Seven Defining Moments: Israel at 70

On the 14th May, 1948, on the termination of the British Mandate, Israel declared its independence. As the Jewish state celebrates its seventieth anniversary, here are seven defining moments in the history of the reborn Jewish state.

1948 – Israel’s War of Independence

The Jewish Agency, pre-state Israel’s government-in-waiting, accepting UN Resolution 181 which called for the establishment of two states between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. However the plan was rejected by every Arab state; and Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon invaded the fledgling Jewish state after it declared independence. However, in Israel’s first military miracle the invading Arab armies were defeated, and in the 1949 Armistice Agreements the Green Line was drawn, with the West Bank falling into Jordanian hands and the Gaza strip to Egypt.

1961 – The Eichmann Trial

Adolf Eichmann, a key architect of the Holocaust, was captured by the Mossad in Argentina and brought to Jerusalem, where he was put on trial. The court proceedings were followed around the globe, searing the evil of the Holocaust on to the memory of the nation and the world. The trial symbolised the triumph of justice over evil, and of the Jewish people’s newfound ability to determine their own fate. Eichmann was found guilty and sentenced to death.

1967 – Six Day War

As the beat of the war drum was heard again in the surrounding Arab states, Israel made the decision to hit the Egyptian air force with a pre-emptive strike: the Six Day War had begun. Syria, Jordan and Egypt all fought once again to destroy the Jewish state, all three countries were defeated, and Israel gained control of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Israel also gained control of the Old City of Jerusalem, which contained Judaism’s holiest site, and Jews who were expelled by the Jordanians from the Old City in 1948 could return.

1978 – Peace with Egypt

Under Nasser, Egypt was Israel’s most implacable Arab foe, but under Anwar Sadat the country had a leader willing to take an unprecedented leap towards peace. In Israel, Menachem Begin, a hawk who had to face down opposition within his own Likud party, seized the opportunity to normalise relations. Israelis who had settled in Sinai were evacuated, the Sinai desert was returned to Egypt, and the two countries made peace in 1979. Sadat was assassinated by fundamentalists who opposed the deal, but peace with Egypt endures to this day. A peace treaty with Jordan followed in 1994.

1993 – The Oslo Accords

The Palestinian leadership had opposed the existence of Israel in its entirety from the beginning of the Zionist movement. But in the late 1980s, recognising that Israel was here to stay, Yasser Arafat signalled his willingness to accept Israel’s existence and move toward a two-state solution. Israel and the PLO ended decades of official hostility in letters of mutual recognition and the PLO agreed to renounce violence in the Oslo Accords, which established a pathway toward a two-state solution. Multiple sets of final-status negotiations followed, but none were successful.

2002 – Second intifada

As the Oslo process broke down the Palestinians returned to organised violence. The Second Intifada, which raged from 2000 to 2005, was the most traumatic period in recent Israeli history. At its peak in the ‘Black March’ of 2002, 15 suicide bombings were carried out in Israel, including the Passover Massacre where 30 Israeli civilians, including Holocaust survivors, were killed in a Netanya hotel. Though many Israelis still held out hopes for a two-state deal, to many it appeared that peace negotiations had only given way to bloodshed.

2005 – Gaza withdrawal

After the failure of negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took a new approach to peace: unilateral withdrawal. Sharon first implemented his plan in Gaza in 2005, where every Israeli civilian living in the strip was evacuated and the IDF withdrew. However in the subsequent election in the strip, terror group Hamas defeated the moderate Fatah party and subsequently quashed all political opposition in a brief civil war. To Israelis, both the Second Intifada and Gaza withdrawal induced huge scepticism regarding Palestinian intentions in the peace process – scepticism that continues to underlie much of Israeli politics today.