History of Israel





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2000 BCE - 2023

History of Israel

The history of Israel encompasses a wide span of time, beginning with its prehistoric origins in the Levantine corridor. This region, known as Canaan, Palestine, or the Holy Land, played a key role in early human migration and the development of civilizations. The emergence of Natufian culture around the 10th millennium BCE marked the beginning of significant cultural development. The region entered the Bronze Age around 2000 BCE with the rise of Canaanite civilization. Subsequently, it fell under the control of Egypt in the Late Bronze Age. The Iron Age saw the establishment of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, significant in the development of Jewish and Samaritan peoples and the origins of the Abrahamic faith traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and others.[1]

Over the centuries, the region was conquered by various empires, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians. The Hellenistic period saw control by the Ptolemies and Seleucids, followed by a brief period of Jewish independence under the Hasmonean dynasty. The Roman Republic eventually absorbed the region, leading to the Jewish-Roman Wars in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, which caused significant Jewish displacement.[2] The rise of Christianity, following its adoption by the Roman Empire, led to a demographic shift, with Christians becoming the majority by the 4th century. The Arab conquest in the 7th century replaced Byzantine Christian rule, and the region later became a battleground during the Crusades. It subsequently fell under Mongol, Mamluk, and Ottoman rule until the early 20th century.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the rise of Zionism, a Jewish nationalist movement, and increased Jewish immigration to the region. Following World War I, the region, known as Mandatory Palestine, came under British control. The British government's support for a Jewish homeland led to growing Arab-Jewish tensions. The 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence sparked the Arab-Israeli War and a significant Palestinian displacement. Today, Israel hosts a large portion of the global Jewish population. Despite signing peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, and engaging in ongoing negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, including the 1993 Oslo I Accord, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a significant issue.[3]

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13000 BCE Jan 1

Prehistory of Israel


The territory of modern Israel has a rich history of early human habitation dating back 1.5 million years. The oldest evidence, found in Ubeidiya near the Sea of Galilee, includes flint tool artifacts, some of the earliest found outside Africa.[3] Other significant discoveries in the area include the 1.4 million-year-old Acheulean industry artifacts, the Bizat Ruhama group, and tools from Gesher Bnot Yaakov.[4]

In the Mount Carmel region, notable sites such as el-Tabun and Es Skhul have yielded remains of Neanderthals and early modern humans. These findings demonstrate a continuous human presence in the area for over 600,000 years, spanning from the Lower Paleolithic era to the present day and representing about a million years of human evolution.[5] Other important Paleolithic sites in Israel include the Qesem and Manot caves. The Skhul and Qafzeh hominids, some of the oldest fossils of anatomically modern humans found outside Africa, lived in northern Israel around 120,000 years ago. The area was also home to the Natufian culture around the 10th millennium BCE, known for its transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to early agricultural practices.[6]

4500 BCE - 1200 BCE
Chalcolithic Period in Canaan
Ancient Canaan. ©HistoryMaps
4500 BCE Jan 1 - 3500 BCE

Chalcolithic Period in Canaan


The Ghassulian culture, marking the beginning of the Chalcolithic period in Canaan, migrated into the region around 4500 BCE.[7] Originating from an unknown homeland, they brought with them advanced metalworking skills, particularly in copper smithing, which was considered the most sophisticated of its time, although the specifics of their techniques and origins require further citation. Their craftsmanship bore similarities to artifacts from the later Maykop culture, suggesting a shared metalworking tradition. The Ghassulians primarily mined copper from the Cambrian Burj Dolomite Shale Unit, extracting the mineral malachite, predominantly at Wadi Feynan. The smelting of this copper occurred at sites within the Beersheba culture. They are also known for producing violin-shaped figurines, akin to those found in Cycladic culture and at Bark in North Mesopotamia, though more details about these artifacts are needed.

Genetic studies have linked the Ghassulians to the West Asian haplogroup T-M184, providing insights into their genetic lineage.[8] The Chalcolithic period in this region concluded with the emergence of 'En Esur, an urban settlement on the southern Mediterranean coast, which marked a significant shift in the region's cultural and urban development.[9]

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3500 BCE Jan 1 - 2500 BCE

Early Bronze Age in Canaan


During the Early Bronze Age, the development of various sites like Ebla, where Eblaite (an East Semitic language) was spoken, significantly influenced the region. Around 2300 BCE, Ebla became part of the Akkadian Empire under Sargon the Great and Naram-Sin of Akkad. Earlier Sumerian references mention the Mar.tu ("tent dwellers", later known as the Amorites) in regions west of the Euphrates River, dating back to the reign of Enshakushanna of Uruk. Although one tablet credits the Sumeria king Lugal-Anne-Mundu with influence in the region, its credibility is questioned.

The Amorites, located in places like Hazor and Kadesh, bordered Canaan to the north and northeast, with entities like Ugarit possibly included in this Amoritic region.[10] The collapse of the Akkadian Empire in 2154 BCE coincided with the arrival of people using Khirbet Kerak ware, originating from the Zagros Mountains. DNA analysis suggests significant migrations from the Chalcolithic Zagros and Bronze Age Caucasus to the Southern Levant between 2500–1000 BCE.[11]

The period saw the rise of the first cities like 'En Esur and Meggido, with these "proto-Canaanites" maintaining regular contact with neighboring regions. However, the period ended with a return to farming villages and semi-nomadic lifestyles, although specialized crafts and trade persisted.[12] Ugarit is archaeologically considered a quintessential Late Bronze Age Canaanite state, despite its language not belonging to the Canaanite group.[13]

The decline in the Early Bronze Age in Canaan around 2000 BCE coincided with significant transformations across the ancient Near East, including the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt. This period was marked by a widespread collapse of urbanization in the southern Levant and the rise and fall of the Akkad empire in the Upper Euphrates region. It is argued that this supra-regional collapse, which also affected Egypt, was possibly triggered by rapid climate change, known as the 4.2 ka BP event, leading to aridification and cooling​​.[14]

The connection between the decline in Canaan and the fall of the Old Kingdom in Egypt lies in the broader context of climate change and its impact on these ancient civilizations. The environmental challenges faced by Egypt, which led to famine and societal breakdown, were part of a larger pattern of climatic shifts that affected the entire region, including Canaan. The decline of the Old Kingdom, a major political and economic power,[15] would have had ripple effects throughout the Near East, impacting trade, political stability, and cultural exchanges. This period of upheaval set the stage for significant changes in the political and cultural landscape of the region, including in Canaan.

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2000 BCE Jan 1 - 1550 BCE

Middle Bronze Age in Canaan


During the Middle Bronze Age, urbanism resurged in the Canaan region, which was divided among various city-states, with Hazor emerging as a particularly significant one.[16] The material culture of Canaan during this time showed strong Mesopotamian influences, and the region was increasingly integrated into a vast international trade network.

The region, known as Amurru, was recognized as one of the "four quarters" surrounding Akkad as early as the reign of Naram-Sin of Akkad around 2240 BCE, along with Subartu/Assyria, Sumer, and Elam. Amorite dynasties came to power in parts of Mesopotamia, including Larsa, Isin, and Babylon, which was founded as an independent city-state by an Amorite chieftain, Sumu-abum, in 1894 BCE. Notably, Hammurabi, an Amorite king of Babylon (1792–1750 BCE), established the First Babylonian Empire, although it disintegrated after his death. The Amorites maintained control over Babylonia until being ousted by the Hittites in 1595 BCE.

Around 1650 BCE, Canaanites, known as Hyksos, invaded and came to dominate the eastern Nile delta in Egypt.[17] The term Amar and Amurru (Amorites) in Egyptian inscriptions referred to the mountainous region east of Phoenicia, extending to the Orontes. Archaeological evidence shows that the Middle Bronze Age was a period of prosperity for Canaan, particularly under the leadership of Hazor, which was often tributary to Egypt. In the north, Yamkhad and Qatna led significant confederacies, while biblical Hazor was likely the chief city of a major coalition in the southern part of the region.

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1550 BCE Jan 1 - 1150 BCE

Late Bronze Age in Canaan


In the early Late Bronze Age, Canaan was characterized by confederacies centered around cities like Megiddo and Kadesh. The region was intermittently under the influence of the Egyptian and Hittite empires. Egyptian control, though sporadic, was significant enough to suppress local rebellions and inter-city conflicts, but not strong enough to establish complete domination. Northern Canaan and parts of northern Syria fell under Assyrian rule during this period.

Thutmose III (1479–1426 BCE) and Amenhotep II (1427–1400 BCE) maintained Egyptian authority in Canaan, ensuring loyalty through military presence. However, they faced challenges from the Habiru (or 'Apiru), a social class rather than an ethnic group, comprising various elements including Hurrians, Semites, Kassites, and Luwians. This group contributed to political instability during the reign of Amenhotep III. The Hittites' advance into Syria during Amenhotep III's reign and further under his successor marked a significant reduction in Egyptian power, coinciding with increased Semitic migration.

Egypt's influence in the Levant was strong during the Eighteenth Dynasty but began to waver in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties. Ramses II maintained control through the Battle of Kadesh in 1275 BCE against the Hittites, but the Hittites eventually took over northern Levant. Ramses II's focus on domestic projects and neglect of Asiatic affairs led to a gradual decline in Egyptian control. Following the Battle of Kadesh, he had to campaign vigorously in Canaan to maintain Egyptian influence, establishing a permanent fortress garrison in the region of Moab and Ammon. Egypt's withdrawal from the southern Levant, which began in the late 13th century BCE and lasted for about a century, was more due to internal political turmoil in Egypt rather than the invasion of the Sea Peoples, as there is limited evidence of their destructive impact around 1200 BCE. Despite theories suggesting a breakdown in trade post-1200 BCE, evidence indicates continued trade relations in the southern Levant after the end of the Late Bronze Age.[18]

1150 BCE - 586 BCE
Ancient Israel & Judah
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1150 BCE Jan 1 00:01 - 586 BCE

Ancient Israel and Judah


The history of ancient Israel and Judah in the Southern Levant region starts during the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. The oldest known reference to Israel as a people is in the Merneptah Stele from Egypt, dating to around 1208 BCE. Modern archaeology suggests that ancient Israelite culture evolved from Canaanite civilization. By the Iron Age II, two Israelite polities, the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and the Kingdom of Judah, were established in the region.

According to the Hebrew Bible, a "United Monarchy" under Saul, David, and Solomon existed in the 11th century BCE, which later divided into the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah, the latter containing Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. While the historicity of this United Monarchy is debated, it is generally agreed that Israel and Judah were distinct entities by around 900 BCE[19] and 850 BCE[20], respectively.

The Kingdom of Israel fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire around 720 BCE[21], while Judah became a client state of the Assyrians and later the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Revolts against Babylon led to Judah's destruction in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar II, culminating in the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the Jewish exile to Babylon.[22] This exile period marked a significant development in Israelite religion, transitioning towards monotheistic Judaism.

The Jewish exile ended with the fall of Babylon to the Persian Empire around 538 BCE. Cyrus the Great's Edict allowed Jews to return to Judah, beginning the return to Zion and the construction of the Second Temple, initiating the Second Temple period.[23]

Early Israelites
Early Israelite Hilltop Village. ©HistoryMaps
1150 BCE Jan 1 00:02 - 950 BCE

Early Israelites


During the Iron Age I, a population in the Southern Levant began to identify itself as 'Israelite', differentiating from its neighbors through unique practices such as prohibitions on intermarriage, emphasis on family history and genealogy, and distinct religious customs.[24] The number of villages in the highlands increased significantly from the Late Bronze Age to the end of Iron Age I, from about 25 to over 300, with the population doubling from 20,000 to 40,000.[25] Although there were no distinctive features to define these villages as specifically Israelite, certain markers like the layout of settlements and the absence of pig bones at hill sites were noted. However, these characteristics are not exclusively indicative of Israelite identity.[26]

Archaeological studies, particularly since 1967, have highlighted the emergence of a distinct culture in the highlands of western Palestine, contrasting with the Philistine and Canaanite societies. This culture, identified with the early Israelites, is characterized by a lack of pork remains, simpler pottery, and practices like circumcision, suggesting a transformation from Canaanite-Philistine cultures rather than a result of an Exodus or conquest.[27] This transformation appears to have been a peaceful revolution in lifestyle around 1200 BCE, marked by the sudden establishment of numerous hilltop communities in the central hill country of Canaan.[28] Modern scholars largely view Israel's emergence as an internal development within the Canaanite highlands.[29]

Archaeologically, early Iron Age Israelite society was composed of small, village-like centers with modest resources and population sizes. Villages, often built on hilltops, featured houses clustered around common courtyards, built from mudbrick with stone foundations, and sometimes wood second stories. The Israelites were primarily farmers and herders, practicing terrace farming and maintaining orchards. While economically largely self-sufficient, there was also regional economic interchange. The society was organized into regional chiefdoms or polities, providing security and possibly subject to larger towns. Writing was used, even in smaller sites, for record-keeping.[30]

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950 BCE Jan 1 - 587 BCE

Late Iron Age in the Levant


In the 10th century BCE, a significant polity emerged on the Gibeon-Gibeah plateau in the Southern Levant, which was later destroyed by Shoshenq I, also known as the biblical Shishak.[31] This led to a return to small city-states in the region. However, between 950 and 900 BCE, another large polity formed in the northern highlands, with Tirzah as its capital, eventually becoming the precursor of the Kingdom of Israel.[32] The Kingdom of Israel consolidated as a regional power by the first half of the 9th century BCE[31], but fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Judah began to flourish in the second half of the 9th century BCE.[31]

Favorable climatic conditions in the first two centuries of Iron Age II spurred population growth, settlement expansion, and increased trade throughout the region.[33] This led to the unification of the central highlands under a kingdom with Samaria as its capital[33], possibly by the second half of the 10th century BCE, as indicated by an Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq I's campaigns.[34] The Kingdom of Israel was clearly established by the first half of the 9th century BCE, as evidenced by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III's mention of "Ahab the Israelite" at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BCE.[31] The Mesha Stele, dating to around 830 BCE, references the name Yahweh, which is considered the earliest extra-biblical reference to the Israelite deity.[35] The biblical and Assyrian sources describe massive deportations from Israel and their replacement with settlers from other parts of the empire as part of Assyrian imperial policy.[36]

Judah's emergence as an operational kingdom occurred somewhat later than Israel, during the second half of the 9th century BCE[31], but this is a subject of considerable controversy.[37] The southern highlands were divided between several centers during the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, with none having clear primacy.[38] A significant increase in the power of the Judean state is observed during the reign of Hezekiah, between approximately 715 and 686 BCE.[39] This period saw the construction of notable structures such as the Broad Wall and the Siloam Tunnel in Jerusalem.[39]

The Kingdom of Israel experienced substantial prosperity in the late Iron Age, marked by urban development and the construction of palaces, large royal enclosures, and fortifications.[40] Israel's economy was diverse, with major olive oil and wine industries.[41] In contrast, the Kingdom of Judah was less advanced, initially limited to small settlements around Jerusalem.[42] Jerusalem's significant residential activity is not evident until the 9th century BCE, despite the existence of earlier administrative structures.[43]

By the 7th century BCE, Jerusalem had grown significantly, achieving dominance over its neighbors.[44] This growth likely resulted from an arrangement with the Assyrians to establish Judah as a vassal state controlling the olive industry.[44] Despite prospering under Assyrian rule, Judah faced destruction in a series of campaigns between 597 and 582 BCE due to conflicts between Egypt and the Neo-Babylonian Empire following the collapse of the Assyrian Empire.[44]

Kingdom of Judah
Rehoboam was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the first monarch of the Kingdom of Judah after the split of the united Kingdom of Israel. ©William Brassey Hole
930 BCE Jan 1 - 587 BCE

Kingdom of Judah

Judean Mountains, Israel

The Kingdom of Judah, a Semitic-speaking kingdom in the Southern Levant during the Iron Age, had its capital in Jerusalem, located in the highlands of Judea.[45] The Jewish people are named after and primarily descended from this kingdom.[46] According to the Hebrew Bible, Judah was the successor to the United Kingdom of Israel, under kings Saul, David, and Solomon. However, in the 1980s, some scholars began questioning the archaeological evidence for such an extensive kingdom before the late-8th century BCE.[47] In the 10th and early 9th centuries BCE, Judah was sparsely populated, consisting mostly of small, rural, and unfortified settlements.[48] The discovery of the Tel Dan Stele in 1993 confirmed the existence of the kingdom by the mid-9th century BCE, but its extent remained unclear.[49] Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa suggest the presence of a more urbanized and organized kingdom by the 10th centfury BCE.[47]

In the 7th century BCE, Judah's population grew significantly under Assyrian vassalage, even though Hezekiah rebelled against Assyrian king Sennacherib.[50] Josiah, seizing the opportunity created by Assyria's decline and Egypt's emergence, enacted religious reforms aligned with the principles found in Deuteronomy. This period is also when the Deuteronomistic history was likely written, emphasizing the importance of these principles.[51] The fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 605 BCE led to a power struggle between Egypt and the Neo-Babylonian Empire over the Levant, resulting in Judah's decline. By the early 6th century BCE, multiple Egyptian-backed rebellions against Babylon were quashed. In 587 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II captured and destroyed Jerusalem, ending the Kingdom of Judah. A large number of Judeans were exiled to Babylon, and the territory was annexed as a Babylonian province.[52]

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930 BCE Jan 1 - 720 BCE

Kingdom of Israel


The Kingdom of Israel, also known as the Kingdom of Samaria, was an Israelite kingdom in the Southern Levant during the Iron Age, controlling Samaria, Galilee, and parts of Transjordan. In the 10th century BCE[53], these regions saw a surge in settlements, with Shechem and then Tirzah as capitals. The kingdom was ruled by the Omride dynasty in the 9th century BCE, whose political center was the city of Samaria. The existence of this Israelite state in the north is documented in 9th century inscriptions.[54] The earliest mention is from the Kurkh stela of c.853 BCE, when Shalmaneser III mentions "Ahab the Israelite", plus the denominative for "land", and his ten thousand troops.[55] This kingdom would have included parts of the lowlands (the Shephelah), the Jezreel plain, lower Galilee and parts of the Transjordan.[55]

Ahab's military participation in an anti-Assyrian coalition indicates a sophisticated urban society with temples, scribes, mercenaries, and an administrative system, similar to neighboring kingdoms like Ammon and Moab.[55] Archaeological evidence, such as the Mesha Stele from around 840 BCE, attests to the kingdom's interactions and conflicts with neighboring regions, including Moab. The Kingdom of Israel exerted control over significant areas during the Omride dynasty, as evidenced by archaeological findings, ancient Near Eastern texts, and the biblical record.[56]

In Assyrian inscriptions, the Kingdom of Israel is referred to as the "House of Omri".[55] Shalmanesser III's "Black Obelisk" mentions Jehu, son of Omri.[55] King of Assyria Adad-Nirari III did an expedition into the Levant around 803 BCE mentioned in the Nimrud slab, which comments he went to "the Hatti and Amurru lands, Tyre, Sidon, the mat of Hu-um-ri (land of Omri), Edom, Philistia and Aram (not Judah)."[55] Rimah Stele, from the same king introduces a third way of talking about the kingdom, as Samaria, in the phrase "Joash of Samaria".[57] The use of Omri's name to refer to the kingdom still survived, and was used by Sargon II in the phrase "the whole house of Omri" in describing his conquest of the city of Samaria in 722 BCE.[58] It is significant that the Assyrians never mention the Kingdom of Judah until the end of the 8th century, when it was an Assyrian vassal: possibly they never had contact with it, or possibly they regarded it as a vassal of Israel/Samaria or Aram, or possibly the southern kingdom did not exist during this period.[59]

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732 BCE Jan 1

Assyrian Invasions & Captivity


Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria invaded Israel in around 732 BCE.[60] The Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians following a long siege of the capital Samaria around 720 BCE.[61] The records of Sargon II of Assyria indicate that he captured Samaria and deported 27,290 inhabitants to Mesopotamia.[62] It is likely that Shalmaneser captured the city since both the Babylonian Chronicles and the Hebrew Bible viewed the fall of Israel as the signature event of his reign.[63] The Assyrian captivity (or the Assyrian exile) is the period in the history of ancient Israel and Judah during which several thousand Israelites from the Kingdom of Israel were forcibly relocated by the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian deportations became the basis for the Jewish idea of the Ten Lost Tribes. Foreign groups were settled by the Assyrians in the territories of the fallen kingdom.[64] The Samaritans claim to be descended from Israelites of ancient Samaria who were not expelled by the Assyrians.

It is believed that refugees from the destruction of Israel moved to Judah, massively expanding Jerusalem and leading to construction of the Siloam Tunnel during the rule of King Hezekiah (ruled 715–686 BCE).[65] The tunnel could provide water during a siege and its construction is described in the Bible.[66] The Siloam inscription, a plaque written in Hebrew left by the construction team, was discovered in the tunnel in 1880s, and is today held by the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.[67]

During Hezekiah's rule, Sennacherib, the son of Sargon, attempted but failed to capture Judah. Assyrian records say that Sennacherib levelled 46 walled cities and besieged Jerusalem, leaving after receiving extensive tribute.[68] Sennacherib erected the Lachish reliefs in Nineveh to commemorate a second victory at Lachish.

The writings of four different "prophets" are believed to date from this period: Hosea and Amos in Israel and Micah and Isaiah of Judah. These men were mostly social critics who warned of the Assyrian threat and acted as religious spokesmen. They exercised some form of free speech and may have played a significant social and political role in Israel and Judah.[69] They urged rulers and the general populace to adhere to god-conscious ethical ideals, seeing the Assyrian invasions as a divine punishment of the collective resulting from ethical failures.[70]

Under King Josiah (ruler from 641–619 BCE), the Book of Deuteronomy was either rediscovered or written. The Book of Joshua and the accounts of the kingship of David and Solomon in the book of Kings are believed to have the same author. The books are known as Deuteronomist and considered to be a key step in the emergence of monotheism in Judah. They emerged at a time that Assyria was weakened by the emergence of Babylon and may be a committing to text of pre-writing verbal traditions.[71]

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587 BCE Jan 1 - 538 BCE

Babylonian Captivity

Babylon, Iraq

During the late 7th century BCE, Judah became a vassal state of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. In 601 BCE, Jehoiakim of Judah allied with Babylon's principal rival, Egypt, despite the strong remonstrances of the prophet Jeremiah.[72] As a punishment, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem in 597 BCE, and the city surrendered.[73] The defeat was recorded by the Babylonians.[74] Nebuchadnezzar pillaged Jerusalem and deported king Jehoiachin, along with other prominent citizens, to Babylon; Zedekiah, his uncle, was installed as king.[75] A few years later, Zedekiah launched another revolt against Babylon, and an army was sent to conquer Jerusalem.[72]

Judah's revolts against Babylon (601–586 BCE) were attempts by the Kingdom of Judah to escape dominance by the Neo-Babylonian Empire. In 587 or 586 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Jerusalem, destroyed Solomon's Temple, and razed the city[72], completing the fall of Judah, an event which marked the beginning of the Babylonian captivity, a period in Jewish history in which a large number of Judeans were forcibly removed from Judah and resettled in Mesopotamia (rendered in the Bible simply as "Babylon"). The former territory of Judah became a Babylonian province called Yehud with its center in Mizpah, north of the destroyed Jerusalem.[76] Tablets that describe King Jehoicahin's rations were found in the ruins of Babylon. He was eventually released by the Babylonians. According to both the Bible and the Talmud, the Davidic dynasty continued as head of Babylonian Jewry, called the "Rosh Galut" (exilarch or head of exile). Arab and Jewish sources show that the Rosh Galut continued to exist for another 1,500 years in what is now Iraq, ending in the eleventh century.[77]

This period saw the last high point of biblical prophecy in the person of Ezekiel, followed by the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life. According to many historical-critical scholars, the Torah was redacted during this time, and began to be regarded as the authoritative text for Jews. This period saw their transformation into an ethno-religious group who could survive without a central Temple.[78] Israeli philosopher and Biblical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann said "The exile is the watershed. With the exile, the religion of Israel comes to an end and Judaism begins."[79]

Persian Period in the Levant
Cyrus the Great is said in the Bible to have liberated the Jews from the Babylonian captivity to resettle and rebuild Jerusalem, earning him an honored place in Judaism. ©Anonymous
538 BCE Jan 1 - 332 BCE

Persian Period in the Levant

Jerusalem, Israel

In 538 BCE, Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire conquered Babylon, incorporating it into his empire. His issuance of a proclamation, the Edict of Cyrus, granted religious freedom to those under Babylonian rule. This enabled Jewish exiles in Babylon, including 50,000 Judeans led by Zerubabel, to return to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem's Temple, completed circa 515 BCE.[80] Additionally, in 456 BCE, another group of 5,000, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, returned; the former was tasked by the Persian king to enforce religious rules, while the latter was appointed governor with a mission to restore the city's walls.[81] Yehud, as the region was known, remained an Achaemenid province until 332 BCE.

The Torah's final text, corresponding to the first five books of the Bible, is believed to have been compiled during the Persian period (around 450–350 BCE), through the editing and unification of earlier texts.[82] The returning Israelites adopted an Aramaic script from Babylon, now the modern Hebrew script, and the Hebrew calendar, resembling the Babylonian calendar, likely dates from this period.[83]

The Bible recounts tension between the returnees, the First Temple period's elite[84], and those who stayed in Judah.[85] The returnees, possibly supported by the Persian monarchy, might have become significant landowners, to the detriment of those who had continued to work the land in Judah. Their opposition to the Second Temple might reflect fears of losing land rights due to exclusion from the cult.[84] Judah effectively became a theocracy, led by hereditary High Priests[86] and a Persian-appointed, often Jewish, governor responsible for maintaining order and ensuring tribute payments.[87 ]Significantly, a Judean military garrison was stationed by the Persians on Elephantine Island near Aswan in Egypt.

516 BCE - 64
Second Temple Period
Second Temple Period
Second Temple, also known as Herod's Temple. ©Anonymous
516 BCE Jan 1 - 136

Second Temple Period

Jerusalem, Israel

The Second Temple period in Jewish history, spanning from 516 BCE to 70 CE, marks a significant era characterized by religious, cultural, and political developments. After the Persian conquest of Babylon under Cyrus the Great, this era commenced with the Jewish return from Babylonian exile and the reconstruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, establishing an autonomous Jewish province. The era later transitioned through the influences of the Ptolemaic (c. 301–200 BCE) and Seleucid (c. 200–167 BCE) empires.

The Second Temple, later known as Herod's Temple, was the reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem between c. 516 BCE and 70 CE. It stood as a pivotal symbol of Jewish faith and identity during the Second Temple period. The Second Temple served as the central place of Jewish worship, ritual sacrifice, and communal gathering for Jews, attracting Jewish pilgrims from distant lands during the three pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.

The Maccabean Revolt against Seleucid rule led to the Hasmonean dynasty (140–37 BCE), symbolizing the last Jewish sovereignty in the region before a prolonged hiatus. The Roman conquest in 63 BCE and subsequent Roman rule transformed Judea into a Roman province by 6 CE. The First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), spurred by opposition to Roman dominance, culminated in the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem, concluding this period.

This era was crucial for the evolution of Second Temple Judaism, marked by the development of the Hebrew Bible canon, synagogue, and Jewish eschatology. It saw the end of Jewish prophecy, the rise of Hellenistic influences in Judaism, and the formation of sects like the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and early Christianity. Literary contributions include parts of the Hebrew Bible, Apocrypha, and Dead Sea Scrolls, with key historical sources from Josephus, Philo, and Roman authors.

The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE was a pivotal event, leading to the transformation of Jewish culture. Rabbinic Judaism, centered on synagogue worship and Torah study, emerged as the dominant form of the religion. Concurrently, Christianity began its separation from Judaism. The Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE) and its suppression further impacted the Jewish population, shifting the demographic center to Galilee and the Jewish diaspora, profoundly influencing Jewish history and culture.

Hellenistic Period in the Levant
Alexander The Great crosses the Granicus River. ©Peter Connolly
333 BCE Jan 1 - 64 BCE

Hellenistic Period in the Levant

Judea and Samaria Area

In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great of Macedon conquered the region as part of his campaign against the Persian Empire. After his death in 322 BCE, his generals divided the empire and Judea became a frontier region between the Seleucid Empire and Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt. Following a century of Ptolemaic rule, Judea was conquered by the Seleucid Empire in 200 BCE at the battle of Panium. Hellenistic rulers generally respected Jewish culture and protected Jewish institutions.[88] Judea was ruled by the hereditary office of the High Priest of Israel as a Hellenistic vassal. Nevertheless, the region underwent a process of Hellenization, which heightened tensions between Greeks, Hellenized Jews, and observant Jews. These tensions escalated into clashes involving a power struggle for the position of high priest and the character of the holy city of Jerusalem.[89]

When Antiochus IV Epiphanes consecrated the temple, forbade Jewish practices, and forcibly imposed Hellenistic norms on the Jews, several centuries of religious tolerance under Hellenistic control came to an end. In 167 BCE, the Maccabean revolt erupted after Mattathias, a Jewish priest of the Hasmonean lineage, killed a Hellenized Jew and a Seleucid official who participated in sacrifice to the Greek gods in Modi'in. His son Judas Maccabeus defeated the Seleucids in several battles, and in 164 BCE, he captured Jerusalem and restored temple worship, an event commemorated by the Jewish festival of Hannukah.[90]

After Judas' death, his brothers Jonathan Apphus and Simon Thassi were able to establish and consolidate a vassal Hasmonean state in Judea, capitalizing on the Seleucid Empire's decline as a result of internal instability and wars with the Parthians, and by forging ties with the rising Roman Republic. Hasmonean leader John Hyrcanus was able to gain independence, doubling Judea's territories. He took control of Idumaea, where he converted the Edomites to Judaism, and invaded Scythopolis and Samaria, where he demolished the Samaritan Temple.[91] Hyrcanus was also the first Hasmonean leader to mint coins. Under his sons, kings Aristobulus I and Alexander Jannaeus, Hasmonean Judea became a kingdom, and its territories continued to expand, now also covering the coastal plain, Galilee and parts of the Transjordan.[92]

Under Hasmonean rule, the Pharisees, Sadducees and the mystic Essenes emerged as the principal Jewish social movements. The Pharisee sage Simeon ben Shetach is credited with establishing the first schools based around meeting houses.[93] This was a key step in the emergence of Rabbinical Judaism. After Jannaeus' widow, queen Salome Alexandra, died in 67 BCE, her sons Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II engaged in a civil war over succession. The conflicting parties requested Pompey's assistance on their behalf, which paved the way for a Roman takeover of the kingdom.[94]

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167 BCE Jan 1 - 141 BCE

Maccabean Revolt

Judea and Samaria Area

The Maccabean Revolt was a significant Jewish rebellion that took place from 167–160 BCE against the Seleucid Empire and its Hellenistic influence on Jewish life. The revolt was triggered by the oppressive actions of Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who banned Jewish practices, took control of Jerusalem, and desecrated the Second Temple. This repression led to the emergence of the Maccabees, a group of Jewish fighters led by Judas Maccabeus, who sought independence.

The rebellion began as a guerrilla movement in the Judean countryside, with the Maccabees raiding towns and challenging Greek officials. Over time, they developed a proper army and, in 164 BCE, captured Jerusalem. This victory marked a turning point, as the Maccabees cleansed the Temple and rededicated the altar, giving rise to the festival of Hanukkah. Although the Seleucids eventually relented and allowed the practice of Judaism, the Maccabees continued to fight for complete independence.

Judas Maccabeus's death in 160 BCE temporarily allowed the Seleucids to regain control, but the Maccabees, under the leadership of Judas's brother Jonathan Apphus, continued to resist. Internal divisions among the Seleucids and assistance from the Roman Republic eventually paved the way for the Maccabees to achieve true independence in 141 BCE, when Simon Thassi expelled the Greeks from Jerusalem. This revolt had a profound impact on Jewish nationalism, serving as an example of a successful campaign for political independence and resistance against anti-Jewish oppression.

Hasmonean Civil War
Pompey enters the Jerusalem Temple. ©Jean Fouquet
67 BCE Jan 1 - 63 BCE Jan

Hasmonean Civil War

Judea and Samaria Area

The Hasmonean Civil War was a significant conflict in Jewish history that led to the loss of Jewish independence. It began as a power struggle between two brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, who vied for the Hasmonean Jewish Crown. Aristobulus, the younger and more ambitious of the two, used his connections to take control of walled cities and hired mercenaries to declare himself king while their mother, Alexandra, was still alive. This action resulted in a confrontation between the two brothers and a period of civil strife.

Nabataean involvement further complicated the conflict when Antipater the Idumean convinced Hyrcanus to seek support from Aretas III, the king of the Nabataeans. Hyrcanus made a deal with Aretas, offering to return 12 cities to the Nabataeans in exchange for military assistance. With the support of Nabataean forces, Hyrcanus confronted Aristobulus, leading to a siege of Jerusalem.

Roman involvement ultimately determined the outcome of the conflict. Both Hyrcanus and Aristobulus sought support from Roman officials, but Pompey, a Roman general, ultimately sided with Hyrcanus. He laid siege to Jerusalem, and after a long and intense battle, Pompey's forces managed to breach the city's defenses, leading to the capture of Jerusalem.

This event marked the end of the Hasmonean dynasty's independence, as Pompey reinstated Hyrcanus as High Priest but stripped him of his royal title, establishing Roman influence over Judea. Judea remained autonomous but was obliged to pay tribute and dependent on the Roman administration in Syria. The kingdom was dismembered; it was forced to relinquish the coastal plain, depriving it of access to the Mediterranean, as well as parts of Idumea and Samaria. Several Hellenistic cities were granted autonomy to form the Decapolis, leaving the state greatly diminished.

64 - 636
Roman & Byzantine Rule
Early Roman Period in the Levant
The main female figure is Salome dancing for Kind Herod II in order to secure the beheading of John the Baptist. ©Edward Armitage
64 Jan 1 - 136

Early Roman Period in the Levant

Judea and Samaria Area

In 64 BCE the Roman general Pompey conquered Syria and intervened in the Hasmonean civil war in Jerusalem, restoring Hyrcanus II as High Priest and making Judea a Roman vassal kingdom. During the siege of Alexandria in 47 BCE, the lives of Julius Caesar and his protégé Cleopatra were saved by 3,000 Jewish troops sent by Hyrcanus II and commanded by Antipater, whose descendants Caesar made kings of Judea.[95] From 37 BCE to 6 CE, the Herodian dynasty, Jewish-Roman client kings of Edomite origin, descended from Antipater, ruled Judea. Herod the Great considerably enlarged the temple (see Herod's Temple), making it one of the largest religious structures in the world. At this time, Jews formed as much as 10% of the population of the entire Roman Empire, with large communities in North Africa and Arabia.[96]

Augustus made Judea a Roman province in 6 CE, deposing the last Jewish king, Herod Archelaus, and appointing a Roman governor. There was a small revolt against Roman taxation led by Judas of Galilee and over the next decades tensions grew between the Greco-Roman and Judean population centered on attempts to place effigies of emperor Caligula in synagogues and in the Jewish temple.[97] In 64 CE, the Temple High Priest Joshua ben Gamla introduced a religious requirement for Jewish boys to learn to read from the age of six. Over the next few hundred years this requirement became steadily more ingrained in Jewish tradition.[98] The latter part of the Second Temple period was marked by social unrest and religious turmoil, and messianic expectations filled the atmosphere.[99]

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66 Jan 1 - 74

First Jewish–Roman War

Judea and Samaria Area

The First Jewish–Roman War (66–74 CE) marked a significant conflict between Judean Jews and the Roman Empire. Tensions, fueled by oppressive Roman rule, tax disputes, and religious clashes, ignited in 66 CE during Emperor Nero's reign. The theft of funds from Jerusalem's Second Temple and arrests of Jewish leaders by the Roman governor, Gessius Florus, sparked a rebellion. Jewish rebels captured Jerusalem's Roman garrison, driving away pro-Roman figures including King Herod Agrippa II.

The Roman response, led by Governor of Syria Cestius Gallus, initially saw successes like conquering Jaffa but suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Beth Horon, where the Jewish rebels inflicted heavy losses on the Romans. A provisional government was established in Jerusalem, with notable leaders including Ananus ben Ananus and Josephus.

Roman Emperor Nero tasked General Vespasian with crushing the rebellion. Vespasian, with his son Titus and King Agrippa II's forces, launched a campaign in Galilee in 67, capturing key Jewish strongholds. The conflict escalated in Jerusalem due to internal strife among Jewish factions.

In 69, Vespasian became emperor, leaving Titus to besiege Jerusalem, which fell in 70 CE after a brutal seven-month siege marked by Zealot infighting and severe food shortages. The Romans destroyed the Temple and much of Jerusalem, leaving the Jewish community in disarray.

The war concluded with Roman victories at remaining Jewish strongholds, including Masada (72–74 CE). The conflict had a devastating effect on the Jewish population, with many killed, displaced, or enslaved, and led to the destruction of the Temple and significant political and religious upheaval.

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72 Jan 1 - 73

Siege of Masada

Masada, Israel

The Siege of Masada (72-73 CE) was a pivotal event in the First Jewish–Roman War, occurring at a fortified hilltop in present-day Israel. Our primary historical source for this event is Flavius Josephus, a Jewish leader turned Roman historian.[100] Masada, described as an isolated table-mountain, was initially a Hasmonean fortress, later fortified by Herod the Great. It became a refuge for the Sicarii, a Jewish extremist group, during the Roman War.[101] The Sicarii, along with families, occupied Masada after overtaking a Roman garrison and used it as a base against both Romans and opposing Jewish groups.[102]

In 72 CE, Roman governor Lucius Flavius Silva besieged Masada with a large force, eventually breaching its walls in 73 CE after constructing a massive siege ramp.[103] Josephus records that upon breaching the fortress, the Romans found most inhabitants dead, having chosen suicide over capture.[104] However, modern archaeological findings and scholarly interpretations challenge Josephus' narrative. There's no clear evidence of mass suicide, and some suggest the defenders were either killed in battle or by Romans upon capture.[105]

Despite historical debates, Masada remains a potent symbol of Jewish heroism and resistance in Israeli national identity, often associated with themes of bravery and sacrifice against overwhelming odds.[106]

Kitos War
Kitos War ©Anonymous
115 Jan 1 - 117

Kitos War

Judea and Samaria Area

The Kitos War (115-117 CE), part of the Jewish–Roman wars (66–136 CE), erupted during Trajan's Parthian War. Jewish rebellions in Cyrenaica, Cyprus, and Egypt led to the mass killing of Roman garrisons and citizens. These uprisings were a response to Roman rule, and their intensity increased due to the Roman military's focus on the eastern border.

The Roman response was led by General Lusius Quietus, whose name later morphed into "Kitos," giving the conflict its title. Quietus was instrumental in suppressing the rebellions, often resulting in severe devastation and depopulation of affected areas. To address this, Romans resettled these regions.

In Judea, the Jewish leader Lukuas, after initial successes, fled following Roman counterattacks. Marcius Turbo, another Roman general, pursued the rebels, executing key leaders like Julian and Pappus. Quietus then took command in Judea, besieging Lydda where many rebels were killed, including Pappus and Julian. The Talmud mentions the "slain of Lydda" with high regard.

The conflict's aftermath saw the permanent stationing of the Legio VI Ferrata in Caesarea Maritima, indicating continued Roman tension and vigilance in Judea. This war, although less known than others like the First Jewish–Roman War, was significant in the turbulent relationship between the Jewish population and the Roman Empire.

Bar Kokhba Revolt
The Bar Kokhba Revolt- ‘Last Stand at Betar’ towards the end of the revolt- Jewish resistance in Betar as they fend off Roman troops. ©Peter Dennis
132 Jan 1 - 136

Bar Kokhba Revolt

Judea and Samaria Area

The Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 CE), led by Simon bar Kokhba, was the third and final Jewish–Roman War.[107] This rebellion, responding to Roman policies in Judea, including the establishment of Aelia Capitolina on Jerusalem's ruins and a Jupiter temple on the Temple Mount, was initially successful.Bar Kokhba, seen by many as the Messiah, established a provisional state, gaining wide support.

However, the Roman response was formidable. Emperor Hadrian deployed a large military force under Sextus Julius Severus, eventually crushing the revolt in 134 CE.[108] Bar Kokhba was killed at Betar in 135, and the remaining rebels were defeated or enslaved by 136.

The revolt's aftermath was devastating for Judea's Jewish population, with significant deaths, expulsions, and enslavement.[109] Roman losses were also substantial, leading to the disbandment of Legio XXII Deiotariana.[110] Post-revolt, Jewish societal focus shifted from Judea to Galilee, and harsh religious edicts were imposed by the Romans, including barring Jews from Jerusalem.[111 ]Over the next centuries, more Jews left to communities in the Diaspora, especially the large, speedily growing Jewish communities in Babylonia and Arabia.

The revolt's failure led to a reevaluation of messianic beliefs within Judaism and marked a further divergence between Judaism and Early Christianity. The Talmud negatively references Bar Kokhba as "Ben Koziva" ('Son of Deception'), reflecting his perceived role as a false Messiah.[112]

Following the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt, Jerusalem was rebuilt as a Roman colony under the name of Aelia Capitolina, and the province of Judea was renamed Syria Palaestina.

Late Roman Period in the Levant
Late Roman Period. ©Anonymous
136 Jan 1 - 390

Late Roman Period in the Levant

Judea and Samaria Area

Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Judea saw significant demographic changes. Pagan populations from Syria, Phoenicia, and Arabia settled in the countryside,[113] while Aelia Capitolina and other administrative centers were inhabited by Roman veterans and settlers from the empire's western parts.[114]

The Romans allowed a Rabbinical Patriarch, the "Nasi," from the House of Hillel, to represent the Jewish community. Judah ha-Nasi, a notable Nasi, compiled the Mishnah and emphasized education, inadvertently causing some illiterate Jews to convert to Christianity.[115] Jewish seminaries in Shefaram and Bet Shearim continued scholarship, and the best scholars joined the Sanhedrin, initially in Sepphoris, then in Tiberias.[116] Numerous synagogues from this period in Galilee[117] and the burial site of Sanhedrin leaders in Beit She'arim[118] highlight Jewish religious life's continuity.

In the 3rd century, heavy Roman taxation and an economic crisis prompted further Jewish migration to the more tolerant Sasanian Empire, where Jewish communities and Talmudic academies flourished.[119] The 4th century saw significant developments under Emperor Constantine. He made Constantinople the Eastern Roman Empire's capital and legalized Christianity. His mother, Helena, led the construction of key Christian sites in Jerusalem.[120] Jerusalem, renamed from Aelia Capitolina, became a Christian city, with Jews banned from living there but allowed to visit the Temple ruins.[120] This era also witnessed a Christian effort to eradicate paganism, leading to the destruction of Roman temples.[121] In 351-2, the Jewish revolt against the Roman governor Constantius Gallus occurred in Galilee.[122]

Byzantine Period in the Levant
Heraclius returning the True Cross to Jerusalem, 15th-century painting. ©Miguel Ximénez
390 Jan 1 - 634

Byzantine Period in the Levant

Judea and Samaria Area

During the Byzantine period (starting 390 CE), the region previously part of the Roman Empire became dominated by Christianity under Byzantine rule.This shift was accelerated by the influx of Christian pilgrims and the construction of churches at biblical sites.[123] Monks also played a role in converting local pagans by establishing monasteries near their settlements.[124]

The Jewish community in Palestine faced decline, losing its majority status by the fourth century.[125] Restrictions on Jews increased, including prohibitions on building new worship places, holding public office, and owning Christian slaves.[126] The Jewish leadership, including the Nasi office and the Sanhedrin, was dissolved in 425, with the Jewish center in Babylonia rising to prominence thereafter.[123]

The 5th and 6th centuries saw Samaritan revolts against Byzantine rule, which were suppressed, diminishing Samaritan influence and reinforcing Christian dominance.[127] Records of Jewish and Samaritan conversions to Christianity during this period are limited and mostly pertain to individuals rather than communities.[128]

In 611, Khosrow II of Sassanid Persia, aided by Jewish forces, invaded and captured Jerusalem.[129] The capture included the seizure of the "True Cross". Nehemiah ben Hushiel was appointed governor of Jerusalem. In 628, after a peace treaty with the Byzantines, Kavad II returned Palestine and the True Cross to the Byzantines. This led to a massacre of Jews in Galilee and Jerusalem by Heraclius, who also renewed the ban on Jewish entry into Jerusalem.[130]

Samaritan Revolts
Byzantine Levant ©Anonymous
484 Jan 1 - 573

Samaritan Revolts


The Samaritan Revolts (c. 484–573 CE) were a series of uprisings in Palaestina Prima province, where the Samaritans rebelled against the Eastern Roman Empire. These revolts led to significant violence and a drastic decline in the Samaritan population, reshaping the region's demographics. After the Jewish–Roman wars, Jews were largely absent in Judaea, with Samaritans and Byzantine Christians filling this vacuum. The Samaritan community experienced a golden age, particularly under Baba Rabba (ca. 288–362 CE), who reformed and strengthened Samaritan society. However, this period ended when Byzantine forces captured Baba Rabba.[131]

Justa Uprising (484)

Emperor Zeno's persecution of Samaritans in Neapolis sparked the first major revolt. The Samaritans, led by Justa, retaliated by killing Christians and destroying a church in Neapolis. The revolt was crushed by Byzantine forces, and Zeno erected a church on Mount Gerizim, further aggravating Samaritan sentiments.[132]

Samaritan Unrest (495)

Another rebellion occurred in 495 under Emperor Anastasius I, where Samaritans briefly reoccupied Mount Gerizim but were again suppressed by Byzantine authorities.[132]

Ben Sabar Revolt (529–531)

The most violent revolt was led by Julianus ben Sabar, in response to restrictions imposed by Byzantine laws. Ben Sabar's anti-Christian campaign was met with strong Byzantine and Ghassanid Arab resistance, leading to his defeat and execution. This revolt significantly diminished the Samaritan population and presence in the region.[132]

Samaritan Revolt (556)

A joint Samaritan-Jewish revolt in 556 was suppressed, with severe repercussions for the rebels.[132]

Revolt (572)

Another revolt in 572/573 (or 578) occurred during Byzantine Emperor Justin II's reign, leading to further restrictions on Samaritans.[132]


The revolts drastically reduced the Samaritan population, which dwindled further during the Islamic era. Samaritans faced discrimination and persecution, with their numbers continuing to decrease due to conversions and economic pressures.[133] These revolts marked a significant shift in the religious and demographic landscape of the region, with the Samaritan community's influence and numbers drastically reduced, paving the way for the dominance of other religious groups.

Sasanian Conquest of Jerusalem
Fall of Jerusalem ©Anonymous
614 Apr 1 - May

Sasanian Conquest of Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel

The Sasanian conquest of Jerusalem was a significant event in the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, having taken place in early 614. Amidst the conflict, Sasanian king Khosrow II had appointed Shahrbaraz, his spahbod (army chief), to lead an offensive into the Diocese of the East of the Byzantine Empire. Under Shahrbaraz, the Sasanian army had secured victories at Antioch as well as at Caesarea Maritima, the administrative capital of Palaestina Prima.[134]  By this time, the grand inner harbour had silted up and was useless, but the city continued to be an important maritime hub after Byzantine emperor Anastasius I Dicorus ordered the reconstruction of the outer harbour. Successfully capturing the city and the harbour had given the Sasanian Empire strategic access to the Mediterranean Sea.[135] The Sasanians' advance was accompanied by the outbreak of a Jewish revolt against Heraclius; the Sasanian army was joined by Nehemiah ben Hushiel[136] and Benjamin of Tiberias, who enlisted and armed Jews from across Galilee, including the cities of Tiberias and Nazareth. In total, between 20,000 and 26,000 Jewish rebels took part in the Sasanian assault on Jerusalem.[137] By mid-614, the Jews and the Sasanians had captured the city, but sources vary on whether this occurred without resistance[134]  or after a siege and breaching of the wall with artillery. Following the Sasanians capture of Jerusalem tens of thousands of Byzantine Christians were massacred by the Jewish rebels.

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634 Jan 1 - 638

Muslim Conquest of the Levant


The Muslim conquest of the Levant, also known as the Arab conquest of Syria, took place between 634 and 638 CE. It was part of the Arab-Byzantine Wars and followed clashes between Arabs and Byzantines during Muhammad's lifetime, notably the Battle of Muʿtah in 629 CE. The conquest began two years after Muhammad's death under Rashidun Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab, with Khalid ibn al-Walid playing a pivotal military role. Prior to the Arab invasion, Syria had been under Roman rule for centuries and witnessed invasions by the Sassanid Persians and raids by their Arab allies, the Lakhmids. The region, renamed Palaestina by the Romans, was politically divided and included a diverse population of Aramaic and Greek speakers, as well as Arabs, notably the Christian Ghassanids.

On the eve of the Muslim conquests, the Byzantine Empire was recovering from Roman-Persian Wars and was in the process of rebuilding authority in Syria and Palestine, lost for nearly twenty years. The Arabs, under Abu Bakr, organized a military expedition into Byzantine territory, initiating the first major confrontations. Khalid ibn al-Walid's innovative strategies played a crucial role in overcoming Byzantine defenses. The Muslims' march through the Syrian Desert, an unconventional route, was a key maneuver that outflanked the Byzantine forces.

The initial phase of the conquest saw Muslim forces under different commanders capture various territories in Syria. Key battles included the encounters at Ajnadayn, Yarmouk, and the siege of Damascus, which ultimately fell to the Muslims. The capture of Damascus was significant, marking a decisive turn in the Muslim campaign. Following Damascus, the Muslims continued their advance, securing other major cities and regions. The leadership of Khalid ibn al-Walid was instrumental during these campaigns, especially in his rapid and strategic capture of key locations.

The conquest of northern Syria followed, with significant battles such as the Battle of Hazir and the Siege of Aleppo. Cities like Antioch surrendered to the Muslims, further consolidating their hold on the region. The Byzantine army, weakened and unable to resist effectively, retreated. Emperor Heraclius's departure from Antioch to Constantinople marked a symbolic end to Byzantine authority in Syria. The Muslim forces, led by able commanders like Khalid and Abu Ubaidah, displayed remarkable military skill and strategy throughout the campaign.

The Muslim conquest of the Levant had profound implications. It marked the end of centuries of Roman and Byzantine rule in the region and the establishment of Muslim Arab dominance. This period also saw significant changes in the social, cultural, and religious landscape of the Levant, with the spread of Islam and the Arabic language. The conquest laid the foundation for the Islamic Golden Age and the expansion of Muslim rule into other parts of the world.

636 - 1291
Islamic Caliphates & Crusaders
Early Muslim Period in the Levant
Muslim Levantine town. ©Anonymous
636 Jan 1 00:01 - 1099

Early Muslim Period in the Levant


The Arab conquest of the Levant in 635 CE under ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb led to significant demographic changes. The region, renamed Bilad al-Sham, saw a decline in population from an estimated 1 million in Roman and Byzantine times to about 300,000 by the early Ottoman period. This demographic shift was due to a combination of factors, including the flight of non-Muslim populations, immigration of Muslims, local conversions, and a gradual process of Islamization.[138]

Following the conquest, Arab tribes settled in the area, contributing to the spread of Islam. The Muslim population grew steadily, becoming dominant both politically and socially.[139] Many Christians and Samaritans from the Byzantine upper class migrated to northern Syria, Cyprus, and other regions, leading to the depopulation of coastal towns. These towns, like Ashkelon, Acre, Arsuf, and Gaza, were resettled by Muslims and developed into significant Muslim centers.[140] The region of Samaria also experienced Islamization due to conversions and Muslim influx.[138] Two military districts—Jund Filastin and Jund al-Urdunn—were established in Palestine. The Byzantine ban on Jews living in Jerusalem came to an end.

The demographic situation further evolved under Abbasid rule, particularly after the 749 earthquake. This period saw increased emigration of Jews, Christians, and Samaritans to diaspora communities, while those who remained often converted to Islam. The Samaritan population in particular faced severe challenges such as droughts, earthquakes, religious persecution, and heavy taxes, leading to a significant decline and conversions to Islam.[139]

Throughout these changes, forced conversions were not prevalent, and the impact of the jizya tax on religious conversions is not clearly evidenced. By the Crusader period, the Muslim population, although growing, was still a minority in a predominantly Christian region.[139]

Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem
Crusader Knight. ©HistoryMaps
1099 Jan 1 - 1291

Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel

In 1095, Pope Urban II initiated the First Crusade to recapture Jerusalem from Muslim rule.[141] This crusade, beginning in the same year, led to the successful siege of Jerusalem in 1099 and the conquest of other key locations like Beit She'an and Tiberias. The Crusaders also captured several coastal cities with the aid of Italian fleets, establishing crucial strongholds in the region.[142]

The First Crusade resulted in the formation of Crusader states in the Levant, with the Kingdom of Jerusalem being the most prominent. These states were mainly populated by Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Samaritans, with the Crusaders as a minority reliant on the local population for agriculture. Despite building many castles and fortresses, the Crusaders failed to establish permanent European settlements.[142]

Conflict escalated around 1180 when Raynald of Châtillon, ruler of Transjordan, provoked the Ayyubid Sultan Saladin. This led to the Crusaders' defeat at the 1187 Battle of Hattin, and Saladin's subsequent peaceful capture of Jerusalem and most of the former Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The Third Crusade in 1190, a response to the loss of Jerusalem, ended with the 1192 Treaty of Jaffa. Richard the Lionheart and Saladin agreed to allow Christians to pilgrimage to holy sites, while Jerusalem remained under Muslim control.[143] In 1229, during the Sixth Crusade, Jerusalem was peacefully handed over to Christian control through a treaty between Frederick II and Ayyubid sultan al-Kamil.[144] However, in 1244, Jerusalem was devastated by the Khwarezmian Tatars, who significantly harmed the city's Christian and Jewish populations.[145] The Khwarezmians were expelled by the Ayyubids in 1247.

Mamluk Period in the Levant
Mamluk Warrior in Egypt. ©HistoryMaps
1291 Jan 1 - 1517

Mamluk Period in the Levant


Between 1258 and 1291, the region faced turmoil as the frontier between Mongol invaders, occasionally allied with Crusaders, and the Mamluks of Egypt. This conflict led to significant population reduction and economic hardship. The Mamluks were mostly of Turkish origin, and were bought as children and then trained in warfare. They were highly prized warriors, who gave rulers independence of the native aristocracy. In Egypt they took control of the kingdom following a failed invasion by the Crusaders (Seventh Crusade).

The Mamluks took control in Egypt and expanded their rule to Palestine. The first Mamluk Sultan, Qutuz, defeated the Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut, but was assassinated by Baibars, who succeeded him and eliminated most Crusader outposts. The Mamluks ruled Palestine until 1516, regarding it as part of Syria. In Hebron, Jews faced restrictions at the Cave of the Patriarchs, a significant site in Judaism, a limitation that persisted until the Six Days War.[146]

Al-Ashraf Khalil, a Mamluk sultan, captured the last Crusader stronghold in 1291. The Mamluks, continuing Ayyubid policies, strategically destroyed coastal regions from Tyre to Gaza to prevent potential Crusader sea attacks. This devastation led to long-term depopulation and economic decline in these areas.[147]

The Jewish community in Palestine saw rejuvenation with the influx of Sephardic Jews following their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and persecution in Portugal in 1497. Under Mamluk and later Ottoman rule, these Sephardic Jews predominantly settled in urban areas like Safed and Jerusalem, contrasting with the mostly rural Musta'arbi Jewish community.[148]

1517 - 1917
Ottoman Rule
Ottoman Period in the Levant
Ottoman Syria. ©HistoryMaps
1517 Jan 1 - 1917

Ottoman Period in the Levant


Ottoman Syria, spanning from the early 16th century to the aftermath of World War I, was a period marked by significant political, social, and demographic changes. After the Ottoman Empire conquered the region in 1516, it was integrated into the empire's vast territories, bringing a degree of stability after the turbulent Mamluk period. The Ottomans organized the area into several administrative units, with Damascus emerging as a major center of governance and commerce. The empire's rule introduced new systems of taxation, land tenure, and bureaucracy, significantly impacting the social and economic fabric of the region.

The Ottoman conquest of the region led to the continued immigration of Jews fleeing persecution in Catholic Europe. This trend, which started under Mamluk rule, saw a significant influx of Sephardic Jews, who eventually dominated the Jewish community in the area.[148] In 1558, Selim II's rule, influenced by his Jewish wife Nurbanu Sultan,[149] saw the control of Tiberias given to Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi. She encouraged Jewish refugees to settle there and established a Hebrew printing press in Safed, which became a center for Kabbalah studies.

During the Ottoman era, Syria experienced a diverse demographic landscape. The population was predominantly Muslim, but there were significant Christian and Jewish communities. The empire's relatively tolerant religious policies allowed for a degree of religious freedom, fostering a multicultural society. This period also saw the immigration of various ethnic and religious groups, further enriching the region's cultural tapestry. Cities like Damascus, Aleppo, and Jerusalem became thriving centers of trade, scholarship, and religious activity.

The area experienced turmoil in 1660 due to a Druze power struggle, resulting in the destruction of Safed and Tiberias.[150] The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed the rise of local powers challenging Ottoman authority. In the late 18th century, Sheikh Zahir al-Umar's independent Emirate in the Galilee challenged Ottoman rule, reflecting the weakening central authority of the Ottoman Empire.[151] These regional leaders often embarked on projects to develop infrastructure, agriculture, and trade, leaving a lasting impact on the region's economy and urban landscape. Napoleon's brief occupation in 1799 included plans for a Jewish state, abandoned after his defeat at Acre.[152] In 1831, Muhammad Ali of Egypt, an Ottoman ruler who left the Empire and tried to modernize Egypt, conquered Ottoman Syria and imposed conscription, leading to the Arab revolt.[153]

The 19th century brought European economic and political influence to Ottoman Syria, alongside internal reforms under the Tanzimat period. These reforms aimed to modernize the empire and included the introduction of new legal and administrative systems, educational reforms, and an emphasis on equal rights for all citizens. However, these changes also led to social unrest and nationalistic movements among various ethnic and religious groups, laying the groundwork for the complex political dynamics of the 20th century. An agreement in 1839 between Moses Montefiore and Muhammed Pasha for Jewish villages in Damascus Eyalet remained unimplemented due to Egyptian withdrawal in 1840.[154] By 1896, Jews formed the majority in Jerusalem,[[155] but the overall population in Palestine was 88% Muslim and 9% Christian.[156]

The First Aliyah, from 1882 to 1903, saw about 35,000 Jews immigrate to Palestine, mainly from the Russian Empire due to increasing persecution.[157] Russian Jews established agricultural settlements like Petah Tikva and Rishon LeZion, supported by Baron Rothschild.Many early migrants could not find work and left, but despite the problems, more settlements arose and the community grew. After the Ottoman conquest of Yemen in 1881, a large number of Yemenite Jews also emigrated to Palestine, often driven by Messianism.[158] In 1896, Theodor Herzl's "Der Judenstaat" proposed a Jewish state as a solution to antisemitism, leading to the founding of the World Zionist Organization in 1897.[159]

The Second Aliyah, from 1904 to 1914, brought around 40,000 Jews to the region, with the World Zionist Organization establishing a structured settlement policy.[160] In 1909 residents of Jaffa bought land outside the city walls and built the first entirely Hebrew-speaking town, Ahuzat Bayit (later renamed Tel Aviv).[161]

During World War I, Jews mainly supported Germany against Russia.[162] The British, seeking Jewish support, were influenced by perceptions of Jewish influence and aimed to secure American Jewish backing. British sympathy for Zionism, including from Prime Minister Lloyd George, led to policies favoring Jewish interests.[163] Over 14,000 Jews were expelled from Jaffa by the Ottomans between 1914 and 1915, and a general expulsion in 1917 affected all residents of Jaffa and Tel Aviv until the British conquest in 1918.[164]

The final years of Ottoman rule in Syria were marked by the turmoil of World War I. The empire's alignment with the Central Powers and the subsequent Arab Revolt, supported by the British, significantly weakened Ottoman control. Post-war, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Treaty of Sèvres led to the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire's Arab provinces, resulting in the end of Ottoman rule in Syria. Palestine was governed under martial law by the British, French, and Arab Occupied Enemy Territory Administration until the mandate's establishment in 1920.

1917 Nov 2

Balfour Declaration

England, UK

The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British Government in 1917, was a pivotal moment in the history of the Middle East. It declared British support for the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, then an Ottoman region with a small Jewish minority. Authored by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour and addressed to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, it was intended to rally Jewish support for the Allies in World War I.

The genesis of the declaration lay in the British government's wartime considerations. Following their 1914 declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire, the British War Cabinet, influenced by Zionist Cabinet member Herbert Samuel, began to explore the idea of supporting Zionist ambitions. This was part of a broader strategy to secure Jewish support for the war effort. David Lloyd George, who became Prime Minister in December 1916, favored the partition of the Ottoman Empire, contrasting with his predecessor Asquith’s preference for reform. The first formal negotiations with Zionist leaders occurred in February 1917, leading to Balfour's request for a draft declaration from the Zionist leadership.

The context of the declaration’s release was crucial. By late 1917, the war had stalemated, with key allies like the United States and Russia not fully engaged. The Battle of Beersheba in October 1917 broke this stalemate, coinciding with the final authorization of the declaration. The British saw it as a tool to win Jewish support globally for the Allied cause.

The declaration itself was ambiguous, using the term "national home" without clear definition or specified boundaries for Palestine. It aimed to balance Zionist aspirations with the rights of the existing non-Jewish majority in Palestine. The latter part of the declaration, added to placate opponents, emphasized safeguarding the rights of Palestinian Arabs and Jews in other countries.

Its impact was profound and lasting. It galvanized support for Zionism worldwide and became integral to the British Mandate for Palestine. However, it also sowed the seeds of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The declaration's compatibility with British promises to the Sharif of Mecca remains a point of controversy. In hindsight, the British government acknowledged the oversight of not considering the local Arab population's aspirations, a realization that has shaped historical assessments of the declaration.

1920 - 1948
Mandatory Palestine
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1920 Jan 1 00:01 - 1948

Mandatory Palestine


Mandatory Palestine, existing from 1920 to 1948, was a territory under British administration as per the League of Nations' mandate following World War I. This period followed the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule and the British military campaign that ousted the Ottomans from the Levant.[165] The post-war geopolitical landscape was shaped by conflicting promises and agreements: the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence, which implied Arab independence in exchange for revolting against the Ottomans, and the Sykes–Picot Agreement between the UK and France, which divided the region, seen by Arabs as a betrayal.

Further complicating matters was the Balfour Declaration of 1917, where Britain expressed support for a Jewish "national home" in Palestine, conflicting with earlier promises made to Arab leaders. Following the war, the British and French established a joint administration over the former Ottoman territories, with the British later gaining legitimacy for their control over Palestine through a League of Nations mandate in 1922. The mandate aimed to prepare the region for eventual independence.[166]

The mandate period was marked by significant Jewish immigration and the emergence of nationalist movements among both Jewish and Arab communities. During the British Mandate, the Yishuv, or Jewish community in Palestine, significantly grew, increasing from one-sixth to nearly one-third of the total population. Official records indicate that between 1920 and 1945, 367,845 Jews and 33,304 non-Jews immigrated legally to the region.[167] Additionally, it's estimated that another 50–60,000 Jews and a small number of Arabs (mostly seasonal) immigrated illegally during this period.[168] For the Jewish community, immigration was the primary driver of population growth, whereas the non-Jewish (mostly Arab) population growth was largely due to natural increase.[169] The majority of Jewish immigrants came from Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1939, and from Romania and Poland during 1940–1944, along with 3,530 immigrants from Yemen in the same period.[170]

Initially, Jewish immigration faced minimal opposition from Palestinian Arabs. However, the situation changed as anti-Semitism intensified in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to a marked increase in Jewish immigration to Palestine, predominantly from Europe. This influx, coupled with the rise of Arab nationalism and growing anti-Jewish sentiments, led to increasing Arab resentment towards the growing Jewish population. In response, the British government implemented quotas on Jewish immigration, a policy that proved controversial and was met with dissatisfaction from both Arabs and Jews, each for different reasons. Arabs were concerned about the demographic and political impact of Jewish immigration, while Jews sought refuge from European persecution and the realization of Zionist aspirations.

Tensions between these groups escalated, leading to the Arab revolt in Palestine from 1936 to 1939 and the Jewish insurgency from 1944 to 1948. In 1947, the United Nations proposed a Partition Plan to divide Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, but this plan was met with conflict.

The ensuing 1948 Palestine war dramatically reshaped the region. It concluded with the division of Mandatory Palestine among newly formed Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (which annexed the West Bank), and the Kingdom of Egypt (which controlled the Gaza Strip in the form of the "All-Palestine Protectorate"). This period laid the groundwork for the complex and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

White Paper of 1939
Jewish demonstration against the White Paper in Jerusalem, 22 May 1939 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1939 Jan 1

White Paper of 1939


Jewish immigration and Nazi propaganda contributed to the large-scale 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, a largely nationalist uprising directed at ending British rule. The British responded to the revolt with the Peel Commission (1936–37), a public inquiry that recommended that an exclusively Jewish territory be created in the Galilee and western coast (including the population transfer of 225,000 Arabs); the rest becoming an exclusively Arab area. The two main Jewish leaders, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, had convinced the Zionist Congress to approve equivocally the Peel recommendations as a basis for more negotiation. The plan was rejected outright by the Palestinian Arab leadership and they renewed the revolt, which caused the British to appease the Arabs, and to abandon the plan as unworkable.

In 1938, the US called an international conference to address the question of the vast numbers of Jews trying to escape Europe. Britain made its attendance contingent on Palestine being kept out of the discussion. No Jewish representatives were invited. The Nazis proposed their own solution: that the Jews of Europe be shipped to Madagascar (the Madagascar Plan). The agreement proved fruitless, and the Jews were stuck in Europe.

With millions of Jews trying to leave Europe and every country in the world closed to Jewish migration, the British decided to close Palestine. The White Paper of 1939, recommended that an independent Palestine, governed jointly by Arabs and Jews, be established within 10 years. The White Paper agreed to allow 75,000 Jewish immigrants into Palestine over the period 1940–44, after which migration would require Arab approval. Both the Arab and Jewish leadership rejected the White Paper. In March 1940 the British High Commissioner for Palestine issued an edict banning Jews from purchasing land in 95% of Palestine. Jews now resorted to illegal immigration: (Aliyah Bet or "Ha'apalah"), often organized by the Mossad Le'aliyah Bet and the Irgun. With no outside help and no countries ready to admit them, very few Jews managed to escape Europe between 1939 and 1945.

Jewish insurgency in Mandatory Palestine
Zionist leaders arrested during Operation Agatha, in a detention camp in Latrun ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1944 Feb 1 - 1948 May 14

Jewish insurgency in Mandatory Palestine


The British Empire was severely weakened by the war. In the Middle East, the war had made Britain conscious of its dependence on Arab oil. British firms controlled Iraqi oil and Britain ruled Kuwait, Bahrain and the Emirates. Shortly after VE Day, the Labour Party won the general election in Britain. Although Labour Party conferences had for years called for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, the Labour government now decided to maintain the 1939 White Paper policies.[171]

Illegal migration (Aliyah Bet) became the main form of Jewish entry into Palestine. Across Europe Bricha ("flight"), an organization of former partisans and ghetto fighters, smuggled Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe to Mediterranean ports, where small boats tried to breach the British blockade of Palestine. Meanwhile, Jews from Arab countries began moving into Palestine overland. Despite British efforts to curb immigration, during the 14 years of the Aliyah Bet, over 110,000 Jews entered Palestine. By the end of World War II, the Jewish population of Palestine had increased to 33% of the total population.[172]

In an effort to win independence, Zionists now waged a guerrilla war against the British. The main underground Jewish militia, the Haganah, formed an alliance called the Jewish Resistance Movement with the Etzel and Stern Gang to fight the British. In June 1946, following instances of Jewish sabotage, such as in the Night of the Bridges, the British launched Operation Agatha, arresting 2,700 Jews, including the leadership of the Jewish Agency, whose headquarters were raided. Those arrested were held without trial.

On 4 July 1946 a massive pogrom in Poland led to a wave of Holocaust survivors fleeing Europe for Palestine. Three weeks later, Irgun bombed the British Military Headquarters of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people. In the days following the bombing, Tel Aviv was placed under curfew and over 120,000 Jews, nearly 20% of the Jewish population of Palestine, were questioned by the police. The alliance between Haganah and Etzel was dissolved after the King David bombings. Between 1945 and 1948, 100,000–120,000 Jews left Poland. Their departure was largely organized by Zionist activists in Poland under the umbrella of the semi-clandestine organization Berihah ("Flight").[173]

United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine
The 1947 meeting at the General Assembly meeting place between 1946 and 1951 in Flushing, New York ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1947 Nov 29

United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine


On 2 April 1947, in response to the escalating conflict and complexity of the Palestinian issue, the United Kingdom requested that the United Nations General Assembly handle the question of Palestine. The General Assembly established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to examine and report on the situation.

During UNSCOP's deliberations, the non-Zionist Orthodox Jewish party, Agudat Israel, recommended the establishment of a Jewish state under certain religious conditions. They negotiated a status quo agreement with David Ben-Gurion, which included exemptions from military service for yeshiva students and Orthodox women, observance of the Sabbath as the national weekend, provision of kosher food in government institutions, and permission for Orthodox Jews to maintain a separate education system.UNSCOP's majority report proposed the creation of an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and an internationally administered City of Jerusalem.[174] This recommendation was adopted with modifications by the General Assembly in Resolution 181 (II) on 29 November 1947, which also called for substantial Jewish immigration by 1 February 1948.[175]

Despite the UN's resolution, neither Britain nor the UN Security Council took steps to implement it. The British government, concerned about damaging relations with Arab nations, restricted UN access to Palestine and continued to detain Jews attempting to enter the territory. This policy persisted until the end of the British Mandate, with the British withdrawal completed in May 1948. However, Britain continued to detain Jewish immigrants of "fighting age" and their families in Cyprus until March 1949.[176]

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1947 Nov 30 - 1948 May 14

Civil War in Mandatory Palestine


The adoption of the UN General Assembly's partition plan in November 1947 was met with jubilation in the Jewish community and indignation in the Arab community, leading to an escalation of violence and a civil war in Palestine. By January 1948, the conflict had militarized significantly, with the intervention of Arab Liberation Army regiments and the blockade of Jerusalem's 100,000 Jewish residents, led by Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni.[177] The Jewish community, particularly the Haganah, struggled to break the blockade, losing many lives and armored vehicles in the process.[178]

As the violence intensified, up to 100,000 Arabs from urban areas like Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem, as well as areas with Jewish majorities, fled abroad or to other Arab regions.[179] The United States, initially supportive of the partition, withdrew its backing, influencing the Arab League's perception that the Palestinian Arabs, bolstered by the Arab Liberation Army, could thwart the partition plan. Meanwhile, the British government shifted its position to support the annexation of the Arab part of Palestine by Transjordan, a plan formalized on 7 February 1948.[180]

David Ben-Gurion, leader of the Jewish community, responded by reorganizing the Haganah and implementing mandatory conscription. Funds raised by Golda Meir in the United States, along with support from the Soviet Union, allowed the Jewish community to acquire significant arms from Eastern Europe. Ben-Gurion tasked Yigael Yadin with planning for the expected intervention of Arab states, leading to the development of Plan Dalet. This strategy transitioned the Haganah from defense to offense, aiming to establish Jewish territorial continuity. The plan led to the capture of key cities and the flight of over 250,000 Palestinian Arabs, setting the stage for the intervention of Arab states.[181]

On 14 May 1948, coinciding with the final British withdrawal from Haifa, the Jewish People's Council declared the establishment of the State of Israel at the Tel Aviv Museum.[182] This declaration marked the culmination of Zionist efforts and the beginning of a new phase in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Modern State of Israel
Israeli Declaration of Independence
David Ben-Gurion declaring independence beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1948 May 14

Israeli Declaration of Independence


The Israeli Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on 14 May 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and soon to be first Prime Minister of Israel. It declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel, which would come into effect on termination of the British Mandate at midnight that day.

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1948 May 15 - 1949 Mar 10

First Arab–Israeli War


The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, also known as the First Arab–Israeli War, was a significant and transformative conflict in the Middle East, marking the second and final stage of the 1948 Palestine war. The war officially began with the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine at midnight on 14 May 1948, just hours after the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The next day, a coalition of Arab states, including Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, and expeditionary forces from Iraq, entered the territory of former British Palestine and engaged in military conflict with Israel.[182] The invading forces took control of the Arab areas and immediately attacked Israeli forces and several Jewish settlements.[183]

This war was the culmination of prolonged tensions and conflicts in the region, which had escalated following the UN Partition Plan's adoption on 29 November 1947. The plan aimed to divide the territory into separate Arab and Jewish states and an international regime for Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The period between the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the end of the British Mandate in 1948 saw growing dissatisfaction from both Arabs and Jews, leading to the Arab revolt from 1936 to 1939 and the Jewish insurgency from 1944 to 1947.

The conflict, primarily fought on the territory of the former British Mandate, along with areas in the Sinai Peninsula and southern Lebanon, was characterized by several truce periods over its 10-month duration.[184] As a result of the war, Israel expanded its control beyond the UN proposal for the Jewish state, capturing nearly 60% of the territory designated for the Arab state.[185] This included key areas such as the Jaffa, Lydda, Ramle, Upper Galilee, parts of the Negev, and areas around the Tel Aviv–Jerusalem road. Israel also gained control of West Jerusalem, while Transjordan took over East Jerusalem and the West Bank, annexing it later, and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip. The Jericho Conference in December 1948, attended by Palestinian delegates, called for the unification of Palestine and Transjordan.[186]

The war led to significant demographic changes, with approximately 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fleeing or being expelled from their homes in what became Israel, becoming refugees and marking the Nakba ("the catastrophe").[187] Concurrently, a similar number of Jews immigrated to Israel, including 260,000 from surrounding Arab states.[188] This war laid the foundation for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and significantly altered the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

Establishment Years
Menachem Begin addressing a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv against negotiations with Germany in 1952. ©Hans Pinn
1949 Jan 1 - 1955

Establishment Years


In 1949, Israel's 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, initially met in Tel Aviv and later moved to Jerusalem following the 1949 ceasefire. The country's first elections in January 1949 resulted in a victory for the Socialist-Zionist parties Mapai and Mapam, winning 46 and 19 seats respectively. David Ben-Gurion, the leader of Mapai, became the Prime Minister, forming a coalition that excluded the Stalinist Mapam, indicating Israel's non-alignment with the Soviet bloc. Chaim Weizmann was elected as Israel's first President, and Hebrew and Arabic were established as official languages. All Israeli governments have been coalitions, with no party ever securing a majority in the Knesset. From 1948 to 1977, governments were predominantly led by Mapai and its successor, the Labour Party, reflecting a Labour Zionist dominance with a primarily socialist economy.

Between 1948 and 1951, Jewish immigration doubled Israel's population, significantly impacting its society. Around 700,000 Jews, mainly refugees, settled in Israel during this period. A large number came from Asian and North African countries, with significant numbers from Iraq, Romania, and Poland. The Law of Return, passed in 1950, allowed Jews and those with Jewish ancestry to settle in Israel and gain citizenship. This period saw major immigration operations like Magic Carpet and Ezra and Nehemiah, bringing large numbers of Yemenite and Iraqi Jews to Israel. By the late 1960s, about 850,000 Jews had left Arab countries, with the majority relocating to Israel.[189]

Israel's population grew from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958. This rapid growth, primarily due to immigration, led to an Austerity Period with rationing of essentials. Many immigrants were refugees living in ma'abarot, temporary camps. Financial challenges led Prime Minister Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany amidst public controversy.[190]

Educational reforms in 1949 made education free and compulsory until age 14, with the state funding different party-affiliated and minority education systems. However, there were conflicts, particularly around the secularization efforts among orthodox Yemenite children, leading to public inquiries and political consequences.[191]

Internationally, Israel faced challenges such as Egypt's closure of the Suez Canal to Israeli ships in 1950 and the rise of Nasser in Egypt in 1952, prompting Israel to establish relations with African states and France.[192] Domestically, Mapai, under Moshe Sharett, continued to lead following the 1955 elections. During this period, Israel faced fedayeen attacks from Gaza[193] and retaliated, escalating violence. The period also saw the introduction of the Uzi submachine gun in the Israeli Defense Forces and the start of Egypt's missile program with former Nazi scientists.[194]

Sharett's government fell due to the Lavon Affair, a failed covert operation intended to disrupt US-Egypt relations, leading to Ben-Gurion's return as Prime Minister.[195]

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1956 Oct 29 - Nov 7

Suez Crisis

Suez Canal, Egypt

The Suez Crisis, also known as the Second Arab–Israeli War, occurred in late 1956. This conflict involved Israel, the United Kingdom, and France invading Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The primary goals were to regain Western control over the Suez Canal and to remove Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had nationalized the Suez Canal Company. Israel aimed to reopen the Straits of Tiran,[195] which Egypt had blockaded. The conflict escalated, but due to political pressure from the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations, the invading countries withdrew. This withdrawal marked a significant humiliation for the UK and France and conversely strengthened Nasser's position.[196]

In 1955 Egypt concluded a massive arms deal with Czechoslovakia, upsetting the balance of power in the Middle East. The crisis was triggered by Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal Company on 26 July 1956, a company primarily owned by British and French shareholders. Concurrently, Egypt blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba, affecting Israeli access to the Red Sea. In response, Israel, France, and Britain formed a secret plan at Sèvres, with Israel initiating military action against Egypt to give Britain and France a pretext to seize the canal. The plan included allegations of France agreeing to build a nuclear plant for Israel.

Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and Egyptian Sinai on 29 October, followed by the British and French ultimatum and subsequent invasion along the Suez Canal. Egyptian forces, although eventually defeated, managed to block the canal by sinking ships. The invasion's planning was later revealed, showing the collusion among Israel, France, and Britain. Despite some military successes, the canal was rendered unusable, and international pressure, particularly from the U.S., forced a withdrawal. U.S. President Eisenhower's strong opposition to the invasion included threats to the British financial system. Historians conclude the crisis "signified the end of Great Britain's role as one of the world's major powers".[197]

The Suez Canal remained closed from October 1956 until March 1957. Israel achieved certain goals, like securing navigation through the Straits of Tiran. The crisis led to several significant outcomes: the establishment of UNEF Peacekeepers by the UN, the resignation of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, a Nobel Peace Prize for Canadian Minister Lester Pearson, and possibly encouraging the USSR's actions in Hungary.[198]

Nasser emerged politically victorious, and Israel realized its military capabilities to conquer Sinai without British or French support and the limitations imposed by international political pressure on its military operations.

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1967 Jun 5 - Jun 10

Six-Day War

Middle East

The Six-Day War, or the Third Arab–Israeli War, took place from 5 to 10 June 1967 between Israel and an Arab coalition primarily consisting of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. This conflict emerged from escalating tensions and poor relations rooted in the 1949 Armistice Agreements and the 1956 Suez Crisis. The immediate trigger was Egypt's closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in May 1967, a move Israel had previously declared as a casus belli. Egypt also mobilized its military along the Israeli border[199] and demanded the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF).[200]

Israel launched preemptive airstrikes against Egyptian airfields on 5 June 1967,[201] achieving air supremacy by destroying most of Egypt's aerial military assets. This was followed by a ground offensive into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. Egypt, caught off guard, soon evacuated the Sinai Peninsula, leading to Israeli occupation of the entire region.[202] Jordan, allied with Egypt, engaged in limited attacks against Israeli forces. Syria entered the conflict on the fifth day with shelling in the north. The conflict concluded with ceasefires between Egypt and Jordan on 8 June, Syria on 9 June, and a formal ceasefire with Israel on 11 June. The war resulted in over 20,000 Arab fatalities and fewer than 1,000 Israeli fatalities.

By the end of hostilities, Israel had captured significant territories: the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt. The displacement of civilian populations as a result of the Six-Day War would have long-term consequences, as around 280,000 to 325,000 Palestinians and 100,000 Syrians fled or were expelled from the West Bank[203] and the Golan Heights, respectively.[204] Egyptian President Nasser resigned but was later reinstated amid widespread protests in Egypt. The war's aftermath saw the closure of the Suez Canal until 1975, contributing to the energy and oil crises of the 1970s due to the impact on Middle Eastern oil deliveries to Europe.

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1967 Jun 11

Israeli Settlements

West Bank

Israeli settlements or colonies[267] are civilian communities where Israeli citizens live, almost exclusively of Jewish identity or ethnicity,[268] built on lands occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967.[269] Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied a number of territories.[270] It took over the remainder of the Palestinian Mandate territories of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, from Jordan which had controlled the territories since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, which had held Gaza under occupation since 1949. From Egypt, it also captured the Sinai Peninsula and from Syria it captured most of the Golan Heights, which since 1981 has been administered under the Golan Heights Law.

As early as September 1967, Israeli settlement policy was progressively encouraged by the Labor government of Levi Eshkol. The basis for Israeli settlement in the West Bank became the Allon Plan,[271] named after its inventor Yigal Allon. It implied Israeli annexation of major parts of the Israeli-occupied territories, especially East Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and the Jordan Valley.[272] The settlement policy of the government of Yitzhak Rabin was also derived from the Allon Plan.[273]

The first settlement was Kfar Etzion, in the southern West Bank,[271] although that location was outside the Allon Plan. Many settlements began as Nahal settlements. They were established as military outposts and later expanded and populated with civilian inhabitants. According to a secret document dating to 1970, obtained by Haaretz, the settlement of Kiryat Arba was established by confiscating land by military order and falsely representing the project as being strictly for military use while in reality, Kiryat Arba was planned for settler use. The method of confiscating land by military order for establishing civilian settlements was an open secret in Israel throughout the 1970s, but publication of the information was suppressed by the military censor.[274] In the 1970s, Israel's methods for seizing Palestinian land to establish settlements included requisitioning for ostensibly military purposes and spraying of land with poison.[275]

The Likud government of Menahem Begin, from 1977, was more supportive to settlement in other parts of the West Bank, by organizations like Gush Emunim and the Jewish Agency/World Zionist Organization, and intensified the settlement activities.[273] In a government statement, Likud declared that the entire historic Land of Israel is the inalienable heritage of the Jewish people and that no part of the West Bank should be handed over to foreign rule.[276] Ariel Sharon declared in the same year (1977) that there was a plan to settle 2 million Jews in the West Bank by 2000.[278] The government abrogated the prohibition from purchasing occupied land by Israelis; the "Drobles Plan", a plan for large-scale settlement in the West Bank meant to prevent a Palestinian state under the pretext of security became the framework for its policy.[279] The "Drobles Plan" from the World Zionist Organization, dated October 1978 and named "Master Plan for the Development of Settlements in Judea and Samaria, 1979–1983", was written by the Jewish Agency director and former Knesset member Matityahu Drobles. In January 1981, the government adopted a follow-up plan from Drobles, dated September 1980 and named "The current state of the settlements in Judea and Samaria", with more details about settlement strategy and policy.[280]

The international community considers Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law,[281] though Israel disputes this.[282]

Late 1960s Early 1970s Israel
In early 1969, Golda Meir became Prime Minister of Israel. ©Anonymous
1967 Jul 1

Late 1960s Early 1970s Israel


By the late 1960s, around 500,000 Jews had left Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Over a twenty-year period, approximately 850,000 Jews from Arab countries relocated, with 99% moving to Israel, France, and the Americas. This mass migration resulted in disputes over the substantial assets and properties they left behind, estimated at $150 billion before inflation.[205] Currently, about 9,000 Jews reside in Arab states, mostly in Morocco and Tunisia.

Post-1967, the Soviet bloc (excluding Romania) severed diplomatic relations with Israel. This period saw antisemitic purges in Poland and increased Soviet antisemitism, prompting many Jews to emigrate to Israel. However, most were denied exit visas and faced persecution, with some becoming known as Prisoners of Zion.

Israel's victory in the Six-Day War allowed Jews access to significant religious sites for the first time in decades. They could enter the Old City of Jerusalem, pray at the Western Wall, and access the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron[206] and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. Additionally, the Sinai oil fields were acquired, aiding Israel's energy self-sufficiency.

In 1968, Israel extended compulsory education to age 16 and initiated educational integration programs. Children from mainly Sephardi/Mizrahi neighborhoods were bused to middle schools in more affluent areas, a system that remained until after 2000.

In early 1969, following Levi Eshkol's death, Golda Meir became Prime Minister, winning the largest election percentage in Israeli history. She was the first female Prime Minister of Israel and the first woman to head a Middle Eastern state in modern times.[207]

In September 1970, King Hussein of Jordan expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Jordan. Syrian tanks invaded Jordan to aid the PLO but withdrew after Israeli military threats. The PLO then relocated to Lebanon, significantly impacting the region and contributing to the Lebanese Civil War.

The 1972 Munich Olympics witnessed a tragic event where Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli team members and took nine hostages. A failed German rescue attempt resulted in the deaths of the hostages and five hijackers. The three surviving terrorists were later released in exchange for hostages from a hijacked Lufthansa flight.[208] In response, Israel launched air raids, a raid on PLO headquarters in Lebanon, and an assassination campaign against those responsible for the Munich massacre.

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1973 Nov 6 - Nov 25

Yom Kippur War

Sinai Peninsula, Nuweiba, Egyp

In 1972, Egypt's new President, Anwar Sadat, expelled Soviet advisers, contributing to Israeli complacency regarding potential threats from Egypt and Syria. Combined with the desire to avoid initiating conflict and a security-focused election campaign, Israel failed to mobilize despite warnings of an impending attack.[209]

The Yom Kippur War, also known as the October War, began on 6 October 1973, coinciding with Yom Kippur. Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against the unprepared Israeli Defense Forces. Initially, Israel's ability to repel the invaders was uncertain. Both the Soviet Union and the United States, under Henry Kissinger's direction, rushed arms to their respective allies. Israel eventually repelled the Syrian forces on the Golan Heights and, despite Egypt's initial gains in Sinai, Israeli forces crossed the Suez Canal, encircling the Egyptian Third Army and approaching Cairo. The war resulted in over 2,000 Israeli deaths, significant arms expenses for both sides, and heightened Israeli awareness of their vulnerability. It also intensified superpower tensions. Subsequent negotiations led by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger resulted in Disengagement of Forces agreements with Egypt and Syria in early 1974.

The war triggered the 1973 oil crisis, with Saudi Arabia leading an OPEC oil embargo against nations supporting Israel. This embargo caused severe oil shortages and price spikes, leading many countries to sever or downgrade relations with Israel and excluding it from Asian sporting events.

Post-war, Israeli politics saw the formation of the Likud party from Gahal and other right-wing groups, led by Begin. In the December 1973 elections, Labour, led by Golda Meir, won 51 seats, while Likud secured 39 seats.

In November 1974, the PLO gained observer status at the UN, with Yasser Arafat addressing the General Assembly. The same year, the Agranat Commission, investigating Israel's unpreparedness for the war, blamed the military leadership but exonerated the government. Despite this, public discontent led to Prime Minister Golda Meir's resignation.

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1977 Jan 1 - 1980

Camp David Accords


After Golda Meir's resignation, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister of Israel. However, Rabin resigned in April 1977 due to the "Dollar Account affair," involving an illegal U.S. dollar account held by his wife.[210] Shimon Peres then informally led the Alignment party in the subsequent elections.

The 1977 elections marked a significant shift in Israeli politics, with the Likud party, led by Menachem Begin, winning 43 seats. This victory represented the first time a non-leftist government led Israel. A major factor in Likud's success was the frustration of Mizrahi Jews over discrimination. Begin's government notably included Ultra-Orthodox Jews and worked to bridge the Mizrahi–Ashkenazi divide and the Zionist–Ultra-Orthodox rift. Despite leading to hyper-inflation, Begin's economic liberalization allowed Israel to start receiving substantial U.S. financial aid. His government also actively supported Jewish settlements in the West Bank, intensifying conflict with Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In a historic move, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem in November 1977, invited by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Sadat's visit, which included addressing the Knesset, marked a significant turning point towards peace. His recognition of Israel's right to exist laid the groundwork for direct negotiations. Following this visit, 350 Yom Kippur War veterans formed the Peace Now movement, advocating for peace with Arab nations.

In September 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter facilitated a meeting at Camp David between Sadat and Begin. The Camp David Accords, agreed upon on 11 September, outlined a framework for peace between Egypt and Israel and broader principles for Middle Eastern peace. It included plans for Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza and led to the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty signed on 26 March 1979. This treaty resulted in Israel returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in April 1982. The Arab League responded by suspending Egypt and relocating its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by opponents of the peace agreement. Following the treaty, both Israel and Egypt became major recipients of U.S. military and financial aid.[211] In 1979, over 40,000 Iranian Jews migrated to Israel, fleeing the Islamic Revolution.

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1982 Jun 6 - 1985 Jun 5

First Lebanon War


In the decades after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel's border with Lebanon remained relatively quiet compared to other borders. However, the situation changed following the 1969 Cairo Agreement, which allowed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to operate freely in South Lebanon, an area that became known as "Fatahland." The PLO, particularly its largest faction Fatah, frequently attacked Israel from this base, targeting towns like Kiryat Shmona. This lack of control over Palestinian groups was a key factor in triggering the Lebanese Civil War.

The attempted assassination of Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov in June 1982 served as a pretext for Israel to invade Lebanon, aiming to expel the PLO. Despite the Israeli cabinet authorizing only a limited incursion, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan expanded the operation deep into Lebanon, leading to the occupation of Beirut - the first Arab capital to be occupied by Israel. Initially, some Shia and Christian groups in South Lebanon welcomed the Israelis, having faced mistreatment by the PLO. However, over time, resentment towards the Israeli occupation grew, especially among the Shia community, which gradually radicalized under Iranian influence.[212]

In August 1982, the PLO evacuated Lebanon, relocating to Tunisia. Shortly after, Bashir Gemayel, the newly elected President of Lebanon who reportedly agreed to recognize Israel and sign a peace treaty, was assassinated. Following his death, Phalangist Christian forces committed massacres in two Palestinian refugee camps. This led to massive protests in Israel, with up to 400,000 people demonstrating against the war in Tel Aviv. In 1983, an Israeli public inquiry found Ariel Sharon indirectly but personally responsible for the massacres, recommending that he never again hold the post of Defense Minister, although it did not preclude him from becoming Prime Minister.[213]

The May 17 Agreement in 1983 between Israel and Lebanon was a step towards Israeli withdrawal, which occurred in stages until 1985. Israel continued operations against the PLO and maintained a presence in Southern Lebanon, supporting the South Lebanon Army until May 2000.

South Lebanon Conflict
IDF tank near Shreife IDF military post in Lebanon (1998) ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1985 Feb 16 - 2000 May 25

South Lebanon Conflict


The South Lebanon conflict, lasting from 1985 to 2000, involved Israel and the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a Catholic Christian-dominated force, against primarily Hezbollah-led Shia Muslim and left-wing guerrillas in the Israeli-occupied "Security Zone" in southern Lebanon.[214] The SLA received military and logistical support from the Israel Defense Forces and operated under an Israeli-backed provisional administration. This conflict was an extension of the ongoing strife in the region, including the Palestinian insurgency in South Lebanon and the broader Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), which saw conflicts between various Lebanese factions, the Maronite-led Lebanese Front, the Shia Amal Movement, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Before the 1982 Israeli invasion, Israel aimed to eliminate PLO bases in Lebanon, supporting Maronite militias during the Lebanese Civil War. The 1982 invasion led to the PLO's departure from Lebanon and the establishment of the Security Zone by Israel to protect its civilians from cross-border attacks. However, this resulted in hardships for Lebanese civilians and Palestinians. Despite partially withdrawing in 1985, Israel's actions intensified conflicts with local militias, leading to the rise of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement as significant guerilla forces in the Shia-majority south. Over time, Hezbollah, with support from Iran and Syria, became the predominant military power in southern Lebanon.

The nature of warfare conducted by Hezbollah, including rocket attacks on the Galilee and psychological tactics, challenged the Israeli military.[215] This led to growing public opposition in Israel, particularly after the 1997 Israeli helicopter disaster. The Four Mothers movement became instrumental in swaying public opinion towards withdrawal from Lebanon.[216]

Although the Israeli government hoped for a withdrawal as part of a broader agreement with Syria and Lebanon, negotiations failed. In 2000, following his election promise, Prime Minister Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew Israeli forces in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 425 of 1978. This withdrawal led to the collapse of the SLA, with many members fleeing to Israel.[217] Lebanon and Hezbollah still view the withdrawal as incomplete due to Israel's presence in Shebaa Farms. In 2020, Israel officially recognized the conflict as a full-scale war.[218]

First Intifada
Intifada in Gaza Strip. ©Eli Sharir
1987 Dec 8 - 1993 Sep 13

First Intifada


The First Intifada was a significant series of Palestinian protests and violent riots[219] that occurred in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and Israel. It began in December 1987, fueled by Palestinian frustration with the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which had been ongoing since the 1967 Arab–Israeli War. The uprising lasted until the Madrid Conference of 1991, though some consider its conclusion to be the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.[220]

The Intifada started on 9 December 1987,[221] in the Jabalia refugee camp,[222] after a collision between an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) truck and a civilian car killed four Palestinian workers. Palestinians believed the incident, which happened during a period of high tension, was intentional, a claim Israel denied.[223] The Palestinian response involved protests, civil disobedience, and violence,[224] including graffiti, barricades, and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the IDF and its infrastructure. Alongside these actions were civil efforts such as general strikes, boycotts of Israeli institutions, economic boycotts, refusal to pay taxes, and refusal to use Israeli licenses on Palestinian cars.

Israel deployed some 80,000 soldiers in response. Israeli countermeasures, which initially included the use of live rounds frequently in cases of riots, were criticized by Human Rights Watch as disproportionate, in addition to Israel's liberal use of lethal force.[225] In the first 13 months, 332 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed.[226] In the first year, Israeli security forces killed 311 Palestinians, including 53 minors. Over the six years, an estimated 1,162–1,204 Palestinians were killed by the IDF.[227]

The conflict also impacted Israelis, with 100 civilians and 60 IDF personnel killed,[228] often by militants outside the control of the Intifada's Unified National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU). Additionally, more than 1,400 Israeli civilians and 1,700 soldiers were injured.[229] Another aspect of the Intifada was intra-Palestinian violence, which led to the execution of approximately 822 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel between 1988 and April 1994.[230] It is reported that Israel obtained information from about 18,000 Palestinians,[231] though less than half had proven contacts with Israeli authorities.[231]

1990s Israel
Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton, and Yasser Arafat during the Oslo Accords signing ceremony at the White House on 13 September 1993. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1990 Jan 1 - 2000

1990s Israel


In August 1990, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait led to the Gulf War, involving Iraq and a United States-led coalition. During this conflict, Iraq launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel. At the request of the U.S., Israel did not retaliate, to prevent Arab nations from leaving the coalition. Israel provided gas masks to both Palestinians and its citizens and received Patriot missile defense support from the Netherlands and the U.S. In May 1991, 15,000 Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) were secretly airlifted to Israel in a 36-hour period. The coalition's victory in the Gulf War spurred new opportunities for peace in the region, leading to the Madrid Conference in October 1991, convened by U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir participated in the conference in exchange for loan guarantees to support immigrant absorption from the Soviet Union, which ultimately led to the collapse of his coalition. Following this, the Soviet Union allowed free emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel, leading to the migration of about one million Soviet citizens to Israel over the next few years.[232]

In Israel's 1992 elections, the Labour Party, led by Yitzhak Rabin, won 44 seats. Rabin, promoted as a "tough general," pledged not to deal with the PLO. However, on 13 September 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed by Israel and the PLO at the White House.[233] These accords aimed to transfer authority from Israel to an interim Palestinian Authority, leading to a final treaty and mutual recognition. In February 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a follower of the Kach party, committed the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron. Following this, Israel and the PLO signed agreements in 1994 to begin transferring authority to the Palestinians. Additionally, Jordan and Israel signed the Washington Declaration and the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace in 1994, formally ending their state of war.

The Israeli–Palestinian Interim Agreement was signed on 28 September 1995, granting autonomy to Palestinians and allowing the PLO leadership to relocate to the occupied territories. In return, the Palestinians promised to abstain from terrorism and amended their National Covenant. This agreement faced opposition from Hamas and other factions, which carried out suicide attacks against Israel. Rabin responded by constructing the Gaza–Israel barrier around Gaza and importing laborers due to a labor shortage in Israel. On 4 November 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a far-right-wing religious Zionist. His successor, Shimon Peres, called early elections in February 1996. In April 1996, Israel launched an operation in southern Lebanon in response to Hezbollah's rocket attacks.

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2006 Jul 12 - Aug 14

Second Lebanon War


The 2006 Lebanon War, also known as the Second Lebanon War, was a 34-day military conflict involving Hezbollah paramilitary forces and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It took place in Lebanon, northern Israel, and the Golan Heights, starting on 12 July 2006 and ending with a United Nations-brokered ceasefire on 14 August 2006. The formal end of the conflict was marked by Israel lifting its naval blockade of Lebanon on 8 September 2006. The war is sometimes seen as the first round of the Iran–Israel proxy conflict, due to significant Iranian support for Hezbollah.[234]

The war began with a Hezbollah cross-border raid on 12 July 2006. Hezbollah attacked Israeli border towns and ambushed two Israeli Humvees, killing three soldiers and abducting two.[235] This incident was followed by a failed Israeli rescue attempt, resulting in additional Israeli casualties. Hezbollah demanded the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israel in exchange for the abducted soldiers, a demand Israel refused. In response, Israel conducted airstrikes and artillery fire on targets in Lebanon, including Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport, and initiated a ground invasion of Southern Lebanon, accompanied by an air and naval blockade. Hezbollah retaliated with rocket attacks on northern Israel and engaged in guerrilla warfare.

The conflict is believed to have killed between 1,191 and 1,300 Lebanese people,[236] and 165 Israelis.[237] It severely damaged Lebanese civil infrastructure, and displaced approximately one million Lebanese[238] and 300,000–500,000 Israelis.[239]

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 (UNSCR 1701), aimed at ending hostilities, was unanimously approved on 11 August 2006 and later accepted by both Lebanese and Israeli governments. The resolution called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the withdrawal of IDF from Lebanon, and the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces and an expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the south. The Lebanese Army began deploying in Southern Lebanon on 17 August 2006, and the Israeli blockade was lifted on 8 September 2006. By 1 October 2006, most Israeli troops had withdrawn, although some remained in the village of Ghajar. Despite UNSCR 1701, neither the Lebanese government nor UNIFIL has disarmed Hezbollah. The conflict was claimed as a "Divine Victory" by Hezbollah,[240] while Israel viewed it as a failure and a missed opportunity.[241]

First Gaza War
Israeli F-16I of the 107th Squadron preparing for takeoff ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
2008 Dec 27 - 2009 Jan 18

First Gaza War

Gaza Strip

The Gaza War, also known as Operation Cast Lead by Israel and referred to as the Gaza Massacre in the Muslim world, was a three-week conflict between Palestinian paramilitary groups in the Gaza Strip and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), lasting from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. The conflict ended with a unilateral ceasefire and resulted in the deaths of 1,166–1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, including 4 from friendly fire.[242]

The conflict was preceded by the end of a six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on 4 November, when the IDF raided central Gaza to destroy a tunnel, killing several Hamas militants. Israel claimed the raid was a preemptive strike against a potential abduction threat,[243] while Hamas saw it as a ceasefire violation, leading to rocket fire into Israel.[244] Attempts to renew the truce failed, and Israel initiated Operation Cast Lead on 27 December to stop rocket fire, targeting police stations, military and political sites, and densely populated areas in Gaza, Khan Yunis, and Rafah.[245]

An Israeli ground invasion began on 3 January, with operations in Gaza's urban centers starting on 5 January. In the conflict's final week, Israel continued to target previously damaged sites and Palestinian rocket-launching units. Hamas escalated rocket and mortar attacks, reaching Beersheba and Ashdod.[246] The conflict ended with Israel's unilateral ceasefire on 18 January, followed by Hamas' one-week ceasefire. The IDF completed its withdrawal by 21 January.

In September 2009, a UN special mission led by Richard Goldstone produced a report accusing both sides of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.[247] In 2011, Goldstone retracted his belief that Israel intentionally targeted civilians,[248] a view not shared by the other report authors.[249] The UN Human Rights Council highlighted that 75% of civilian homes destroyed were not rebuilt by September 2012.[250]

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2014 Jul 8 - Aug 26

Second Gaza War

Gaza Strip

The 2014 Gaza War, also known as Operation Protective Edge, was a seven-week military operation launched by Israel on 8 July 2014 in the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas since 2007. The conflict followed the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas-affiliated militants, leading to Israel's Operation Brother's Keeper and the arrest of numerous Palestinians in the West Bank. This escalated into increased rocket attacks from Hamas into Israel, sparking the war.

Israel's aim was to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, while Hamas sought to lift the Israeli–Egyptian blockade of Gaza, end Israel's military offensive, secure a ceasefire monitoring mechanism, and release Palestinian political prisoners. The conflict saw Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other groups launch rockets into Israel, which Israel responded to with airstrikes and a ground invasion aimed at destroying Gaza's tunnel system.[251]

The war began with a Hamas rocket attack following an incident in Khan Yunis, either an Israeli airstrike or an accidental explosion. Israel's aerial operation began on 8 July, and the ground invasion commenced on 17 July, ending on 5 August. An open-ended ceasefire was announced on 26 August. During the conflict, Palestinian groups fired over 4,500 rockets and mortars at Israel, with many intercepted or landing in open areas. The IDF targeted numerous locations in Gaza, destroying tunnels and depleting Hamas's rocket arsenal.

The conflict resulted in 2,125[252] to 2,310[253] Gazan deaths and 10,626[253] to 10,895[254] injuries, including many children and civilians. Estimates of civilian casualties vary, with figures from the Gaza Health Ministry, the UN, and Israeli officials differing. The UN reported over 7,000 homes destroyed and significant economic damage.[255] On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers, 5 civilians, and a Thai civilian were killed, with hundreds injured. The war had a considerable economic impact on Israel.[256]

Israel–Hamas War
IDF soldiers preparing for a ground operation in Gaza on 29 October ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
2023 Oct 7

Israel–Hamas War


The ongoing conflict that began on 7 October 2023 between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian militant groups, primarily in the Gaza Strip, represents a significant escalation in the region. Hamas militants launched a surprise multi-pronged invasion into southern Israel, resulting in significant casualties and hostages taken to Gaza.[257] The attack was widely condemned by many countries, though some have blamed Israel for its policies in Palestinian territories.[258]

Israel responded with a massive aerial bombardment campaign in Gaza and a subsequent ground invasion, declaring a state of war. The conflict has been marked by heavy casualties, with over 14,300 Palestinians, including 6,000 children, killed, and accusations of war crimes against both Israel and Hamas.[259] The situation has led to a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with massive displacement, collapsing health services, and shortages of essential supplies.[260]

The war has sparked widespread global protests that have focused on ceasefire. The United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire;[261] a week later, the United States stood with Israel in rejecting a non-binding advisory resolution passed overwhelmingly in the United Nations General Assembly.[262] Israel has rejected calls for a ceasefire.[263] On 15 November, the UN Security Council approved a resolution calling for "urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip".[264] Israel agreed to a temporary truce following a deal in which Hamas agreed to release 50 hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners.[265] On 28 November, Israel and Hamas accused each other of violating the truce.[266]



Who were the Canaanites? (The Land of Canaan, Geography, People and History)

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How Britain Started the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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Israel's Geographic Challenge 2023

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Why the IDF is the world’s most effective military | Explain Israel Palestine

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Geopolitics of Israel

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Moshe Dayan

Moshe Dayan

Israeli Military Leader

Golda Meir

Golda Meir

Fourth prime minister of Israel



Third king of the United Kingdom of Israel



Monarch of Ancient Israel



Medieval French rabbi

Theodor Herzl

Theodor Herzl

Father of modern political Zionism



Sephardic Jewish Philosopher

Chaim Weizmann

Chaim Weizmann

First president of Israel

Simon bar Kokhba

Simon bar Kokhba

Jewish military leader

Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin

Fifth Prime Minister of Israel

Herod the Great

Herod the Great

Jewish King

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Russian-Jewish Linguist

Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon

11th Prime Minister of Israel

David Ben-Gurion

David Ben-Gurion

Founder of the State of Israel

Flavius Josephus

Flavius Josephus

Roman–Jewish Historian

Judas Maccabeus

Judas Maccabeus

Jewish Priest

Menachem Begin

Menachem Begin

Sixth Prime Minister of Israel

Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi

Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi

Portuguese-Jewish Philanthropist


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  57. Davies 2015, p. 72-73.
  58. Davies 2015, p. 73.
  59. Davies 2015, p. 3.
  60. 2 Kings 15:29 1 Chronicles 5:26
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