Israel has a rich background — the Jewish people have one of the longest histories of any contemporary population.
But unfortunately, many people only vaguely understand the culture and history of this nation.
Read up on the basics of how Israel has developed in the thousands of years since it originated.
Ancient History of Israel
One of the most influential people in the history of Israel was Abraham, who shared his belief in one God with people across the region. In fact, Abraham, his son Isaac and his grandson Israel are considered the patriarchs of the people of Canaan – the ancient name for the area that is now Israel. According to scripture, they would have lived around 2000 BC.
By 1300 BC, the people from the land of Canaan had completed their Exodus from Egypt, with Moses as their leader. Moses then introduced the Torah and the Ten Commandments, ensuring that the Jewish religion and culture would be passed down for centuries in Israel.
Kings of Israel and Foreign Rulers
From about 1000 to 587 BC, Israel’s history is regarded as the Period of the Kings, since several essential rulers came into power. King David began his rule in 1010 BC, eventually naming Jerusalem as the capital. His son Solomon came into power in 970 BC and constructed the first temple in Jerusalem.
However, in 586 BC, the Babylonians took over Jerusalem and destroyed its Temple. The Jewish people were then banished to Babylon, a territory that would eventually become Iraq.
In 538 BC the Persians took over. A few years later, they would allow the exiled Jews returning from Babylon to build a second Temple.
In 333 BC, Alexander the Great’s army took control of Israel, though the Greek Hellenistic empire granted the Jews a degree of autonomy within their borders. However, after one king had defiled the Temple, the Maccabees (a group that fought for Jewish independence) staged a revolt. This eventually allowed the Jews to gain independent rule, and this historic step is part of what is celebrated every year during Hanukkah.
In the years afterward, a string of foreign powers continued to rule over Israel. They included the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, Christian crusaders, Islamic crusaders and the Ottoman Empire. During this time, the Jewish people were often exiled to other areas, though they continually returned and increased in population each time.
Israel’s History with the Arab People
Following World War I, in 1918 the defeated Ottoman Empire released its hold on Israel, and control went to the victorious British. At that point, the British renamed Israel, calling it Palestine. In 1947, Palestine was split into two states, with one area for the Jewish people and the other for the Arab people. Consequently, discord erupted between the two groups.
However, in 1948, Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion helped the people of Israel regain their independence over their land. This was especially important after the end of World War II and the Holocaust, since many felt that the Jewish people needed a recognized nation where they could feel safe. Thus, the modern state of Israel was established in 1948.
The British left the State of Israel on May 14 of that year, but the nearby Arab countries did not allow the new Jewish state time to celebrate. Immediately, Israel was attacked by armies from Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Transjordan.
Since then, the neighboring Arab states have been involved in four subsequent wars with Israel. Several peace agreements have been signed, but the internal Israeli-Palestinian conflict still continues. The US is often involved in some way, with political leaders frequently trying to protect the Jewish state, since the two have been allies since Israel’s inception in 1948.
- Full name: State of Israel
- Population: 7.7 million
- Capital: Jerusalem
- Major Language: Hebrew
- Major Religion: Jewish
- Life expectancy: 79 years (for men), 83 years (for women)
- Main exports: machinery, chemicals, software, diamonds, textiles, clothing