Palestine, territory along the Jordan River, was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in 1517 and remained under Turkish rule until being conquered by General Edmund Allenby and the British Army in 1917. Three years later Palestine became a British mandated territory.
Throughout the 1920s there were clashes between Arabs and Jews and in 1929 there were over 200 deaths in fighting around Jerusalem.
After Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany a growing number of Jews tried to emigrate to Palestine. Overall, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased from 4,075 in 1931 to 61,854 in 1935. It was estimated that at this rate of increase Jews would outnumber Arabs by the end of the decade.
In 1936 thirty-four members of the British Army were killed trying to keep the two groups apart. British soldiers also came under attack from Jewish terrorists and the British government attempted to imposed restrictions on immigration to Palestine and attempted to prevent unauthorized landings of immigrants along the coast.
Palestine was of strategic importance to the British government as it provided a defence for the northern flank of the Suez Canal. In order to gain support of the Arabs in the region Britain decided to halt almost all Jewish immigration in 1939.
In June 1941 the British Army and Free French forces entered Syria from Palestine. After facing tough resistance from the Vichy forces the Allies captured Damascus on 17th June. The armistice was signed on 12th July and pro-British regimes were maintained in Syria for the rest of the war.
The Irgun Zvai Leumi resistance movement was established in Palestine in 1944. Menachem Begin became Commander-in-Chief. Over the next five years Begin organized over 200 acts of terrorism including the destruction of the central British administrative offices in the King David Hotel. The explosion killed ninety-one people.
The Jewish state of Israel was established on 14th May 1948 when the British mandate over Palestine came to an end. The neighbouring Arab states refused to recognize Israel and invaded the country on the 15th May. The war came to an end in March 1949. By the time the cease-fire took place Israel had increased the control of its land by a quarter.
Chaim Weizmann was the first president of Israel. David Ben-Gurion, leader of the Mapai Labour Party, became prime minister. The country had a population of 880,000 people, of whom 759,000 were Jewish. Within a couple of years Jewish immigration from Europe quickly brought the population to over a million.
During his two spells as prime-minister (1948-1953 and 1955-1963) Ben-Gurion successfully achieved economic growth by instigating industrial and agricultural reform. He also advocated a policy that encouraged a large number of refugees from Europe to settle in Israel.
In April 1954 General Gamal Abdel Nasser took control of Egypt. Over the next few months Nasser made it clear he was in favour of liberating Palestine from the Jews. He also began buying fighter aircraft, bombers and tanks from the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.
In 1955 Nasser ordered a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba. This action cut trade from Israel's only southern port at Eilat. Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would cut off oil supplies to Europe. Secret negotiations took place between Israel, Britain and France and it was agreed to make a joint attack on Egypt.
On 29th October 1956, the Israeli Army, led by General Moshe Dayan, invaded Egypt. Two days later British and French bombed Egyptian airfields. British and French troops landed at Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal on 5th November. By this time the Israelis had captured the Sinai peninsula.
President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, grew increasingly concerned about these developments and at the United Nations the representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union demanded a cease-fire. When it was clear the rest of the world were opposed to the attack on Egypt, and on the 7th November the governments of Britain, France and Israel agreed to withdraw. They were then replaced by UN troops who policed the Egyptian frontier.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established in May 1964 by various groups including Al Fatah, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PLO used terrorist tactics included murder, hijacking and bombing. By 1969 Yasir Arafat had emerged as the leader of the PLO.
In May 1967 Arab armies began assembling long the frontiers with Israel. At the same time General Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba.
General Moshe Dayan, Israel's Minister of Defence, decided on a pre-emptive strike. On 5th June, 1967, the Israeli airforce bombed the airfields in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. Egyptian tanks were also destroyed in Sinai and the Israeli army reached the Suez Canal and the west bank of the Jordan river on 7th June. Over the next three days the Israelis captured the Golan Heights and territory in Syria.
The Six-Day War reopened the Gulf of Aqaba. It also gave them control over the West Bank of Jordan and the 600,000 Arabs living in that area.
Golda Meir became prime minister in 1969. In this post she clashed with Moshe Dayan, the Defence Minister, who wanted to colonize the Arab territories occupied during the Six-Day War. For a while Meir wanted to negotiate a peace settlement that would allow the return of Sinai to Egypt and the Golan Heights to Syria. However, she eventually sided with Dayan.
On 5th September, 1972, Palestinian guerrillas attacked the quarters of the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics. Two athletes were killed and another nine were taken hostage. An attempted rescue bid at an airport the nine hostages, five terrorists and two Germans were killed.
On 6th October 1973, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel. Two days later the Egyptian Army crossed the Suez Canal while Syrian troops entered the Golan Heights.
Israeli troops counter-attacked on 8th October. They crossed the Suez Canal near Ismailia and advanced towards Cairo. The Israelis also recaptured the Golan Heights and moved towards the Syrian capital.
In September 1978, with the support of Jimmy Carter, the president of the United States, Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt signed a peace treaty between the two countries. As a result both men shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1981 Menachem Begin ordered the bombing of the Osirak Nuclear Reactor in Iraq. Although criticised for this action, Begin argued that he had succeeded in hampering Iraq's attempt to acquire nuclear weapons.
In 1992 Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister. He favoured Palestinian self-government. In 1993 Rabin and Shimon Peres negotiated a peace agreement with Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. This involved Israelis withdrawing from Jericho and the Gaza Strip. As a result the three men shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
Rabin's policies were unpopular with some sections of the population and on 4th November 1995 he was assassinated by a Israeli extremist while attending a peace rally in Tel Aviv. Shimon Peres took over as prime minister but was defeated in the general election held in May 1996.