Israel Travel Guide
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Israel History - Independence & First Years
After 1945, Britain found itself in fierce conflict with the local populace, as thousands of refugees from Europe sought shelter in Palestine and were turned away or rounded up and placed in detention camps. In 1947, the British government withdrew from the Mandate of Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews. The newly created United Nations approved the UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947, dividing the country into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Jerusalem was to be designated an international city — a corpus separatum — administered by the UN.
The Jewish community accepted the plan, but the Arab League and Arab Higher Committee rejected it. On December 1, 1947 the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a three-day strike, and Arab bands began attacking Jewish targets. Civil war began with the Jews initially on the defensive but gradually moving into offence. The Palestinian-Arab economy collapsed and 250,000 Palestinian-Arabs fled or were expelled.
On May 14, 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, the Jewish Agency proclaimed independence, naming the country Israel. The following day the armies of five Arab countries — Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq — attacked Israel, launching the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Sudan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia also sent troops to assist the Arab contingent. After a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were established.
Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations by majority vote on May 11, 1949. During the conflict 711,000 Arabs, according to UN estimates, or about 80% of the previous Arab population, were expelled or fled the country. The fate of the Palestinian refugees today is a major point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics. These years were marked by mass immigration of Holocaust survivors and an influx of Jews some of whom were persecuted in Arab lands. The population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958. Most arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps known as ma'abarot. By 1952, over 200,000 immigrants were living in these tent cities. The need to solve the crisis led Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany that triggered mass protests by Jews angered at the idea of Israel accepting financial compensation from Germany for the Holocaust genocide.
In the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Palestinian fedayeen, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip. In 1956, Israel joined a secret alliance with the Great Britain and France aimed at regaining control of the Suez Canal, which the Egyptians had nationalized. Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula but was pressured to withdraw by the United States and the Soviet Union in return for guarantees of Israeli shipping rights in the Red Sea and the Canal.
In the early 1960s, Israel captured the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Final Solution, who had been hiding in Argentina, and brought him to trial. The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust. Eichmann is the only person ever sentenced to the death penalty in Israel.
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