A short history of the modern state of Israel: Part 5 (1948 to the present)

The war of independence

From the first day that the state of Israel came into existence, Israel was at war.  Five Arab armies simultaneously attacked its borders and Egyptian planes bombed Tel Aviv.  Syrian troops attacked the Golan Heights.  The Israel Defence Forces were outnumbered but war-planes and a converted illegal-immigrant ship halted the attacks.  Battles continued until 1949 when the Armistice line was drawn between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Syrian and Lebanon.  The war ended with Israel controlling more land than the UN had allocated, including the whole of West Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Corridor and the Arab parts of Galilee.  But Israel had losses too; she lost the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, villages in the Jerusalem area and the Jordan valley.  The Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital were cut off and had to be abandoned.

Immigration to the new state of Israel

The new state of Israel gave Jews in the Arab Muslim world, who were coming under attack, a place to go where they would be welcomed and would give them citizenship.  The population of the country doubled with around 580,000 immigrants, who had arrived with virtually no resources.  Tent cities were created to accommodate them, replaced in time with wooden huts.  It was Israeli government member Golda Meir who managed to get apartments and new towns built for them, sponsored by Jews of America.    Whilst Jews from Arab lands found integration difficult, opportunities, education and the effect of conscription for all citizens helped unify them.

The Law of Return

In addition, 120,000 Holocaust survivors also migrated to the new state of Israel.  They also arrived with few, if any, resources, and had to be found somewhere to live.  In 1950 the Law of Return was passed, offering an immigrant visa to any Jew from anywhere in the world who wished to settle in Israel.  This was followed by the Nationality Law giving immediate citizenship to every Jewish immigrant in 1952.  A stream of immigrants arrived from every country where Jews lived, such as India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, South America, South Africa, Britain and Western Europe.  Only communist countries opposed Jewish emigration.

Whilst Israel’s neighbours opposed her existence, she built relations with more distant nations including France, USA and Britain.  In the following years Israel became a vibrant, flourishing democracy.  Zionist Chaim Weissmann was chosen in 1949 to be the first president, and he invited David Ben Gurion to form a government.  On Weissmann’s death in 1952, Albert Einstein was invited to succeed him.  He declined, and long-term statesman and author Yitzhak Ben-Zvi took office.

The Suez War, 1956

Egypt closed the Suez Canal to ships going to Israel and encouraged attacks against Israel from Gaza, then controlled by Egypt.  Israel retaliated against Egypt with the help of Britain and France, advancing deep into the Sinai peninsula.  In March 1957 Israel was forced to evacuate Sinai.


The ZO constitution was revised; the organisation was renamed the ‘World Zionist Organisation’ (WZO).


The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was established; it rejected the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

The Six Day War, 1967

Nineteen years after Israel became a state, it was attacked by Egypt, Syria and Jordan, led by Egyptian President Nasser.  The intention was to wipe Israel off the map.  Iraq and Saudi Arabia joined the Arab ranks, far outnumbering and outgunning Israeli forces.  The Israeli Minister of Defence, Moshe Dayan, advised that the only chance Israel had was to strike first.  Acting on his advice, Israel successfully struck air bases in Egypt, Syria and Jordan.  The Israeli Chief of Staff, General Rabin co-ordinated a three-front war, which in 6 days added Old Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai and the Golan Heights to territories under Israel’s control.  The call began for Jews to settle in their newly acquired lands.

The battle for Jerusalem, 1967

Jerusalem was divided along the 1949 Armistice Line, and the Old City including the Jewish Quarter synagogues were destroyed; Jews were unable to visit the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.  At the outbreak of the war, Israel urged King Hussein of Jordan not to enter the conflict or to bombard Jerusalem, but he refused.  Uzi Narkiss, the general commanding Central Command led the Jerusalem campaign, determined not to damage the Old City.  Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli rule, and needed lots of renovation, but General Shlomo Goren, Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defence Forces remarked: ‘Your men are making history.  What is going on in Sinai is nothing compared to this.’  At the moment of celebration, Goren blew the trumpet of redemption and Israelis felt that their state was at last complete.

The October War, 1973

After six years of comparative peace (apart from the War of Attrition on the Suez Canal and random terrorist attacks) in 1973, when Israel celebrated 25 years of statehood, Egypt and Syria simultaneously attacked Israel without warning or declaration of war.  Thousands of civilian reservists were catapulted into the battle.  The war was won at an unexpectedly high cost to Israel, leaving her feeling very vulnerable.  General Ariel Sharon led the Sinai attack.


Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State, in order to sustain peace, negotiated a demilitarised zone on the Golan Heights, monitored by the UN, and the disengagement of Israeli and Egyptian forces in Sinai, separated by a UN buffer zone.  Concurrently, the PLO led by Yasser Arafat, mounted terrorist attacks from Jordan and Lebanon into Israel. 


The PLO sought world condemnation of Israel for its very existence.  The UN General Assembly voted to condemn Zionism as racism.  Israel was condemned by 52 Arab, Communist and sub-Saharan African states, plus 20 others, including Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, India and China. 


Menachem Begin, head of the Likud (Consolidation) party, replaced Labour as head of the Israeli government; religious parties in the government coalition demanded greater conformity between the state and Jewish law, and greater support for religious institutions and education.


Following peace negotiations with Israel instigated by Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat in 1977, the Camp David Agreement in 1978 marked the withdrawal of Israel from Sinai.  Because PLO terrorist attacks continued in subsequent years in Israel, Jordan, and in Europe, no moves were made by Israel to execute the second part of the agreement – to set up an ‘elected, self-governing authority’ on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

War with Lebanon, 1982

A PLO assassin seriously wounded the Israeli ambassador to Britain, in London.  This precipitated an invasion of southern Lebanon, countering shelling of Galilee by the PLO in Lebanon.  Ariel Sharon, Begin’s Minister of Defence led the attack.  The PLO, under Yasser Arafat, made an agreement to leave Lebanon but continued terrorist attacks on Israel from Tunis.  In 1985 Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon.

1983 - 1984

Sharon’s ‘iron fist’ approach to war caused internal conflict in Israel.  In 1984 a National Unity government was formed.  Labour party leader, Shimon Peres became Prime Minister, with his Likud rival, Yitzhak Shamir, as his deputy and Foreign Minister.  Two years later, Shamir became Prime Minister.


Russian Jews denied the right to emigrate to Israel under Communist rule, were given their freedom by Mikhail Gorbachev when he came to power in 1985.  More than a million Jews left the Soviet Union then; today 20% of Israel’s population were born in the Soviet Union.


Organised violence (Intifada) by Palestine Arabs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip challenged Israeli control.  In 1988, a new Palestinian organisation, Hamas (zeal), published its covenant to promote jihad (holy war) against Israel in order to liberate the West Bank, Gaza and all the pre-1967 territory.  They saw, and still see, this as part of the Muslim inheritance.  Israeli Minister of Defence, Yitzhak Rabin recognised that the Intifada illustrated ‘the will of small groups to discover their national identity and demand its realisation’.  This led to negotiations which started in Madrid in 1991 with West Bank and Gaza Palestinians (not the PLO).  Shamir was Prime Minister at that time.  He was also responsible for ‘Operation Solomon’, when more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel to avoid civil war.


The UN General Assembly revoked the 1975 equation of Zionism with racism.


The Oslo Accords pledged PLO recognition of Israel, Israeli transfer of authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Palestinian authority, and negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Israel signed a Peace Treaty with King Hussein of Jordan, supported by USA President Clinton.


Deep divisions developed in Israeli society with the transfer of power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.  Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the opposition Likud Party, called the concessions ‘appeasement to terror.’  Acts of Palestinian terror continued, including a new phenomenon – suicide bombers.  Israeli unrest grew as Rabin made successive concessions of land to the Palestinians, coined by Neanyahu as ‘Oslo II.’  Then Rabin was assassinated by a student opposed to the Oslo Accords on religious grounds. 

1996 – 2000

Netanyahu became Prime Minister in 1996.  He wanted more Israeli settlements in the West Bank and remarked, ‘Mr Arafat must tell his people openly and squarely that peace will not be achieved on the 1967 lines.  Israel will reduce itself to a fragile ghetto state on the Mediterranean shores.’  He pressed Arafat to act against the suicide bombers, but Arafat refused.  When Ehud Barak succeeded Netanyahu he yielded to pressure to give up the Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon.  His opponents saw this as a sign of weakness. 

2000 onwards

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations raised worldwide Jewish fears of a divided Jerusalem.   At the Camp David negotiations, encouraged by President Clinton, Barak offered Arafat 90% of the West Bank.  Arafat refused.  The second Intifada began, with a much higher death toll on both sides than the first.  In 2001 Sharon took over as Prime Minister.  He refused to negotiate with Arafat while the terror continued.  Arafat died in 2004 and Sharon built a wall separating Jewish and Arab sections of the West Bank, effectively curbing the terrorist incidents.

From  2005, Sharon saw the evacuation of all Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank.  The Gaza Strip including Israeli army posts came under Palestinian Authority rule.  Responsibility lay as it did at the Oslo Agreements.  But the question of Jerusalem’s future is still in dispute.  No Israeli leader will negotiate a divided capital.

Up to date

In 2005 Ehud Olmert succeeded Sharon, following the latter’s debilitating stroke.  He had just formed a new centrist party, ‘Kadima’ (Forward).  The biggest challenge was to progress the ‘Roadmap to Peace’ proposed by the US and the EU in 2003 which saw a Palestinian State alongside Israel by 2005, provided it renounced terror and ruled democratically.  To show goodwill, Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip.  But in 2006 Hamas won the Palestinian elections – an organisation devoted to Israel’s destruction.  That summer attacks from Gaza increased and Hezbollah (another militant group supported by Iran) began attacks on northern Israel precipitating counter-attacks by Israel.

Today, while world leaders continue to pressure Israel to give up land for peace, and political turmoil is fermenting in the so-called ‘Arab Spring,’ Israel lives with constant threats to her peace and security and with increasing animosity from the world press for her political decisions.  Her survival appears fragile, and there are many specific threats to her existence.

Meanwhile, migration to Israel continues apace; more than 1,000 a year migrate from the US plus 100’s more from the UK and Canada.  When anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, such as in Argentina and France, migration sharply increases.  Today, almost half of Israel’s inhabitants have migrated there since 1984.

Will Israel Survive?

Did God give Israel a small strip of land surrounded by hostile forces with no oil or water to demonstrate the miracle of survival?  Here at Christian Spectrum we are convinced that God has not forsaken his promises of old to restore the people of Israel (the Jews) in their historic homeland, not because they deserve it but as a sign to the world.  This is what Ezekiel prophesied:

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone.  I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land . . . They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived (Ezekiel 37:15-28).

Israel is a nation again, after 2000 years of landlessness.  She has survived against all the odds and she will play host to the final stages of history, culminating in the return of Jesus to Jerusalem in the most cataclysmic events the world will have ever seen. 

From the first day that the state of Israel came into existence, Israel was at war. Five Arab armies simultaneously attacked its borders and Egyptian planes bombed Tel Aviv. Syrian troops attacked the Golan Heights

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