As Modi Visits Israel, a Look at the Country’s Tumultuous Creation

Israel gained independence in 1948, in the backdrop of tensions with Palestine which continues till date. 

4 min read

Narendra Modi’s 4-6 July visit to Israel, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister, is expected to go beyond the traditional security cooperation pacts, and emphasise instead on aspects such as water, agriculture, and health, among others.

Notably, the visit comes 25 years after the thawing of diplomatic ties between the two countries in 1992.

The territory where Israel stands gained independence from Britain in 1948, a year after India broke free from colonialism. To fully gauge the significance that Israel holds for India, it is necessary to delve into the history of the creation of the country.


The Zionist Beginnings of Modern-Day Israel

The Jewish-Roman wars of the 1st and 2nd century AD led to the Jewish community being displaced from the territory of Israel. One of the flashpoints of this conflict was the Siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.

The formation of modern day Israel has its origins in Zionism, a 19th century nationalist movement that proposed a state for the Jewish community to call their own – Israel, which a part of the Ottoman Empire at the time.

The Zionist movement gained currency in a backdrop where the Jewish community was facing growing persecution – starting from the 19th century and culminating in the horrific Holocaust under Germany’s Adolf Hitler. The persecution led to mass migration of Jews to Israel.

Austrian-Jewish journalist Theodor Herlz, said to be the father of modern Zionism, helped facilitate this mass Jewish influx into modern-day Israel.

Israel gained independence in 1948, in the backdrop of tensions with Palestine which continues till date. 
The migration of Jews escaping persecution in Europe. 
(Photo Courtesy: Vox video Screengrab)

The Arab-Israeli Tensions

The Jews who arrived at their ‘homeland’ were met by Arab-speaking Palestinians, who too, as a video on Vox explains, had been developing the “distinct national identity” of being Palestinians. Soon enough, tensions began to flare up between the two groups. The 1917 Balfour Declaration furthered the cause of the formation of the Jewish “national home” in Palestine.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire paved the path for the British to take over and formally control the territory under the Mandate of Palestine from 1920 till 1948.

As pointed out by an article by the Economic History Association, the period during British control witnessed capital inflows and immigration, which facilitated “rapid economic growth of the Jewish sector”. The services sector, comprising advanced health and educational domains, spearheaded the community's economy in this period.

With the conflict between the Jews and Arabs continuing unabated, the United Nations in 1947 put forward a deal which would divide the territory in question into two countries, reserving 56 percent of the land for Jews and the rest for Palestinians. While the proposal was accepted by the Jews, the Arab states surrounding the region opposed it as they saw it to be a continuance of a colonial policy which deprived them of their land.

Israel gained independence in 1948, in the backdrop of tensions with Palestine which continues till date. 
The 1947 UN proposal to divide the territory into the Jewish and Arab states.
(Photo Courtesy: Vox video screengrab)

The Tumultuous Creation of Israel

One year after the UN proposal, Arab states joined hands to invade the disputed territory. Israel won and gained control over two-thirds of the territory, leaving Palestinians with the West Bank, the Gaza strip and a part of Jerusalem.

The conflict turned 7,00,000 Palestinians into refugees. It was under these circumstances that the newly-formed state of Israel came into being, under the prime ministership of David Ben-Gurion, in 1948. 

An ‘Intractable’ Conflict

Israel emerged victorious in the 1967 war with Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It went on to gain control of West Bank, Gaza, Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights.

However, in the years following the war, the country began to make peace with Arab countries – signing peace accords with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. As Vox puts it, the peace with Egypt was “the beginning of the end of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict”.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has continued over the years and has seen a number of developments – including the role played by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLOs) starting 1960s; the creation of Hamas (an extremist anti-Israel grouping) in 1987; the influx of Israeli settlers into Gaza and the West Bank further stoking tensions; and the two Palestinian intifadas (uprisings) in late 80s and early 2000s respectively resulting in many casualties on both sides.

Peace has seemed probable at times, only to be replaced by “intractable” conflict. The region intermittently descends into turmoil, and each time, countless civilians are forced to pay with their lives.

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