A new nation

The state of Israel: 1948

On 12 April 1948, a month before the departure of the British, a Provisional Government is set up with David Ben Gurion as chairman and minister of defence. And in the afternoon of May 14, the last day of the Mandate, Ben Gurion declares the creation of the state of Israel and signs the Declaration of Independence. The makes no mention of any proposed boundaries but is pacific in tone, appealing to all Palestinians to join in the building of the new state on the basis of full and equal citizenship, and looking forward to a state of peace and friendship between Israel and its Arab neighbours. But alas, events are to prove otherwise.

Areas of Palestine are clearly identifiable by the relative number of Jews and Arabs in each, forming the basis of the UN plan for partition. It immediately becomes of paramount importance for each side to defend and if possible to enlarge the territory allotted to it by the UN. On the Israeli side this is helped by the increasing panic felt by ordinary Palestinian villagers, many of them opting already for flight to other parts of Palestine or to neighbouring Arab countries. And in parts of the new state Arabs are forcibly expelled from their villages. By the end of June more than 300,000 are refugees, to be followed soon by many others – beginning the problem which more than sixty years later remains a major obstacle to achieving peace in the region.

On the very day of Ben-Gurion's declaration of the new state, Egyptian aircraft bomb Tel Aviv. On May 15, when the last British soldiers leave, Iraqi troops cross the Jordan. That same night Syrian troops with thirty armoured vehicles come down from the Golan heights, while Israeli soldiers march seven miles into Lebanon to blow up a strategic bridge. The first Arab-Israeli War has begun. It will last for nearly a year, during which (in January 1949) elections are held for a fully elected parliament. Mapai is the winning party, so David Ben Gurion becomes Israel's first prime minister – a position he will hold, with one short break in 1954-55, for the next fifteen years.

The first Arab-Israeli war: 1948-9

During the first two days of the war, the neighbouring Arab nations launch a coherent plan of attack, with troops from Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq and Egypt advancing on different fronts. They number in all about 15.000 men. But Israel is by now very much better prepared for conflict than could have been expected. Six months previously, at the time of the UN resolution, its army, an enlarged version of Haganah, had numbered 4,500: now it is more than 36,000.

The war, which lasts until March 1949, is vigorously fought on land, the sea and in the air, with the Israelis developing at short notice naval and airforce capabilities. The UN desperately tries to negotiate a truce between the sides, to give a breathing space and the opportunity to achieve a political settlement, and a four-week truce (known now as the First Truce) begins on June 11. The ceasefire itself holds for all but the last day of the four weeks, but both sides disregard the terms of the truce by taking the opportunity to build up their forces. The Israelis almost double the size of their army (from about 35,000 to more than 60,00) and contrive a significant increase in their armaments and ammunition. And both sides use the opportunity to move fresh troops to the front lines.

During the four weeks the negotiator appointed by the UN, the Swedish Count Bernadotte, proposes a new partition plan which is rejected by both sides. So full-scale fighting resumes on July 8. But after further UN efforts a second truce begins ten days later. This time it holds longer (no time limit has been placed on it at the start) and in September Bernadotte proposes a new partition. Again it is rejected by both sides. But it provokes a violent response from Lehi, the most extreme of the Israeli paramilitary groups. On the day after the new proposal of partition is published, September 17, they ambush and assassinate Count Bernadotte, fearing that the Knesset might accept his terms (unknown to Lehi, its members have already voted to reject them).

Five days after the assassination, on September 22, the Knesset passes into law an act, the Area of Jurisdiction, which dramatically alters the nature of the conflict. Instead of appearing to defend the area allotted to it in the various various partition plans, the state is now officially fighting to extend it. The act states that the area already captured and any land to be captured in future is annexed as part of Israel.

In the event the second truce lasts another month. Fighting resumes on October 15 and continues until 10 March 1949. During the early months of 1949 Israel agrees an armistice with each of its Arab neighbours, the last being Transjordan. The final Israeli success is a quick dash through Transjordanian territory to to reach the Red Sea on March 11, at what would become Eilat at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. They are a historic two days. On March 10 administrative powers are transferred from the Provisional Government to the Knesset. And on March 11 the United Nations votes to accept Israel as a member state.

By the end of the war Israel's territory has been extended to the north and to the south and by the occupation of part of the West Bank. The other part of the West Bank, bordering the Jordan river, is captured during the war by the forces of Transjordan. The king of Transjordan takes the opportunity of annexing the territory in 1950, changing the name of his kingdom to Jordan and becoming the only Arab country to have gained significant territories within the region of mandated Palestine.

But Israel's success and increase of territory has created an extra 600,000 Palestinian refugees, fleeing from their farms and villages. By 1952, just three years after independence, 1,400,000 people, a quarter of Israel's population, are housed in properties abandoned by Palestinian Arabs.

The war years have also revealed a factor that will remain a constant in the region. The Arab nations have been shown to be disorganized and weakened by mutual rivalries, while the state of Israel, less than a year old, has discovered a national cohesion, a passionate commitment by all its citizens and a military strength that will stand it in very good stead in future conflicts.Although full-scale war has ended, the years after 1949 are never peaceful. Israel, surrounded by hostile states openly committed to its destruction, is subject to constant raids across the border from all directions and sometimes reacts with extreme cautionary reprisals. An example is the long border with Jordan. During the five-year period from 1951 to 1956 there are more than 6000 aggressive border crossings and about 400 Israelis are killed.

In 1953 a reprisal raid is planned on an Arab village near the border, with Ariel Sharon in command. The written instructions from army HQ state that the object is 'to carry out destruction and maximum killing in order to drive the villagers from their homes'. Sixty-nine people are killed, mainly women and children, causing international outrage. But there is no full-scale military action involving Israel until the Suez campaign of 1956.

Building the nation: from 1948

David Ben-Gurion's Mapai party dominates Israeli politics until 1977, though from 1965 without Ben-Gurion himself. He has left in 1965, with a small but distinguished group of colleagues (including Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres) to form Rafi, a new party of his own. In 1968 Mapai, still the largest left-wing party in the country, leads a coalition with Rafi to form the Israeli Labor Party. This broadly continues Mapai's policies until for the first time losing an election, in 1977.

In its founding year, 1948, Israel shows a dramatic commitment to enabling all Jews to come to Israel. The Declaration of Independence has guaranteed their right to do so, but some are unable to – most notably many in the Yemen, who have been suffering anti-Semitic violence during the Arab-Israeli war and are too poor to leave. Israel now offers them free travel into the country and a new life when they get there. But there are two problems – how to bring them, and how to pay for it and for accommodation when they get to Israel.

The financial challenge in receiving a large number of immigrants begins a relationship that has been crucial to Israel. Ben-Gurion entrusts Golda Meir with the task of solving it. She goes to the USA and appeals passionately, and with success, to Jewish communities there. It is a source of support that will prove entirely reliable from that day to this. The transport problem is often even harder to solve, but it prompts a type of air-based adventure in which Israel has continued to excel. In a project known as Operation Magic Carpet, starting in June 1949, from the British colony of Aden. Between them they bring some 50,000 Yemeni Jews into Israel in an operation that is kept secret until it is completed.

Similarly vigorous is Ben-Gurion's commitment to the task of building the nation. This involves the settling of more than a million Jewish immigrants, achieved partly by the establishment of a great many new settlements, and partly by the strengthening of Israel's military forces. This is achieved by disarming of separate paramilitary groups and the merging of army, navy and airforce in the single unit known as the Israeli Defence Forces or IDI.

Mapai's long period in power also makes possible the gradual introduction of Israel's welfare state. In 1949 free compulsory schooling is introduced for all children between the ages of five and fourteen. The much broader National Insurance Act of 1953 and Social Service Welfare Law of 1958 together complete a firm foundation for a left-wing package of state-sponsored services including the provision of health insurance, workers' compensation, allowances for large families and old age pensions. This is a policy continued by the Labour party, introducing in the 1970s new areas of insurance (disability, unemployment) and more unusual benefits such as vacation pay for adopting parents.

In December 1953 Ben-Gurion astonishes and alarms the nation by the announcement that he is resigning from politics to join a small kibbutz in the Negev. Moshe Sharett takes his place as prime minister, but Ben-Gurion stands again in the 1955 election and returns to office as the leader of the country.

A seismic event in Israeli political history is the defeat of the Labour party in 1977 by a new party, Likud. This will powerfully shift Israeli policy in a right-wing neo-liberal direction. But meanwhile the Israeli Defence Forces have very effectively displayed their power in the long series of military crises and wars that also characterize the Mapai and Labour years.

Suez: 1956

During the spring of 1956 there has been persistent artillery bombardment of Israeli settlements by Egyptian forces based in the Sinai desert and in July Egypt blockades the port of Eilat, at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba. It is Israel's only way of reaching the Red Sea, and the Gulf's very narrow southern exit can easily be sealed from the nearby Egyptian harbour at Sharm al-Sheikh on the southeast side of the Sinai peninsula. Israel therefore has a powerful motive for seizing from Egypt the eastern part of the Sinai.

To do so it needs a convincing pretext and in a roundabout way the events of July provide the opportunity. On July 26 the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalizes the Suez canal and sends in troops to secure it, against the interests of Britain and France.

Now Britain, France and Israel all have motives of their own to invade Egypt – Britain and France to reclaim the canal, Israel to occupy part of the Sinai – but none has a sufficient pretext for armed aggression. So a secret plan is agreed. If Israel begins the action, entering Egyptian Sinai and advancing far enough towards the Suez canal to suggest the intent to seize it, Britain and France will be able to intervene on the pretext of preventing the outbreak of another war between Egypt and Israel.

On October 29 Israel enters the Sinai. Paratroops are dropped at an important pass on the approach route to the canal while an infantry brigade moves south towards Sharm al-Sheikh, which is captured on November 5. Meanwhile, on October 30, Britain and France demand the immediate withdrawal of both Egyptian and Israeli forces to at least ten miles from the canal. Since the Israeli forces are thirty miles from it, the obvious purpose is simply to make Egypt do so.

With no response from Egypt, Britain and France launch their military campaign, landing paratroops at the northern end of the canal. Against active resistance from Egyptian troops they take Port Said and then begin to fight their way southwards along the canal. But this action comes to a sudden halt when it becomes painfully evident, from international condemnation and strong US opposition, that this is turning into a major diplomatic disaster. With an embarrassing loss of face, the troops from both countries are rapidly withdrawn.

Israel remains in the Sinai for longer but finally pulls back to its own borders in March 1957, with the guarantee of a demilitarized Sinai and a United Nations force in the region to ensure that both sides keep to the 1949 armistice agreements. Egypt's borders remain therefore exactly as before the war, but the next decade proves unusually peaceful in southern Israel. And the nation has again, as in 1948-9, demonstrated to the Arab world the military damage it can inflict. .

Conflicts over water: from 1953

One of the major problems inherent in the Middle East context is that three states, two of them hostile to Israel, share an area that is short of water. The Jordan, the only major river, is the border between Israel and the other two, Syria and Jordan. Each needs to extract as much fresh water from the river as it can, a sure recipe for conflict.

In the early 1950s Israel develops a plan that is not illegal but is certainly not neighbourly. It is to extract water from the very low-lying Sea of Galilee, fed by the Jordan but far enough from it not to be threatened by Syrian artillery, and to pump it up hundreds of feet to feed a gently graded complex of channels, tunnels and vast pipes that will carry it southwards through Israel. The project, constructed between 1953 and 1964 and known as the National Water Carrier, moves huge quantities of water and is immensely successful. But it is, ultimately, water from the Jordan that is being extracted.

Syria and Jordan are not pleased. In 1964, the year when the National Water Carrier is completed, Syria begins constructing a similar project. The idea is to build a canal that will divert the water from two major tributaries of the Jordan before they reach the river, carrying it in a canal southwards through Syria into Jordan. Unfortunately for the Syrians the starting point of the canal doesn't share the advantage of the Galilee scheme. It is visible from Israel and within the range of artillery. Every time any earth earth-moving equipment reaches the site it is destroyed by Israeli shells. The project has to be abandoned.

It is expected by many that this alarming confrontation must lead to war. But Nasser dissuades Syria from taking action. It is widely known that he has the intention of attacking Israel. But he is not yet ready.

The Six-Day War: 1967

During the early months of 1967 incidents across Israel's borders with Syria become much more frequent, initiated by either side and inevitably provoking reprisals. By early May Nasser, eager to establish himself as the leader of the Arab world, is making much more aggressive speeches on the theme of eliminating the state of Israel, And on May 16 he demands that the UN peace-keeping force in Sinai and the Gaza Strip is withdrawn. Its presence, protecting Israel from Egyptian attack, has been an essential part of the agreement at the endof the Suez crisis. Without the UN in place, Israel would be suddenly vulnerable.

Astonishingly U Thant, the secretary general of the UN, immediately agrees to this demand. Within three days all the UN troops have sailed away. Egyptian troops quickly move in to take their place. And on May 23 Nasser declares that the Gulf of Aqaba is now once again closed to Israeli ships.

With alarming signs that an attack may be imminent, Israel mobilizes some of its trained civilian reserves to augment the army. During the following two weeks there are urgent diplomatic efforts by the Israelis in both the USA and Europe to secure protection and avoid a war, alongside an intense debate as to whether a pre-emptive strike is becoming essential. Continuing signs of preparation for war on all three fronts – Egypt, Jordan and Syria, with troops even being drafted in from Iraq – tip the balance by early June in favour of striking first. The decision is taken to launch an attack during the morning of June 5.

At 7.45 nearly 200 Israeli jets take off for an attack on the airfields of Egypt and the military aircraft parked on them. Later in the morning Syria and Jordan launch an air attack against Israel, bringing them into the war. Israeli planes repel the attack and bomb the enemy airfields. Within the day more than 400 planes are destroyed and nearly all the runways are made unusable. From the first morning of the war Israel has command of the skies.

The campaign on the ground is equally quick. On June 7 Israeli troops enter the Sinai and recapture Sharm el_Sheik. Meanwhile the Jordanians are being driven from the entire West Bank and paratroops enter Jerusalem to fight for the Old City, known now as Arab East Jerusalem. By the evening of the 8th all these areas are under full Israeli control and Egypt, Jordan and Syria have all agreed to a ceasefire. But there are voices in Israel urging that the war must continue until the Syrians have been driven from the Golan Heights, the raised plateau overlooking Israel that provides an excellent vantage point for bombardment. This is achieved on the 6th day, June 10. The war ends.

Israel's newly occupied territory at the time of the ceasefire is massive, amounting to the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip (taken from Egypt), the West Bank up to the Jordan river and east Jerusalem (taken from Jordan) and the Golan Heights (taken from Syria), The taking of the West Bank means that more than a million Palestinian refugees, some from the 1948 war and some from this one, are now in territory occupied by Israel – potentially storing up terrible problems in the future.

There is initial hope by many that this situation can be used to secure international guarantees for Israel's security within the 1948 borders. The country is now in control of a vast territory, with a huge indigenous population, that can be used as bargaining power in a negotiation of land for peace. But the chance of this becomes increasingly unlikely owing to Israel's new policy of building Jewish settlements in many parts of the occupied territory.

Fatah and the PLO: from 1964

A growing cause of Israeli unease has been a steady increase in terrorist incidents across the country's borders. These have been the work of two recently founded groups dedicated to the Palestinian cause and eager to harm Israel by any available means.

The first of the two, founded in 1964, is the Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine, soon to be known by an acronym, Fatah, deriving from its name in Arabic. Its constitution states that one of its goals is 'the eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence'. .Its leader is Yasser Arafat who becomes – and remains for another forty years – the internationally accepted representative of the Palestinians. His influence is further emphasized when he becomes, in 1969, the leader of another large group dedicated to the cause – the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO.

The PLO, proposed at an Arab summit in Cairo in 1965, is designed to combine the diplomatic and financial strength of Israel's Arab neighbours with the shared intention of 'liquidating Israel' (a phrase in the founding manifesto).

Raids by Fatah across Israel's borders are for the most part small-scale and largely ineffective in 1964, but from 1965 onwards – and particularly with PLO involvement in the aftermath of the rapid defeat of Arab armies in the Six-Day War – the frequency and scale of cross-border terrorist incidents increases steadily. Most of these immediately prompt a more destructive reprisal by Israel. A pattern develops that has blighted life in the region ever since.


Zionism: from 1890

Ever since the loss of a national home in Palestine, with the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD 70, the idea of a return to Jerusalem has been a romantic and indeed ritual part of the shared religious life of Jewish communities spread around the world. The service on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar) ends with the words 'Next year in Jerusalem'.

This remains a distant dream until a few authors in the early 19th century begin to advocate the establishment of a real Jewish home in Palestine. They have little practical influence, but at the end of the century the idea begins to gather political momentum, being known from 1890 as Zionism. The turning point comes in 1896 with the publication of Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) by a secular Jew, the journalist Theodor Herzl. The book is his response to a recent and rapid increase in anti-Semitism in many parts of Europe, particularly in Russia but also to a marked degree in Herzl's own region, Austria-Hungary.

The attempt to achieve a Jewish homeland in Palestine becomes the dominant political ambition of Herzl's life. In the mere nine years between The Jewish State and his early death at the age of forty-five, he devotes himself, in a whirlwind of activity, to securing an audience with a succession of powerful international leaders, to whom he presents his case – often with considerable success. The movement attracts more and more followers, and they finally achieve a breakthrough of great significance when the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, is persuaded in 1917 to sign a letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader of Britain's Jewish community.

The letter, subsequently known as the Balfour Declaration, states: His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country

This becomes both a powerful document, as a very strong endorsement of a Jewish national home in Palestine, but it is also a controversial one. It is argued by many that the provision for protecting the rights of non-Jewish Palestinians has been disregarded since the creation of the modern state of Israel.

The encouragement given by the Balfour Declaration is a major factor in the growth of Jewish immigration to Palestine. From the 1880s to the Balfour Declaration the average number of new arrivals has been about 900 per year. Following the Declaration, during the 1920s, that goes up to 12,000 per year. And the terrifying rise in anti_Semitism during the 1930s, not only in Nazi Germany, increases that figure again to 30,000 per year. This brings the Jewish population from 5% of the Palestinian Arabs in 1880 to more than 40% in 1939.

The pattern of early immigration by small groups establishes the important Israeli tradition of the kibbutz, originally a purely agricultural settlement, of a utopian socialist nature based on shared rights and ownership. Kibbutzim (the Hebrew plural of the noun) are sited wherever land is available, either by purchase from Palestinians or in places too barren to have been farmed by others. They therefore tend to be isolated and difficult to defend whenever their Arab neighbours become hostile. But their number grows rapidly, in later years often being factory-based. And even though the majority of immigrants have from the 1930s been individuals settling in towns, there are still in the early 21st century more than 250 kibbutzim in Israel. The first kibbutz was established in 1909-10 at Degania, south of the Sea of Galilee, by a small group of immigrants from Russia.

The British mandate: 1922-39

After World War I Palestine acquires a new governing power, Britain. For more than four centuries it has been part of the Turkish Ottoman empire, since its conquest by the sultan in 1516. But Turkey is a loser in the First World War, having sided with Germany. As with Germany and Austria-Hungary, the League of Nations is given the task of dismantling the empires of the defeated nations.

In May 1920 the League announces its decision for the Turkish territories east of the Mediterranean. France is given a mandate to govern Syria and Lebanon. The mandated territories entrusted to Britain are Iraq and Palestine, with the region east of the Jordan to be administered separately as Transjordan (the definition and boundaries of these territories are defined by the League on a largely arbitrary basis). It is specifically stated that Palestine is to be an exception to the principle of self-determination that defines League policies elsewhere. Clearly an Arab Palestinian state would immediately prevent the creation of a homeland for the Jews.

The hardest task confronting Britain is to keep the peace between the Jews and the more numerous population of Palestinian Arabs, resenting the arrival of so many foreigners and well aware of the Zionist dream of creating a state of Israel. During the 1920s the policy of Britain in relation to these two rival communities is unclear and vacillating. At first Jewish immigration is encouraged, in keeping with the Balfour Declaration, but problems arising from Arab opposition soon modify this policy.

From the very start, from the announcement of the British mandate (formally established not until 1922), there are clear indications of the strength of hostility within the Arab community. As early as 1920 there are attacks on Jews, resulting in a few deaths, in four days of rioting during the annual Nebi Musa festival in and around Jerusalem. These attacks, followed by more serious ones in 1921, prompt the formation of the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary group of volunteers committed to the defence of Jewish settlements. They also prompt the first concession to Arab opinion. The British are well aware of the need to avoid giving offence to neighbouring Arab states and to the millions of Muslims in India. In the short term immigration is suspended, followed by a promise that henceforth it will be strictly controlled.

During the rest of the period between the wars there is a gradual increase in the violence and extent of Arab riots against Jews. A particularly extreme outburst occurs in 1929. Beginning with an Arab attack on Jews at the holy Western Wall of the Temple (also known as the Wailing Wall), the violence rapidly spreads throughout Palestine. Within the next few days 133 Jews are killed and 87 Arabs, many of the latter by British troops trying to restore order. These dangers are met by a corresponding build-up of Jewish paramilitary groups, in particular the Haganah. By the early 1930s David Ben-Gurion, has become the de facto leader of the Jewish community as leader of the left-wing political party Mapai (founded by the merger of two parties in 1930), and from now on he is the main contact between the community and the British.

An Arab general strike in 1936, accompanied by a demand for an immediate end to Jewish immigration, leads to another major outbreak of violence against Jews, resulting this time in 80 Jewish and'140 Arab deaths as the British struggle to maintain order. The British response is to set up a Royal Commission, headed by Lord Peel, to investigate possible solutions to an increasingly dangerous situation. The Peel Report (1937) concludes that reconciliation is impossible and that the only solution is to set up two states, with the Jews occupying a small territory in the north of Palestine and Jerusalem retained as a permanent British mandate. Reluctantly the Jews accept this proposal, on the grounds that a small state is better than none, but it is categorically rejected by the Arabs.

Violence against Jews continues, particularly after 1938, forcing the British to intervene more actively on the Jewish side. Arms are provided to enable outlying Jewish settlements to defend themselves, contributing significantly to the growing strength of the Haganah which by1939 is a very effective fighting force armed with foreign weapons. But the approach of war soon causes another reversal in British policy.

The British mandate: 1939-48

Practical politics dictate Britain's decision that concessions need to be made to the Arabs in view of the danger of German forces achieving a quick route to India through the Middle East or the Suez canal. By contrast, it can be reasoned, the Jews of Palestine must inevitably support Britain in a war against Hitler.

The result is that a decision profoundly distressing to the Jews is taken. At just the time when the greatest number of Jews need to escape from Germany and eastern Europe, a limit of 75,000 is placed on immigration for the next five years, and thereafter any immigration is to be permitted only with Arab consent. This frustrates any hopes of a Jewish state, guaranteeing that Jews would remain a permanent minority within Palestine. But in the short term the calculation proves correct. In spite of the general sense of outrage at the limit on immigration. more than 30,000 Jews from Palestine volunteer to fight with British forces. In 1944 an entirely Jewish unit, the Jewish Brigade, is formed within the British army.

With large numbers of British troops in the region the war years are relatively peaceful. But the political situation strongly suggests to many that a Jewish state will only be achieved through force of arms. The Jews therefore do their best to enlist volunteers and to train them in guerrilla warfare for when the crisis comes. But a few of its members begin to take a more extreme line, believing that constant and active resistance is required against the British occupiers of Palestine.

This is a view long held by the first major splinter group from the Haganah, known as the Irgun and established in 1931. A second is formed by Avraham Stern in 1940, widely known as the Stern Gang but going by the official name of Lehi. This group believes that Irgun's tactics are too feeble and that terrorist attacks on British targets are the only way forward. By the end of the war the Irgun takes the same view. Of the four most significant attacks against the British, Lehi is responsible for the assassination in 1944 of Lord Moyne, a British minister of state in Cairo, and in 1948 of Folke Bernadotte, the United Nations Mediator in Palestine. For their part the Irgun, in 1946, blows up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (headquarters of the British administration), resulting in 91 deaths, and in the same year plants a bomb in the British embassy in Rome.

The Irgun and Lehi also have a more recent influence in Israeli history. Two of their activists play very prominent roles in Likud, the political party that has been the dominant force in the nation's politics since 1977. Menachem Begin, who as leader of the Irgun authorizes the attack on the King David Hotel, becomes the first Likud prime minister in 1977. Yitzhak Shamir, as joint leader of Lehi, plots the two assassinations in 1946 and follows Begin as prime minister in 1986.

It has for a while been evident to both Jews and Palestinians that the departure of the British must soon be imminent and that this will inevitably be followed by armed conflict. It was essential to the Jews to have as much time as possible to build up the military strength of the Haganah, by now in effect their army. In February 1947, just months after the King David Hotel atrocity, the Zionist leader David Ben Gurion pleads with the British to stay, promising in return to put an end to Jewish terrorism. But Britain, with 100,000 troops tied up in Palestine attempting to keep an impossible peace, is interested only in a rapid departure.

In May 1947 the British government hands the problem over to the United Nations, which sets up a Committee on Palestine. In August the committee recommends that the region must be partitioned into an Arab and a Jewish state, very much along the lines of the British Peel Report of 1937 except that Jerusalem is to be administered under an international rather than British mandate. This solution is adopted by the General Assembly in November. As with the Peel Report, it is welcomed by the Jewish community but violently opposed by the Arabs. In effect it is entirely disregarded in Palestine, where the violence between Jews and Arabs is dramatically increasing, so much so that the period between November 1947 and May 1948 is often referred to by historians as the Civil War. Israelis prefer to link it to the subsequent Arab-Israeli War as the War of Independence.

Preparations for conflict are being carried out by both communities and by neighbouring Arab countries. Two atrocities stand out in particular as examples of the methods now employed by extremists on both sides in Palestine. On 9 April 1948 the small Arab village of Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem, stands in the way of a band of fighters from the Irgun and Levi who are moving towards the city in an attempt to frustrate a Palestinian blockade. An attack on the village leaves more than 100 people dead, including women and children. A few days later, in an ambush at Hadassah on a road into Jerusalem, an Arab reprisal is carried out on a medical convoy to a hospital on Mount Scopus, killing seventy-seven Jewish doctors and nurses. But there are many lesser acts of terrorism against both communities.

Early in 1948 Britain announces that the mandate will end on May 14. Knowledge of the date only serves to intensify the preparation of both sides for the conflict ahead.


The Yom Kippur or October War: 1973

Violent cross-border incidents remain an unpleasant but soon almost normal feature of the life of Israelis in the years after the Six-Day War in 1967. On either side of the new border between Israel and Egypt, along the Suez canal, are extreme incidents involving even artillery bombardments. These derive from Nasser's determination to regain the Sinai peninsula from Sinai, and in 1969 he escalates the conflict by declaring a War of Attrition. The following months are indeed a war, with full-scale aerial attacks across the canal by both sides. This confrontation continues until the death of Nasser in September. His successor, Anwar Sadat, rapidly agrees to a ceasefire and the next three years become relatively calm.

But in the early autumn of 1973 there are alarming movements of Egyptian and Syrian troops towards the borders of the neighbouring occupied territories, Sinai and the Golan Heights. Israel decides against immediate call-up of its reserve forces for two reasons: a determination not to be seen as the aggressor if there is an invasion and war; and a degree of complacency resulting from the massive Israeli superiority in the 1967 war, leaving the conviction that an effective invasion by the Arab nations is unlikely. Nevertheless, in the first days of October, a degree of mobilization is authorized by the prime minister, Golda Meir.

The sudden attack by Egyptian forces on the afternoon of Saturday October 6 is therefore not quite the total surprise it is sometimes described as being. Nevertheless it is met by Israeli forces inadequately prepared, and it has been carefully scheduled to take place on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, when most Israelis will be at home.

A massive Egyptian air strike and artillery bombardment on Sinai is immediately followed by 8000 assault troops crossing the Suez Canal and advancing into Sinai. At the same time, in the north, 1400 Syrian tanks advance into the Golan Heights. In both regions there is an immediate and significant advance on the first day of the war. But Israel achieves full mobilization and moves new troops to both fronts with extraordinary speed.

By the end of October 10, four days after the invasion, the Syrian troops have been driven back to the border. In the south the powerful Egyptian forces by now on the east bank of the Canal prove impossible to dislodge, but the Israelis establish a relatively secure line a few miles to the east of the Canal.

The war turns now into an extremely violent and destructive series of battles on both fronts, fought mainly with tanks but also in the air and with sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Casualties are high and a vast number of tanks are destroyed, in both cases the loss being very much greater on the Arab side. But armaments are rapidly and immediately replaced by air lifts from the Soviet Union, and the USA soon provides the same support for Israel. As a result there is a fear that the two nuclear nations may become more actively involved, but both governments cooperate fully in a frenzy of diplomatic activity. On October 16 the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, asks the Soviet prime minister, Alexei Kosygin. to seek a resolution from the UN Security Council calling for a cease-fire.

Six days later this is achieved, and by the afternoon of October 24 it has come into effect. But in terms of the borders being fought over, the massive human and financial cost of the war has resulted in very little change. Israel still holds the Golan Height and the Sinai peninsula (though accepting here that Egypt will control the east bank of the Suez Canal, with Israel withdrawing to a line five miles to the east). And the West Bank remains unchanged, having not been involved in the war. One of the main Israeli fears during the conflict has been that King Hussein may align Jordan as a participant with Egypt and Syria, thus vastly increasing the scale of the conflict. But, with memories of 1967, he chooses caution and abstains.

Labour and Likud: 1973-77

In 1973 a new political alliance is formed through a merger of several right-wing parties so as to provide a viable opposition to the ruling left-wing Labour coalition (known now as the Alignment). It takes the name Likud, meaning 'Consolidation' Its leader is Menachem Begin, a veteran of the terrorist campaign against British rule in the 1940s. In the 1973 general election, within months of being founded, Likud wins 39 seats in the Knesset. It immediately becomes the second largest party after Golda Meir's which has 51 seats. Begin becomes leader of the opposition,

In October of that year a commission is set up to discover why Israel was so unprepared for the recent invasion and the Yom Kippur War. It delivers a terse 40-page report published on 1 April 1974. Its criticism of the incompetence of Israeli military intelligence is extremely severe, reinforcing the outraged sense of betrayal felt by the public. Although not personally criticized in the report, Golda Meir resigns as prime minister that same month. There is a bitter struggle between Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres to succeed her as leader of the Alignment. In the event Rabin wins narrowly, becoming prime minister. Peres, although from now on finding it difficult to work with Rabin, accepts the important role of minister of defence.

The most dramatic event of the three remaining years of this Labour government, one that astonishes the world and greatly boosts the morale of Israelis, takes place in July 1976. An Air France airliner is hijacked by Arab terrorists and is flown to Libya. There the ninety-eight Israeli and Jewish passengers are identified and are flown on, as hostages, to be held at Entebbe airport in Uganda The demands of the hijackers include the release of terrorist prisoners held in Israel.

Israeli public opinion is on balance in favour of submitting to this blackmail, but Rabin and Peres set in motion an extraordinarily bold cross-party plan (Begin is kept informed at all stages). After a week of highly secret planning four aircraft, with heavily armed troops on board, take off for Entebbe, 2500 miles from Israel. In a battle at the airport three of the hostages are killed in crossfire. The rest board the four planes, which arrive safely back in Israel. The only Israeli soldier killed is the commander of the operation, Yonatan Netanyahu. Twenty years later his brother Benjamin becomes the Israeli prime minister.

The election due in the following year, 1977, brings the first major political upheaval in Israel's history. Likud becomes the largest party in the Knesset with 43 seats. The alignment, by now led by Shimon Peres, has 32. Begin becomes prime minister and thirty years of rule by Labour come to an end,

In broad terms the difference is that Labour has been left-wing and secular and judges relationship with the Palestinians in practical terms of Israel's security. The party is therefore willing to make compromises where they coincide with that overriding purpose. Likud is more right-wing and dogmatically more religious, in the sense of seeing the Jewish homeland as the entire area described in the Bible as comprising Judah and Israel three thousand years ago. Indeed one of Begin's first acts on coming to power is to make it government policy always to refer to the West Bank as Judaea and Samaria.

This territorial imperative means that compromise with the Palestinians is virtually impossible. It is Likud party doctrine that Palestine has been and is the region east of the Jordan and that the Palestinian refugees should move there. Alternatively Likud will accept them deciding to stay in the West Bank where they may be granted a measure of autonomy within the state of Israel and indeed certain limited rights as citizens. But the two-state solution, strongly advocated in Washington, is clearly out of the question.

In private. however, Begin is slightly more flexible. He shares Labour's view that a relationship with Egypt, by far the most powerful Arab nation, is in Israel's interest. And he lets it be known, discreetly, that he would welcome a meeting with Sadat.

Begin and Sadat: 1977-8

Sadat has said in private that he is eager to talk, and he goes public on the issue on 7 November 1977, amazing the world with a statement in a speech to the Egyptian parliament: 'I am willing to go to the ends of the earth for peace. Israel will be astonished to hear me say now, before you, that I am prepared to go to their own house, to the Knesset itself, to talk to them'. Begin announces that same evening that Sadat will be welcome, and an official invitation soon follows.

There is a huge public welcome for Sadat when he arrives, and much waving of Egyptian flags on the streets of Jerusalem, but he pulls no punches in his speech to the Knesset. He says his purpose in coming is to prevent ongoing war between their two countries but emphasizes that a solution needs to include the withdrawal of Israeli troops from all the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state. His visit is followed in the following months by several other meetings between Egyptian and Israeli officials, but it soon becomes evident that a compromise is impossible and the negotiations grind to a halt.

They are dramatically revived by President Carter in 1978. All the relevant parties are invited to a conference at Camp David, the presidential retreat in rural Maryland, with himself acting as mediator. The participants, gathering at Camp David on September 4, include Begin and Sadat with senior members of their cabinets. After intense negotiations, eased forward thanks to shuttle diplomacy between meeting rooms by President Carter, the seemingly impossible has been achieved.

There is agreement on a 'Framework for Peace in the Middle East'. This includes several remarkable concessions by Begin. One is the first formal Israeli acceptance of 'the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people'. Others relate to the Sinai Peninsula, where he agrees to withdraw completely as far as the original border with Palestine and to give up all the settlements and airfields built since 1967 in Sinai (including even the one at Sharm el-Sheikh where Egypt had triggered the Suez crisis by using it to seal off Israel's access to the Red Sea.)

The prize for agreement at Camp David is a peace treaty between the two countries, which have technically remained in a state of war ever since the hostilities of 1948. The treaty is included in the Camp David Accords, signed on September 17 by Begin, Carter and Sadat. Within weeks the Nobel Peace Prize hss been awarded to Begin and Sadat.

But compromise of this kind enrages the extremists. Three years later, in 1981, Sadat is assassinated, by a group of Muslim fundamentalists firing automatic weapons, while taking the salute at a military parade.

Iraq and Lebanon: 1981-3

The remaining years of Begin's period as prime minister are marked by two highly controversial military decisions. The first is the result of mounting concern that a nuclear reactor being developed by Iraq, officially and by international agreement limited to peaceful purposes, may have as its ulterior motive the development of nuclear weapons capable of reaching Israel. In the summer of 1981 Begin decides to send Israeli planes to destroy the reactor. This is achieved with pinpoint accuracy on June 7 and is greeted by widespread international condemnation, including a resolution passed unanimously by the UN Security Council. Israel itself is divided, with Peres and Rabin expressing opposition.

In the following year Begin authorizes another military excursion against hostile neighbours, this time with ground troops across the border into Lebanon. The main reason for the invasion is the powerful presence in southern Lebanon of Israel's most active enemy, the Palestine Liberation Organization. It has been building fortified positions north of the Israeli border, from which it is able to shell settlements in northern Israel.

The official Israeli plan, as declared to the Knesset and the public, is to occupy the territory within Lebanon up to 25 miles from the border with Israel. But the commander of the enterprise, Ariel Sharon, has already given orders for Israeli troops to carry on towards Beirut where the PLO now has its headquarters. The purpose is to attack these as well as the command posts in the countryside, and thus to damage the PLO so severely that it is driven out of Lebanon.

The PLO. with its thousands of guerrilla fighters, has already been forcibly removed from one country in the region. In September 1970 it was expelled from its previous base in Jordan, after months of violent civil war between it and the Jordanian army. Sharon's intention is to achieve the same in Lebanon. As a result Beirut is reduced to a state of siege and from 14 June 1982 hundreds of PLO buildings in the western Muslim area of the city are subjected to heavy Israeli bombardment from land, sea and air. Finally Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, accepts on August 11 that his forces will withdraw from the country. US marines and other foreign troops arrive to secure a peaceful departure from Beirut for Arafat and his men. This is completed by September 4. No longer welcome anywhere in the Middle East, the PLO finds its third home in north Africa, in Tunis.

Meanwhile the Israeli presence in the Lebanon has also escalated to become a full-scale war with Syrian forces, referred to now as the Lebanese War, the fourth war in Israel's twenty-two year history. After a large loss of life in every participating group, but particularly in the PLO, agreement is finally reached in May 1983 that both Israeli and Syrian troops will leave the country. This leaves the Phalangists (the militia of the Phalange, the political party of right-wing Lebanese Christians and an ally of Israel) as the only powerful military force in the region. And they, on 17 September 1982, have been responsible for the most shocking event of the entire war.

Sabra and Chatila: 1983

After the departure of the PLO from west Beirut, the part of the city with the largest concentration of Palestinian refugees, Israeli troops move into the area. It contains two large refugee camps, at Sabra and Chatila, which are believed to be providing a safe haven for Palestinian terrorists.

The Israelis therefore seal off the camps, allowing access only to the Christian Phalangist militia in the expectation that they will identify the active militants. Instead the Phalangists, entering the camps on September 17, carry out a massacre. This has a strong element of revenge. Only three days earlier the Christian leader Bashir Jemayel, recently elected to be the next president of Lebanon, has been assassinated – an atrocity blamed at first on the Palestinian Muslims but in fact a plot planned in Syria. When the camps at Sabra and Chatila are opened, 2300 Palestinian bodies are found, among them some militants but mainly ordinary refugees, men, women and children alike.

The Lebanese adventure has been profoundly controversial within Israel as well as abroad. On July 3, a month after the invasion and with Beirut under continuous bombardment, the Israeli pressure group Peace Now organizes a protest demonstration in Tel Aviv with an estimated 100,000 participants. But opposition turns to outrage, both internally and international, when the details of Sabra and Chatila become known. On September 25 another mass demonstration in Tel Aviv numbers 400,000 people, more than 10% of the country's entire population. The government is forced to set up an immediate inquiry into the massacre.

When the commission presents its report, in February 1983, its conclusions are devastating. It is acknowledged that there had been no Israeli intention for this disaster to happen, but there is strong criticism of the failure to anticipate or prevent it and for not intervening while it is occurring. Sharon is singled out for special blame for not foreseeing the dangers of letting the Phalangists into the camp and for giving them no precise instructions as to what was expected of them. And Begin is judged to have been irresponsibly 'indifferent' to the situation, in spite of having earlier justified the Israeli occupation of west Beirut as being necessary 'to protect the Muslims from the vengeance of the Phalangists'.

Sharon resigns as minister of defence but Begin is also criticized for allowing him to stay in the cabinet as minister without portfolio. Begin himself retires from politics in August 1983 and is succeeded as prime minister by Yitzhak Shamir, his old colleague from the days of terrorist activities against British rule.

Settlement and Intifadas

Likud and Settlement: 1967-83

Begin's renaming of the West Bank as Judaea and Samaria has an immediate practical influence on Israeli policy. If this area is to be part of Israel, it makes strategic sense to build more settlements in different parts of the territory. The more scattered but well-defended settlements there are, the harder it will be for a viable Palestine state to be established. This chimes with Likud's categorical rejection of the two-state solution.

The founding of settlements began on a limited scale after the 1967 Israeli occupation of a wide stretch of Palestinian territory. They were small military outposts, many of them near the borders, established by young men doing military service and agriculture combined. With Likud's arrival in power in 1977 the scale and pace of settlement increases, even though President Carter warns Israel in no uncertain terms that America is strongly opposed, regarding settlement in the occupied territories as illegal. In spite of this, Israelis are now enticed to settle in the occupied territories with the offer of financial benefits – cheaper houses, lower mortgage rates, tax advantages. By 1983 there are 20,000 settlers in the territories, many of them very close to densely populated Arab areas, and a target is announced of 100,000 by the end of the decade.

The difficulty in ever removing this huge number of settlers is powerfully demonstrated in 1981when a relatively small group refuses to leave the settlement of Yamit in the Sinai. Part of Begin's Camp David agreement with Sadat in 1978 has been Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai and he is determined to fulfil this commitment. Some of the Yamit settlers barricade themselves in a bunker and threaten to blow themselves up. Others take refuge on their rooftops and the world sees on television Israeli soldiers using water cannon to try and dislodge them. Equally unappealing is the sight of the soldiers demolishing the houses of Yamit and systemically destroying the settlers' orchards. Begin's purpose is achieved, but at considerable cost.

Immigration: since 1947

In Israel's founding charter one of the principles is that all Jews anywhere in the world have the right of return to their ancestral home ('the ingathering of the exiles'), and it is also very much in Israel's interest that as many as possible shall do so. A small nation needs to grow larger and stronger, and it becomes particularly important to be in a majority if a large number of Palestinian Arabs are living in the same territory.

The first mass immigration to Israel is in response to the concept of homecoming to a separate Jewish state. Between 1947 and 1951 nearly 700,000 Jews arrive, coming from seventy different countries. Their number doubles the population.

Subsequently major immigration groups, arriving within a fairly short timespan, tend to come from a particular region, sharing already a group identity. One of the most important, particularly in symbolic terms, are the Jews of Iraq. The Iraqi government, hostile to Israel after the 1948 war, is strongly opposed to their departure. It requires secret diplomacy by Israel, reinforced by a large cash-payment, for visas to become available from March 1950 to Jews wanting to emigrate to Israel.

Within three months 90,000 Jews (out of a total 130,000 in Iraq) take this opportunity, even though it means losing their homes and being forced to leave behind all gold, jewellery and any other valuable objects. The symbolic importance of this achievement is that these Jews form the oldest ¬diaspora in the world. They are descendants of Jews captured in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC and carried off to Babylon. Their community has survived in Iraq ever since. Subsequently this long tradition is brought entirely to an end when nearly all the remaining Jews leave the country as a result of severe persecution under the Ba'athist regime, from 1968. After the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003 the Jewish Agency for Israel attempts to contact all the Jews in Iraq. They find only thirty-four.

The largest regional group to have reached Israel are the Russian Jews. Israel has been well aware that their great numbers make them the prime source for the immigrants so sorely needed, but there is a double problem. The Soviet Union allows a relatively small number to leave each year. And of these only a small percentage choose to come to Israel, preferring the economic lure and the greater safety of the United States. In 1988 about 18,000 Russian Jews are given exit permits, specifically to Israel, but only 2000 arrive arrive. The rest have opted out of the Israeli flight in Vienna and transferred to an American one.

The Israeli government makes great but unsuccessful efforts to persuade the USA to restrict Jewish immigration, diverting the immigrants to Israel (the destination entered on their exit visas) where they will be greeted as citizens rather than received as refugees. The Americans insist that it is their right to choose where they want to go. The Israelis argue that they should arrive in Israel before exercising that choice.

However, knowing that the Soviet Union plans to grant a rapidly increasing number of exit permits, the USA decides in its own interest to alter the system. From late in 1989 those who want to go to the USA must apply for a visa in the normal way from the US embassy in Moscow. In 1990 the total number of Jews arriving from Russia is 185,000. This is never again matched but the annual number has remained high ever since, with the result that Russian immigrants by now far outnumber all others in Israel.

The Russian total is now 1.25 million, whereas the next largest group is 350,00 from north Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia). These are Sephardim, meaning descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal a little later. They, together with the Jews of Iraq, are ethnically a minority in Israel. The majority are Ashkenazim – descendants of the Jews of Germany and eastern Europe, the region of the two next largest groups, Romania (275,000) and Poland (175,000).

Prime ministers and the peace process: 1994-2000

Likud's hard line in relation to settlement is softened for a while between 1984 and 1990 when neither it (led now by Yitzhak Shamir) nor Labour (led now by Shimon Peres) can form a coalition without the other. A National Unity Government is formed, with the leaders agreeing to alternate as prime minister. The1980s see one isolated development that is helpful to the peace process, when in 1988 Yasser Arafat declares that the PLO renounces 'terrorism in all its forms'. But other events at the time are less promising. In previous years Hezbollah has emerged in Lebanon (in 1982) as an Iranian-sponsored resistance movement to end the Israeli occupation of the southern part of the country. In 1987 Hamas (acronym in Arabic for 'Movement for Islamic Resistance') is founded in the occupied territories to lead armed resistance against Israel. And in the same year an Intifada begins against Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. This First Intifada lasts for several years and brings a high number of casualties, with the Israeli army killing more than 1000 Palestinians. The aggression against the soldiers is most often by boys throwing stones, sometimes by Molotov cocktails, and occasionally towards the end by the use of firearms. The heavy-handed nature of the Israeli response serves often to escalate the anger and the level of resistance. After the 1992 elections Labour is strong enough to govern without Likud. The leader by now is Yitzhak Rabin, and his period in power sees a very hopeful movement towards peace. Secret discussions with the PLO about ways forward are held during 1992 and 1993 with Shimon Peres, by now foreign minister, representing Israel. By the autumn of 1993 these meetings yield promising results. On September 9 Rabin sends a letter to Yasser Arafat recognising the PLO and Arafat sends a letter to Rabin renouncing violence and officially recognizing the state of Israel. The majority of the meetings have been in Oslo and the agreement becomes known as the Oslo Accords. Its main provision is the establishment of an interim Palestinian National Authority, that will have a measure of control over the Gaza Strip and parts of the West bank. The intention is for this to lead to Israel gradually yielding more autonomy to the Palestinians. When Rabin announces the agreement, he declares "We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice, enough of blood and tears ... enough!" The formal signing is in the USA, presided over by President Clinton. It ends with a historic handshake between Rabin and Arafat. The two of them, together with Shimon Peres, are awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. But the Israelis are passionately divided on the wisdom of this step. Like Sadat earlier on the Muslim side, Rabin pays with his life for offering a gesture of friendship. At the end of a rally in Tel Aviv in 1995 in support of the Accords, he is shot by a radical Orthodox Jew. The Palestinian National Authority is duly formed, in 1994, with Arafat as its president and prime minister. The following years, up to the millennium, see continuing efforts to further the peace process. In 1996 Likud returns to power, with Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. He is temperamentally inclined to the right-wing Likud stance of minimum negotiation with the Palestinians, but in 1998 Netanyahu and Arafat – under the guidance and coaxing of President Clinton – sign the Wye River Memorandum (named from the conference centre in the USA where the negotiations take place). In it Netanyahu commits Israel to transferring more territories to the control of the Palestinian National Authority, which is duly done. In 1999 Labour return to power and the new prime minister, Ehud Barak, continues the process. In 2000 he withdraws Israeli troops from southern Lebanon and responds to another peace effort by President Clinton. Negotiations are to take place with Yasser Arafat, again at the presidential country retreat, Camp David. The aim is to find a lasting plan to end the Palestinian-Israeli problem, by now deeply rooted. Barak offers Arafat a proposal for a new Palestinian state, in a dramatic break from Israeli opposition to a two-nation solution. Arafat rejects it as inadequate. From this point on, for various reasons, things get steadily worse.

Suicides and the barrier: 1993-2008

From 1993 a terrifying feature of life within Israel has been suicide attacks by Palestinians, with responsibility claimed mainly by Hamas, but also by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and by Fatah. A peak is reached in 2002, with 47 bombings during the year. The death toll up to 2008 is more than 800. This is a tragic waste of life, both of young Palestinians and of their much more numerous and randomly selected victims. It is a certain way of increasing the hostility of most Israelis to the Palestinian cause.

An equally certain way of hardening attitudes within the Palestinian population is the long-standing Israeli policy of building Jewish settlements on their land. Starting soon after 1967, when the entire Palestinian region fell into Israeli hands, the establishment of permanent settlements in the occupied territories has been strongly condemned, by the United Nations and by most of the major countries in the world, as being illegal under international law. Yet the number and size of new settlements has increased dramatically – from 20,000 settlers in 1983 to 300,000 in 2013, in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan heights.

The suicide bombers have presented Israel with a major security problem, and defending the widely spread settlements is also difficult and expensive. The danger of suicides is eventually solved by far more stringent checks at the borders and a closer watch on the streets.

The defence of settlements, and in particular of those in and near Jerusalem, prompts a much more controversial and unusual solution. It is the creation of the West Bank barrier. With construction starting in 2000, this 430-mile-long is intended to keep out intruders. But it is also calculated to enclose nearly 10% of Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

Most of the barrier is a fence with trenches impassable by vehicles, but approximately 40 miles skirting Jerusalem consist of an 8-metre high concrete wall. In 2004 the International Court of Justice decided that "the construction of the wall, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law". Nevertheless from the Israeli point of view it has been a great success in terms of its official purpose. Since 2008 there have been virtually no successful suicide attacks within Jerusalem.

The Second Intifada: 2000-05

The years following the millennium bring a new crisis – the beginning of a second intifada. There are several reasons for the new outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza, where frustration has been steadily building. Some maintain that an uprising has been planned for some months by Yasser Arafat. But one very provocative gesture in 2000 by a new leader of Likud, Ariel Sharon, is often quoted as the trigger that ignites a very tense situation.

Sharon plans a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, treated by custom as being under Muslim control since the enclosure contains two of their most holy buildings, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa. Sharon arrives in the area with several hundred Israeli police officers, making the point that there is no region in the country that is not under Israeli control. The affront leads to Palestinian riots the next day, with demonstrators provoking the police with a barrage of stones. The police respond with rubber-coated metal bullets, killing 4 people and injuring about 200.

The uprising continues for five years, in a series of incidents reaching levels of violence far exceeding that of the first intifada 13 years previously. It is calculated that the number of dead, military and civilian, is about 3000 Palestinian and 1000 Israelis. There is no precise reason for the gradual easing of the intifada in late 2004 and early 2005. The death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 lessens the intensity of the conflict. He is succeeded by Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the PLO, and in January 2005 Abbas becomes president of the Palestinian National Authority.

Abbas immediately takes serious steps to prevent Hamas continuing the violence and in particular to stop them attacking Israeli settlements with rockets and mortar fire (usually ineffectual apart from psychologically). Sharon, impressed by this, agrees to meet Abbas at a summit in Sharm-al-Sheikh in February 2005, sitting round a table with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

A deal is done. Both leaders agree to bring violence by their side to an end and SharonThe years following the millennium bring a new crisis – the beginning of a second intifada. There are several reasons for the new outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza, where frustration has been steadily building. Some maintain that an uprising has been planned for some months by Yasser Arafat. But one very provocative gesture in 2000 by a new leader of Likud, Ariel Sharon, is often quoted as the trigger that ignites a very tense situation.

Sharon plans a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, treated by custom as being under Muslim control since the enclosure contains two of their most holy buildings, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa. Sharon arrives in the area with several hundred Israeli police officers, making the point that there is no region in the country that is not under Israeli control. The affront leads to Palestinian riots the next day, with demonstrators provoking the police with a barrage of stones. The police respond with rubber-coated metal bullets, killing 4 people and injuring about 200.

The uprising continues for five years, in a series of incidents reaching levels of violence far exceeding that of the first intifada 13 years previously. It is calculated that the number of dead, military and civilian, is about 3000 Palestinian and 1000 Israelis. There is no precise reason for the gradual easing of the intifada in late 2004 and early 2005. The death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 lessens the intensity of the conflict. He is succeeded by Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the PLO, and in January 2005 Abbas becomes president of the Palestinian National Authority.

Abbas immediately takes serious steps to prevent Hamas continuing the violence and in particular to stop them attacking Israeli settlements with rockets and mortar fire (usually ineffectual apart from psychologically). Sharon, impressed by this, agrees to meet Abbas at a summit in Sharm-al-Sheikh in February 2005, sitting round a table with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

A deal is done. Both leaders agree to bring violence by their side to an end and Sharon promises the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners. Over the following months Sharon is as good as his word. He has already, in 2004, persuaded the Knesset to back his bold plan to withdraw Israeli troops from Gaza and resettle the settlers living there. In August 2005 this is put into effect. The settlers leave, many of them having to be forcibly evicted, after which the troops depart from Gaza. promises the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners. Over the following months Sharon is as good as his word. He has already, in 2004, persuaded the Knesset to back his bold plan to withdraw Israeli troops from Gaza and resettle the settlers living there. In August 2005 this is put into effect. The settlers leave, many of them having to be forcibly evicted, after which the troops depart from Gaza.

Fatah and Hamas: 2005-07

After 2005 a major rivalry develops between the two major groups representing the interests of Palestinians. Fatah, in its early years justifiably regarded as a terrorist organization, is now a political party with which Israel can negotiate. Hamas by contrast remains true to its paramilitary origins and regards sudden attacks on Israeli not as acts of terrorism, the definition of them by most other nations, but as tactics in a war of liberation against an occupying force. Hamas, therefore, cannot be controlled by Fatah or forced to end its policy of aggression.

Since the formation of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994 Fatah has governed the whole of Gaza and the West Bank, within the practical limits imposed by Israel. But in 2006 this changes dramatically. In the election of that year Hamas wins 76 of the 132 seats in the parliament, including an even larger proportion in Palestine's largest city, Gaza, with a population of nearly half a million.

In 2006 and 2007 there are efforts to achieve a national government as a coalition between between Fatah and Hamas, but hostilities between them are too great for this to become a practical reality. In June 2007 fighting breaks out between the two sides in what has become known as the Battle of Gaza. Within a week, and after more than 100 deaths, Hamas is the clear winner. They remove all Fatah officials from the Gaza Strip and take control of the city, leaving Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas with power only in the West Bank.

Hamas is extremely popular in Gaza, partly for its hard-line policy in relation to Israel but more so because it provides a much valued welfare service, using part of its large budget (mainly from Muslim countries and organizations sharing its religious fundamentalism) to support schools, orphanages, health clinics, food kitchens and sports clubs.

Politics and peace: since 2005

In November 2005 Ariel Sharon leaves Likud and founds a new centrist and liberal party, Kadima (meaning Forward). The purpose is to enable him to continue his measures to disengage unilaterally from involvement in the West Bank and Gaza. But in the following month he suffers a stroke, relatively mild but making him unable, at any rate in the short term, to continue as prime minister. And then, in January 2007 he has a massive stroke, leaving him in a coma (in which he remains to this day).

He is succeeded by Ehud Olmert, a fellow member of Kadima. Olmert remains prime minister until the election in 2009 which is won by Likud, bringing Benjamin Netanyahu back to power.

The years after 2005 continue Israel's unsettled relationship with its neighbours. In July 2006 another war with Lebanon erupts. The underlying cause is the fact that the parts of Lebanon bordering Israel are under the control of Hezbollah, making it easy for them to launch terrorist attacks across the border. The immediate trigger for forceful Israeli retaliation is an incident much more serious than most. A launch of rockets against northern Israeli towns is timed to coincide with an anti-tank assault on two military vehicles and the abduction of two soldiers.

The war rapidly escalates with a major Israeli response by sea, air and land. A naval blockade of Lebanon is put in place; bridges and roads in Lebanon are destroyed by air strikes, to prevent the movement of Hezbollah equipment; the runway of Beirut airport is made unusable; Hezbollah's stockpiles of rockets and weapons are targeted and mainly demolished; and a ground force is sent across the border Meanwhile Hezbollah makes energetic use of its relatively sophisticated armoury, much of it supplied by Russia. It launches on average 100 rockets a day on cities in northern Israel and operates as a guerrilla force well supplied with anti-tank missiles. After a little more than a month a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations comes into effect.

Israel's main problem during the following years is Gaza and Hamas. A mood of confrontation and unease on both sides of the Gaza border is a constant factor, on the Israeli side because settlements and towns in the south are regularly the targets of rockets launched by Hamas and by a few smaller terrorist groups, and on the Palestinian side because of the danger of reprisals when Israeli patience is stretched too far.

Every two or three years Israel launches military interventions into Gaza. The longest and most violent is the three-week Operation Cast Lead (more commonly known as the Gaza War) in the winter of 2008-2009. This follows a dramatic increase in the number of rocket attacks during the previous months on Israeli settlements and towns in the south, and it does major damage within Gaza. Because of Israel's vastly greater military power the different level of casualties for the two sides is striking – about 1200 Palestinian deaths and 13 Israeli, four of them from friendly fire.

In all this there is no change, although gestures of peace are regularly made. Hamas, for example, has broken with its founding principle of total opposition to the existence of Israel in any form. In 2009 it offers to recognize the state of Israel on various conditions – that Palestinians have a right of return to Israel, that Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders and that all settlements in the West Bank are removed, enabling a cohesive Palestinian state to exist with East Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas can confidently make such an offer knowing that Israel will reject it.

The life of more than a million Palestinians in the refugee camps (both within and outside Palestine, in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) is a major welfare catastrophe, with by now two generations born in the camps and still living there. Their condition is the result of past war and conflict and their relative well-being is the responsibility of the UN agency UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). By contrast the life of nearly half a million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, severely restricted in their own territory in terms of movement and supplies, is the result of Israeli policies (albeit in response to frequent threats) and is regarded by many around the world as a major stain on Israel's reputation.

Peace talks are resumed in July 2013 when the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, persuades representatives of the two sides to attend a preliminary session in Washington. Subsequent negotiations are scheduled to take place in Jerusalem and Hebron, but they soon falter over the same familiar issues. It is widely agreed internationally that the only solution is two separate states. But however much diplomatic compromises may seem to move the peace process in that direction, there is a profound obstacle. A Palestinian state is not viable if it has to make its way round enclaves belonging to Israel, yet the removal of 300,000 settlers from the West Bank seems a practical impossibility.

The relationship between Israel and the Palestinians remains the world's most intractable political problem.
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