Monday marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel as a free and independent state.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion of Jewish Agency for Palestine proclaimed the state of Israel. This was in accordance with a 1947 partition plan drafted by the United Nations, which called for distinct, independent Jewish and Arab states in Palestine. Arabs had objected to the plan, according to Benny Morris’ 2008 history.
A day later, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq declared war against Israel. This became the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, notes “The Arab-Israeli Conflict” by Efraim Karsh.
Seventy years later, the anniversary of Israel also is marked by tensions. Even as Al-Arabiya noted celebrations at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, USA Today covered Palestinian demonstrators at the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
Across the globe, many marvel at the attention drawn by such a tiny country. In square miles, modern-day Israel is roughly 14 percent the size of the state of Iowa. It is bordered to the north by Lebanon, the Gulf of Aqaba to the south and Syria and Jordan to the east.
Despite its small size, Israel is frequently associated with ongoing violence and political unrest. The nation exists in a region that is culturally, historically and religiously significant to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As a result, groups vie for control of significant landmarks in the region and often struggle to coexist.
In Israel’s case, establishing the new state of Israel in the region was a recognition of the land’s ties to Jewish heritage and faith.
The first kingdom of Israel was established in about 1050 BCE. According to religious texts and other historical accounts, the region was then known as part of Canaan, which biblical atlases place in the modern countries of Israel and Palestine and parts of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Prior to this first kingdom, Israelites were loosely organized into 12 tribes. According to Genesis, these tribes sprang from descendents of Jacob’s 12 sons and formed over several generations. They were named for Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin and Joseph (eventually split among his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim).
For many generations, these tribes were bound by little more than common religion and its attendant culture and practices. However, the Israelites’ religion distinguished them from their neighbors in such a way as to draw them into armed conflicts, as described in biblical accounts.
“Judges” were Hebrew military and religious leaders who compiled some or all of the tribes to join forces in responding to attacks from their neighbors.
Eventually, threats from armies from Philistine cities led the Israelites to forge a permanent alliance under a centralized government ruled by a single king. The new kingdom took its name from the tribes’ common patriarch, Yisrael, formerly Jacob. (As noted in Genesis 32:28, Jacob contended with God. Afterward, he took the name “Yisrael,” which commemorated the bond forged in the contest.)
According to biblical accounts, the first king was Saul. He was followed by King David, who established his capital at Jerusalem, formerly known as Jebus. As scriptures note, David was able to unite the tribes and expand the nation’s area. He was succeeded by his son, King Solomon, who formerly established the worship of “Yahweh,” building a new temple in Jerusalem.
There are several sources for perspectives on ancient and modern Israel, including writers Morris, Colin Chapman and Joan Peters. In addition, Ron Kampeas of Jewish Telegraphic Agency has produced a series on the relationships between 13 U.S. presidents and the state of Israel.