“”The Israeli government continued to enforce severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians’ human rights; restrict the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip; and facilitate the transfer of Israeli citizens to settlements in the occupied West Bank, an illegal practice under international humanitarian law.
|—Human Rights Watch report on Israel, 2020.|
The State of Israel is a self-proclaimed Jewish state and a country in the Middle East. It is currently the only country in the world with a Jewish majority population. Although once an ancient Bible-era civilization, Israel ceased to exist after being conquered by various empires and only re-emerged as a sovereign entity in 1948. The re-establishment of an Israeli state was the historical goal of Zionism.
Israel is involved in numerous international disputes and conflicts, partially arising from religious hostility towards it and partially arising from Israel's own aggressive and oppressive behavior. One of those disputes concerns where exactly Israel's capital really is. Most of the world recognizes the city of Tel Aviv, but Israel itself claims the city of Jerusalem as its capital and has most of its government located there. A lot of stress also arises because Israel currently occupies the territory of what used to be Palestine; the Muslim Palestinians demand their own state and want Israel to stop treating them like garbage. And if that wasn't enough, Israel also militarily occupies the Golan Heights region of Syria, constantly battles Palestinian liberation/terrorist groups, and has hostile relations with and occasionally bombs most of its neighbors. Complicating the problem is that the Palestinians and most of Israel's neighbours don't want Israel to exist at all, and launch rockets at it once in a while.
Israel has been inhabited since the earliest migration of hominids out of Africa, and its civilization solidified through the unification of various tribes into the Kingdom of Israel during the Iron Age. During this time, the Hebrew people established their city of Jerusalem and built the central temple of their Jewish faith. In 586 BCE, the Neo-Babylonian Empire and its ruler Nebuchadnezzar II rolled in to smash Jerusalem and force many of the Hebrews into exile in Mesopotamia. The Hebrews didn't return to the region until Cyrus the Great of the Persian Empire freed them and gave them money to rebuild sometime around 550 BCE. Judah, now a province rather than a kingdom, survived under Persian rule until 167 BCE when the successful Maccabean Revolt reestablished Judah under the Hasmonean dynasty. Unfortunately for them, they soon got conquered again by the Roman Empire, which turned Judah into an occupied territory under the collaborationist Herod dynasty. The Hebrews fought against Roman rule, leading to a series of devastating wars and culminating with the complete destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the exile of much of the Jewish population from their historical homeland.
The Israeli region became a place of religious significance to the Christians of the Roman Empire, but it was eventually conquered by the Arab followers of Muhammad. Jerusalem, you see, had also become a city of religious significance to the Muslim religion, and we're sure you're starting to see the roots of some of Israel's modern problems. The Arabs built a number of religious monuments in Jerusalem, but they (most notably under Saladin) still invited the Jews to live in Israel and mostly-freely practice their religion. Nonetheless, the Jewish population remained small and became a minority among the Muslim Palestinian population.
Rule over Israel passed between various Muslim powers before ending with the Ottoman Empire, which finally lost control of the region after World War I. Israel became a mandate territory under the British Empire. Meanwhile, many members of the Jewish diaspora had become influential thinkers in Europe and elsewhere, and the Zionist movement began picking up steam in the Nineteenth Century. Europeanized Jews started immigrating into Israel during the period of British rule; the Palestinians who were already living there and didn't appreciate being edged out by foreigners began a series of violent riots. To appease them, the British harshly limited Jewish immigration and land-owning rights in Israel in 1939. The Jews retaliated by fighting a prolonged terrorist and guerrilla campaign against the British authorities, finally forcing them to transfer authority over Israel to the United Nations in 1947.
The UN drew up a partition plan to create a separate state of Israel and Palestine and an internationally-administered Jerusalem, an agreement accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs. Israel declared its independence in 1948, before promptly being attacked by its various Arab neighbors. Israel won and preserved its rule over the mandate territory, but subsequent wars have seen Israel dramatically expand its territory and place various chunks of its neighbors under military occupation. Although Israel has signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, it still has fraught relations with most Muslim states and frequently clashes with Iran. Most Palestinian territories are now under military occupation, and Israel's right-wing government doesn't seem to give a shit about their rights. Lasting peace doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon.[citation NOT needed]
- 1 Historical overview
- 1.1 Ancient Israel
- 1.2 Babylonian exile
- 1.3 Persian rule
- 1.4 Hasmonean dynasty
- 1.5 Roman rule
- 1.6 Arab rule
- 1.7 Ottoman rule
- 1.8 Zionist movement
- 1.9 British rule
- 1.10 Insurgency and independence
- 1.11 Independence war
- 1.12 Israel's consolidation
- 1.13 Six-Day War
- 1.14 War of attrition
- 1.15 Yom Kippur War and Camp David Accords
- 1.16 Escalation in Palestine, war in Lebanon
- 1.17 Beginning and stalling of the peace process
- 1.18 More war in Palestine and Lebanon
- 1.19 Israel today
- 2 Government and politics
- 3 Ongoing disputes and crises
- 4 Human rights
- 5 Legitimate criticism vs. anti-Semitism
- 6 Gallery
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
Evidence of early hominid life in the Israel region dates back at least 1.5 million years, which is a long-ass time.
In terms of the development of early Israeli civilization, things are very unclear. Most of the problem lies with the fact that it's heavily uncertain how historically accurate the Torah and similar writings really are. We do know that the Late Bronze Age saw the rise of a culture group called Canaan, which was composed of various tribes paying tribute to Ancient Egypt who eventually became the Israelis. Sometime around 1209 BCE, the Egyptians erected a stele referring to Israel by name for the first time, although modern historians believe that this Israel was a loose cultural group rather than any kind of centralized political entity. It's also probable that the described conflicts between the Israelites and the Canaanites and Philistines really did happen in some form or another. These ancient Israelis came to be known as Hebrews, although the word's exact origin is unknown.
The Hebrews had come to identify themselves as separate from their neighbors due to diverging culture and the rise of their new religion. Monotheism, or the belief in a single, all-powerful God, seems to have developed among various small cult religions before eventually coalescing into the Jewish religion as the idea became more influential.
So that's about what modern historians know mostly for sure. Of course, Israeli legend goes much further. Legend describes how Abraham made a covenant with Yahweh promising to follow His laws in exchange for receiving divine aid in conquering Canaan. The Book of Exodus describes how many of these Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt during the reign of its pharaoh Ramses II (1304-1237 BCE) before being freed by Moses and God. During this period, Moses received the Ten Commandments and the broader Mosaic Law supposedly from God. This legal code was a historically significant departure from other early law codes in the region like Hammurabi's because the Mosaic Law declared that criminals would be judged in the eyes of God and not just the authorities. In this sense, Israel became the world's first theocracy.
The dynasty of King David and his son King Solomon are also thoroughly described, and these kings are considered notable for the establishment of Israel as a kingdom and then constructing the First Jewish Temple. Indeed, this temple almost certainly existed in some form or another, and it became a critically important central feature of ancient Judaism.
Hebrew civilization only thrived when it did due to a power vacuum, as it existed between the historical agricultural heartlands of Egypt and the various Mesopotamian empires. That good luck eventually came to a decisive end when Israel came under brutal assault by first the Assyrian Empire and then the Neo-Babylonian Empire. This second invasion was successful in completely tearing down Israel as a unified entity, as the Neo-Babylonians used their typical tactics of scorched earth and brutality to raze many Israeli villages and forcibly relocate much of its population in 586 BCE. The Neo-Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, gets a very unflattering portrayal in the Book of Daniel as a supervillain-like figure who burns people alive.
In one of history's most resounding acts of cultural warfare, the Neo-Babylonians also destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem, which had been the center of Jewish religious life. The destruction caused general despair among the remaining Hebrews and inspired a long-lasting determination to see the structure rebuilt and Jerusalem reclaimed. Nebuchadnezzar would show up in Jerusalem repeatedly after that, each time forcing thousands of people who offended him into exile in the desert. Although it was cruel to tear them away from their ancestral homeland, archaeological evidence now shows that the Hebrews really didn't have too bad a time once they relocated in Babylonia. They became traders, business-owners, and administrators working to help Nebuchadnezzar expand his empire's economic power.
The Neo-Babylonians were also raging assholes to their own people too, and the empire quickly collapsed when Cyrus the Great rolled into town with his kickass Persian Army. Cyrus had created his Achaemenid Persian Empire on the principles of justice and regional religious liberty, and even the city of Babylon welcomed him as their ruler.
Cyrus liked to be known as a man who was magnanimous to his enemies, and he furthered that reputation by freeing the Hebrews from exile in Babylonia. Not only did he free them, but he allowed them to retake their homeland and gave them funds to rebuild their temple. As a result, Cyrus is praised in Hebrew scriptures as a man sent by God to act as their savior. The Hebrews became a very loyal autonomous region within the Achaemenid Empire, and Hebrew soldiers participated in the Persian conquest and occupation of Egypt.
Nonetheless, the majority of practicing Jews remained outside of Israel even after Cyrus' decree. Many chose to remain in Babylonia rather than make the perilous desert journey back home, and the Jewish Diaspora increasingly relied on the importance of their traditions in maintaining unity. Israel remained under Persian rule, which was briefly interrupted by the attack of Alexander the Great. Alexander, though, largely ignored Israel as a politically irrelevant backwater, and the land eventually passed under the control of the Seleucid Persian Empire. The Hellenistic Seleucids launched a campaign to crush the Jewish religion, which involved sacking and desecrating the Second Temple. Like the First Temple, the Second Temple had become the center of Hebrew life and was considered a place where God's presence could be felt on Earth.
The attack on the temple and the regime's previous attempts to enforce Greek culture and religion on the Hebrews finally provoked an outright revolt in 167 BCE led by Jewish rabbi Mattathias, or Maccabees the Hammer. The Hebrews proved to be competent at military matters when fighting for their own freedom, and they smashed multiple Seleucid armies and gained their de facto independence again. They cleaned out the Second Temple and became a new kingdom under the Hasmonean dynasty.
According to legend, the rebels were besieged inside the Second Temple, surviving by using a one-day supply of olive oil to miraculously keep the Temple Menorah alight for eight days. That story is commemorated with the yearly Jewish Chanukah, or Hanukkah festival.
During this period, which lasted from 140 to 37 BCE, Israel started to take on many of its modern characteristics. The new state was ruled by priest-kings who were the descendant of Maccabees. They went about combining schools and religious meeting places to create the first synagogues around the country, leading to the creation of Rabbinical Judaism. There was also a high legal court called the Sanhedrin, which was composed of old religious wisemen who made rulings based on religious law.
Although the new Israel regained much of the power that it had lost after the first great downfall, it was still hampered by some critical weaknesses. Political and religious divisions were extreme (many Jews do like to talk about how much they argue). The two main political factions were the Pharisees and the Sadducees, which were both led by Jewish legal experts. The main source of contention was, of course, interpretation of the Jewish faith. The Pharisees literally believed in the religion's supernatural elements, like angels and heaven and whatnot, while the Sadduccees were much more skeptical to the point of being quasi-secular. The other difference came from class, that eternal division, as the Sadduccees represented the wealthy nobles and the Pharisees were much more influential among the common people.
These divisions became the Hebrew state's downfall, as the factions supported different claimants to the throne and kept the dynastic succession in perpetual instability. Eventually, one of those appealed to Pompey the Great of the Roman Empire for military support. That created the perfect pretext the Romans needed to sweep into the region and just never sweep back out again. In 37 BCE, the Roman Senate confirmed the first Herod as the new puppet-king of Israel, and he bound the kingdom closer and closer to the Roman Empire. The state eventually became nothing more than a province within the empire, even if it was theoretically independent.
The Romans were smart enough to leave the Jews' religious rights the fuck alone, considering what had happened the last time a non-Jewish power tried enforcing religion. Thus, so long as the new Roman province of Judea paid its taxes and didn't make too much trouble, the Hebrews could basically do what they wanted. The Sanhedrin could continue proscribing religious laws and making the Hebrews live under them.
Despite that autonomy, Hebrew nationalists still didn't appreciate being made into an imperial outpost and Jewish religious leaders started preaching against the occupation. According to Christian tradition and very limited historical evidence, Jesus was born into this chaotic situation and started a ministry talking about how God's Kingdom of Heaven was greater than Rome and would give hope and salvation to the faithful. Sometime around 33 CE, according to the Gospels anyway, Jesus made himself into an even bigger problem by criticizing local Jewish leaders for conducting trade in the Second Temple; those local religious leaders retaliated by convincing the Roman occupiers that the troublemaker had to go. Hence the crucifixion and the eventual kick-starting of a new religion.
Back to the stuff historians know actually happened, tensions erupted in Judea by 66 CE when the Roman governor of Judea demanded compensation payments for a series of riots earlier in the year. That demand for money triggered a general revolt and started a war that lasted until 70 CE. The Roman Empire was extremely harsh in fighting that war, and it's estimated today that at least a million Hebrews died in the struggle for independence. Some died in fighting, some died due to economic destruction, and many others were executed, massacred, or forced into slavery. For the final act, the Roman Empire besieged Jerusalem, destroyed and looted the Second Temple, and deported a good deal of the Hebrew population across the empire. The remaining Hebrews, despondent and furious, rose up repeatedly until about 137 CE, resulting in more and more of their population being removed from Israel.
Many of Judaism's greatest treasures are still missing, such as the legendary golden Temple Menorah that burned during the Maccabees rebellion. And, of course, to add insult to injury, the Romans later converted to Christianity and decided that Jerusalem was their holy city because Jesus had died there.
Over time, the Jewish population in Israel dwindled under Roman and then Byzantine rule as Christian pilgrims settled in the region to be close to their holy sites. Over those centuries of Byzantine rule, the Samaritan ethno-religious group launched a series of revolts that resulted in constant warfare and devastation in the region. Hundreds of thousands of people died, and the region's population as a whole declined dramatically.
These conflicts were one of the factors that significantly weakened the Byzantine Empire and made it a military pushover when the Muslims came knocking. To put things in context, Muhammad died after unifying Arabia in 632 CE, and Israel was completely conquered by the Arab caliphate in 638 CE. The Muslims, heavily influenced by Abrahamic traditions, also considered Jerusalem a holy city. Their story goes that Muhammad was taken to Jerusalem to meet God and the other prophets. Caliph Umar of the Rashidun Caliphate officially declared Jerusalem to be Islam's third-holiest city, and the Arabs built the Dome of the Rock on the site of the former Second Temple.
Although the early Muslim rulers were known to treat their non-Muslim subjects reasonably well, this wasn't the case in Israel, now Palestine. Umar II, who came to power in 717 CE, imposed totalitarian lifestyle restrictions on non-Muslims in the Holy Land that encouraged a wave of conversions. Whether true or not, the new converts rapidly changed the religious landscape there in favor of Islam.
Palestine was a coveted territory, and through the ages and the different caliphates, it came under attack by various factions including the Qarmatians, the Byzantines, various Bedouin tribes, and the Seljuk Turks. Palestine was a constant battlefield, but things only got worse when the Catholics decided to jump into the fray. Following a string of Byzantine territorial losses to the Seljuk Turks, the Catholic pope delivered a sermon calling for a Christian holy war to reclaim the holy sites in Palestine. Enter the Crusades.
Although the Jews had no love for their Muslim rulers, at least the Muslims weren't interested in wholesale massacring them like the Crusaders were doing. Jews helped the Muslims try to hold Jerusalem against the Crusaders during the 1099 siege, and the Crusaders punished them by massacring most of the city's Jewish population.
By all accounts the Jews fought bravely alongside Muslim soldiers throughout the duration of the Crusades. Saladin, the Kurdish sultan who came to rule much of the Middle East, rewarded them for this loyalty by recapturing Jerusalem in 1187 and inviting Jews to reestablish their communities there and worship freely. Sure enough, Jews started arriving from all over Europe to settle in Palestine, especially from France and England. Sure, the journey was long and dangerous, but it sucked less than being a Jew in fucking Medieval Europe.
In 1260, rule of Jerusalem passed to the Mamluk rulers of Egypt, who continued tolerating foreign Jewish immigration into the region. With Sephardic Jews from Spain also starting to enter the region, the Jewish population in and around Jerusalem had increased to about 10,000.
In 1517, the rising Ottoman Empire conquered the Mamluk Sultanate in its entirety, both to dominate the Middle East's spice trade and to conquer the holy cities in Palestine. Meanwhile, Spain and Portugal finished conquering the formerly Muslim-held areas in Iberia and began to forcibly expel and persecute Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. Jews fleeing or forced to leave their homes in Iberia found the Ottomans quite welcoming; the Turks only required that the Jews pay extra taxes and publicly acknowledge the superior power of Islam.
By the mid-Sixteenth Century, the Ottomans had the largest Jewish community in the world. The empire benefited directly from Jewish presence in Palestine. Jewish refugees moving in came pre-packaged with European knowledge and languages, and they had no reason to feel any affection whatsoever for their former Christian oppressors. As a result, Jews generally became international businessmen, spies, and diplomats. Jewish communities prospered and were allowed to explore and develop their own unique culture.
Of course, it's common knowledge that the Ottoman Empire started going down the tubes by the Eighteenth Century. Much of that was due to Western imperialism elsewhere in the world, as the naval trade routes they established reduced Ottoman domination of trade and therefore reduced Ottoman finances. The Ottomans also entered into a brutal series of wars which lasted centuries and resulted in more and more of the empire's territory being lost to Russia. As the prosperity and power of the empire declined, so did well-being of the empire's Jewish communities. Unfortunately, as time went on and the empire was surrounded by increasingly powerful enemies, the Turks became more and more suspicious of the empire's minority populations, including the Jews. Things got even worse after the 1908 revolution of the Committee of Union and Progress, better known as the Young Turks.[note 1] Once in power, they started plotting the forced assimilation and possible extermination of minorities. This program began with the implementation of a wide variety of social programs designed to forcibly assimilate minorities, including renaming children and requiring instruction in schools to be conducted only in Turkish.
Any discussion about the development of Zionism should start with Napoleon Bonaparte, who was almost as influential in Jewish history as Cyrus the Great. Before the French Revolution and the subsequent continent-wide destruction of the old order, European Jews were denied citizenship, equal rights, and the right to join government or own property. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era, Jews faced waves of violence such as the slaughters during the Crusades or the horrific Chmielnicki Pogrom. Jewish emancipation, or the process by which Jews started to gain civil equality, began in principle during the early French revolutionary regimes but didn't really become reality until Bonaparte seized control of France and started rampaging around Europe. Napoleon was basically Godzilla in that he destroyed Europe's old laws and conventions and replaced them with his own legal code and Jewish emancipation policies. These events set the stage for Jews to start becoming a lot more influential in European society as they gained access to education and journalist professions.
That didn't mean the end of antisemitism; the opposite was true as poor non-Jews in Europe resented that they couldn't look down on the Jews anymore. The same process that caused race riots during America's Reconstruction saw a rapid increase in anti-Jewish pogroms and harassment. The combination of increased access to society and more fear of violence led many Jews to wonder if it might just be possible for them to rebuild their own nation on the soil where it once stood.
Zionism is curious in that it was both a secular and a deeply religious movement. Much of Europe's Jewish population had been forced to secularize in order to fit in with Europeans, but many other Jews were concerned at the implications for their religion and were convinced that only a return to their Holy Land could reverse this. That characteristic of Zionism helps explain Israel's paradoxically secular-yet-fundamentalist nature.
By World War I, it was clear to just about everyone that the Ottoman Empire was doomed to split into a litany of successor states. Zionists were thrilled by this idea, but so were Arab nationalists who also wanted to incorporate Palestine into an Arab super-state. At this point in time, British statesman and politician Chaim Weizmann was the chief advocate for Zionism, and he knew that it was the will of the empires rather than the will of the people that mattered. Thus, he pointed out that Palestine was quite proximate to the British Suez Canal and how nice it would be to use that territory to protect Britain's lifeline to colonial India.
British diplomacy during the war concerning the Middle East was a truly disgusting display of two-faced bastardry. The British won the allegiance of Arabs revolting against Ottoman rule by promising to help them establish a unified Arab state, but then the British struck a secret agreement with the French carve up the Middle East in 1916 and issued the Balfour Declaration stating support for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. Long story short, the British decided that keeping the Jews and Arabs at each others' throats would enable them to more easily keep Palestine under control. After the war, the League of Nations placed Palestine under British rule as a mandate territory, figuring that the British could keep it peaceful and could prepare it for eventual independence. Both of those last two sentences represent disastrous miscalculations.
The British generally considered the Jews to be their political allies in the region, especially since the Jewish Legion of Zionist volunteers helped them conquer the region during World War I. Mass Jewish immigration into Palestine began almost immediately, as the chaos of the Russian Revolution had culminated in a series of horrific pogroms against Jews. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Arabs realized that they had been screwed out of Pan-Arabism by British colonialism and saw that the Jews were being shipped in by the British seemingly to displace the Palestinians. This unsurprisingly culminated in a series of bloody riots in Jerusalem in 1920. More riots followed in 1921 and 1929, followed by a full Arab revolt in 1936, so the Jews organized their own militia called "Haganah" to help protect their own interests.
By 1937, the British realized that the Jews and Arabs weren't getting along, and they proposed partitioning Palestine between them. The Jews rejected the borders but accepted the principle of partition, while the Palestinians furiously rejected the entire proposal. In 1939, the British decided to put an end to Palestinian revolts by caving to their demands. British authorities announced that they were going to limit Jewish immigration over the next five years and then make any further immigration subject to Arab approval. David Ben-Gurion, then the leader of Jewish advocacy, declared that the Jews would support the British in the war against Adolf Hitler but would still fervently resist the new policy. Once fascist Italy joined the war in 1940, British leader Winston Churchill decided that it was a crucial strategy to keep the Arabs compliant. Thus, he harshly restricted Jewish immigration into Palestine right at the point where Jewish immigration out of Europe was more essential than it had ever been before. Although thousands of Jewish volunteers served in the British military in World War II, Jewish loyalty to London was rapidly fading. Zionists increasingly turned to the United States and American Jews for support.
Insurgency and independence
About 1.5 million Jews fought the Axis in various allied military forces, meaning that the Jews had a lot of militarily-experienced men. Meanwhile, the Holocaust changed everything about how power worked in Palestine. US president Harry Truman felt morally obliged to support the Jews in whatever they wanted, while the British Labour government continued to abide by immigration restrictions out of fear that the empire could collapse if too many anti-colonial revolts happened at once. Unfortunately for them, that policy triggered a whole different kind of revolt. The Jews were enraged, and David Ben-Gurion organized Jewish militias to coordinate illegal immigration into Palestine and armed warfare against British colonial authorities.
Zionist forces utilized terrorist tactics against the British, although it's important to note that they generally focused their efforts on government and military targets. Nonetheless, civilians definitely died in Zionist attacks. Most infamous was the bombing that destroyed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which had become a British colonial headquarters. The Zionists gave warning of the impending explosion, but didn't do that soon enough to give the British enough time to escape. The bombing killed 91 people.
All in all, the insurgency and terror campaign were extremely effective. By 1947, the British had been forced to dispatch about 100,000 troops into Palestine, an expense they just couldn't afford after their second world war. Finally, the British threw their hands up and said "fuck it" and shoved the issue at the UN for them to figure it out. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) drew up a partition plan for an independent Israel and Palestine and an internationally-governed Jerusalem; this plan was approved by both the United States and the Soviet Union in a rare show of cooperation. The Zionists approved of the plan, but the Arab League and the Palestinians were enraged by it.
Although violent Palestinian resistance to partition began immediately, Ben-Gurion was able to use his Zionist militias to gain control of the UN mandated territories and proclaimed the establishment of an independent Israel in 1948. The US, the Soviets, and the UN recognized Israel just days later. Unfortunately for Israel, its independence wouldn't be a sure thing until it managed to deal with the imminent military threat presented by the Palestinians and the Arab League. Just a month after Israel's declaration of independence, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen all mobilized troops to invade.
Open warfare between Jews and Arabs began even before the British withdrawal, and the British did nothing to put an end to the rising conflict that ended up killing 2,000 in its early stages. The Israelis were greatly outnumbered by their enemies, evidenced by the fact that most Jewish population centers were under siege early in the war and had to be liberated.
Although outnumbered, the Israelis had a few crucial advantages that proved decisive in this war. Palestinian Arabs had no professional soldiers or military structure, and the Arab states backing them were far from politically unified. By contrast, the Israelis were fighting for the survival of their new nation and many were experienced soldiers who had fought in the world war. Within a handful of months, though, the Israeli state had to perform the frankly impressive feat of transforming the disorganized Jewish militias into a competent and professional military. In fact, by mid-1948, Israel's superior mobilization strategy paid off when they ended up raising a larger armed force than the Arab opposition. In terms of numbers, the Israelis mobilized their entire able-bodied adult population for an army of more than 100,000, to face off against about 25,000 Arab soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Arab League states expected an easy victory that they could use for propaganda purposes and thus didn't really put a whole lot of effort into coordinating or planning their offensive. They were also crippled by the competing political goals of the various leaders, as Egypt's king wanted to be the ruler of the Arab world, and Jordan wanted to occupy Jerusalem for itself. Not only did the Arab forces suffer humiliating military defeats against the Israelis, but they also started turning against each other.
The war ended with an armistice between the parties, one that benefited Israel greatly. Israel ended up with 50% more land than had originally been allocated to it under the UN partition plan, creating what is essentially Israel's modern borders. The remainder of Palestine effectively ceased to exist, as the West Bank came under Jordanian occupation, and the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian occupation. After the Kingdom of Jordan took over Jerusalem and the West Bank, their authorities expelled Jews from East Jerusalem, destroyed many Jewish holy sites, and forbade Jews from praying at the Western Wall.
With those territorial expansions for most of the parties, it really wasn't the Arab states that lost the war. No, it was the poor goddamn Palestinians who lost out. The widespread destruction of Arab villages as well as various war crimes committed by radical Israeli militias forced about 700,000 Palestinians to flee their homes into the neighboring Arab states. Palestine, which had once been comprised of villages and cities, was effectively wiped off the map. Palestinians refer to this mass exodus as the Nakba, or "catastrophe." In their absence, the Israelis passed a series of laws stripping the fleeing Arabs of their property and making it illegal for them to return. Many of those Palestinian families remain refugees to this day.
There was also a second refugee crisis, as the various Arab states in turn forced their Jewish population out of their homes. Israel's population swelled by hundreds of thousands as a result.
Israel focused a lot on attracting foreign Jewish immigration with the hopes that the state could expand territorially, although the hoped-for mass influx from the West never really materialized. Most Jews who arrived were from the Middle East or Africa, and they were generally treated worse and had fewer opportunities than those Jews who arrived from Europe.
Israel's early days were defined by economic crisis. Food and other goods had to be rationed, and the economy got so bad that Ben-Gurion actually signed a reparations deal with West Germany just to get some much-needed cash. That deal pissed off a lot of Jews who thought that Ben-Gurion was putting a monetary value on the lives lost in the Holocaust.
The country also suffered attacks from Palestinian raiders from across the borders; these attacks were almost always met with Israeli counter-raids. Israel also committed an act of aggression against Egypt in 1952 alongside the UK and France, when Israel agreed to invade in order to support the imperialists' scheme to regain the Suez Canal. For the first and probably last time, the US actually turned against Israel when president Dwight Eisenhower threatened sanctions if Israel didn't get the fuck out of Egypt.
In 1960, Israel also shocked the world by sending Mossad to Argentina to kidnap the escaped Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. This news actually caused consternation in the CIA, which had known about Eichmann's location and didn't say anything out of fear that Eichmann's testimony might spill some embarrassing beans over Operation Paperclip. Israel later put Eichmann on trial and found him guilty and executed him for being an
banal[note 2] evil fucker. Eichmann to this day holds the dubious distinction of being the only person executed on the order of an Israeli civilian court.
“”The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Gamal Abdel Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.
|—Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, 1982.|
“”Our basic objective will be to destroy Israel. The Arab people want to fight.
|—Nasser on the eve of the war, doing an admirable job of freaking Israel out.|
Although Israel was undergoing a tumultuous period, it wasn't like their Arab neighbors were faring much better. The humiliating military smackdown inflicted on them by Israel led to domestic unrest and coups in Syria and Egypt which installed nationalist military strongmen as those countries' dictators. The Arabs made no secret of the fact that they wanted to avenge themselves upon Israel, and Israel continued stockpiling for the inevitable next war. Making things worse, Cold War tensions played into the situation as well, as the Soviets happily sold modern weapons to Egypt and the Israelis bought equipment from the West.
By 1967, Israel was controlled by its new home-born generation, who were convinced that the old Jewish diaspora had suffered so because they failed to fight back. The new generation was determined to kick ass first and ask questions later. In the end, the situation exploded into war that very year based on - well, this thing remains a hot potato:
- The Arab interpretation: Israeli hardliners noticed that people were getting stressed out at the fact that Egypt was building up its military, so they cooked up a story that Egypt was massing for imminent war across the Sinai.
- The Israeli interpretation: Given that Arab leaders around them were chanting "Death to Israel" pretty much every day, and that Egypt had closed one of Israel's lifelines, the Strait of Tiran, it was pretty obvious they were going to attack. Better safe than sorry.
Israel basically did a Pearl Harbor to start the war, smashing most of Egypt's air force before it even got off the ground. Egyptian leader Nasser immediately declared a jihad, but then the second wave of the attack came when Israeli tanks poured into the Sinai Peninsula and killed 10,000 Egyptian soldiers in just 48 hours. Despite Israel's attempts to keep the conflict just between them and Egypt, both Syria and Jordan joined the war to limit Israeli aggression. Although hoping to avoid that situation, Israel pushed the Arabs out and conquered the West Bank. When in control of Jerusalem, jubilant Israeli soldiers celebrated by blowing ram horns and singing.
Eventually, the UN managed to broker a cease-fire, but it could hardly be called anything other than a decisive Israeli victory. Israel had more than tripled the land under its control, gaining control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. True to its name, the war lasted only six days. Unfortunately, the short conflict was still disastrous for the Palestinians.
War of attrition
Now under military occupation, Palestinians still living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip faced immediate hardship under Israeli rule. Palestinians were blocked from traveling abroad or conducting foreign trade, effectively making them prisoners inside their own communities. Another 300,000 Palestinians became displaced in the immediate aftermath of the war. In a sinister foreshadowing of what was to come, the Israeli government bulldozed an entire Muslim neighborhood to create a large praying plaza in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
This bad treatment and second defeat further radicalized Palestinians and Arabs alike. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), created in 1964, escalated its attacks on Israelis and declared that its goal was to destroy Israel and replace it with a unified Palestinian state. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a huge wave of political violence from Palestinians who were pissed off about being under Israeli occupation. Perhaps the most infamous incident was the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, in which Palestinian terrorists took eleven Israeli athletes and one West German police officer hostage and eventually killed them.
The Arab League also held a summit after the war which resulted in the Khartoum Resolution, a declaration that there would be no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations. Israel also retaliated for the Munich massacre by bombing PLO installations hosted by the Arab League states. Between 1969 and 1970, low-scale hostilities between Israel and its neighbors were constant, resulting in thousands of dead soldiers and civilians. This period is called the "War of Attrition".
Yom Kippur War and Camp David Accords
Egypt, under its new and more pragmatic ruler Anwar Sadat, offered Israel a peace deal in the early 1970s in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula. Israeli prime minister Golda Meir rejected the offer, so Sadat turned to a different regional player. He met with Syria's recently-risen dictator Hafez al-Assad, and the two leaders struck a secret accord promising to unite their forces against Israel. Despite that agreement, though, the two leaders had very different goals. Sadat only wanted to force Israel to the bargaining table to get Sinai back, while Assad wanted to militarily recapture the Golan Heights and avenge Syria's former defeats.
To maximize their chances of victory, the two leaders chose to launch their attack on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement". During that holiday, Israel shut down completely for prayer and fasting to the point traffic was halted and broadcasts were ceased. The attack caught the Israelis by surprise, and the Arabs were in much better shape than the last two attempts. Egypt's crossing of the Suez Canal went smoother than expected, and Israel's military reserves were quickly depleted. With no other choice, Israel asked the US to save them. Richard Nixon answered the call by supplying US arms and supplies, although the US paid for it when OPEC retaliated with an oil embargo.
Once reinforced with foreign weapons, the Israelis were able to get back on their feet. Peace came with a UN cease-fire and finally an agreement to just let things go back to the way they were. It was, however, clear to the Israelis that they needed to fix their issues with at least some of their neighbors once and for all.
Finally, in 1978, Sadat's attempt to force Israel into bargaining with him paid off. Earlier in 1977, Sadat had made a show of goodwill by traveling to Jerusalem and speaking before the Israeli legislature, the first time an Arab leader had recognized Israeli sovereignty. Although that made some progress, the Egyptians and the Israelis still couldn't find common ground on the Sinai. To make things move a bit faster, US president Jimmy Carter invited both Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to meet on US soil and hash out their differences with Carter as a mediator.
Over two weeks, the summit finally broke the diplomatic deadlock and resulted in the creation of some "framework documents". In 1979, Israel and Egypt translated that framework into a working peace treaty that saw Israel withdraw from the Sinai and Egypt agree to keep the region demilitarized. The peace treaty has lasted just fine so far, and Israel now considers Egypt to be one of its closest regional allies.
Hooray for not killing each other! Too bad things went sour elsewhere again.
Escalation in Palestine, war in Lebanon
In early 1978, the PLO decided to remind everyone that they were still around and pissed off by hijacking a bus and murdering 38 Israelis, including 13 children. The Coastal Road bus massacre, as it's known now, failed to sabotage the Israeli-Egyptian peace process but sure did piss Israel right the hell off. Israel retaliated by launching a full invasion of Lebanon, which was known to host PLO terrorists and bases. The short invasion resulted in about 1,000 Arab deaths and was condemned by the UN. That condemnation began what is now an ongoing pattern of anger between Israel and the UN.
Amid escalating conflict with the PLO, Israel also became much more aggressive towards poor Joe Sixpack of Palestine who just wanted to live his goddamn life. First came the official Israeli policy to encourage mass Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas, a policy that by necessity began the current trend of harsher military occupation and virtual apartheid in the region. Then came the 1980 Jerusalem Law, which effectively announced the annexation of East Jerusalem. That's been a bit of a sore point for Palestinians too.
Then, amid much international screaming, Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. After that, amid even more international screaming, Israel launched another invasion of Lebanon in 1982 because the first invasion apparently hadn't been enough. Lebanese Christian militias used the opportunity to rise up and commit horrific massacres against the Muslim population, and Israel earned the world's disgust when the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) stood by and allowed mass murder to happen right in front of their faces. Israel declared "mission accomplished" and left Lebanon in 1985, leaving behind a country in ruins that would be embroiled in religious civil war until 1990.
In 1987, the First Intifada, a series of Palestinian protests and riots, broke out and were met with massively disproportionate response from the Israelis.
Beginning and stalling of the peace process
In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister on a platform calling for compromise with the Palestinians. The following year, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority as an autonomous regional government with the acknowledged right to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, the ongoing Oslo process can't be completed without a resolution on the vital questions of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and the Palestinian right of return (comparable to the Jewish right of return). Not a whole lot of progress has materialized on these issues since then. There's probably a Nobel Prize in it for you if you can figure that shitstorm out. Good luck.
In 1994, Israel signed a peace agreement with Jordan that has also pretty much lasted so far. Part of the agreement stipulates that Jordanian authorities get to administer Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, which controversially includes Temple Mount.
More war in Palestine and Lebanon
Unfortunately for the Palestinians, things went bad again. Another round of diplomatic talks in 2000 fell through on the issue of what exact borders an independent Palestine might have. Both sides blamed the other for the failure. Shortly after, Palestinians were enraged by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Temple Mount. That triggered the Second Intifada, an even more intense bout of violence that lasted until about 2005 and killed thousands on both sides. During that period of violence, Israel constructed the controversial wall across the West Bank border, which Israel sees as a defensive measure and Palestinians see as racial segregation.
Meanwhile, the chickens scattered in Lebanon by Israel came home to roost when Iranian-backed Shia militia Hezbollah started launching attacks into Israel. Israel invaded Lebanon again in 2006, conducting a war which is widely considered a failure. The IDF failed to locate and destroy most of Hezbollah's strength, failed to prevent missile attacks on Israeli soil, and failed to eliminate any of Hezbollah's leaders. For the first time, Israel had been humiliated in a lost war.
Back at home, the year 2005 saw the terrorist group Hamas oust the Palestinian Authority and take control of the Gaza Strip. Political differences between the PLO and Hamas escalated into violence in 2007. Hamas also started using the Gaza Strip as a base from which to launch rocket attacks against Israel, provoking an Israeli invasion of the territory in 2008. Israel once again earned the world's disgust by indiscriminately using white phosphorous explosives during the attack, a weapon generally acknowledged to be a WMD. Alongside deadly white phosphorous chemical incendiaries, Gaza civilians died from missiles, bombs, heavy artillery, tank shells, and small arms fire directed at populated areas.
Israel later attacked Gaza again in 2014, once again killing thousands of people.
Israel's diplomatic status is currently better today than it's pretty much ever been. Israel has trade agreements with most of Europe and a big chunk of Latin America. Israel's peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt seem stable, and its relations with Saudi Arabia improving due to their shared hatred of Iran.
Israel has also benefited from the close personal alliance between Donald Trump and Israel's current wingnut prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In 2017, President Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus signalling that the US would recognize Jerusalem in its entirety as Israel's capital. The decision triggered a flurry of violence and crackdowns, but noticeably didn't cause too much diplomatic unrest among the Arab states. That's probably explained by the fact that the Arab world now seems to view Israel as an uncomfortable ally helping them fight against Iranian influence.
Warming ties with the Arab world were confirmed in September 2020 when Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement with Israel to recognize the Israeli state and normalize diplomatic relations. Behind the peace deals was the offer from the US of generous arms sales; the UAE has already gone and purchased Reaper drones, EA-18G Growler jets and F-35 fighter planes. In October 2020, Sudan's post-Bashir government has followed their example in normalizing relations with Israel, this time in exchange for the US removing them from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
Government and politics
Democracy and elections
Israel has been called "the only democracy in the Middle East". Unfortunately, that's not quite true. While Israel is certainly the most democratic state in the region, certain failings have created a situation in which Israel's parliamentary system fails to represent the will of its people. Elections, for instance, are overseen by a partisan electoral commission. Israel also has created a system in which a multitude of tiny parties constantly squabble in the Knesset and get nothing done.
Additionally, Israel's ongoing military occupations have resulted in a cultural shift towards authoritarianism. Under the rule of Benjamin Netanyahu, the nationalist right has mounted an assault on liberal institutions by declaring Israel to be a Jewish state, bribing the media for favorable coverage, and attempting to make Netanyahu immune from any kind of prosecution. In March 2020, Netanyahu's Likud Party took the extraordinary action of shutting down the Knesset completely in order to prevent a vote that might have seen them be replaced as the leader of the body. Even with the Knesset shut down, the Netanyahu administration continued business as usual but this time without any parliamentary oversight.
Israeli colonization of the West Bank, meanwhile, has significantly altered its political landscape. During election seasons, Israeli settlers on Palestinian land campaign and run for seats in the Knesset, while Palestinians living on that same land don't even have the right to vote. This is in spite of the fact that the Israeli government rules most aspects of Palestinian life. Instead, Palestinians vote for the Palestinian Authority, a regime which controls somewhere around 40% of Palestinian land and is entirely reliant on Israel for its continued functioning.
Although right-wing Israelis call Palestine a "disputed" territory, the reality is that Palestine is under military occupation. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon himself admitted it before the Knesset before explaining his view that the occupation was unsustainable. Sharon was succeeded by Netanyahu, who seems to have made it his mission to make the occupation sustainable by accelerating settlement construction and increasing military presence.
Starting in 1967, Israel's military was responsible for administration and governance in the Palestinian territories. Since the Oslo Accords, Israel has handed partial administrative rights to the Palestinian Authority. In effect, however, the Israeli military reigns supreme in the region, and most rural areas are still under Israeli civil authority.
Israeli rule in the region seems arbitrary and uncaring at best. Human rights violations by Israeli forces include home demolitions and the forced evictions, lack of access to water, punitive arrests, unfair trials, ill-treatment and torture of detainees, and use of lethal force to suppress nonviolent demonstrations.
Despite Hamas' best efforts, Israel also maintains effective control of the Gaza Strip. It controls all but one of Gaza's border crossings, Gaza's airspace and coastal areas, and Israel maintains a population registry which it uses to determine who may leave and enter Gaza. Since 2007, Israel has used that control to enforce a tight blockade on almost all goods into or out of Gaza including medical supplies.
Ongoing disputes and crises
Status of Palestine
The Oslo Accord was never meant to be a permanent arrangement, yet it has remained in force ever since its adoption. Under the 1993 agreement, Palestine is split into three regions. Area A, which consists of the primary Palestinian urban areas, has most of its internal affairs and internal security controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Originally, Israeli forces were supposed to be legally barred from entering Area A, but Israel unilaterally dissolved this provision while hunting militants during the Second Intifada. Entry is still barred to Israeli citizens. Area B, which consists of more rural Palestinian villages, are under the Palestinian Authority's internal jurisdiction but have Israeli security presence.
Area C is the real problem, consisting of about 60% of Palestinian territory, although much of it is uninhabited. The Oslo Accords gave Israel full administrative control and a free hand to do whatever it felt was necessary for its security in Area C, but the area was meant to be transferred to Palestinian control in 1999. Even though the transfer never happened, Israel still maintains its extensive powers in Area C. An estimated 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, along with some 400,000 Israeli colonists living in settlements constructed there. Along with using its administrative control to construct settlements, Israel also regularly demolishes Palestinian homes which they have not seen fit to authorize (Israel authorizes very few Palestinian construction requests). 30% of Area C is also barred to Palestinian entry, and 70% of existing Palestinian homes there lack access to water infrastructure. Nearly half of the Area C communities report that their access to emergency and basic health care is hampered by the long distances to the nearest clinic, and/or the need to pass a checkpoint.
Violence is still sporadic in Palestine, with protests becoming uncontrolled and the IDF responding with often lethal force. Amid these various grievances, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced in 2015 that Palestine no longer considered the Oslo Accords to be legitimate. Israel's harsher treatment of Palestinians has also helped the PLO reconcile with Hamas and form a unity agreement against their common enemy.
As far as anyone has been able to envision, there are really only two broad ways for the conflict to end. The "two-state solution" would create an independent Israel and Palestine, and is the most widely accepted idea internationally. It's based on the idea that the two sides are irreconcilable and thus deserve to make their own way. Unfortunately, to make a two state solution work, you'd need to figure out exactly where the border of those two states would lie. That's the root of the problem, as Israel has been building settlements on Palestinian land, and both sides claim East Jerusalem.
Then there's the "one state solution", which would merge Israel and Palestine. Many hardliner Israelis don't want that, since annexing Palestine and granting them citizenship would mean that Israeli Jews would be outnumbered by Arabs, thus meaning the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Alternatively, there's the ethnic cleansing version, where Israel either forces out the Palestinians or outright kills them all and just takes the land anyways. That solution is deemed unacceptable to just about everyone, but it's hard to deny that this is the direction Israel seems to be heading right now with widespread settlement-building, violence against Palestinians, and denial of Palestinian development rights.
Status of East Jerusalem
Prior to 1967, Israel only controlled the western chunk of Jerusalem, but the Six-Day War saw Israel conquer the eastern half as well. Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem is considered illegal under international law, and Palestine claims it as the capital of their proposed independent state. That, by the way, is why much of the international community continues to insist that Tel Aviv is Israel's capital and not Jerusalem. It's also why Palestinians freaked the fuck out when Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem; they don't view Israel's hold over the eastern half of the city as legitimate.
Right now, East Jerusalem is extremely militarized, and Palestinians there live in fear. Israeli ministers occasionally demand the destruction of all Palestinian homes built in East Jerusalem without permits, a threat that targets nearly 40 percent of the city’s Palestinians because of restrictive zoning. Jewish mobs chanting “Death to Arabs” have paraded through the streets, nightly police raids target Palestinian neighborhoods, and people on both sides of the religious divide are occasionally shot or stabbed to death.
East Jerusalem is also sectioned off from Palestine by the infamous wall, which only angers Palestinians even more. There are even walls going up inside that part of the city, as Israel has responded to violence by building concrete barriers between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods. So it goes.
Gaza blockade and violence
Since the beginning of the current Gaza conflict in about 2007, Israel has enforced a harsh blockade against the entirety of the Gaza Strip in the hopes that it will weaken Hamas and end the terrorist group's rocket attacks on Israel. It hasn't worked so far, and the UN denounces the measure as "collective punishment" and a "medieval siege". Hamas demands an easing of the closure in exchange for a halt in rocket fire, but Israel doesn't seem interested in sitting down at the negotiating table and Hamas won't even communicate with them until that main demand is met. Egypt, which also shares a border with Gaza, has so far cooperated with the blockade effort as well despite anger from fellow Muslim nations.
More than a decade of economic warfare and boom boom warfare have turned Gaza, a dense city with about two million people, into a dystopian nightmare. About half of the population is both unemployed and face urgent food insecurity; that's about one million people. Only very limited amounts of fuel and cooking gas is ever available, and Gaza's citizens are only permitted to fish right off the shore. That has about the implications you'd expect on medical care, electricity, and general health. Water is also scarce in Gaza, as Gaza's coastline is polluted with sewage and it's unable to build the necessary infrastructure to pipe in drinkable water. Some 80% of the area's population relies on international aid to survive, and the UN warns that conditions are so extreme here that Gaza might imminently become uninhabitable.
Israelis and Palestinians both seem to view Gaza as a giant prison. Palestinians may go to Gaza, but they aren't allowed to leave. They certainly aren't permitted to go to the West Bank, where Netanyahu seems determined to limit Palestinian population growth as much as possible. As a result, the only real hope for Palestinians in Gaza is being able to illegally immigrate out of there and move to a different country.
Palestinians in Gaza occasionally protest against Israel, but Israeli forces respond violently. In 2018, the IDF killed about 300 Gazans during that year's wave of protests and injured at least 35,000 others. Gaza's health system was unable to deal with the many injuries and had to resort to amputations for hundreds of people.
Hostility with Iran
Israel and Iran are on infamously bad terms with each other. It's kinda weird actually, considering that Israel has historically fought much more devastating wars against Egypt and Jordan and yet is now on good terms with them. Iran, though, has viewed Israel as a puppet of the West, a neo-colonial occupier state, and a religious abomination ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Israel, on the other hand, hates Iran for repeatedly threatening to "wipe Israel off the map", although Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claims that only means destroying Israel's current government.
Whatever the reason, Israel and Iran have been unrelentingly hostile to each other for decades. Part of the issue is the general fear that Iran might develop a nuclear weapon and use it against Israel. That fear motivated Israeli intelligence's various assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, and motivated Netanyahu's fierce public opposition to Barack Obama's touted nuclear deal with Iran.
That hostility has also extended into other frames of warfare. The Syrian Civil War is rapidly evolving into a proxy conflict between Israel and Iran, and both countries occasionally hit each other with cyberattacks. There's also evidence that the infamous Stuxnet virus was created by Israel to unleash against Iranian nuclear sites.
It's also widely believed that Israel has a nuclear weapons stockpile numbering between 80 and 400 warheads. Under its policy of "strategic ambiguity", Israel refuses to confirm or deny its ownership of nuclear weapons. Israel has also not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Golan Heights is a little chunk of Syria which has been under Israeli military occupation since the conclusion of the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel then unilaterally annexed the region, and the United States is so far the only country that recognizes that claim after Trump made that policy in 2019. Israel has thanked Trump for his diplomatic recognition by unveiling a plan to build a new settlement in the region named "Trump Heights."
There are a few reasons why Israel has been so determined to hold on to the region. The Golan Heights serves as a rugged defensive region against Syria, and it wraps around the Sea of Galilee to ensure Israel's ability to secure that source of water.
The Golan Heights' residents became the victims of forced depopulation, as many of them fled during the war without being permitted to return. Israel often demolishes depopulated villages to make way for Jewish settlements.
Israel's harsh policies towards Palestinians have provoked comparisons with South Africa's infamous apartheid regime practiced against black Africans. Ronnie Kasrils, a Jewish activist known for fighting against apartheid in South Africa explained that Israel's land seizure, military occupation, and forced home demolition policies remind him of both ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Desmond Tutu also voiced his support for the "Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions" movement, saying that systemic humiliation and harassment of Palestinian civilians reminded him of conditions in apartheid South Africa.
The Anti-Defamation League, though, rejects the comparison, stating that there is no Israeli ideology, policy or plan to segregate, persecute or mistreat the Arab population. Other critics of the comparison note that Israeli law requires that citizens be treated the same regardless of race or religion.
By 2018, however, the Knesset under Netanyahu passed a law that explicitly declares Israel as a "Jewish nation-state," recognizes Hebrew as Israel's official language, strips Arabic of its designation as an official status (now it is a "special" language below that of Hebrew), endorses the establishment of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, and explicitly says self-determination is "exclusive" to the Jewish people. As critics have stated, "defining sovereignty and democratic self-rule as belonging solely" to a specific people over others is one of the hallmarks of an apartheid state.
Freedom of movement
Israel maintains strict limits on Palestinians' right to travel within the West Bank, let alone outside of it. These restrictions are designed to keep Palestinians away from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but they functionally force Palestinians to take time-consuming detours during their daily lives and have restricted their access to their own agricultural land. Restrictions are enforced by military checkpoints and perpetual troop presence.
Then there's the issue of the separation barrier which walls off much of the West Bank from the rest of Israel. Unfortunately, that wall doesn't actually lie on Israel's border with the West Bank but instead substantially encroaches on the West Bank's side. That means that about 11,000 Palestinians are separated from the West Bank by a wall, but they're also still prevented from going to Israel. They're basically shit out of luck.
Torture and prisoner abuse
Israel on the order of its high court has admitted to the use of torture for much of the country's history, but torture is still practiced in the occupied territories. Thousands of Palestinian prisoners are held in Israeli facilities, and they're exposed to horrific conditions.
In 2019, Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan unveiled a plan to treat Palestinian inmates even more harshly in order to punish them; proposed measures include rationing water, eliminating cooking rights and visits to Palestinian prisoners, and keeping Palestinians with their political enemies to encourage prison violence. According to the minister, treating prisoners like shit is a "moral duty to terror victims and their families."
Unfortunately, prison conditions are already very bad. Prisoners are often denied food, denied medical care, subjected to beatings and torture, and kept in solitary confinement for prolonged periods. Reported methods of torture include beating, slapping, painful shackling, sleep deprivation, use of stress positions, and threats. Some cases are bad enough to be brought to the attention of Israeli courts, such as an instance where 20 men were gagged and bound and had their limbs broken with clubs.
Human rights organizations have strongly denounced Israel's practice of demolishing the homes of the families of those considered to be Arab terrorists. Human Rights Watch has called this common, collective punishment a war crime.
In November of 2015, Israel legislated a three-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for throwing rocks at Israeli troops, civilians or vehicles. The law also allows Israel to cancel national health insurance and other benefits for the parents of an imprisoned minor. The government purports that the legislation is temporary, passed in response to as an increase in Palestinian protests — including rock-throwing — against Israel's ongoing occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
Demolitions and land appropriation
Home demolitions are also used arbitrarily as well as a means of collective punishment. The Israeli occupation regime in Palestine demolishes hundreds of homes per year, displacing the Palestinian residents and offering no compensation. The stated justification is to preserve the IDF's "operational freedom", and the courts repeatedly support the military's right to clear out houses even in areas where Israel shouldn't have jurisdiction.
Along with the military, many demolitions are initiated by Israeli settler organizations, which like to clear Palestinians off of prime neighborhood-building land ("facts on the ground"). Homeless Palestinians then have no choice but to build "unrecognized" villages which Israel refuses to provide with municipal services and are at constant risk of demolition.
So why does Israel seem so determined to keep Palestinians in a constant state of uncertainty? It's all about the settlements, which Israel is building at a feverish pace and which can apparently only proceed if the Palestinians are kept at the lowest development level possible.
The centrality of religion to Israel's identity leads to particular tensions for women. Israeli women enjoy all of the rights and social mobility that one would expect in a liberal democracy. They are also subject to obligations that women in most other states are free or barred from, namely conscription - though the period of conscription is shorter for women than for men at two years instead of three (which is still longer than in most other countries with conscription). However, the strong social influence of, and legal control by Orthodox Judaism means that women in Israel are sometimes faced with official and unofficial sexism justified by religious dogma in places where fundamentalist communities are predominant, such as Me'a She'arim in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, where some buses and public utilities serving these areas are sex-segregated.
Freedom of expression and association
Israeli authorities use a range of measures, including raids, incitement campaigns, movement restrictions and judicial harassment, to target human rights defenders, journalists, and critics of Israel's policies. Israel publishes lists of Palestinian human rights activists, calling them "terrorists in suits", and encourages law enforcement to then subject these people to legal harassment.
Israel has directly targeted Human Rights Watch, ordering many of its officials to be deported. Foreign human rights activists are routinely prevented from entering occupied Palestinian territory, as Israel is trying to prevent news of the conditions in these regions from getting out.
Allies of Israel have moved to suppress the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement abroad. The UK and many US states have introduced legislation restricting the ability of private interests from attempting to financially sever ties with Israel. This is a blatant use of government power to compel financial decisions from non-government entities.
Gay rights and pinkwashing
Israel is the only state in the Middle East to extend gay rights. However, Palestinian gay rights groups resent being used as "cover" for Israel's treatment of Palestinians in general. Moreover — and as is true in many countries — there are still significant homophobic members of the Israeli parliament and government.
Israel's relatively positive stance on homosexuality is often used by its supporters as evidence that it is an inherently progressive country. There is, however, no gay marriage in Israel because Israeli marriage law falls firmly under the control of the Orthodox rabbinate. Therefore, neither Reform nor Conservative rabbis may perform marriages in Israel, although Israel recognizes both gay and straight marriages entered abroad. Israel's 2020 attempt to ban conversion therapy is also under threat from member parties of the Netanyahu ruling coalition as well as opposition from ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Some have pointed out how gay rights has been used to "pink wash" Israel's oppressive policies toward Palestinians. During one of the Freedom Flotillas made up mostly of Americans who set out to break the controversial blockade of Gaza, an anonymous gay man named Mark posted a YouTube video, claiming to be shocked by widespread homophobia among those on the flotilla. The Israeli government initially promoted this video; however, it turned out that "Mark" was actually an Israeli actor and the video was tweeted by Guy Seemann, an employee of the prime minister of Israel. Seemann denied that he had posted the video in any official capacity.
Legitimate criticism vs. anti-Semitism
Many anti-Semites use what would be valid criticisms of Israel as a veil for their anti-Semitism. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of the human rights organization T'ruah, has described some of these tactics. Some of these tactics and signs of anti-Semitism include:
- Seeing an international Jewish conspiracy
- Using code-words like "globalists" or "elites" (right-wing), or "Zionists" particularly to refer to all Israelis or all Jews (left-wing)
- Rejecting Jewish history
- Dismissing the humanity of Israelis
- Assuming that the Israeli government speaks for all Jews
However, some on the pro-Israel side conflate actual, valid criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism in order to quash any opposition to Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. An example of this would be United States Representative Ilhan Omar, smeared by many pro-Israel conservatives and liberals as an anti-Semite because she criticized the horrific crimes against humanity perpetrated by Israel as well as the influence that pro-Israel lobbying groups like AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) have in steering public opinion and government policy towards Israel in the United States. Another example is former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and a few others who were purged by the Blairites from the party for supporting Palestinians, under the vague notion of eliminating anti-Semitism in the party. These sorts of tactics are especially ironic given the Likud government's open association and collaboration with actually anti-semetic governments and politicians in countries such as Hungary, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and elsewhere. This is not to mention Israel's covert and increasingly, overt support of anti-Iranian wahhabi jihadis, such as the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nursa front in Syria. Bibi has himself posed for pictures with actual neo-Nazis in Hungary, all the while throwing spurious accusations at anyone who would criticize his party or government.
Site of the Battle of Hattin, with the Sea of Galilee in the background.
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