In 1920, the Nabi Musa riots took place in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. Arab tensions were rising due to the massive influx of Jewish immigrants, and attacks had already broken out in the Galilee. Every year, Muslims celebrated the holiday of Nabi Musa (“the Prophet Moses”) in Jerusalem, usually around Easter time, and the festivities culminated in a pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Jericho, where they believed Moses is buried. During the 1920 celebration, inflammatory speeches led to a wide outbreak of violence in Jerusalem, and by the middle of the morning of April 4, Jews had already been victims of attacks. One of the inciters was Hajj Al Husseini, who later became the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. His uncle, Musa Al Husseini, was the mayor of the city. The Arab crowds were whipped into a frenzy, ransacking the Jewish Quarter, attacking pedestrians, destroying Jewish shops and homes, and raiding the Torah Chaim Yeshiva, where they ripped Torah scrolls and then set the building on fire. In a mere three hours, 160 Jews were wounded. Over the next three days, riots and attacks continued.
Al Husseini was close friends with Hitler,collaborated with the Nazi’s and attempted to recruit Muslims into the Waffen-SS.
Following Israel’s victory in the 1948-1949 War of Independence, Israel signed armistice agreements with each of the invading countries—Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Iraq refused to sign an agreement of any sort with Israel, and even the countries which signed cease-fires were not prepared to sign a permanent peace treaty and recognise Israel’s legitimacy as a country. Israel’s sovereignty now included the Coastal Plane, the Galilee, and the Negev, while the Gaza Strip remained under Egyptian control and the West Bank and Old City of Jerusalem were ruled by the Jordanians.
Before and during the war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled Israel—approximately 80% of the Arab population, creating a staggering refugee problem. Most fled to the Jordanian-controlled West bank or to neighbouring Arab countries. The topic of how to deal with the tremendous number of refugees was (and still is) a point contention in the peace talks.
In the opposite direction, young Israel had to contend with a massive influx of new immigrants. After its gates were opened following the war, thousands and thousands of Jews made Aliyah. Between 1948 and 1951, over 680,000 new immigrants arrived on the shores of Israel; by the end of 1958, Israel’s tenth anniversary, the population had grown from 800,000 to nearly two million. The new immigrants were mainly Holocaust survivors and Jews fleeing Arab lands due to increased persecution. Many arrived with little or no possessions, and were housed in ma’abarot (refugee camps). The ma’abarot were crowded and lacked adequate sanitation facilities to accommodate the tremendous population. Eventually, the camps were absorbed into the surrounding towns, or became towns on their own such as Kiryat Shmona, Sderot, and Yokneam.
On May 22, 1967, Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran, off the coast of Eilat, essentially banning any ships from leaving or coming into Israel. Israel’s supplies, including critical oil shipments, were cut off. This was the second time the straits had been blocked; after the incident in 1956, Israel received international reassurance that it would continue to have shipping right in the straits, and Israel made it clear that another blockade would be considered an act of war. Egypt and Jordan quickly signed a treaty pledging aid to each other; Arab forces were mobilized and massed at the Israeli border.
The armies of Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon were ready for war. Attempts at peace talks failed, and the United States stayed neutral during the conflict, leaving Israel isolated. Israel became increasingly alarmed at the Arab rhetoric, and the actions behind it. The IDF knew that if they took a defensive position, waiting to be attacked, they would be no match for the united Arab forces. Instead, Israel went on the offensive, launching a surprise attack against Egypt.
Of the four countries, Egypt had the largest air force. On June 5, 1967, around 7:00 in the morning nearly the entire Israeli Air Force, with the exception of a few fighter planes which remained behind as a defence, took off for Egypt. The early morning time was deliberate—Israel knew that most of the Egyptian aircraft would be grounded, and the officers still at breakfast or driving to work. Israel also managed to elude Egyptian radar and flew in from unexpected directions. Israel’s gamble paid off: 309 of the 340 Egyptian aircraft were demolished. Ground forces then moved in, securing the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip.
Once Jordan became involved in the fighting, many Palestinians living in the West Bank fled, not wanting to be caught in the crossfire between Jordanian and Israeli troops. Approximately 325,000 Palestinian fled to Jordan. However, the refugee problem, which began in 1948, was exacerbated, with new refugee and displaced persons adding to the existing refugee population.
The Arab countries expected a quick and decisive victory over the isolated Israel. The losses the Arab countries experienced were devastating—Egypt, Jordan, and Syria lost a combined total of 18,000 troops. The IDF, in comparison, lost 700 troops, though still a significant loss for such a small country. The Arab countries also lost much of their aircraft and weaponry.
The territories gained by Israel in the Six Day War—most notably the Gaza Strip and the West Bank—have been the subject of much dispute. During the Camp David Accords in 1978, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Israel retained control over Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem, but allowed the Temple Mount, arguably the most sacred spot in Judaism, to remain under Muslim control. In 2005, Israel relinquished control of the Gaza strip to the Palestinian Authority.
1972 was also the year of the tragedy at the Munich Olympics. A PLO-affiliated organization, Black September, organized a systematic attack on the Jewish athletes living in the Olympic Village. Due to the lax security, the terrorists were able to gain entry to the Israelis’ apartments. Two athletes were killed in the apartment, and nine others were taken hostage and eventually murdered following a failed rescue attempt. In the aftermath of the murders, Israel launched with a campaign to assassinate the surviving hostage-takers and IDF forces attacked PLO headquarters in Lebanon as well.
Within the Israeli borders, however, there was a sense of peace and ease, and the Israeli people were fully confident that their army would protect them from further attacks. They were completely taken by surprise, when on the morning of Yom Kippur in 1973; the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. The forces entered Israel through the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights with the stated goals of recapturing land conquered by Israel. The Egyptian-Syrian effort was assisted by other Arab countries: Iraq; Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which sent both money and troops; the North African countries of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Sudan; and Lebanon. Even King Hussein, somewhat reluctantly, sent two of his best units to Syria.
The Israeli people were taken completely by surprise and did not have sufficient time to ready themselves. At first, the Egyptian and Syrian armies made headway. They were better armed than in 1967, and the Israeli army had neglected basic maintenance tasks on their tanks and weaponry, leaving them unprepared with underperforming weapons. However, in a span of three weeks, the IDF pulled itself together and was able to recapture the Golan from Syrian forces and push back against the Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula.
Within a month, cease-fires had been signed. Despite the victory, the Yom Kippur War is generally considered a failure, due to the heavy casualties suffered by the Israeli troops. Over 2,600 soldiers were killed, with an additional 7,200 wounded; the high number of fatalities are generally blamed on Israel’s lack of preparedness for an attack of this magnitude. Another result of the war was that Egypt and Israel showed greater signs of willingness to negotiate, leading up to the Camp David Accords at the end of the decade.
As a result of the Yom Kippur War, Saudi Arabia initiated an oil embargo against any countries trading with Israel, specifically the United States and the Netherlands, which had supported Israel during the war. Israel, which had made headway in the diplomatic sphere during the 1960s, regressed, as many African and Asian countries broke off diplomatic ties with Israel. The United States was required to purchase oil via European countries, and oil prices skyrocketed worldwide. The Arab world gained an edge, as other countries realized the great power they wielded with their crucial oil supply. The embargo did not end until March 1974.
In May 1974, another PLO-affiliated organization committed a brutal act of terrorism against children. 102 children at a school in Ma’alot were held hostage by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Twenty-two children were killed. Despite this, that same year the UN recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Many claim that this was an appeasement effort toward the Arab world, with the oil embargo still fresh in everyone’s mind. The PLO was granted permanent “observer status” at the UN, and in 1975, the UN passed the “Zionism is Racism” act.
The historic raid on Entebbe took place in 1976, when an Air France plane was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Revolutionary Cells, respectively, and flown to Uganda, at the time ruled by Dictator Idi Amin. The non-Jewish hostages were released, and the terrorists threatened to kill the remaining Jewish hostages if the hijackers’ prisoner-release demands were not met. Rabin launched a risky operation to rescue the hostages, and under the cover of night, the Israeli commandos flew in, rescued the hostages, and killed many of the terrorists. Three hostages were killed, and five Israeli commandos wounded. The only Israeli soldier to die was Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin Netanyahu. In his honour, the operation was later renamed “Operation Yonatan.”
In November 1977, a turning point in the Egypt-Israeli conflict was reached. President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem to talk with Begin. The two countries began the process of creating peace. In March of 1978, Lebanese-Palestinian terrorists who opposed this peace process hijacked a bus of Israeli families, killing thirty-five of them, including thirteen children. Israel crossed into Lebanon, but withdrew a few days later after the UN created a peace-keeping force to remain in Lebanon.