Timeline: Key Events in the Israel-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Conversations on social media, news media coverage, events on college campuses, and general public discourse related to the Israel-Hamas war demonstrate a dire need for accurate information about Israel, Zionism, and the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. As the war continues to evolve, staying well-informed about the historical context and ongoing developments is crucial for fostering more understanding and informed opinions.

The timeline below aims to address frequently asked questions about Israel's history and to help dispel misinformation about the events leading up to this point.

Here is a timeline summarizing key events in both Israel’s history within the broader context of the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

1897-1947 | 1947-1979 | 1982-Present

1897-1947: Pre-State Israel

1897: First Zionist Congress

The Zionist movement, founded by Theodor Herzl and other leaders, advocated for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Widespread antisemitism and persecution of Jewish communities in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries served as a major catalyst for the Zionist movement. Jews faced discrimination, violence, and pogroms, a violent organized riot or attack directed at Jews, in many parts of Europe, which fueled the desire for a safe and secure homeland. The First Zionist Congress was held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, where Herzl and other prominent figures in the Zionist movement discussed and debated their vision for the establishment of a Jewish state.

Why It Matters: The Zionist movement under Theodor Herzl was historically significant because it marked the birth of modern political Zionism. Herzl advocated for a Jewish homeland, organized the First Zionist Congress, and played a central role in shaping the intellectual and political foundations of the movement. His vision influenced Jewish identity and led to diplomatic efforts that eventually contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel. Herzl's legacy as a visionary and advocate for Jewish self-determination remains a fundamental part of Israel's history and ideology.

1917: The Balfour Declaration

The Balfour Declaration was a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, expressing British support for the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine.

Why It Matters: It was the first recognition by a major international power of Jewish national aspirations, which had a profound impact on international diplomacy, contributed to the end of Ottoman rule in the region, and shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by laying the groundwork for competing national claims in Palestine. It remains a pivotal historical document in the context of the region's complex history and ongoing discussions about its future.

1920: The League of Nations Mandate

The League of Nations granted Britain the mandate to administer Palestine following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.

Why It Matters: The mandate includes a commitment to implementing the Balfour Declaration and facilitating Jewish immigration and settlement in Palestine. The mandate led to nearly 30 years of British control over the region, ending in 1948.

1920: Creation of the Haganah

The Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization that played a significant role in the defense of Jewish communities in British Mandate Palestine.

Why It Matters: Initially formed to protect Jewish communities from local Arab attacks, the Haganah later evolved into one of the main military organizations in the Jewish community in the lead-up to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. After the establishment of the state, the Haganah became the foundation for the Israel Defense Forces.

1929: Hebron Massacre

The 1929 Hebron massacre was a violent event in the city of Hebron in British Mandate Palestine, occurring in August 1929. Arab residents attacked the Jewish community, resulting in the deaths of approximately 67 Jewish residents, including women and children, and injuries to many others.

Why It Matters: The violence had its roots in long-standing tensions between Jewish and Arab communities and had a profound impact on the relations between the two communities in Palestine. The massacre led to the end of Jewish presence in Hebron, one of the holiest cities in Judaism that dated back thousands of years. The Jewish community did not return till after the 1967 Six-Day War.

1930s: The Arab Revolt

The 1930s Arab revolt was a period of intense Arab resistance and rebellion against British colonial rule and Jewish immigration in the Mandate of Palestine. It occurred from 1936 to 1939 and was triggered by several factors, including Arab frustrations over land dispossession, Jewish immigration, and economic disparities.

Why It Matters: The revolt involved widespread strikes, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience by Arab residents in the region. In response, the British authorities imposed curfews, conducted military operations, and arrested numerous Palestinian activists.

1936: Peel Commission

This was a British investigative commission formed to examine the causes of the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine.

Why It Matters: It resulted in the first recommendation to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, offering one of the first official proposals for a two-state solution.

1939: White Paper

A British policy statement that limited Jewish immigration and land acquisition in Palestine.

Why It Matters: This had a significant impact by restricting the ability of Jews to escape the Holocaust and return to their ancestral homeland to establish a Jewish state. It also contributed to tensions between Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine, furthering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

1947-1979: Arab-Israeli Wars and Peace Attempts

1947: UN Resolution 181

This resolution recommended the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under international administration. Jewish leaders accept the plan, while Arab states and Palestinians reject it.

Why It Matters: This resolution led to the establishment of Israel but was met with rejection by Arab states, sparking the Arab-Israeli War of 1948-1949.

1948: Israel’s War of Independence

Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948. The declaration was followed by an invasion by neighboring Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. The war resulted in Israel's survival and expansion of territory.

Why It Matters: The war led to the establishment of the State of Israel as it successfully defended itself from the invasion of the surrounding Arab countries. Upon its declaration, Israel gained international recognition from various countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union - the world’s two major superpowers at the time. This lent it international support and legitimacy. It also marked the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict and resulted in the displacement of an estimated 700,000-800,000 Palestinian Arabs to many surrounding Arab countries. Many Palestinian Arabs also remained within Israel’s newly formed borders, comprising over 20 percent of Israel’s population today. The war defined the borders of Israel and had far-reaching consequences for regional politics, diplomacy, and future conflicts in the Middle East. It remains a pivotal event in the history of the region.

1956: Suez Crisis (Sinai War)

Israel, along with Britain and France, invaded Egypt in response to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal. International pressure, including from the United States and the Soviet Union, forced the withdrawal of the invading forces.

Why It Matters: The war had far-reaching implications for global diplomacy, including the decline of traditional colonial powers - the UK and France. For the Middle East, it boosted Egyptian nationalism under President Gamal Nasser, who increased tensions with Israel, eventually leading to the 1967 Six-Day War.

1964: Creation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964 during an Arab League Summit in Cairo, Egypt, to represent Palestinian aspirations for the destruction of Israel, self-determination, and a state. Initially led by Ahmed Shukeiri, the PLO later embraced armed struggle, terrorism, and later diplomacy as a means to achieve its goals. Yasser Arafat became a prominent leader and became the face of the PLO and the Palestinian movement until his death in 2004. Mahmoud Abbas succeeded him.

Why It Matters: The beginning of the PLO signaled the creation and formalization of the Palestinian national movement. For decades, the PLO was dedicated to terrorism against Israelis. In a historic move, in 1988 the PLO accepted the notion of two states for two peoples which eventually helped pave the way for the 1993 Oslo peace process.

1967: Six-Day War

The Six-Day War, which lasted from June 5 to June 10, 1967, was a brief but intense conflict in the Middle East. It was primarily between Israel and a coalition of Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. It resulted in an overwhelming victory for Israel, the capture of large swathes of territory from the surrounding Arab states creating an important defensive buffer for Israel, and the reunification of Jerusalem, which came under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in nearly 2,000 years.

Why It Matters: The war was a watershed moment for the region. Israel’s overwhelming victory vaulted it from a scrappy nation focused on its survival, to a major regional power. It also led to a significant deepening of relations with the United States. Additionally, it resulted in Israel's capture of key territories, including East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. This had profound implications, including the establishment of Israeli settlements, the rise of Palestinian nationalism, heightened Arab rejection of Israel, and complex geopolitical dynamics in the region.

1972: Munich Olympics Massacre

The first major Palestinian terrorist attack on Israel was carried out by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). During this attack, 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team competing in the 1972 Munich Olympics in Germany were taken hostage and eventually killed by the terrorists.

Why It Matters: While there were earlier instances of Palestinian terrorism and attacks against Israel, the Munich Olympics attack gained significant international attention and was a turning point in the history of terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It demonstrated the ability of Palestinian terrorist groups to carry out large-scale, high-profile attacks on Israeli targets outside of the Middle East. Additional major attacks throughout the 1970s and 80s included the 1974 Ma'alot school attack, the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, and the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking, among others.

1973: Yom Kippur War (October War)

Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel during Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. The conflict resulted in a ceasefire, and Israel eventually withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula as part of the 1979 Camp David Accords.

Why It Matters: The 1973 Yom Kippur War was significant because it began with a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria on Israel, challenging Israeli military dominance and reasserting Arab pride. The conflict led to superpower involvement, with the U.S. supporting Israel and the Soviet Union supporting Arab states. It ended in a ceasefire, triggering diplomatic efforts, oil embargoes, and changes in Israeli strategy and leadership. The war had a long-term impact on regional security and contributed to the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and peace negotiations, such as the 1979 Camp David Accords.

1979: Camp David Accords - Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel

Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty, leading to Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.

Why It Matters: Egypt became the first Arab country to recognize Israel formally. The peace realigned Egypt’s position in the Middle East and established it as an important U.S. ally in the region - significantly undercutting Soviet influence in the region. The Accords also marked the end of a series of major Arab-Israeli Wars, which began in 1948.

1982-Present: Peace Process and Terrorism

1982: First Lebanon War

The First Lebanon War, also known as the 1982 Lebanon War, was a military conflict in 1982 between Israel and various Lebanese factions, mainly the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Israel's main objective was to remove PLO forces from southern Lebanon, which had been launching attacks against Israel.

Why It Matters: The conflict evolved into a protracted and controversial involvement in Lebanon by Israel and the rise of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group. Israel eventually withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000.

1987: First Intifada

The First Intifada was a period of widespread Palestinian protests, civil disobedience, and acts of violence and terrorism against Israelis that began in December 1987 and continued into the early 1990s. The intifada was sparked by a combination of factors, including frustrations with the Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, economic hardships, and a lack of political progress toward a Palestinian state.

Why It Matters: The First Intifada had a significant impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading to international attention, changes in the political landscape, and the eventual start of peace negotiations, notably the Madrid Peace Process and the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s. The First Intifada also led to the creation of Hamas.

1991: Madrid Peace Conference

The conference was a pivotal diplomatic effort co-sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union to address the Arab-Israeli conflict. It brought together representatives from Israel, Arab states, and the Palestinians to engage in both bilateral negotiations and multilateral discussions on regional issues.

Why It Matters: The Madrid conference marked the first time they participated in peace talks with Israel, and it set the stage for subsequent peace efforts, including the Oslo Accords and the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

1993: Oslo Accords

The Oslo Accords were a pair of transitional agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that were designed to establish a partnership for negotiating border disputes, creating Palestinian self-governance through the creation of the Palestinian Authority, and over time, the hope was this would lead to a peaceful solution to the conflict and a two-state solution.

Why It Matters: While the talks resulted in two agreements (Oslo I in 1993, and Oslo II in 1995) the accords began to unravel amid increasing terror attacks and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist. This left the region in a continued state of hostility and distrust. After the breakdown in talks between Israelis and the PLO at Camp David in 2000, the Palestinians launched the Second Intifada.

1994: Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty

The Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty, signed in 1994, is an agreement between Jordan and Israel that recognizes each other's sovereignty, establishes their international boundary, and promotes security and economic cooperation.

Why It Matters: The agreement saw Jordan become the second Arab country after Egypt to normalize relations with Israel. While there remains limited engagement between the peoples of both countries, the agreement has led to significant regional ties between Israel and Jordan, especially in economic, resource, and security cooperation.

1995: Assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

On November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a longtime major political figure in Israeli politics and head of the left-wing Labor Party, was assassinated by an Israeli extremist, Yigal Amir, at a peace rally in Tel Aviv.

Why It Matters: Rabin's death was a significant loss to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and it cast a long shadow over the process, raising questions about security and extremism within Israeli society. The assassination had lasting impacts on Israeli politics and society and remains a significant chapter in Israeli history, symbolizing the challenges of pursuing peace in the Middle East.

2000-2005: Second Intifada (Al-Aqsa Intifada)

The Second Intifada, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, was a period of intense conflict and Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule that began in late September 2000 and continued for several years. The intifada was characterized by widespread protests, demonstrations, suicide bombings, and armed confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinian terrorists.

Why It Matters: The Second Intifada resulted in a high number of casualties on both sides, with close to 1,000 Israelis killed or injured by Palestinian terror attacks, including suicide bombings and bus bombings. It had a significant impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading to the construction of the West Bank barrier by Israel and influencing subsequent peace negotiations. It officially ended around 2005, but its consequences continue to shape the region's political landscape.

2005: Israel Withdraws from the Gaza Strip

In 2005, Israel, overcoming huge political pushback domestically and the terror onslaught during the Second Intifada, withdrew from the Gaza Strip, dismantling its settlements and military installations in the name of peace.

Why It Matters: After Israeli withdrawal in 2005, the coastal territory has been under the control of the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist group, which violently ousted the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in 2007.

2006: Second Lebanon War

Conflict erupts between Israel and the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon following an ambush on Israeli soldiers along the border that killed three soldiers as well as led to two being taken hostage. The 50-day war ended with a ceasefire and a UN peacekeeping force deployed in southern Lebanon.

Why It Matters: The conflict had several significant impacts, including revealing Hezbollah’s potent military capabilities, questions over Israel’s military planning and leadership, and significant humanitarian impacts on Lebanon. It also had wide regional impacts, particularly with Iranian and Syrian support for Hezbollah. It resulted in the adoption of UN Resolution 1701, which called for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces, and the deployment of UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. It also called for the disarming of Hezbollah, which has failed to happen. While no major conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah have occurred since tensions along the border are very high following the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel.

2007: Hamas Takes Control of Gaza

In June, Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S., U.K., EU, and others, took control of the Gaza Strip following violent clashes with its rival Palestinian faction, Fatah.

Why It Matters: This led to the division of the Palestinian territories, with Fatah controlling the West Bank and Hamas becoming the defacto ruler in Gaza. Hamas has used Iranian support to launch several significant attacks against Israel from its base in Gaza, including in 2008, 2009, 2014, 2021, and most recently on October 7, 2023, when Hamas terrorists murdered over 1,400 Israelis, wounded over 3,200, taken over 200 hostages, and launched thousands of rockets.

2007: Annapolis Conference

In 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with the support of the U.S., launched the Annapolis Conference. The goal was to reach a peace agreement that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Hamas called for all parties to boycott the conference.

Why It Matters: Olmert said that he gave Abbas an “unprecedented offer” based on a return to the pre-1967 borders, including land swaps and a division of Jerusalem. But Olmert never received a final response from the Palestinians on the offer. A Palestinian negotiator subsequently acknowledged in the media that the Israeli plan would have given his side the equivalent of 100 percent of the disputed lands under discussion.

2008-2009: Operation Cast Lead (Gaza War)

From December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, Israel launched a military operation in response to rocket attacks from Gaza. Israeli forces conducted airstrikes, artillery shelling, and a ground invasion in response to the rocket attacks.

Why It Matters: This was the first major conflict between Israelis and Palestinians since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005. This also saw Israeli forces re-enter the Gaza Strip for the first time since its withdrawal in 2005 due to the terror threat posed by Hamas. The conflict resulted in significant casualties and destruction in Gaza, as well as international condemnation.

2009-2010: Settlement Freeze

U.S. President Barack Obama attempted to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks shortly after taking office in 2009. At a speech at Cairo University that year, Obama reiterated his support for a two-state solution.

Why It Matters: As part of a good faith gesture, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented a settlement freeze, a key Palestinian demand, that lasted 10 months. While talks briefly restarted, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas aborted the talks.

2012: Operation Pillar of Defense

From November 14 to November 21, 2012, Israel launched an operation to target terrorists and rocket launchers in Gaza, in response to increased rocket attacks from Gaza into nearby Israeli communities.

Why It Matters: The operation resulted in a ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt and other international mediators, which ended the hostilities. While a ceasefire was brokered, this conflict reaffirmed the threat that Hamas posed to Israel, especially after the much larger 2009 conflict. In particular, Hamas’ firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas led to more investment in Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system as well as bomb shelters and a civilian alert system in Israel. It also renewed international criticism of Israeli policies, including questions over disproportionate force by human rights groups.

2014: Operation Protective Edge

In June 2014, three Israeli teenagers - Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah - were abducted and killed by Hamas terrorists while hitchhiking in the West Bank. Their murder by Hamas led to a widespread Israeli crackdown on Hamas terrorists in the West Bank as well as increasing tensions and rocket fire on Israel. This eventually escalated into Operation Protective Edge, which lasted from July 8 to August 26, 2014.

Why It Matters: The operation aimed to uncover and neutralize a network of tunnels that extended from Gaza into Israeli territory as well as end Hamas rocket fire. These tunnels were viewed as a significant security risk, potentially allowing terrorists to infiltrate and carry out attacks in Israel. Hamas also has held the bodies of two Israeli soldiers - Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul - leading to significant tension between Israel and Hamas. It was also the last time Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip until the October 7, 2023, Hamas terrorist attack.

2020: Peace to Prosperity Plan

U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled the “Peace to Prosperity” plan in January 2020. The plan presented a vision for a two-state solution but with certain parameters, including Israeli sovereignty over some settlements in the West Bank and land swaps. The plan also included an economic component, which was unveiled in June 2019 at a conference in Bahrain, that promised $50 billion in new investment for Palestinians.

Why It Matters: The plan was largely rejected by the international community, although serious attention was given to the new opportunities for regional cooperation and investment built into the proposal. The Palestinians did not participate in the drafting of the plan and outright rejected it when it was released. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had boycotted the Trump administration following its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

2020: Abraham Accords

The Abraham Accords, signed in 2020, are a series of historic agreements that led to the normalization of diplomatic, economic, and cultural relations between Israel and Arab countries, including the UAE and Bahrain, and later the Joint Declaration with Morocco. Take our Abraham Accords quiz.

Why It Matters: The Accords marked a departure from decades of Arab-Israeli conflict, opened up economic opportunities, fostered regional stability, and represented a symbol of changing dynamics in the Middle East. They also served as a model for potential future agreements between Israel and other Arab and Muslim-majority countries.

2021: May Conflict in Gaza

An 11-day war erupted between Israel and Hamas. Hamas terrorists used tensions in Jerusalem, specifically over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the eviction dispute in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, as a pretext to launch rockets at Israeli civilian areas and ignite hostilities. It resulted in intense rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes. A ceasefire was brokered by Egypt and other mediators on May 21, 2021, ending the hostilities.

Why It Matters: Prior to October 7, 2023, this was the most recent direct conflict between Israel and Hamas until October 2023. The conflict also led to a major spike in antisemitism globally targeting Jewish communities in the United States and Europe.

2022: August Operation in Gaza

This three-day conflict resulted in over 1,000 rockets being fired at Israel by the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group and the targeted killing of PIJ commander Tayseer al-Jabari.

Why It Matters: While the operation quickly ended in a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, it was significant in that Hamas, the de facto ruler of Gaza, did not take part in the hostilities. The conflict was a setback for the Iranian-backed terror group, but tensions between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad continued into 2023 in both Gaza and the West Bank.

2023: Operation Shield and Arrow

Israel launched Operation Shield and Arrow to end the threat against Israel posed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists after they fired over 100 rockets into Israel.

Why It Matters: The violence stemming from Gaza was also linked to increasing terrorism in the West Bank, specifically from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Backed by Iran, these Palestinian terror groups have sought to export their operations to the West Bank, specifically in Jenin, in order to carry out additional terror attacks against Israel. As such, Israeli security forces had been conducting near-daily counterterrorism operations in the West Bank to quell the violence.

2023: October 7 Hamas Massacre

Hamas, the Iran-backed terror group controlling Gaza, launched an unprovoked and vicious surprise attack on over 20 Israeli communities. Using rockets, paragliders, boats, motorcycles, and other vehicles, and whatever other means they could, terrorists infiltrated Israel with one goal—to murder and kidnap Israelis. Over 1,200 Israelis have been killed, thousands of rockets have been fired on Israel, and over 134 hostages are being held by Hamas.

Why It Matters: This was the largest terrorist attack in Israeli history and the worst attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust. In order to protect itself, Israel is working to eliminate the threat that Hamas poses through an air, sea, and ground campaign against the terror group’s operations.

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