Conversations on social media, news media coverage, events on college campuses, and general public discourse related to the Israel-Hamas war demonstrate a dire need for accurate information about Israel, Zionism, and the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. As the war continues to evolve, staying well-informed about the historical context and ongoing developments is crucial for fostering more understanding and informed opinions.
The timeline below aims to address frequently asked questions about Israel’s history and to help dispel misinformation about the events leading up to this point.
Here is a timeline summarizing key events in both Israel’s history within the broader context of the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
1897-1947: Pre-State Israel
1897: First Zionist Congress
The Zionist movement, founded by Theodor Herzl and other leaders, advocated for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Widespread antisemitism and persecution of Jewish communities in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries served as a major catalyst for the Zionist movement. Jews faced discrimination, violence, and pogroms, a violent organized riot or attack directed at Jews, in many parts of Europe, which fueled the desire for a safe and secure homeland. The First Zionist Congress was held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, where Herzl and other prominent figures in the Zionist movement discussed and debated their vision for the establishment of a Jewish state.
Why It Matters: The Zionist movement under Theodor Herzl was historically significant because it marked the birth of modern political Zionism. Herzl advocated for a Jewish homeland, organized the First Zionist Congress, and played a central role in shaping the intellectual and political foundations of the movement. His vision influenced Jewish identity and led to diplomatic efforts that eventually contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel. Herzl’s legacy as a visionary and advocate for Jewish self-determination remains a fundamental part of Israel’s history and ideology.
1917: The Balfour Declaration
The Balfour Declaration was a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, expressing British support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
Why It Matters: It was the first recognition by a major international power of Jewish national aspirations, which had a profound impact on international diplomacy, contributed to the end of Ottoman rule in the region, and shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by laying the groundwork for competing national claims in Palestine. It remains a pivotal historical document in the context of the region’s complex history and ongoing discussions about its future.
1920: The League of Nations Mandate
The League of Nations granted Britain the mandate to administer Palestine following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.
Why It Matters: The mandate includes a commitment to implementing the Balfour Declaration and facilitating Jewish immigration and settlement in Palestine. The mandate led to nearly 30 years of British control over the region, ending in 1948.
1920: Creation of the Haganah
The Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization that played a significant role in the defense of Jewish communities in British Mandate Palestine.
Why It Matters: Initially formed to protect Jewish communities from local Arab attacks, the Haganah later evolved into one of the main military organizations in the Jewish community in the lead-up to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. After the establishment of the state, the Haganah became the foundation for the Israel Defense Forces.
1929: Hebron Massacre
The 1929 Hebron massacre was a violent event in the city of Hebron in British Mandate Palestine, occurring in August 1929. Arab residents attacked the Jewish community, resulting in the deaths of approximately 67 Jewish residents, including women and children, and injuries to many others.
Why It Matters: The violence had its roots in long-standing tensions between Jewish and Arab communities and had a profound impact on the relations between the two communities in Palestine. The massacre led to the end of Jewish presence in Hebron, one of the holiest cities in Judaism that dated back thousands of years. The Jewish community did not return till after the 1967 Six-Day War.
1930s: The Arab Revolt
The 1930s Arab revolt was a period of intense Arab resistance and rebellion against British colonial rule and Jewish immigration in the Mandate of Palestine. It occurred from 1936 to 1939 and was triggered by several factors, including Arab frustrations over land dispossession, Jewish immigration, and economic disparities.
Why It Matters: The revolt involved widespread strikes, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience by Arab residents in the region. In response, the British authorities imposed curfews, conducted military operations, and arrested numerous Palestinian activists.
1936: Peel Commission
This was a British investigative commission formed to examine the causes of the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine.
Why It Matters: It resulted in the first recommendation to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, offering one of the first official proposals for a two-state solution.
1939: White Paper
A British policy statement that limited Jewish immigration and land acquisition in Palestine.
Why It Matters: This had a significant impact by restricting the ability of Jews to escape the Holocaust and return to their ancestral homeland to establish a Jewish state. It also contributed to tensions between Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine, furthering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
See the full article, timeline, and supplemental information at American Jewish Committee.