The State of Israel (מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל — Medīnat Yisrā’el in Hebrew and دَوْلَة إِسْرَائِيل — Dawlat Isrāʼīl in Arabic), is a country in the Middle East, on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest. The country contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel’s economy and technology center is Tel Aviv, while its seat of government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem, although the state’s sovereignty over Jerusalem is internationally unrecognized. The population of Israel, as defined by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, was estimated in 2017 to be 8,658,410 people. It is the world’s only Jewish-majority state, with 74.8% being designated as Jewish. The country’s second largest group of citizens are Arabs, at 20.8% (including the Druze and most East Jerusalem Arabs). The great majority of Israeli Arabs are Sunni Muslims, including significant numbers of semi-settled Negev Bedouins; the rest are Christians and Druze. Other minorities include Arameans, Armenians, Assyrians, Black Hebrew Israelites, Circassians, Maronites and Samaritans. Israel also hosts a significant population of non-citizen foreign workers and asylum seekers from Africa and Asia, including illegal migrants from Sudan, Eritrea and other Sub-Saharan Africans.
In its Basic Laws, Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state. Israel is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system, proportional representation and universal suffrage. The prime minister is head of government and the Knesset is the legislature. Israel is a developed country with the 35th-largest economy in the world by nominal gross domestic product as of 2016. The country benefits from a highly skilled workforce and is among the most educated countries in the world with the one of the highest percentage of its citizens holding a tertiary education degree. The country has the highest standard of living in the Middle East and the third highest in Asia, and has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
Upon independence in 1948, the country formally adopted the name “State of Israel” (Medinat Yisrael) after other proposed historical and religious names including Eretz Israel (“the Land of Israel”), Zion, and Judea, were considered and rejected. In the early weeks of independence, the government chose the term “Israeli” to denote a citizen of Israel, with the formal announcement made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Sharett.
The names Land of Israel and Children of Israel have historically been used to refer to the biblical Kingdom of Israel and the entire Jewish people respectively. The name “Israel” refers to the patriarch Jacob who, according to the Hebrew Bible, was given the name after he successfully wrestled with the angel of the Lord. Jacob’s twelve sons became the ancestors of the Israelites, also known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel or Children of Israel. Jacob and his sons had lived in Canaan but were forced by famine to go into Egypt for four generations, lasting 430 years, until Moses, a great-great grandson of Jacob, led the Israelites back into Canaan during the “Exodus”. The earliest known archaeological artifact to mention the word “Israel” as a collective is the Merneptah Stele of ancient Egypt (dated to the late thireenth century BCE).
The oldest evidence of early humans in the territory of modern Israel, dating to 1.5 million years ago, was found in Ubeidiya near the Sea of Galilee. Other notable Paleolithic sites include caves Tabun, Qesem and Manot. The oldest fossils of anatomically modern humans found outside Africa are the Skhul and Qafzeh hominids, who lived in northern Israel 120,000 years ago. Around the tenth millennium BCE, the Natufian culture existed in the area.
The notion of the “Land of Israel”, known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been important and sacred to the Jewish people since Biblical times. According to the Torah, God promised the land to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people. On the basis of scripture, the period of the three Patriarchs has been placed somewhere in the early second millennium BCE. The first record of the name Israel (as ysrỉꜣr) occurs in the Merneptah Stele, erected for Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah circa 1209 BCE, “Israel is laid waste and his seed is not.” This “Israel” was a cultural and probably political entity of the central highlands, well enough established to be perceived by the Egyptians as a possible challenge to their hegemony, but an ethnic group rather than an organized state. The Merneptah Stele is one of four known contemporary inscriptions from antiquity containing the name of Israel, the others being the Tel Dan Stele, the Mesha Stele, and the Kurkh Monolith. The name appears much earlier, as a personal name, in material from Ebla.
Modern scholars see Israel arising peacefully and internally from existing people in the highlands of Canaan. Ancestors of the Israelites may have included Semites native to Canaan and the Sea Peoples. The archaeological evidence indicates a society of village-like centers, but with more limited resources and a small population. Villages had populations of up to 300 or 400, which lived by farming and herding, and were largely self-sufficient; economic interchange was prevalent. Writing was known and available for recording, even in small sites. The first Kingdom of Israel was established around the eleventh century BCE. Subsequent Israelite kingdoms and states ruled intermittently over the next four hundred years, and are known from various extra-biblical sources.
Around 930 BCE, the kingdom split into a southern Kingdom of Judah and a northern Kingdom of Israel. From the middle of the eighth century BCE, Israel came into increasing conflict with the expanding Neo-Assyrian Empire. Under Tiglath-Pileser III, it first split Israel’s territory into several smaller units and then destroyed its capital, Samaria (722 BCE). An Israelite revolt (724–722 BCE) was crushed after the siege and capture of Samaria by the Assyrian king Sargon II. Sargon’s son, Sennacherib, tried and failed to conquer Judah. Assyrian records say he leveled 46 walled cities and besieged Jerusalem, leaving after receiving extensive tribute.
In 586 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, he destroyed Solomon’s Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylon. The defeat was also recorded in the Babylonian Chronicles. In 538 BCE, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and took over its empire. Cyrus issued a proclamation granting subjugated nations, including the people of Judah, religious freedom (for the original text, which corroborates the biblical narrative only in very broad terms. According to the Hebrew Bible, 50,000 Judeans, led by Zerubbabel, returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple. A second group of 5,000, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, returned to Judah in 456 BCE although non-Jews wrote to Cyrus to try to prevent their return.
With successive Persian rule, the autonomous province Yehud Medinata was gradually developing back into urban society, largely dominated by Judeans. The Greek conquests largely skipped the region without any resistance or interest. Incorporated into Ptolemaic and finally Seleucid empires, the southern Levant was heavily hellenized, building the tensions between Judeans and Greeks. The conflict erupted in 167 BCE with the Maccabean Revolt, which succeeded in establishing an independent Hasmonean Kingdom in Judah, which later expanded over much of modern Israel, as the Seleucids gradually lost control in the region.
The Roman Empire invaded the region in 63 BCE, first taking control of Syria, and then intervening in the Hasmonean Civil War. The struggle between pro-Roman and pro-Parthian factions in Judea eventually led to the installation of Herod the Great and consolidation of the Herodian kingdom as a vassal Judean state of Rome. With the decline of the Herodian dynasty, Judea, transformed into a Roman province, became the site of a violent struggle of Jews against Greco-Romans, culminating in the Jewish–Roman wars, ending in wide-scale destruction, expulsions, and genocide. Jewish presence in the region significantly dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE.
Nevertheless, there was a continuous small Jewish presence and Galilee became its religious center. The Mishnah and part of the Talmud, central Jewish texts, were composed during the second to fourth centuries CE in Tiberias and Jerusalem. The region came to be populated predominantly by Greco-Romans on the coast and Samaritans in the hill-country. Christianity was gradually evolving over Roman paganism, when the area stood under Byzantine rule. Through the fifth and sixth centuries, the dramatic events of the repeated Samaritan revolts reshaped the land, with massive destruction to Byzantine Christian and Samaritan societies and a resulting decrease of the population. After the Persian conquest and the installation of a short-lived Jewish Commonwealth in 614 CE, the Byzantine Empire reconquered the country in 628.
In 634–641 CE, the region, including Jerusalem, was conquered by the Arabs who had just recently adopted Islam. Control of the region transferred between the Rashidun Caliphs, Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Seljuks, Crusaders, and Ayyubids throughout the next three centuries.
During the siege of Jerusalem by the First Crusade in 1099, the Jewish inhabitants of the city fought side by side with the Fatimid garrison and the Muslim population who tried in vain to defend the city against the Crusaders. When the city fell, about 60,000 people were massacred, including 6,000 Jews seeking refuge in a synagogue. At this time, a full thousand years after the fall of the Jewish state, there were Jewish communities all over the country.
In 1165, Maimonides visited Jerusalem and prayed on the Temple Mount, in the “great, holy house.” In 1141, the Spanish-Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi issued a call for Jews to migrate to the Land of Israel, a journey he undertook himself. In 1187, Sultan Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin and subsequently captured Jerusalem and almost all of Palestine. In time, Saladin issued a proclamation inviting Jews to return and settle in Jerusalem, and according to Judah al-Harizi, they did: “From the day the Arabs took Jerusalem, the Israelites inhabited it.” Al-Harizi compared Saladin’s decree allowing Jews to re-establish themselves in Jerusalem to the one issued by the Persian king Cyrus the Great over 1,600 years earlier.
In 1211, the Jewish community in the country was strengthened by the arrival of a group headed by over 300 rabbis from France and England, among them Rabbi Samson ben Abraham of Sens. Nachmanides, the thirteenth-century Spanish rabbi and recognized leader of Jewry greatly praised the land of Israel and viewed its settlement as a positive commandment incumbent on all Jews. He wrote “If the gentiles wish to make peace, we shall make peace and leave them on clear terms; but as for the land, we shall not leave it in their hands, nor in the hands of any nation, not in any generation.”
In 1260, control passed to the Mamluk sultans of Egypt. The country was located between the two centers of Mamluk power, Cairo and Damascus, and only saw some development along the postal road connecting the two cities. Jerusalem, although left without the protection of any city walls since 1219, also saw a flurry of new construction projects centered around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount. In 1266 the Mamluk Sultan Baybars converted the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron into an exclusive Islamic sanctuary and banned Christians and Jews from entering, which previously would be able to enter it for a fee. The ban remained in place until Israel took control of the building in 1967.
In 1470, Isaac b. Meir Latif arrived from Italy and counted 150 Jewish families in Jerusalem. Thanks to Joseph Saragossi who had arrived in the closing years of the fifteenth century, Safed and its environs had developed into the largest concentration of Jews in Palestine. With the help of the Sephardic immigration from Spain, the Jewish population had increased to 10,000 by the early sixteenth century.
In 1516, the region was conquered by the Ottoman Empire; it remained under Turkish rule until the end of the First World War, when Britain defeated the Ottoman forces and set up a military administration across the former Ottoman Syria.
The first wave of modern Jewish migration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe. Although the Zionist movement already existed in practice, Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism, a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, thus offering a solution to the so-called Jewish question of the European states, in conformity with the goals and achievements of other national projects of the time. In 1896, Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), offering his vision of a future Jewish state; the following year he presided over the First Zionist Congress.
The Second Aliyah (1904–14), began after the Kishinev pogrom; some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine, although nearly half of them left eventually. Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews, although the Second Aliyah included socialist groups who established the kibbutz movement. During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, that stated that Britain intended for the creation of a Jewish “national home” within the Palestinian Mandate.
In 1918, the Jewish Legion, a group primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted in the British conquest of Palestine. Arab opposition to British rule and Jewish immigration led to the 1920 Palestine riots and the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah (meaning “The Defense” in Hebrew), from which the Irgun and Lehi, or the Stern Gang, paramilitary groups later split off.
In 1920 the territory was divided between Britain and France under the mandate system, and the British-administered area which included modern day Israel was named Mandatory Palestine.
In 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over Palestine under terms which included the Balfour Declaration with its promise to the Jews, and with similar provisions regarding the Arab Palestinians. The population of the area at this time was predominantly Arab and Muslim, with Jews accounting for about 11%, and Arab Christians at about 9.5% of the population.
The Third (1919–23) and Fourth Aliyahs (1924–29) brought an additional 100,000 Jews to Palestine. The rise of Nazism and the increasing persecution of Jews in 1930s Europe led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This was a major cause of the Arab revolt of 1936–39 during which the British Mandate authorities alongside the Zionist militias of Haganah and Irgun killed 5,032 Arabs and wounded 14,760, resulting in over ten percent of the adult male Palestinian Arab population killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled. The British introduced restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine with the White Paper of 1939. With countries around the world turning away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, a clandestine movement known as Aliyah Bet was organized to bring Jews to Palestine. By the end of World War II, the Jewish population of Palestine had increased to 33% of the total population.
After World War II, Britain found itself in intense conflict with the Jewish community over Jewish immigration limits, as well as continued conflict with the Arab community over limit levels. The Haganah joined Irgun and Lehi in an armed struggle against British rule. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees sought a new life far from their destroyed communities in Europe. The Yishuv attempted to bring these refugees to Palestine but many were turned away or rounded up and placed in detention camps in Atlit and Cyprus by the British.
On July 22, 1946, Irgun attacked the British administrative headquarters for Palestine, which was housed in the southern wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. A total of 91 people of various nationalities were killed and 46 were injured. The hotel was the site of the Secretariat of the Government of Palestine and the Headquarters of the British Armed Forces in Palestine and Transjordan. The attack initially had the approval of the Haganah. It was conceived as a response to Operation Agatha (a series of widespread raids, including one on the Jewish Agency, conducted by the British authorities) and was the deadliest directed at the British during the Mandate era. It was characterized as one of the “most lethal terrorist incidents of the twentieth century.” In 1947, the British government announced it would withdraw from Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews.
On May 15, 1947, the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations resolved that the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine be created “to prepare for consideration at the next regular session of the Assembly a report on the question of Palestine.” In the Report of the Committee dated September 3, 1947, to the General Assembly, the majority of the Committee in Chapter VI proposed a plan to replace the British Mandate with “an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem … the last to be under an International Trusteeship System.”
On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (II) recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union. The plan attached to the resolution was essentially that proposed by the majority of the Committee in the report of September 3. The Jewish Agency, which was the recognized representative of the Jewish community, accepted the plan. The Arab League and Arab Higher Committee of Palestine rejected it, and indicated that they would reject any other plan of partition. On the following day, December 1, 1947, the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a three-day strike, and Arab gangs began attacking Jewish targets. The Jews were initially on the defensive as civil war broke out, but in early April 1948 moved onto the offensive. The Arab Palestinian economy collapsed and 250,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled.
On May 14, 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” The only reference in the text of the Declaration to the borders of the new state is the use of the term Eretz-Israel (“Land of Israel”). The following day, the armies of four Arab countries — Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq — entered what had been British Mandatory Palestine, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli War; contingents from Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sudan joined the war. The apparent purpose of the invasion was to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state at inception, and some Arab leaders talked about driving the Jews into the sea. According to Benny Morris, Jews felt that the invading Arab armies aimed to slaughter the Jews. The Arab league stated that the invasion was to restore law and order and to prevent further bloodshed.
After a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were established. Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. The United Nations estimated that more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled by or fled from advancing Israeli forces during the conflict — what would become known in Arabic as the Nakba (“catastrophe”).
Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations by majority vote on May 11, 1949. Both Israel and Jordan were genuinely interested in a peace agreement but the British acted as a brake on the Jordanian effort in order to avoid damaging British interests in Egypt. In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics. The Kibbutzim, or collective farming communities, played a pivotal role in establishing the new state.
Immigration to Israel during the late 1940s and early 1950s was aided by the Israeli Immigration Department and the non-government sponsored Mossad LeAliyah Bet (“Institution for Illegal Immigration”). Both groups facilitated regular immigration logistics like arranging transportation, but the latter also engaged in clandestine operations in countries, particularly in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where the lives of Jews were believed to be in danger and exit from those places was difficult. Mossad LeAliyah Bet was disbanded in 1953. The immigration was in accordance with the One Million Plan. The immigrants came for differing reasons. Some believed in a Zionist ideology or did it for the promise of a better life in Israel, while others moved to escape persecution or were expelled.
An influx of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab and Muslim countries to Israel during the first three years increased the number of Jews from 700,000 to 1,400,000. By 1958, the population of Israel rose to two million. Between 1948 and 1970, approximately 1,150,000 Jewish refugees relocated to Israel. Some new immigrants arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps known as ma’abarot; by 1952, over 200,000 people were living in these tent cities. Jews of European background were often treated more favorably than Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries — housing units reserved for the latter were often re-designated for the former, with the result that Jews newly arrived from Arab lands generally ended up staying in transit camps for longer. Tensions that developed between the two groups over such discrimination persist to the present day. During this period, food, clothes and furniture had to be rationed in what became known as the austerity period. The need to solve the crisis led Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany that triggered mass protests by Jews angered at the idea that Israel could accept monetary compensation for the Holocaust.
During the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Palestinian fedayeen, nearly always against civilians, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip, leading to several Israeli counter-raids. In 1956, Great Britain and France aimed at regaining control of the Suez Canal, which the Egyptians had nationalized. The continued blockade of the Suez Canal and Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, together with the growing amount of Fedayeen attacks against Israel’s southern population, and recent Arab grave and threatening statements, prompted Israel to attack Egypt. Israel joined a secret alliance with Great Britain and France and overran the Sinai Peninsula but was pressured to withdraw by the United Nations in return for guarantees of Israeli shipping rights in the Red Sea via the Straits of Tiran and the Canal. The war, known as the Suez Crisis, resulted in significant reduction of Israeli border infiltration. In the early 1960s, Israel captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and brought him to Israel for trial. The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust. Eichmann remains the only person executed in Israel by conviction by an Israeli civilian court.
Since 1964, Arab countries, concerned over Israeli plans to divert waters of the Jordan River into the coastal plain, had been trying to divert the headwaters to deprive Israel of water resources, provoking tensions between Israel on the one hand, and Syria and Lebanon on the other. Arab nationalists led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser refused to recognize Israel, and called for its destruction. By 1966, Israeli-Arab relations had deteriorated to the point of actual battles taking place between Israeli and Arab forces.
In May 1967, Egypt massed its army near the border with Israel, expelled UN peacekeepers, stationed in the Sinai Peninsula since 1957, and blocked Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Other Arab states mobilized their forces. Israel reiterated that these actions were a casus belli and, on June 5, launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt. Jordan, Syria and Iraq responded and attacked Israel. In a Six-Day War, Israel defeated Jordan and captured the West Bank, defeated Egypt and captured the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, and defeated Syria and captured the Golan Heights. Jerusalem’s boundaries were enlarged, incorporating East Jerusalem, and the 1949 Green Line became the administrative boundary between Israel and the occupied territories.
Following the 1967 war and the “three nos” resolution of the Arab League, during the 1967–1970 War of Attrition Israel faced attacks from the Egyptians in the Sinai, and from Palestinian groups targeting Israelis in the occupied territories, in Israel proper, and around the world. Most important among the various Palestinian and Arab groups was the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), established in 1964, which initially committed itself to “armed struggle as the only way to liberate the homeland”. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Palestinian groups launched a wave of attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The Israeli government responded with an assassination campaign against the organizers of the massacre, a bombing and a raid on the PLO headquarters in Lebanon.
On October 6, 1973, as Jews were observing Yom Kippur, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israeli forces in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights, that opened the Yom Kippur War. The war ended on October 25 with Israel successfully repelling Egyptian and Syrian forces but having suffered over 2,500 soldiers killed in a war which collectively took 10–35,000 lives in about 20 days. An internal inquiry exonerated the government of responsibility for failures before and during the war, but public anger forced Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign. In July 1976, an airliner was hijacked during its flight from Israel to France by Palestinian guerrillas and landed at Entebbe, Uganda. Israeli commandos carried out an operation in which 102 out of 106 Israeli hostages were successfully rescued.
The 1977 Knesset elections marked a major turning point in Israeli political history as Menachem Begin’s Likud party took control from the Labor Party. Later that year, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat made a trip to Israel and spoke before the Knesset in what was the first recognition of Israel by an Arab head of state. In the two years that followed, Sadat and Begin signed the Camp David Accords (1978) and the Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty (1979). In return, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and agreed to enter negotiations over an autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
On March 11, 1978, a PLO guerilla raid from Lebanon led to the Coastal Road massacre. Israel responded by launching an invasion of southern Lebanon to destroy the PLO bases south of the Litani River. Most PLO fighters withdrew, but Israel was able to secure southern Lebanon until a UN force and the Lebanese army could take over. The PLO soon resumed its policy of attacks against Israel. In the next few years, the PLO infiltrated the south and kept up a sporadic shelling across the border. Israel carried out numerous retaliatory attacks by air and on the ground.
Meanwhile, Begin’s government provided incentives for Israelis to settle in the occupied West Bank, increasing friction with the Palestinians in that area. The Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, passed in 1980, was believed by some to reaffirm Israel’s 1967 annexation of Jerusalem by government decree, and reignited international controversy over the status of the city. No Israeli legislation has defined the territory of Israel and no act specifically included East Jerusalem therein. The position of the majority of UN member states is reflected in numerous resolutions declaring that actions taken by Israel to settle its citizens in the West Bank, and impose its laws and administration on East Jerusalem, are illegal and have no validity.
In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights, although annexation was not recognized internationally. Israel’s population diversity expanded in the 1980s and 1990s. Several waves of Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel since the 1980s, while between 1990 and 1994, immigration from the post-Soviet states increased Israel’s population by twelve percent.
On June 7, 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq’s sole nuclear reactor under construction just outside Baghdad, in order to impede Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. Following a series of PLO attacks in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon that year to destroy the bases from which the PLO launched attacks and missiles into northern Israel. In the first six days of fighting, the Israelis destroyed the military forces of the PLO in Lebanon and decisively defeated the Syrians. An Israeli government inquiry — the Kahan Commission — would later hold Begin, Sharon and several Israeli generals as indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
In 1985, Israel responded to a Palestinian terrorist attack in Cyprus by bombing the PLO headquarters in Tunisia. Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, but maintained a borderland buffer zone in southern Lebanon until 2000, from where Israeli forces engaged in conflict with Hezbollah. The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule, broke out in 1987, with waves of uncoordinated demonstrations and violence occurring in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Over the following six years, the Intifada became more organized and included economic and cultural measures aimed at disrupting the Israeli occupation. More than a thousand people were killed in the violence.
During the 1991 Gulf War, the PLO supported Saddam Hussein and Iraqi Scud missile attacks against Israel. Despite public outrage, Israel heeded American calls to refrain from hitting back and did not participate in that war.
In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister following an election in which his party called for compromise with Israel’s neighbors. The following year, Shimon Peres on behalf of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas for the PLO, signed the Oslo Accords, which gave the Palestinian National Authority the right to govern parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PLO also recognized Israel’s right to exist and pledged an end to terrorism.
In 1994, the Israel–Jordan peace treaty was signed, making Jordan the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel. Arab public support for the Accords was damaged by the continuation of Israeli settlements and checkpoints, and the deterioration of economic conditions. Israeli public support for the Accords waned as Israel was struck by Palestinian suicide attacks. In November 1995, while leaving a peace rally, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a far-right-wing Jew who opposed the Accords.
Under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu at the end of the 1990s, Israel withdrew from Hebron, and signed the Wye River Memorandum, giving greater control to the Palestinian National Authority. Ehud Barak, elected Prime Minister in 1999, began the new millennium by withdrawing forces from Southern Lebanon and conducting negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton at the 2000 Camp David Summit. During the summit, Barak offered a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The proposed state included the entirety of the Gaza Strip and over 90% of the West Bank with Jerusalem as a shared capital. Each side blamed the other for the failure of the talks.
After a controversial visit by Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the Second Intifada began. Some commentators contend that the uprising was pre-planned by Arafat due to the collapse of peace talks. Sharon became prime minister in a 2001 special election. During his tenure, Sharon carried out his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and also spearheaded the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier, ending the Intifada. By this time 1,100 Israelis had been killed, mostly in suicide bombings. The Palestinian fatalities, from 2000 to 2008, reached 4,791 killed by Israeli security forces, 44 killed by Israeli civilians, and 609 killed by Palestinians.
In July 2006, a Hezbollah artillery assault on Israel’s northern border communities and a cross-border abduction of two Israeli soldiers precipitated the month-long Second Lebanon War. On September 6, 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria. At the end of 2008, Israel entered another conflict as a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel collapsed. The 2008–09 Gaza War lasted three weeks and ended after Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire. Hamas announced its own ceasefire, with its own conditions of complete withdrawal and opening of border crossings. Despite neither the rocket launchings nor Israeli retaliatory strikes having completely stopped, the fragile ceasefire remained in order. In what Israel described as a response to more than a hundred Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israeli cities, Israel began an operation in Gaza on November 14, 2012, lasting eight days. Israel started another operation in Gaza following an escalation of rocket attacks by Hamas in July 2014.
The postal history of Israel builds upon the centuries-long development of postal services in Palestine which emerged from its geographic location as a crossroads amidst the empires of the ancient Near East, the Levant and the Middle East. Postal services in the region were first established in the Bronze Age, during the rule of Sargon of Akkad, and successive empires have established and operated a number of different postal systems over the millennia.
The earliest use of a postal system in the region is thought to date back to the Bronze Age. During the rule of the Mamluks, mounted mail service was operated in Deir al-Balah, Lydda and other towns on the Cairo to Damascus route. During the Ottoman period, postal services relied upon Turkey’s stamps. Foreign consulates set up the early post offices. During World War I, the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force occupied Palestine and inscribed stamps as E.E.F. in 1918.
During the British Mandate, postage stamps and services were provided by British authorities. Temporary stamps were issued in February 1918 by the British Expeditionary Forces in Palestine. In February 1920, permanent stamps were issued bearing the imprint Palestine Eretz Israel. From 1933 to 1948, mandate services included airmail stamps and, as an innovation, air letter cards. British postal offices and operations were, in part, turned over to the Israeli government. In May 1948, as the British withdrew and postal services broke down, the provisional government issued overprints on Jewish National Fund stamps and ad hoc postage was created in Nahariya and Safed.
In 1948, stamps were issued by Israel Post, the Israeli postal operator. Because Saturday is a day of rest, Sunday, May 16, was the first business day after independence was declared on which stamps could be sold. The first set of stamps was entitled Doar Ivri (“Hebrew Post”) because the country’s name had not yet been chosen. The first set of definitive stamps included values of 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 50, 250, 500, and 1000 mils. The stamps were printed by letterpress, perforated or as a rouletted variation, and with Israel’s emblematic “tabs” with marginalia about the stamp. Stamp booklets were issued for the 5, 10, 15 and 20 mil stamps. The Doar Ivri stamps were designed by Otte Wallish using ancient coins from the First Jewish–Roman War and later Bar Kokhba revolt.
Israeli stamps are trilingual, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, following the practice of the British Mandate of Palestine (as required by the League of Nations). Israel Post first issued postage due stamps, tête-bêche and gutter pairs in 1948, airmail stamps in 1950, service stamps, for government offices, in 1951 and provisional stamps in 1960. The tabs have gone through three unofficial phases. From 1948 to 1954, the tabs were written in Hebrew (with four exceptions: the Maccabia, Israel Bonds, Zionist Congress and Z.O.A. stamps). From 1954 until 1967, the inscriptions were usually in Hebrew and French. Since 1967, the tabs are typically Hebrew and English. Rarely, a tab is matched with the wrong stamp, as with two mix-ups on some Doar Ivri stamps.
From the outset, Israel created its own commemorative cancellations, including a first day cancel for the new Doar Ivri on May 16, 1948, and cancels for the Maccabiah Games and its major cities the same year. By 1960, more than 325 unique postmarks had been designed.
Israel has 64 post offices in 1950, expanding to 114 by 1960 and, after the Six-Day War, to 178 branches by 1970. In 1955, two settlements in the Negev began Israel’s first mobile post office, a red truck. By 1990, Israel ran 53 routes for 1,058 locations, including Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
Due to hyperinflation, in 1982 and 1984 Israel issued non-denominated stamps with an olive branch design. These stamps were said to be dreary yet convenient, insofar as they avoided the need for both the government and the customers to constantly update their postage.
During the 1990s, Israel experimented with vending machines for postal labels (franking labels). The Klussendorf machines and their labels were withdrawn from service in 1999. Twenty-two colorful designs were issued, including 12 tourist sites and seven holiday season designs. Israel Post also provides the Express Mail Service in cooperation with 143 other postal authorities.
The Israel Defense Forces provide mail services for the military. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, for example, the IDF postal agency issued a series of postcards with cartoons to boost morale. Postcards show an Israeli cartoon character looming over Damascus, hail and fire raining down on Egyptian pyramids (quoting Exodus 9:24), and “Judgment Day.”
Starting in 1994-1995, Israel shifted away from providing postal services for territories that, under the Oslo Accords, were to come under the auspices of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The PNA established post offices throughout the PNA, developed its own unique postmarks and issued stamps.
Scott #182 was issued on July 6, 1960, to mark the construction of Israel’s first atomic reactor, located in the Negev desert, about thirteen kilometers south-east of the city of Dimona. The 50-agorat blue, red and black lithographed stamp, perforated 14, portrays the atomic diagram and an image of a nuclear reactor. Construction of the Negev Nuclear Research Center (למחקר גרעיני – נגב, unofficially sometimes referred to as the Dimona reactor) commenced in 1958, with French assistance according to the Protocol of Sèvres agreements. The complex was constructed in secret, and outside the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime. To maintain secrecy, French customs officials were told that the largest of the reactor components, such as the reactor tank, were part of a desalination plant bound for Latin America.
The Dimona reactor became critical sometime between 1962 and 1964. Israel claims that the nuclear reactor and research facility is for research purposes into atomic science. However, the purpose of the reactor is believed to be the production of nuclear materials that may be used in Israel’s nuclear weapons. Information about the facility remains highly classified and with respect to nuclear weapons the country maintains a policy known as nuclear ambiguity — refusing either to confirm or deny their possession. Israel had produced its first nuclear weapons by 1967.
When the United States intelligence community discovered the purpose of the site in the early 1960s, the U.S. government demanded that Israel agree to international inspections. Israel agreed, but on the condition that U.S., rather than International Atomic Energy Agency, inspectors be used, and that Israel would receive advance notice of all inspections. Israel is one of three nations not to have signed the NPT (others are India and Pakistan, both of which have acknowledged having nuclear weapons.), and alongside North Korea which left the NPT.
Some claim that because Israel knew the schedule of the inspectors’ visits, it was able to hide the illegal manufacture of nuclear weapons, thereby deceiving the inspectors, by installing temporary false walls and other devices before each inspection. The inspectors eventually informed the U.S. government that their inspections were useless, due to Israeli restrictions on what areas of the facility they could inspect. By 1969, the U.S. believed that Israel might have a nuclear weapon, and terminated inspections that year.
The airspace over the Dimona facility is closed to all aircraft, and the area around it is heavily guarded and fenced off. The reactor was overflown by unidentified jet aircraft before the Six Day War in 1967. These planes were thought at the time to be Egyptian Air Force MiG-21s, although a controversial 2007 book argues that they were actually Soviet MiG-25s. During the Six-Day War, an Israeli missile shot down an Israeli Mirage III fighter that inadvertently flew over Dimona. In 1973m a strayed Libyan airliner was approaching the airspace above the facility. Israeli fighters shot it down after failure to make it follow them, killing 108 people.
In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Dimona, fled to the United Kingdom and revealed to the media some evidence of Israel’s nuclear program and explained the purposes of each building, also revealing a top-secret underground facility directly below the installation. The Mossad, Israel’s secret service, sent a female agent named Cheryl Bentov (née Hanin) who lured Vanunu to Italy, where he was kidnapped by Mossad agents and smuggled to Israel aboard a freighter. An Israeli court then tried him in secret on charges of treason and espionage, and sentenced him to eighteen years imprisonment.
At the time of Vanunu’s kidnapping, The Times reported that Israel had material for approximately 20 hydrogen bombs and 200 fission bombs by 1986. In the spring of 2004, Vanunu was released from prison, and placed under several strict restrictions, such as the denial of a passport, freedom of movement limitations and restrictions on communications with the press. Since his release, he has been rearrested and charged multiple times for violations of the terms of his release.
According to a lawsuit filed in Be’er Sheva Labor Tribunal, workers at the center were subjected to human experimentation in 1998. According to Julius Malick, the worker who submitted the lawsuit, they were given drinks containing uranium without medical supervision and without obtaining written consent or warning them about risks of side effects.
Dimona’s reactor was defended by batteries of modified Patriot missiles in anticipation of strikes from Iraq in 2002 to 2003. Safety concerns about this 40-year-old reactor have been reported. In 2004, as a preventive measure, Israeli authorities distributed potassium iodide anti-radiation tablets to thousands of residents living nearby.
In January 2012, media reports indicated that the Israel Atomic Energy Commission had decided to temporarily shut down the reactor. The site’s vulnerability to attack from Iran was cited as the main reason for the decision. In October and November 2012, it was reported that Hamas had fired rockets at Negev Nuclear Research Center. In July 2014, Hamas again fired rockets towards the area surrounding the reactor. The facility was not harmed or damaged in any of the attempted strikes.
In April 2016, the U.S. National Security Archive declassified dozens of documents from 1960 to 1970, which detail what American intelligence viewed as Israel’s attempts to obfuscate the purpose and details of its nuclear program. The Americans involved in discussions with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and other Israelis believed the country was providing “untruthful cover” about intentions to build nuclear weapons.