The area to the west of Jordan
, the north of the Sinai Peninsula
, and the south of Lebanon
has been known as Israel since 1948
. But neither its name nor its borders have been the same for long.
Present day Israel is considered to be holy by three of the world's largest religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. To Christians, the city of Jerusalem is the place of death of Jesus Christ. Islamic peoples also revere Jerusalem for that reason, but also because their prophet Mohammad was said to have journeyed there from Mecca to meet with Jesus and visit heaven. Jerusalem holds a special place in the heart of Jews, because it has been a promised land, and a place to escape hardships, for centuries.
But this religious devotion is only part of the conflict that surrounds Israel today. Over the past 1,000 years, Israel has been ruled by the Romans, Ottoman Turks, Arabs, and of course Jews and Palestinians. This combination of different ethnic and religious backgrounds has caused conflict, but none worse than the present one.
After Germany forced millions of Jews from their homes in World War II, the international community felt the need to create an independent Jewish homeland. The responsibility fell to Britain, who quickly passed it to the United Nations (UN). They decided to divide the parcel in question into two pieces, Jordan and Israel. The Palestinians that lived in the area wanted a country of their own, but they were left out. Rather than blaming the UN, they focused their anger on the Jewish immigrants pouring into Israel.
The surrounding Arab countries, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, were also upset with Israel. The first major conflict occurred in 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt attacked Israel. Although much smaller and newly formed, Israel won the Independence War. This set the tone for the rest of the twentieth century. The second major conflict was in 1956 when Egypt stopped use of the Suez Canal by Israel, but they managed to regain access to it. The third and most important conflict was the Six Day War in 1967. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan all attacked Israel. By the time the fighting was over, Israel had gained five new territories. The first two were acquired from Egypt: the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. The third territory, known as the Golan Heights, was taken from Syria. The fourth territory was the West Bank, which was taken from Jordan. The West Bank is the most likely home for a future Palestine. The fifth territory is Southern Lebanon.
There was another minor conflict in 1973, which Israel managed to control. In 1979, Jimmy Carter helped to negotiate a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. In return for the peace, Israel gave the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt. Egypt also had to allow Israeli access to the Suez Canal. A second part to the accords stated that Israel was to gradually grant self-government to Palestinians living in the West bank and Gaza Strip over a three year period. Although Israel hasn't yet done that, there has been peace between the two countries for the past 20 years.
The most crucial recent conflict was in 1978 when the Israeli military invaded Southern Lebanon and destroyed PLO (Palestinan Liberation Organization) bases that were there. They destroyed the bases to prevent a possible attack, but nonetheless they did strike first for the first time since becoming an independent state.
There have since been many relatively minor incidents and a short lived chance at lasting peace. Just turn on the TV for footnotes in the making.