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History of Israel

Israel’s strategic location between Africa and Asia and almost-touching-Europe has made it the battlefield for its mastery by various races and peoples such as the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Greeks and finally the Romans in 63 BC. It started as a Jewish kingdom under Saul (circa 1023-1004) who was succeeded by David and then Solomon. The Jews who revolted during the Roman times were sent into exile from which they returned only after the end of the World War II when they founded their independent Jewish State of Israel.

The few Jewish communities remaining in Israel kept in touch with the dispersed Jews all over the world with the hope that one day all Jews would meet in the Holy Land. In the 19th century, nationalist sentiments were expressed in the form of Zionism (derived from the word Zion), the traditional synonym for Jerusalem and Israel, which aimed at recreating the Jewish homeland. Jews from all over began to return to the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria. On the breakdown of the Turkish Empire these territories came under the mandatory authority of the British. The Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour was pressurised to promise a "Jewish national homeland" in his declaration of 1917.

With the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, thousands of Jews fled from Europe to "The Promised Land" which then belonged to the Arabs. This never ending Jewish exodus led to Palestinian (Arab) riots against this unwelcome intrusion. The British failing to resolve the issue, cleared out in 1948. Meanwhile the United Nations, in November 1947, voted for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish States with Jerusalem being declared an international city. While the Arabs refused it outright, the Jews accepted it unwillingly. After the withdrawal of the British, the Jews immediately declared the land as their own independent state called Israel, and went to war with the Arabs (Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, and some small contingents from Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia) to ensure and preserve their claims. The 1949 Armistice agreement ended the Israeli War of Independence and defined the Israeli borders for the next 18 years.

Israel emerged successful in the armed confrontations with the Arabs again during the 1956 Suez Conflict. A more decisive victory was achieved in the Six Day War against the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967. Israel now emerged as a future military super power of the Middle East. Meanwhile, defeats in the 1973 war convinced Israel to negotiate with the Arabs and the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979 (Camp David Accord) followed.

But peace with Egypt failed to resolve the issue of Palestinian Arabs, vast numbers of whom had become refugees in 1948 and 1967, many living under Israeli occupation in the Gaza strip and West Bank. During the 1970s, under Yasser Arafat, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) campaigns of international terrorism brought the Palestinian plight before the world, which reacted with disgust instead. In 1987, when the Israelis crushed the popular Palestinian uprising called "Intifada" with great brutality, the Palestinian issue then, became a reality to the international community.

In 1991, Israeli officials for the first time discussed the issue with the Palestinian delegation. Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister, Rabin, shook hands (in the lawns of the White House under US leadership) over the issue and agreed to negotiate peacefully in 1993. Gaza Strip and several towns in the West Bank have been handed over to the Palestinian autonomy, and Arafat has been recognised as their leader. In 1994, an accord was signed in Cairo and the Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza and Jericho and by 1995 from the West Bank’s main population centres as well. In spite of the assassination of Rabin by a Jewish extremist, his successor Shimon Peres was determined to try for greater peace. However, the opposition of the fundamentalist Palestinian Muslim group, "Hamas", brought down Peres who was succeeded by Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996. Netanyahu’s inattention to the Palestinian problem led to Israeli Palestinian clashes, and peace talks with Syria and Lebanon came to a halt. Israel and Jordan signed an accord in 1994. Though the Israeli - Egypt accord had already been signed in 1979, a chilly relationship exists between them.

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