A Brief History
This article presents a timeline of Israel’s history!
In the 17th Century BC, Israelites settled in what is now modern Israel. On an unknown date, Israelites traveled to Egypt to escape famine.
In the 12th Century BC, Israelites left Egypt in Exodus, resumed living in Israel, according to religious texts, but supporting historical records remain elusive regarding the “Exodus.”
in 1020 BC, Saul established the Kingdom of Israel.
On December 29, Catholics and Lutherans celebrate the feast day of David, that guy from the Bible who first made the news by slaying the giant Goliath. Listed as 6 cubits tall (9 feet in today’s cubits, 6 feet according to some scholars), Goliath was the super bad dude of his day, the mightiest warrior of the Philistines, Israel’s go-to enemy in the days before the whole Arab-Israeli mess.
In 1000 BC, David established Jerusalem as Capital of Israel, Solomon built the First Temple, and then Israel was divided into Judah and Israel.
In 720 BC, Assyrians defeated Israelites and the 10 Tribes were scattered.
In 586 BC, Babylonians conquered Israel and destroyed the First Temple along with much of Jerusalem. Remaining Israelites were mostly exiled from Israel.
From 538-142 BC, Persians and then the Greeks under Alexander the Great conquered Israel, with many Jews returning to the homeland.
From 160-166 BC, a Jewish revolt restored Jewish independence for Israel, albeit under the Hasmonean Monarchy, a Jewish dynasty in turn under the umbrella of the Seleucid Dynasty, the remnants and successors of the Macedonians under Alexander.
In 63 BC, Israel was conquered by the Romans and maintained a semi-antonymous monarchy within the Roman Empire under King Herod, with a rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem. Roman rule lasted until 313 AD.
From 66-73 AD, a Jewish revolt against Romans resulted in the Temple (this time, The Second Temple) being destroyed again, with the famous Last Stand of the Jews at Masada in 73.
From 313-636, the era of Byzantine Rule of Israel was relatively peaceful compared to other eras.
From 636-1099, Arabic Muslims invaded and conquered Israel, with the Dome of the Rock being built on the site of the Temple in 691.
From 1099-1291, during the era of the Crusades, Jerusalem was in the hands of Christians for part of the period.
From 1291-1516, Mamluk Muslims ruled over Israel. The Mamluks were a “knightly class” of Islamic and other soldiers from Turkey, Egypt, the Balkans and other lands ruling under a Sultanate. The name is also often listed as “Mameluke.”
From 1517-1917, the Ottomans ruled under the Ottoman Empire headquartered in Istanbul, Turkey (formerly known as Byzantium and then Constantinople). When the Ottoman Empire was on the losing side of World War I and was disbanded, leaving the new country of Turkey, the British took over Israel and called the land Palestine.
From 1918-1948, during the era of British Rule, including a “Mandate” from the League of Nations in 1920 for Britain to rule Palestine, Jews begin migrating to Israel, although the British attempted to limit immigration in 1939, unfortunately on the brink of World War II and the Holocaust (1939-1945) in which the German Nazi state attempted to murder as many of Europe’s Jews as possible. After World War II, the Jewish demand for their own state of Israel was finally achieved through diplomacy and armed struggle.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz, Israel, to be known as the State of Israel, a state independent upon the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine on May 15, 1948. Not long afterwards, 5 Arab nations unsuccessfully attacked Israel in an attempt to eliminate the Jewish state.
In 1949, Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan. Massive immigration to Israel by Jews from European and Arab countries began.
In 1956, fighting broke out in what Israel calls the “Sinai War,” also known as Second Arab–Israeli War, The Suez Crisis, or even the Tripartite Aggression by Arabs, so called because of the invasion of Egyptian territory by Israel aided by France and Britain. The attempt to seize the East Bank of the Suez Canal failed, with humiliation for Britain and France, and a political strengthening of the Egyptian regime.
On May 31, 1962, the nation of Israel hanged Nazi Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann, one of history’s most evil people, for war crimes. Eichmann had been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and living the good life as a Mercedes-Benz supervisor until he was kidnapped by Israeli secret agents.
On June 5, 1967, Israel made a preemptive attack on its Arab neighbor Egypt, which had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in violation of the agreement that ended the 1956 Suez Crisis. Israel feared the actions of Egypt were preliminary to a war against Israel, so Israel started the attack with air strikes against Egyptian air bases, triggering a wider war that included Syria and Jordan. By June 10, 1967, the war was over, with Israel the decisive victor. Israel suffered less than 1000 killed, while the Arab countries lost between 15,000 and 18,000 killed. Israel occupied the West Bank, the Sinai, and all of Jerusalem as well as the Golan Heights overlooking Syria. The 6 Day War also resulted in increased immigration of Jews to Israel and emigration of Arabs out of the country, giving Israel a Jewish majority by around the late 1970’s.
On July 21, 1973, Israeli agents of the Mossad killed a waiter in Lillehammer, Norway, while seeking revenge for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes. Operation Wrath of God saw Mossad agents assassinate those terrorists identified as responsible for the terror at Munich, only this particular assassination went wrong. The hapless victim was innocent and had nothing to do with the terrorist event, and the murder was just another blunder by a country attempting to conduct spy games. An unknown number of suspected terrorists were targeted over a 20 year span (allegedly) in which the assassinations took place. An estimated 20 to 35 terrorists were targeted.
On October 6, 1973, Israel was attacked by the combined armed forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, with the assistance of Cuba. This time the war lasted until October 25, 1973, and by that time Israel had taken a decidedly victorious turn of the war. As with the 1967 6 Day War, the United States and the Soviet Union brokered a peace to avoid a spreading of the conflict into a world war. Between 2500 and 2800 Israelis were killed, and as many as 18,000 Arabs were killed in the war. The aftermath of the war resulted in the flow of oil to the US and Western nations that supported Israel to be cut off and used as a weapon to influence diplomacy, creating the first “Arab Oil Embargo” and forever changing the politics of oil production and distribution.
In 1991, the break up of the Soviet Union allowed many Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel.
On July 29, 1993, Ukrainian-American retired auto worker, John Demjanjuk, accused of being a concentration camp guard during World War II, was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of Israel and was a free man. Or was he?
On November 8, 1995, the United States passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, a law recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The US did not move its actual embassy to Jerusalem until 2018 amid vehement protests by Arab countries.
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Much of the information about the early timeline of Israel is taken from information provided by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For more information, please see…
Gilbert, Martin. Israel: A History. Harper Perennial, 2008.
Sachar, Howard M. A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Rudi Weissenstein (–1992) of David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Israel) publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14 1948, Tel Aviv, Israel, beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern political Zionism, in the old Tel Aviv Museum of Art building on Rothshild St., is now in the public domain because its term of copyright has expired in Israel (details). According to Israel’s copyright statute from 2007 (translation), a work is released to the public domain on 1 January of the 71st year after the author’s death (paragraph 38 of the 2007 statute) with the following exceptions:
- A photograph taken on 24 May 2008 or earlier — the old British Mandate act applies, i.e. on 1 January of the 51st year after the creation of the photograph (paragraph 78(i) of the 2007 statute, and paragraph 21 of the old British Mandate act).
- If the copyrights are owned by the State, not acquired from a private person, and there is no special agreement between the State and the author — on 1 January of the 51st year after the creation of the work (paragraphs 36 and 42 in the 2007 statute).
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