History of Israel


Israel is truly a unique country to discover breathtaking beauty, fascinating history, and ancient culture. Israel has spectacular scenery, and a rich history and traditions dating back many centuries ago. Furthermore, Israel appeals to modern times with its beaches, resorts, and cities that combine old and new into the experience of a lifetime.

One of the main advantages of visiting Israel is its size. Israel is so small, cities are easily connected between one another and accessing them on a varied vacation is extremely easy. I believe first-time visitors are mostly attracted to famous cities and tales they have heard since childhood. Some of these famous places include Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jericho and the Sea of Galilee. However, most people are unaware of the beauty in places like Mount Carmel in Haifa, or Caesaria with its Roman and Crusader heritage. Other great places not to be missed are Ashdod and Ashkelon, visiting the ruins of Megiddo and Beth She’an, the Dead Sea and the mountain fortress known as Masada.

If you are traveling to Israel, you are going to walk through the very places were history was made. From castles dating back to the Crusader’s time, to even ports that functioned as a stopping station for travelers. Another thing this country has to offer is the amazing deserts that were home to different tribes, armies that were lost in time, or even monasteries and ancient synagogues decorated with mosaics.


 
The Land of Israel in Biblical Times

Until the second millennium before the common era (BCE), the Canaanite tribes were the principal inhabitants of Israel. Israel always served as a meeting place for different cultures since early time, bordering Egypt on the south, Assyria Mesopotamia and Asia Minor to the north. During this second millennium the country experienced several invasions from different tribes, amongst them the Philistines coming from Aegean and settling in the southern coastal plain, and the Hebrews coming from Mesopotamia but settling instead in the hills.

The Hebrews were also known as the Sons of Israel and lived composed of 12 tribes that towards the end of the second millennium, had been united by Saul, the first King of Israel. Saul’s successor, David, expanded the borders of the country and made Jerusalem the capital (up until that point, it was a Jebusite city). His son, also known as the famous King Salomon, built the Temple with the Holy Ark. The Kingdom however, did not remain unified.

After Solomon’s death, another Kingdom had been found. The Kingdom of Israel remain composed of ten northern tribes and the remaining two tribes were united in the Jerusalem Hills into the new Kingdom of Judah.
In the year 721 BCE, the Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel, and the 10 tribes that composed it were exiled and to this day, are considered “lost” in history. Later on, in 586 BCE, the Babylonians conquered the kingdom of Judah. Following this conquest, the Temple was destroyed and the Sons of Israel went into the Babylonian Exile.

 
From the Babylonians to the Byzantine

A few years later, in 539 (BCE), the Persians conquered Babylon and the tribe of Judah was allowed to return to Jerusalem (now part of the Persian Empire). Jerusalem had arisen from its remains and a Second Temple was built. The land of Israel was home to many invasions and conquests. In 333 BCE, the city was taken from the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great. However, fast forwarding to the year 66 BCE, the famous Roman general Pompey seized control of Israel. For the following 200 years, Israel had become a Roman vassal state and ruled by Jewish kings.

As a consequence of a Jewish Rebellion, the second Temple was also destroyed. The Jews were once again exiled, Jerusalem was destroyed to its core and instead, a Roman city was built on its grounds. Jesus, founder of Christianity (and Christian Messiah), was born when the country was under Roman rule. However, it took 300 years until Christianity was legitimized in the Roman Empire (which, in turn, became Byzantium in the east).

As Christianity became the official religion, the Land of Israel received a new point of view. Israel became a destination for pilgrims and soon enough churches and monasteries were built around the country. Among these places of worship, was the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.

 
Between East and West – Moslem Conquest and the Crusaders

In the year 640, Caliph Omar conquered the country and the Moslem rule period in Israel began. Throughout this period, communication routes were opened between east and west. Later on, goods, religious art, and cultural and scientific knowledge started to flow from Eastern Europe and both places were enriched from one another.
 
According to Moslem tradition, Mohammed ascended to heaven from Jerusalem. Throughout the first years of Arab rule, Christians were allowed to enter Jerusalem, however this ended around the 11th century, prompting the Crusade to liberate Jerusalem from its rulers.

Pope Urban II, called for the first crusade, which ended after conquering Jerusalem in 1099. During this era, Israel became an important world trade center, with various routes connected China, India, Madagascar, and Africa to European markets. However, the Crusader era didn’t last for long. In 1187, the crusader armies were defeat in the Battle of Karnei Khitin by Saladin.

In 1291, their last stronghold crumbled as the crusaders lost their final battle to the Mamluks (this event is known as the Battle of Acre). Remnants of these crusader cities can be seen in cities as Acre (Akko), Caesarea, Jerusalem, Latroun, and Kil’at Namroud.

As a consequence from the Mamluk conquest, the country lost some of its economic and political importance and even more so after the Ottoman conquest (in 1517). 

 
From the Old to the New – the British Mandate and the creation of the State of Israel

An important turning point in Israel’s importance happened in the year 1799, upon Napoleon’s arrival. European development in Israel increased after Napoleon noticed Israel’s strategic and economic importance. As a result, new routes of communication and travel were set up, and the country became vast in different Christian institutions. More and more pilgrims arrived to the country and Jews started immigrating to Israel.

These, and other events, let to an increasing interest in the country. This interest peaked at the end of World War I, with the British conquest.

In 1948, the State of Israel was found and the British mandate met its end. It was stated in the Declaration of Independence that: "The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews and for the Ingathering of the Exiles from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace… will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions…"

 

For all these reasons and more, Israel is a country that is filled with rich culture and history. Its population includes different peoples and religions, some of them religious and others secular. From Arab Moslems and Arab Christians, to Druze, Bedouins, Circassians, Samaritans and Jews coming from East and Western Europe, North Africa, Asia, North and South America. 

All of these cultures and religions intertwined, are all responsible for Israel’s development. Ranging from cities that embrace both the old and new, beliefs and customs, past and present.

 

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