1948 the birth of Israel: in May 1948, the Jews of Palestine declared an independent state in their ancient homeland. Arab armies immediately attacked, and the conflict drags on six decades later.

Author:Roberts, Sam
Position:TIMES PAST - Country overview

In a simple, solemn, emotional ceremony at a Tel Aviv art museum that began with the singing of Hatikvah," the national anthem, the state of Israel I was proclaimed by the new Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, at 4 p.m. on May 14, 1948.

The proclamation 60 years ago this spring promised social and political equality for all inhabitants of the new nation, and Jewish leaders vowed to safeguard the sanctity of Muslim and Christian holy places. But there was little time for celebration in a city already blacked out to protect it from the Arab invasion everyone expected.

The attack by six Arab nations came immediately, touching off a spiral of war and violence that continues to this day, despite numerous attempts by the United States and other nations to mediate one of the world's most intractable conflicts.

Israel's roots as a Jewish homeland can be traced back thousands of years, to a time when many competing tribes struggled over the territory now known as the Middle East. The Old Testament recounts Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and Joshua conquering Canaanite city-states in an area that roughly corresponds to today's Israel. David established a kingdom based around Jerusalem about 1000 B.C.


But this area on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, at the center of ancient trade routes, would later be fought over by the Assyrians, the Persians, and the armies of Alexander the Great. In 164 B.C., the Jews came under Rome's control. In 135 A.D., the Romans drove the Jews from Jerusalem. The Romans were succeeded by the Byzantines, the Turks, the Crusaders, the Arabs, and finally the Ottomans in the 16th century.

Though there was a Jewish presence under all these rulers, it wasn't until the late 19th century that European Jews began emigrating in large numbers to what was then known as Palestine. They left Europe to escape anti-Semitism, especially in Russia, and to be part of the movement known as Zionism, one of the many strains of nationalism then sweeping the world. The Zionists' goal was to re-establish a Jewish state in the ancient land of Israel, referred to many times in the Bible as Zion.


Zionism began to bear fruit during World War I. The Ottoman Empire--based in Turkey and spanning Southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa had sided with Germany and against Britain, France, and later the U.S., in the war. In 1917, Britain promised support for a Jewish national home in Palestine in what is known as the Balfour Declaration. But at the same time, the British were also promising independence to Arabs in the Middle East in return for their support against the Turks and Germany.

After the Allied victory in the war, the League of Nations made Palestine a British protectorate (or mandate), and carved out the countries of Iraq, Syria, and eventually Lebanon. A few years later, Britain created Transjordan (now Jordan) from the part of Palestine located east of the Jordan river. The mostly arbitrary boundaries of these Arab states helped set the stage for many conflicts that are still unresolved today.


At the same time, Palestinians--Arabic speakers, both Muslim and Christian, who had lived in Palestine under...

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