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Brief History of Israel


Overview of Israel’s History                                 Lilo Isenburg, 4.July 2006

The people who received the Promised Land

Israel’s history covers an enormous time span of about four millennia. That is more than three-quarters of the entire history of civilization. The people of Israel trace their origin to Abraham, his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. 

Hebron is there to prove it. It lies 20 miles south of Jerusalem, 3,000 feet up in the Judean hills. There, in the Cave of Machpelah, you find the tombs of the Patriarchs. According to ancient tradition, one sepulcher contains the mortal remains of Abraham. Paired with his tomb is that of his wife Sarah. Within the building are the twin tombs of his son Isaac and his wife Rebecca. Across the inner courtyard is another pair of tombs, of Abraham’s grandson Jacob and his wife Leah. Just outside the building is the tomb of their son Joseph. Herod the Great enclosed it with a majestic wall, which still stands, soaring nearly 40 feet high, composed of massive hewn stones, some of the 23 feet long.
The people of modern day Israel share the same language and culture shaped by the Jewish heritage and religion passed through generations starting with the founding father Abraham (ca. 1800 BCE). Thus, Jews have had continuous presence in the land of Israel for about 4000 years.

The Name Israel

The name Israel derives from the name given to Jacob (Genesis 32:25-30). The term ”Israel” means he who fights God or whom God rules. Jacob’s 12 sons were the kernels of 12 tribes: Reuben, Simeon (Levi), Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim and Manasseh. The name Jew derives from Yehuda (Judah) one of the 12 sons of Jacob. So, the names Israel, Israeli or Jewish refer to people of the same origin.

The Nation of Israel
The descendants of Abraham crystallized into a nation at about 1300 BCE after their Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses (Moshe in Hebrew). Soon after the Exodus, Moses transmitted to the people of this new emerging nation, the Torah, and the Ten Commandments. After 40 years in the Sinai desert, Joshua led them to the Land of Israel, that is cited in the Bible as the Land promised by G-d to the descendants of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The rule of Israelites in the land of Israel starts with the conquests of Joshua (ca. 1250 BCE). Joshua began and to a great extent completed the conquest of Canaan. The first place to fall, after the crossing of Jordan, was Jericho, one of the most ancient cities in the world.

The Kings of Israel
The period from 1000-587 BCE is known as the "Period of the Kings". The most noteworthy monarchs were King David (1010-970 BCE) who was anointed as king in Hebron, first of Judah (II Samuel 2:1-4), then all of Israel (II Samuel 5:1-3). King David made Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, and his son Solomon (Shlomo, 970-931 BCE) built the first Temple in Jerusalem as it is recorded in the Tanach.     

Exile and foreign rulers

In 587 BCE, Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar's army captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon (modern day Iraq). 

This marks a turning point in the history of the region. From this year onwards, the region was ruled or controlled by a succession of superpower empires of the time in the following order: Babylonian, Persian, Greek Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Empires, Islamic and Christian crusaders, Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire.
587 BCE Babylonian Empire
 (modern Iraq)
Destruction of the first Temple. First Exile.
Deportation of the Jews Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Chronicles 36.
538-333 BCE Persian Empire 
A series of historical empires that ruled over the country now known as Iran.
Return of the exiled Jews from Babylon and construction of the     
Second Temple (520-515 BCE). 
 Ezra 5-6
63 BCE- 313 CE Roman Empire
Established by Augustus in 27 BC and divided in AD 395 into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern or Byzantine Empire; at its peak lands in Europe and Africa and Asia were ruled by ancient Rome    The Roman army led by Titus conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the second Temple in 70 CE. The Jews were exiled to the Diaspora. In 132, Bar Kochba organized a revolt against Roman rule, but was killed in a battle in Betar in the Judean Hills. Subsequently Romans decimated the Jewish community and re-named the geographical area of Judea as Palestinia (after the Philistines).
313-63 Byzantine Empire
Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantine included parts of southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa.    Many Christian churches were built in Israel.

Jew were forbidden to enter Jerusalem except on one day of the year (Tisha b’Av-9th of Av) to mourn the destruction of the Temple.
636 – 1099 Muslim Conquests
Muslim militant conquests started 4 years after Muhammad’s death (632). Muslim armies conquered Arabia, Syria, Egypt, the Persian Empire, the coast of North Africa, and Spain in the seventh and eighth centuries.     Muslims conquered Israel in the year 638.
Jews were allowed to stay in Jerusalem under Islamic rule and required to pay special poll and heavy land taxes.

Many Arab/Muslims today espouse the doctrine that any land conquered by Islam must forever remain Muslim.
1099 – 1291 Crusader Wars
The Crusades were military campaigns - sanctioned by the Papacy - to recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. 
Crusaders recaptured Jerusalem and massacred most of the city’s non-Christian inhabitants. Barricaded in their synagogues, the Jews defended their quarter, only to be burnt to death or sold into slavery.

1291-1516 Mamluk Conquests
Mamluks, slave soldiers who converted to Islam, served  Muslim caliphs during the Middle Ages. They became a powerful military caste, and seized power for themselves.     They ruled over Israel from Damascus.

Acre, Jaffa, and other ports were destroyed for fear of new crusades. By the end of the Middle Ages, the country’s towns were virtually in ruins.
1516-1918 Ottoman Empire
= Turkish Empire    During the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) the walls of the old city of Jerusalem were rebuilt. The population of the Jewish community in Jerusalem increased and some Jews became motivated to move back to Israel.


Brief History of Israel 


After the exile by the Romans, the Jewish people migrated to Europe and North Africa. In the Diaspora (scattered outside of the Land of Israel), they established rich cultural and economic lives, and contributed greatly to the societies where they lived. Yet, they continued their national attachments and prayed to return to Israel through centuries. 

In the first half of the 20th century there were major waves of immigration of Jews back to Israel from Arab countries and from Europe. Inspired by Zionist ideology, they resolved to restore their homeland by tilling the soil and reclaiming barren fields. The new arrivals faced extremely harsh conditions, the Ottoman administration was hostile, the soil was neglected and swamps bred deadly malaria. 140 years ago, Mark Twain described these deserts and swamps as "an inhospitable wilderness" in his book “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.

In December1917, British forces under the command of General Allenby entered Jerusalem, ending 400 years of ottoman rule. The jewish Legin, with three battalions comprising thousands of Jewish volunteers, was an integral unit of the British army.

1917-1948 British Empire
The British Empire, the most extensive empire in world history, ruled approximately one-quarter of the world's population.     Great Britain recognized the rights of the Jewish people to establish a “national home in Palestine.” Yet they greatly curtailed entry of Jewish refugees into Israel even after World War II. They also changed their mind and split the Palestine Mandate: Jordan became the Arab state with 80% of the land, Israel, the Jewish state received only 20%.

During World War II (1939-45), the Nazi regime in Germany deliberately carried out a systematic plan to liquidate the Jewish community of Europe, decimating about 6 million Jews. As the Nazi armies swept through Europe, Jews were savagely persecuted, subjected to torture and humiliation, and herded into ghettos. From there some were transported into labor camps, but most were either shot or killed in gas chambers. Two thirds of Europe’s Jews died during the great tragedy of the holocaust.
  Establishment of sovereignty

In 1948, the Jewish community in Israel under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion reestablished sovereignty over their ancient homeland. The Declaration if Independence of the modern State of Israel was announced on the day that the last British forces left Israel (May 14, 1948).

Arab-Israeli wars
Only one day after the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, armies of five Arab countries, Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq, invaded Israel. This marked the beginning of the War of Independence. Arab states have since then waged four full scale wars against Israel:

1948 War of Independence 
1956 Sinai War 
1967 Six Day War 
1973 Yom Kippur War 
Despite the numerical superiority of the Arab armies, Israel defended itself each time and won. After each war Israeli army withdrew from most of the areas it captured. This is unprecedented in World history and shows Israel's willingness to reach peace even at the risk of fighting for its very existence each time anew.

Note that with Judea and Samaria Israel is only 40 miles wide. Thus, Israel can be crossed from the Mediterranean coast to the Eastern border at Jordan River within one hour of driving.

Ingathering of the Israelites
Dr. Semion Natliashvili depicted the modern ingathering of the Jewish People after 2,000 years of Diaspora in his painting. 
The center image of the picture shows young and old men in prayer shawls reading from a Torah scroll. Below is written “Shema Yisrael Adonay Eloheynu Adonay Echad” (Hear, Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One).
The Star of David symbolizes the gathering of the Jewish People from all corners of the world joining together in dance and celebration. Other images inside the star symbolize the major threats Jewish People faced in Exile starting from the Exodus from Egypt, followed by Romans, Arabs and culminating in the gas-chambers of the Holocaust in Europe.

Quote from Charles Krauthammer - The Weekly Standard, May 11, 1998 "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. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store."
Reference List
A History of Israel – Ahron Bergman
A brief History of Israel – Bernard Reich
The history of Israel – Arnold Blumberg
A History of the Jewish People Haym Ben-Sasson
Travels through Jewish History – Rabbi Berel Wein