Israel’s history is a story of hope and a miraculous success against adversity. The Jewish People have swum against the tide of history by keeping their language, culture and national identity through its extremely difficult Diaspora. What makes Israel even more remarkable is the fact that its people have returned to its land and sovereignty after two thousand years of exile. This is unprecedented in the history of man and has confounded historians.
Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel began with the conquest by the Israelites led by Joshua in the year 1250BCE. The period from 1000-587 BCE is known as the "Period of the Kings". The most noteworthy kings were King David who made Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, and his son Solomon, who built the first Temple in Jerusalem. In 587 BCE, Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar's army captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon (modern day Iraq). Only decades later, the Jews returned to their ancestral land and reconstituted their sovereignty and the Temple.
In 70AD the most calamitous event in Jewish history happened when the Romans sacked and destroyed the Temple and sent many Jews into the long exile. Some Jews did remain and continued the unbreakable presence in the Land of Israel.
Over the centuries no power or nation could break the persistent attachment of the Jews to their land. Three times a day in prayer, whenever sitting down to eat and at every event in the human life-cycle the Jews remembered their home and longed to return. In many communities the elderly would leave to go to Israel and see out their remaining years in Israel, even if it meant being away from their family and loved ones.
The modern era brought emancipation and equality for the Jews yet still they remembered their bonds with Israel. Many Jews dreamed and proposed the return of their people to Israel, but it was not until the latter part of the 20th century when Theodore Herzl postulated a modern form of Zionism that a return appeared likely.
Over the next few decades Jews returned to Israel in their tens of thousands, keen to build up the land anew. The Balfour Declaration and its ratification by the League of Nations (the predecessor to the United Nations) meant that the international community recognized the Jewish attachment to Israel and sought a Jewish homeland.
After the Holocaust the world understood in even greater terms the need for Jews to have a refuge and a homeland. In 1947, the United Nations created a Jewish State in the partition plan. On May 14, 1948, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. Even though Israel extended a hand of peace to the Arabs in Palestine and in the surrounding nations, the new state was immediately attacked with the hope of extinguishing the Jewish presence once again from Israel.
Israel won against the odds and became a member of the family of nations. In 1956 and 1967, Israel once again had to fight for its existence and in the latter war actually extended its territory many fold. The Jewish State was interested in nation-building but its neighbors sought its destruction again in 1973 with the Yom Kippur War. A few years after in 1979, Israel agreed to return the Sinai to Egypt for peace, that it captured in the Six Day War of 1967.
Even before it was created, Israel bore the brunt of terrorism by hostile elements amongst the Arab world. Before the world knew or understood what international terrorism was, Israelis or Jews were being targeted in the four corners of the world.
However, Israeli leaders always kept their hand outstretched in the desperate search for peace and accommodation with the Palestinian and Arab world. The Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 saw Israel and its Arab neighbors sit together at a conference designed to achieve peace in the region. This was followed in 1993 with the signing of what became known as the ‘Oslo Accords’ where Israel agreed to recognize the Palestinian national movement and seek to create a state for the Palestinians. This culminated with an offer of a Palestinian State in 2000 on almost all land conquered in 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital.
This offer was rejected by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat who in turn started a war against Israel to exert even greater concessions out of Israel. Israelis realized that negotiations were not going to bring peace so they turned to a policy of management of the violence and decreasing the friction between them and the Palestinians. This led to the building of a barrier until the violence abates and disengaging from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
Israel has achieved remarkable accomplishments that have dumfounded many and raised the ire of others. The Jewish People knew few times of succor and normalcy during its periods of exile, nevertheless they craved a return to their land where they would once again be sovereign. As one political commentator succinctly put it, “Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago.”
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