The creation of Israel as a state in search of a people and a people in search of a country can trace its roots through the Bible back to Abraham, some 4,000 years ago.
It is true that the Jews have been searching for a place to call home for a very long time, but recent history clearly tells us that the most relevant events leading up to the creation of Eretz Ysrael actually took place in the late 19th and early 20th century. Please refer to my “History of Israel” page for a full historical perspective back to 17th century BCE.
First a few really important definitions:
- Zionism or the Zionist movement is a 19th century ideal that the Jewish nation or people, which have lived primarily in exile since 135 CE, should return to their ancient homeland to build a Jewish state (The State of Israel).
- Aliya literally means to rise up and Olim is a common term for Jews who immigrate to Israel or make Aliya.
The Birth of the Zionist Movement and First Aliya
- The Zionist movement of the late 19th century and ensuing massive waves of Jewish migration to what was then referred to as Palestine, provided the true impetus for events leading up to the the official declaration and creation of Israel as an independent Jewish state on May 14, 1948, just three years after the end of World War II and the atrocities of the Nazis in Europe.
- The first wave of Jewish immigrants to the land of Israel (not officially referred to as Israel at that time) came from Eastern Europe in the 1880s-1890s primarily to flee widespread anti Jewish sentiment in Russian pogroms at that time (1881). This is referred to as the First Aliya. This first wave of Olim numbered about 25,000 (my grandfather was one of them) and they came with the idea of turning the land into a national home for the Jews.
The Balfour Declaration and British Mandate
- Many more waves of Olim followed from Eastern Europe and Russia and by the early part of the 20th century, the number of Jews in Israel swelled from 12,000 to roughly 85,000. With growing support from the Jews in North America, Europe, and Great Britain coupled with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the British government assumed control of Palestine. In November 1917, the government of Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, which essentially provided for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and eventual creation of Israel.
- This declaration was later mandated by Palestine and approved by the League of Nations July 24, 1922, referred to as the British Mandate for Palestine and officially came into effect on September 29, 1923. The Mandate formally divided Palestine, to include a national home for the Jewish people under British rule.
Interesting Fact: The United States actually closed its borders and refused entry to a majority of immigrants in 1924 and into the 1930s despite the persecution of Jews in Europe.
The U.N. Partition Plan and the Holocaust
- Britain was initially responsible for security and immigration and governed Palestine, but they found themselves in an unmanageable situation. As the number of Jews entering Palestine exploded trying to escape the Nazi regime and widespread antisemitism all over Eastern Europe, there was growing Arab opposition toward the Zionist movement. Consequently, the British began to limit the amount of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust from entering the country. This action caused a rift between the British troops and the Jewish Agency and the Haganah as they were forced to smuggle Jews into Palestine. In fact, a few Jewish underground cells (Irgun and Lehi) began to engage in open warfare with the British troops and installations as a result.
- Britain elected to leave Palestine thereby leaving it up to the United Nations to vote in favor of a partition plan to divide Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. The U.N. Partition plan would lead to creation of independent Jewish and Arab States, as well as dissolution of the British Mandate.
Israel is born
On May 14,1948, the British Mandate of Palestine was terminated and the same day David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the official creation of Israel and he its first prime minister; Chaim Weizman became the first president. On May 15 the United States officially recognized the newly born Jewish State and later Russia followed suit.
The newborn State of Israel has withstood many challenges since its birth; Bitter wars with its Arab neighbors, some of whom still refuse to recognize the existence of the Jewish homeland. In addition, the small young country has been forced to absorb a massive number of Jewish immigrants; many penniless refugees from all over the World. Since 1948, the Jewish population in Israel has grown ten fold from 600,000 to over 6 Million in 2012. Many of these most recent immigrants have come from Ethiopia, South America, and Russia. As you walk the street of most major cities in Israel today, you cant help but notice the diversity of people and cultures from all over the world. It is a country of immigrants much like the United States.
An interesting reference by Lord Shaftesbury regarding the creation of Israel as “a land without a people for a people without a land.”