History of the State Since 1948
THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
From May 1948 until July 1949, the newly declared Jewish State waged what seemed to be a war for survival against impossible odds. Out-manned, out-gunned and nearly friendless, the survival of the fledgling state was unlikely. The trained armies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and contingents from both Saudi Arabia and Iraq, together with an untold number of reinforcements, battled against a make-shift army composed of sabras (native-born Israelis) and refugees, many just arriving from European DP camps.
While the odds were vastly against them, the Jewish fighters had two major advantages: the desire to survive and unity. With victims of the Holocaust streaming in with tales of horror and despair, the Jews understood that independence was their only option. If they were defeated by the Arab nations, they would be massacred, and those who survived would have no place to go. And while the Arab nations were unified in their hatred of Israel, they fought amongst themselves, each seeking to expand its own territory.
Battling for every dunam of land, the Israelis slowly drove back the Arab armies, overcoming the impossible odds and breaking the siege on the roads.
In July 1949, armistice agreements were signed with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. At the end of the war, the borders of the State of Israel encompassed a slightly larger territory than originally mapped out by the UN partition plan, but the city of Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan.
While the fighting was over, there was no real peace. The Arab nations refused to recognize the State of Israel. In the divided capital of Jerusalem, gun shots often rang out. The captured Jewish quarter of the Old City was laid to ruin as the Jordanians destroyed synagogues, schools, homes and even cemeteries. The holy Western Wall was rendered inaccessible to all Jews.
Certain of their victory in the war, the attacking Arab nations encouraged the Arabs living within Israel to flee, telling them that the Jews would surely massacre them, and assuring them that after the Zionists were defeated they would have priority in acquiring the Jewish lands. Many hundreds of thousands of Arabs believed their comrade’s propaganda and fled. When the Arabs lost the war, these Arabs were now without a home. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan…all refused to take them in and declare them citizens. Instead, they created refugee camps, vowing that they would soon disgorge the Zionist enemies and “drive them into the sea.”
But the Arabs who fled Israel during the War of Independence were not the only ones who suddenly found themselves displaced. An almost equal number of Jews who had been living in Arab countries now found themselves regarded as enemies in their own countries. Driven from their homes, these Jews were resettled in Israel.
For the next decade, Israel continued to grow. The population constantly increased by a flow of Jews from around the world. Life in Israel was not easy. Basic amenities were looked upon as luxuries, and constant infiltrations by Palestinian Arab terrorist groups called “Fedayeen” took the lives of over 1,000 Israeli citizens.
1956- THE SINAI CAMPAIGN
During the early 1950s, on top of the continued Fedayeen attacks, Egypt disrupted Israeli trade by blocking shipping routes in the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal. At the same time, Egypt nationalized the Suez canal, angering the French and English.
At the end of October 1956, Israel launched the Sinai Campaign, capturing the entire Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Two days later, France and England joined the battle. By early November, the campaign was over, Egypt was humbled and an uneasy truce prevailed. At the insistence of the United States and the UN, Israel withdrew from Gaza and Sinai. UN troops were stationed on the Egypt-Israel border, but the Egyptians continued to hinder Israeli shipping.
1967 – THE SIX DAY WAR
In 1967, military movements throughout the Arab nations surrounding Israel made it apparent that a major Arab military attack was imminent. Egypt ejected the UN peace-keeping forces that had served as a buffer at the Israel-Egypt border, and blocked Israeli shipping in the Straits of Tiran, an action Israel had warned would lead to war. At the same time, infiltration attacks increased on the Syrian border at the Golan Heights and large troop movements in Syria alarmed the Israeli Defense Force. Throughout the Middle East there was an increase in troop movements and anti-Israel rhetoric. Soldiers arrived in Jordan from Iraq, Algeria and Kuwait.
Using diplomatic channels, Israel tried to re-open the international shipping routes to their vessels. The previously pledged support by allies, France and Britain, evaporated, and the United States was unable to create an international force to pressure Egypt to back down. Faced with a major international challenge and surrounded by increased troop movements in enemy countries, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack on June 5, 1967, swiftly capturing the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Ignoring Israeli pleas not to join the war, Jordan launched heavy artillery attacks on western Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel responded with a hard defensive push and gained control of all of Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank). When the Syrians attacked from the north, Israel fought back and succeeded in capturing the Golan Heights from which the Syrians had been launching terror attacks since the creation of the State.
The war ended on June 10th, again without any official peace. The State of Israel had added to its territory the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, all areas from which there had been constant attacks against Israel’s civilian population.
Perhaps the greatest moment in the 1967 war was the unification of Jerusalem. On June 7, 1967, for the first time since 1948, Jews stood before the holy Western Wall and were free to pray. Since the unification of the city, Jews, Christians and Muslims have all had open access to the holy sites of the ancient city.
1973 – THE YOM KIPPUR WAR
Despite the noted increase in movements of Egyptian and Syrian troops, the Israeli Defense Forces deemed the situation secure enough to allow the majority of Israeli soldiers to return home and spend Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with their families.
When the Syrians and Egyptians attacked on the holiest day of the Jewish year (October 7, 1973), the Israelis were taken by surprise, which nearly cost them the war. The Egyptians and Syrians were supported by troops from other Arab nations as well as extensive training and arms from the Soviet Union. What was originally a regional Mid-East conflict, became a battle ground for Cold War issues as the Soviet Union backed Egypt and Syria, supplying them with airlifts of weapons and advisors. At the very last moment, in response, the United States, sent Israel the military replacement parts it needed to recover from its initial losses. Israel eventually struck back and recovered, but only after suffering extraordinarily heavy losses.
Technically, the war ended on October 22, 1973, but fighting continued on the Egyptian-Israeli front. When the cease-fire went into effect, Israel had captured an additional 165 square miles of territory from Syria, and had encircled the Egyptian Third Army on the west bank of the Suez Canal. Egyptian forces held two areas of Israeli territory along the east bank of the canal. Israel, Egypt and Syria all held prisoners of war. After months of diplomacy, Israel withdrew from the area it seized from Syria during the 1973 war, in addition to some area gained in 1967, as well as from parts of the Sinai. Prisoners of war were exchanged.
THE BEGINNINGS OF PEACE
The visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in November 1977 was a monumental moment in Mid-East history. Sadat’s two-day visit, at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, began a process that ended two years later at Camp David, Maryland, when, through the good offices of American President Jimmy Carter, a peace treaty was brokered. It was the first time in history that an Arab nation recognized the State of Israel. As a result of the treaty, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.
In the late 1970s, southern Lebanon became a formidable launching zone for terrorist attacks against Israel. The continued attacks became untenable and all diplomatic resources failed to secure peaceful living conditions for the residents of Northern Israel. In 1982, Israel could endure no more, and entered Southern Lebanon to do battle with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. While numerous cease-fires were arranged in the 1980s and 1990s, each time fighting broke out again, and the security of Israeli citizens was continually at risk. In June 1985, the majority of Israeli troops were withdrawn from Southern Lebanon. A small residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported militia remained in Southern Lebanon in a “security zone,” which Israel established to serve as a necessary buffer against attacks on its northern territory.
In the summer of 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon. Hundred of members of the Southern Lebanese army, that had allied itself with Israel, fled to Israel for protection from retribution from anti-Israel forces. Since the unilateral withdrawal, there has been an increase in attacks by Hizbullah, the major terrorist organization.
THE GULF WAR
During the Gulf War, despite its non-involvement, Israel once again came under attack as Scud Missiles were launched at Israeli territory from Iraq. In total, 39 scuds landed in Israel, many of them on homes and other occupied buildings. Pressured by the United States and other international influences, Israel did not respond to the attacks. Miraculously, Israel suffered only one death.
THE INTIFADA and OSLO ACCORDS
In 1987, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), recognized internationally as a terrorist organization headed by Yassir Arafat, led an internal uprising known as the Intifada. A non-conventional war, the Intifada continued until the mid-1990s. The methods of the Intifada included guerilla warfare, terrorist attacks, stabbings and highjackings.
As the situation became unbearable for both sides, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin agreed to meet with PLO chief Yassir Arafat. Thus began the Oslo Peace Process in 1994. Under the Oslo agreement, Israel agreed to trade land for peace. Included in the terms of the Oslo agreement were: the removal of troops and the creation of self-governed Palestinian areas, the creation (and arming) of a Palestinian police force, as well as the removal from the PLO charter of the declaration of violence against Israel. Critical to the furtherance of the peace process was an educational system based on peace. The agreement was designed to slowly move towards a separate Palestinian entity governed by the Palestinian Authority, but only after accepted steps and signs of change on both sides. Important “final status” issues were left unresolved until the initial agreement had been fulfilled.
Over the five years during which the “land for peace” transfers were expected to build mutual trust and confidence, the two sides would proceed with negotiations on the “final status” issues left unresolved at Oslo. These included some of the thorniest issues dividing the two sides: Palestinian statehood, Jerusalem, and the right of Arab refugee return.
The Oslo period lasted from 1994 until 2000. Peace talks and negotiations gave Israelis hope that peace would soon be achieved. Yet the agreements being made by the leaders of both sides were not necessarily acceptable to their constituents. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations continued to disrupt any hopes for peace, staging numerous bus bombings and other attacks. Right-wing Israelis fought for their voices to be heard as they countered that “land for peace” would not bring peace. Still, the talks continued, and in the summer of 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, at the behest of President Bill Clinton, offered chairman Arafat control of over 90% of the West Bank, Gaza and a shared capital in Jerusalem. The offer was rejected. Arafat wanted all or nothing.
THE AL AKSA INTIFADA
Just before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, in September 2000, violence again erupted in what is now called the Al Aksa Intifada. The Israeli people wearied by concessions that did not bring peace, elected Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister in the elections in February 2001.
The Al Aksa Intifada took the lives of hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians. Every time it appeared that peace-talks would resume, and that the Palestinian Authority might make a serious attempt to deter the terrorism, there was another attack: suicide bombers attacked pizza shops, night clubs, cafes and Passover Seders, killing young and old indiscriminately. Gunmen infiltrated Bar Mitzvah parties, bombers blew up commuter buses — the one common thread was that the Palestinian terrorists made no distinctions. Even Arabs were murdered. Entire families were wiped out and many children were left without parents.
In 2002, Israel began constructing a Security Fence. While this move was controversial internationally, statistics have shown that there was a significant (90%) decrease in terrorist attacks from the areas where the wall was completed. The protection of human life, however, has come at a cost, as those Palestinians wishing to cross into Israel proper for legitimate reasons of work or recreation, are impeded by long backups at check points.
The Al Aksa Intifada definitively came to an end when Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. In January 2006, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke, effectively ushering in a new generation of political leadership to this seemingly never ending struggle. Mahmoud Abbas became the President of the Palestinian Authority, while Ehud Olmert assumed the Prime Ministry of Israel.
Perhaps the most significant action of Ariel Sharon’s government was the unilateral withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the removal of its settlers from Gush Katif and other Gaza settlements. Over 8,000 Jews were evacuated from their homes so that the Palestinians could govern themselves in Gaza.
In preparing for the Palestinian takeover, the Israeli army bulldozed every settlement structure except for several synagogues, Israeli soldiers formally left Gaza on September 11, 2005, and closed the border fence at Kissufim. The synagogues were later looted and burned to the ground.
The absorption of the former residents of Gush Katif into Israel proper was not smooth. Housing and employment still remain a problem for many who were relocated.
Gaza itself degenerated into chaos. In 2006-2007, it became the focal point of a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah. In June 2007, Hamas, a group recognized worldwide as a terrorist organization, seized control of Gaza from Abbas’ Fatah military entity. The smuggling of arms from Egypt and constant rocket firing into Western Israel – most notably the city of Sderot – have become the norm.
THE SECOND LEBANON WAR – Summer 2006
While Israel had withdrawn its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000, the northern border was still a hotspot for violence. Hezbollah regularly sent katusha rockets into northern towns – thankfully, they often missed. In July 2006, Hezbollah terrorists attacked two Israeli border patrol Humvees, killing 3 Israeli soldiers and kidnaping 2 more, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev . This incident followed only a few weeks after Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, had been kidnaped in Gaza by Hamas. The Hezbollah kidnaping and Israel’s desperate attempts to have the soldiers returned was the starting point of the Second Lebanon War
The Second Lebanon War lasted 33 days and was ended by a United Nations Cease-fire. All told, over one thousand people were killed, including many civilians. Over one million people on both sides were displaced from their homes during the fighting, though most were able to return when the hostilities ended.
* In August of 2008, the bodies of Goldwasser and Regev were returned to Israel in a prisoner/body exchange. The two Israelis were believed to have been dead even at the time of the Lebanese action.
OPERATION CAST LEAD
While the U.N. cease fire was upheld on the Lebanese border, the violence throughout the rest of the country did not cease. On March 6, 2008, a gunman entered Yeshivat Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem and killed 8 students and wounded 11 others. Rocket attacks out of the Gaza Strip increased, and over 12,000 rockets were launched into Israel between 2000 and 2008. As the vast majority of these rockets did not, miraculously, take any lives, the ongoing bombardment was not widely noted and condemned.
In December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a three week military air and infantry operation in Gaza meant to end the ongoing rocket attacks and to weaken Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the region. The operation concluded with a unilateral cease-fire.
Over the course of the last decade, Israel has faced the challenge of negative public relations and has lost important support from the North American Jewish community. Incidents such as the 2010 Gaza Flotilla raid in which Israel forcibly stopped a group of Turkish ships trying to illegally enter Gaza created much negative publicity, even if they were within their rights. One anti-Israel campaign that has gained particular popularity is the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. Jewish university students have had to fight for Israel’s legitimacy in light of numerous calls for boycotts on Israeli products.
On a more positive note, after a 5 year multi-national pressure campaign, Gilad Shalit, who had been abducted on the Gaza border in 2006, was returned to Israel in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners.
Our Sages have taught us that the actions of every Jew have a direct impact on the entire nation. What Jews do in America, in Canada, in Russia, in any part of the world, can help our brothers and sisters in Israel find peace.