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Ancient History | Modern History
The life of the modern State of Israel has been fraught with conflict and difficulty. It emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust, into the sights of a different set of genocidal enemies.
- Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate for Palestine
- UN Vote and Independence
- 1948 Arab-Israeli War
- 1956 Suez Crisis
- 1967 Six Day War
- 1973 Yom Kippur War
In 1917, British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour issued a declaration to Baron Rothschild, in which he stated that Britain intended to create a Jewish national home within the Palestinian Mandate.
Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War 1, the territory in the Levant which it had controlled was divided between Britain and France. Britain was given control over Palestine and trans-Jordan, all of which was originally mandated as part of the Jewish state.
In 1922, the League of Nations officially granted Britain the mandate for Palestine, under which it was to facilitate the setting up of the Jewish state, while ensuring the whole population was treated fairly and properly, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
However, in response to a series of violent riots by the Arab population, British support for the Jews in Palestine was gradually eroded; in 1922 trans-Jordan was ceded to the Arabs and a limit was placed on Jewish immigration; in 1930, the Passfield White Paper introduced restrictions on Jewish land purchases, further limited Jewish immigration, and in effect reversed the decision to create a Jewish state; and the White Paper of 1939 did away with the Jewish state altogether, instead advocating for the establishment of a Jewish national home in an independent Palestine ruled by the Arab majority, while severely restricting Jewish immigration during the time of their greatest need.
By the end of World War 2, British oppression of Jews in Palestine had created a three-way conflict in the region, which it had little chance of resolving. Jewish and Arab terrorists waged campaigns of brutal violence against one another, and both fought against the British simultaneously, with British troops inflicting reprisals predominantly on the Jewish population. The largest Jewish resistance group, the Haganah, rejected terrorism, but still engaged in the armed struggle against both parties.
In 1947, the rapidly deteriorating situation led the British government to announce it would withdraw from Palestine, handing the problem over to the newly formed United Nations. On November 29, the General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the partition of the land into an independent Jewish state, an independent Arab state, and Jerusalem to be placed under international trusteeship.
The Jewish Agency, representing the Jews of Palestine, accepted the plan, while the Arab League and Arab High Committee of Palestine rejected it, indicating they would reject any partition plan.
On the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, declared the establishment of the State of Israel. Eleven minutes after midnight, the United States de facto recognized it, with full recognition following the first Israeli election in January 1949. Iran and several other nations also recognized the country from the beginning, but the first full recognition came from the Soviet Union on May 17, 1948.
On May 18, 1948, the day after Israel declared independence, the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, along with contingents from Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, closed in on the nascent state and began a military campaign against it. The stated aim of the invasion was to “restore law and order and to prevent further bloodshed”; however, behind the scenes, some Arab leaders called for the total destruction of the Jewish state, and to “drive the Jews into the sea”.
The war lasted for a whole year, during which around 700,000 Arabs fled or were driven from their homes in Israel. At the same time, a new wave of persecution was inflicted upon the Jewish populations of all of the Arab nations; [many] were killed, homes and businesses were forcibly seized, and thousand-year-old communities were driven from their land. Over 800,000 fled, over several years, with most of them heading for the struggling Jewish state, which was also trying to absorb the million or so refugees from Europe.
Armistices between Israel and its immediate neighbors were agreed in the first half of 1949, and new borders set for the state of Israel, which reflected its territorial victories. This became know as the Green Line. The West Bank and the Old City of jerusalem fell outside this line, and under the control of Jordan. Gaza was controlled by Egypt. Under Arab rule, the populations of these areas were not given citizenship by the respective governments, and most remained in refugee camps.
In Israel, life was a constant struggle; even though there was an official ceasefire, attacks from Egypt and Syria were a regular occurrence, and boycotts instigated by the Arab League and taken up by much of the world made getting the basic necessities difficult, since much of the farmland had been destroyed by the war. The mass influx of refugees with no possessions, and nowhere to go also took its toll on the fledgling nation.