The Events Leading Up to the Establishment of the State of Israel

One cannot discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict without first examining the events leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel. These events will thus be discussed in this section.

Although Jews have, over the eighteen centuries since the Roman Exile, maintained a constant presence (albeit small) in the Land of Israel, the modern concept of Zionism - which led to the formation of the State of Israel - has its roots in nineteenth century Europe. There, Jews experienced the political and scientific renaissance known as the Emancipation, which gave Jews the chance to break their general isolation from the day-to-day affairs of the countries in which they resided. Many Jews adopted the ethno-nationalist political ideology that was developing in Europe at the time and set up moshavim - communities which were financed largely by Baron Edmund de Rothschild of Paris - and socialist communes (called kibbutzim) in Israel, their ancient homeland. The first wave of Jews who were so inclined arrived in Israel (then known as Palestine) in 1882, in what is known as the First Aliyah ("going up:" the way Jews describe their immigration to the Holy Land).

Other Jews assimilated into their host countries. One such Jew was Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian-born reporter. Although he was fully assimilated into European society, Herzl’s life and worldview changed dramatically in 1895, when he covered the court martial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. The court martial resulted from the French intelligence services’ discovery of a secret military document that had been transmitted from a French officer to the military attaché of the German Embassy in Paris. Although evidence seemed to indicate that the actual traitor was Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, a Hungarian who had connections to the Germans, the French military establishment refused to believe that Esterhazy was guilty. Instead, they blamed Dreyfus, primarily because he was a Jew, which made him, in the eyes of the French military, a likely traitor. On January 5, 1895, following a secret court martial, Dreyfus was publically demoted and exiled for life to Devil’s Island, near South America.

At the public demotion ceremony, Herzl heard many anti-Semitic epithets being uttered by members of the crowd, including "Death to the Jews." Herzl came to the conclusion that, no matter how much the Jews assimilated into their host countries, they would always be persecuted. The only solution, Herzl believed, would be the exodus of Jews from these countries to a specifically Jewish country. Although he died in 1904, decades before the formation of the State of Israel, the state owes its existence in large part to Herzl’s ideas.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Jewish immigration to Israel continued. The climactic event of this period, however, took place not in Israel but rather in Nazi Germany, in which millions of Jews, forced to remain in Germany because they had nowhere else to go, perished in the Holocaust. The Holocaust was such a powerful demonstration of Herzl’s reasons for setting up a Jewish country being taken to their logical extreme that that Jewish country, the State of Israel, was declared just three years following the end of World War II, on May 14, 1948.

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World War II

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