A Brief History
This article presents a timeline of Israel’s history!
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. (Note: Much of the information about the early timeline of Israel is taken from information provided by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.)
17th Century BC, Israelites settle in what is now modern Israel. Unknown date Israelites travel to Egypt to escape famine.
12th Century BC, Israelites leave Egypt in Exodus, resume living in Israel, according to religious texts, but supporting historical records remain elusive regarding the “Exodus.”
1020 BC, Saul establishes Kingdom of Israel.
1000 BC, David establishes Jerusalem as Capital of Israel, Solomon builds First Temple, then Israel is divided into Judah and Israel.
720 BC, Assyrians defeat Israelites, the 10 Tribes are scattered.
586 BC, Babylonians conquer Israel and destroy the First Temple along with much of Jerusalem. Remaining Israelites are mostly exiled from Israel.
538-142 BC, Persians and then the Greeks under Alexander the Great conquer Israel, with many Jews returning to the homeland.
160-166 BC, Jewish revolt restores 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.
63 BC, Israel is conquered by the Romans and maintain a semi-antonymous monarchy within the Roman Empire under King Herod, with a rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem. Roman rule lasts until 313 AD.
66-73 AD, Jewish revolt against Romans results in the Temple (this time, The Second Temple) being destroyed again, with the famous Last Stand of the Jews at Masada in 73.
313-636, the era of Byzantine Rule of Israel, relatively peaceful compared to other eras.
636-1099, Arabic Muslim invasion and conquering of Israel, the Dome of the Rock built on the site of the Temple in 691.
1099-1291, the era of the Crusades, with Jerusalem in the hands of Christians for most of the period.
1291-1516, Mamluk Islamic era of rule over Israel. Mamluks are 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.”
1517-1917, the era of Ottoman Rule under the Ottoman Empire headquartered in Istanbul, Turkey (formerly known as Byzantium and then Constantinople). When the Ottoman Empire is on the losing side of World War I and is disbanded, leaving the new country of Turkey, the British take over Israel and call the land Palestine.
1918-1948, 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, though the British attempt to limit immigration in 1939, unfortunately on the brink of World War II and the Holocaust (1939-1945) in which the German Nazi state attempts to murder as many of Europe’s Jews as possible. After World War II the Jewish demand for their own state of Israel is 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, May 15, 1948. Not long afterwards, 5 Arab nations unsuccessfully attack Israel in an attempt to eliminate the Jewish state.
1949, Jerusalem is divided between Israel and Jordan. Massive immigration to Israel by Jews from European and Arab countries begins.
1956, fighting breaks 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.
1991, the break up of the Soviet Union allows 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?
November 8, 1995, the United States passes the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, a law recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The US does not move its actual embassy to Jerusalem until 2018 amid vehement protests by Arab countries.
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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.