elected PM. After this election, the system of directly electing the Premier was abandoned.
 Sharon (2001–06)attacks by Hezbollah from Lebanon led much of the Israeli public and political leadership to lose confidence in the Palestinian Authority as a peace partner. Most felt that many Palestinians viewed the peace treaty with Israel as a temporary measure only. Many Israelis were thus anxious to disengage from the Palestinians.
In response to a wave of suicide bomb attacks, culminating in the "Passover massacre" (see List of Israeli civilian casualties in the Second Intifada), Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, and Sharon began construction of a barrier around the West Bank. In January 2003 separate elections were held for the Knesset. Likud won the most seats (27). An anti-religion party, Shinui, won 15 seats on a secularist platform, making it the third largest party (ahead of orthodox Shas). Internal fighting led to Shinui's demise at the next election. In December 2003, Ariel Sharon announced he would consider a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the occupied territories. This crystallized as a plan for total withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
In 2004, the Black Hebrews were granted permanent residency in Israel. The group had begun migrating to Israel 25 years earlier from the United States, but had not been recognized as Jews by the state and hence not granted citizenship under Israel's Law of Return. They had settled in Israel without official status. From 2004 onwards, they received citizen's rights. In 2005, all Jewish settlers were evacuated from Gaza (some forcibly) and their homes demolished. Disengagement from the Gaza Strip was completed on September 12, 2005. Military disengagement from the northern West Bank was completed ten days later. Following the withdrawal, the Israeli town of Sderot and other Israeli communities near the frontier became subject to constant shelling and mortar bomb attacks from Gaza. In 2005 Sharon left the Likud and formed a new party called Kadima, which accepted that the peace process would lead to creation of a Palestinian state. He was joined by many leading figures from both Likud and Labour. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was interpreted by the Palestinians as a Hamas victory and the January Palestinian legislative election, 2006 was won by Hamas, which rejected all agreements signed with Israel, refused to recognize Israel's right to exist, and claimed the Holocaust was a Jewish conspiracy. On April 14, 2006, Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a severe hemorrhagic stroke, and Ehud Olmert became Acting Prime Minister.
 Olmert (2006–08)Ehud Olmert was elected Prime Minister after his party, Kadima, won the most seats (29) in the Israeli legislative election, 2006.
In 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was officially elected president of Iran; since then, Iranian policy towards Israel has grown more confrontational. Israeli analysts believe Ahmadinejad has worked to undermine the peace process with arms supplies and aid to Hezbullah in South Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and is developing nuclear weapons, possibly for use against Israel. Iranian support for Hizbullah and its nuclear arms program are in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1747. Iran also encourages Holocaust denial. Following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizbullah had mounted periodic attacks on Israel which did not lead to Israeli retaliation. Similarly, the withdrawal from Gaza led to incessant shelling of towns around the Gaza area with only minimal Israeli response. The failure to react led to criticism from the Israeli right and undermined the government.
On June 25, 2006, a Hamas force crossed the border from Gaza and attacked a tank, capturing wounded Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. On July 12, Hezbollah attacked Israel from Lebanon, shelled Israeli towns and attacked a border patrol, taking two dead or badly wounded Israeli soldiers. These incidents led Israel to initiate the Second Lebanon War, which lasted through August 2006. The Israeli army proved unable to prevent Hizbullah from shelling the north of Israel, and the military failure led to a public inquiry.
In 2007 education was made compulsory until the age of 18 for all citizens (it had been 16). Refugees from the genocide in Darfur, mostly Moslem, arrived in Israel illegally, with some given Asylum. Illegal immigrants arrived mainly from Africa in addition to foreign workers overstaying their visas. The numbers of such migrants are not known and estimates vary between 30,000 and over 100,000.
Olmert also came under investigation for corruption and this ultimately led him to announce, on July 30, 2008, that he would be stepping down as Prime Minister following election of a new leader of the Kadimah party in September 2008. Tzippi Livni won the election, but was unable to form a coalition and he remained in office until the general election.
three-week campaign in Gaza, leading to widespread international protests.