Jews faced anti-Semitism throughout Europe. Laws restricted Jewish freedom. Pogroms, organized massacres of jewish people, were committed with impunity. By the late 1800s, 2.5 million Jews had fled Eastern Europe despite calling it home for centuries.
In the 1880s, an anti-Semetic politician proposed a Jewish state in Palestine to solve the "Jewish problem." This might have inadvertently inspired Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism.
Through his experiences in Europe, Theodor Herzl realized that even democratic institutions were susceptible to anti-Semitism. In 1896, he published the influential The Jewish State, kickstarting Zionism, which advocates for an independent Jewish state. Jewish people have been divided on the idea of Zionism since its origination.
Many Jewish people in the United States thought Zionism wasn't unnecessary because the US provided sufficient freedom.
Herzl proposed Palenstine as a location for the Jewish nation, citing the Bible and God's promise to return Jews to their homeland in Palestine.
In 1903, the three-day Kishinev pogrom resulted in the deaths of 49 Jews, with 92 suffering severe injuries, numerous Jewish women subjected to rape, over 500 sustaining minor injuries, and 1,500 homes being damaged. The tragedy showed why a safe haven for threatened Jews was needed, and became a rallying point for early Zionists.
Chaim Weizmann, a Zionist and a biochemist, helped Britain and the Allies produce acetone for explosives during World War I. His influence of British leaders led to the Sykes-Picot Agreement partitioning the Middle East and the Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish state in Palestine. However, its borders were unclear.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement created the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration spanning the eastern Mediterranean -- where the Jewish state would form under British control. The agreement completely overlooked Arabs, assuring animosity from the start.
Despite facing challenges such as inhospitable terrain and diseases, waves of Aliyah (Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel) began to take place as th Jews sought to seek safety from violence. From 1880 to 1940, the Jewish population in the area surged from 20,000 to approximately 450,000, implementing impressive infrastructures as they settled.
The influx of Jewish people and the diminishing Arab power and land angered the local Arabs, leading to continuous violent and deathly riots in the region.
The 1930s brought desperate Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism in Europe, but Britain limited immigration. The Jewish Agency smuggled in thousands, but thousands more were still denied, even under threat of death. British authorities faced pressure from both the Jews and the Arabs.
In 1947 the United Nations voted to end the British Mandate, ending British control of the area and giving Israel independence.
33 countries, including the US and USSR voted in favor.
13 countries, including Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, opposed the proposal.
Israel's independence incited a war with the Arabs. Nearly 2,000 were killed in the first six months alone.
Controversially, Israel's Plan Dalet, launched by future Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, allowed peaceful Arabs to remain under Jewish rule but removed resisting Arabs. Some criticize this as forcibly ensuring a Jewish majority, not defense.
By the war's end, over 700,000 Palestinian refugees were displaced. Israel's Arab population was now only 20%.
In 1956, Moshe Dayan, an Israeli military leader, gave an eulogy for Roi Rotberg, who died after an attack from Gaza, that would become Israel's Gettysburg Address and shape the country's persisting worldview.
“We mustn't flinch from the hatred that accompanies and fills the lives of hundreds of thousands of Arabs, who live around us and are waiting for the moment when their hands may claim our blood. We mustn't avert our eyes, lest our hands be weakened. That is the decree of our generation. That is the choice of our lives -- to be willing and armed, strong and unyielding, lest the sword be knocked from our fists, and our lives severed.”
During the 1950s and '60s, Palestinian militants, referred to as the fedayeen, conducted frequent raids, leading up to the 1967 Six Day War. Israel's success in this conflict captured new territories, solidified its military might, and marked a shift towards military leaders assuming the role of prime minister in Israel.
Equality issues started to emerge among Jews, as early Ashkenazi immigrants were joined by diverse Sephardic, Haredi, and Mizrachi Jews. Their stark cultural differences led to divisions.
With the increased establishment of the more religious Mizrachi Jews, politics also took on a more religious tone to attract voters. Israel transformed from its secular Zionist principles into a society that embraced religious and militaristic values.
The Yom Kippur War took place in 1973 between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. Launched on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, the surprise attack initially caught Israel off guard and led to intense fighting on multiple fronts. The war ended with a ceasefire and a recognition of the Israeli military's vulnerability.
In 1977, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords, a peace deal that ended a state of war between the two nations and earned them both the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1982, Israel sent troops to Lebanon to assist the Christian Phalangist Party against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a militant group seeking to overthrow Israel. The operation went poorly, with heavy losses on both sides and the death of Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel. Seeking vengeance, Phalangists then massacred 700-800 Palestinians, including women and children, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, resulting in massive protests in Tel Aviv.
In the 1980s, the militant Hamas group emerged, unleashing frequent attacks on Israel, often employing Arab teenagers.
Oslo Accords in the 1990s aimed to cede Israel control of Gaza and the West Bank and create a Palestinian Authority that would take control, but violence only increased under PLO leader Yasser Arafat. More Israelis were killed by terror attacks from 1994-1996 than any other two-year span.
In 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed for Israel to withdraw from Gaza. In 2005, Israel withdrew and fulfilled demands to cede control of the occupied territory. Yet threats persist from Hamas, which now controls the Palestinian Authority, and from Hezbollah, a militant Islamic group based in Lebanon.
Despite perpetual conflict, Israel endures, boasting one of the world's fastest growing economies and highest concentrations of startups and venture capital.