History of Zionism
Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people – a collective bound together by religion, history, culture, and the right to self-determination – in the Land of Israel. Zionism refers to the successful effort to re-establish a Jewish homeland and the continued effort to develop and maintain it.
Biblical Era - First Signs of Israel
The first archaeological evidence suggesting the emergence of the Israelites as a distinct people dates back to the 12th Century BCE.
The Merneptah Stele, an inscription dated to the 12th century BCE, is believed to feature the earliest mention of a people called “Israel.” Scholars estimate Merneptah’s “Israel” geographic location to be central Canaan or possibly the Jezreel Valley.
Evidence of Israelite culture appears in archaeological remains. Notable markers include the absence of pork bones, distinctive pottery, and four-room houses in communities across Canaan. The Israelites are believed to have lived in small villages led by local tribal leaders.
Biblical Era - The United Kingdom
The twelve Israelite tribes unite under one monarch for the first time. Their jurisdiction covers much of modern-day Israel and the Levant. But this era of history is debated. We know with relative certainty that there was a southern and northern kingdom. However, we lack concrete evidence to verify that there was a united kingdom.
Jewish monarchy established; Saul becomes the first king.
King David declares Jerusalem as the capital of the kingdom.
King Solomon constructs the First Temple, the national and spiritual center of the Jewish people, in Jerusalem.
Biblical Era - A Kingdom Divided
930 BCE: The Kingdom of Israel is established in northern Israel with Samaria as its capital. The Kingdom of Judah is established in southern Israel, with Jerusalem as the capital.
Biblical Era - Assyrian Captivity and Babylonian Exile
Mosaic flooring of a synagogue, fifth century BCE, Galilee.
The Assyrians capture the Kingdom of Israel and expel the majority of Jews. (Image: A depiction of King Sennacherib and his men invading Judah.)
Babylon conquers the Kingdom of Judah. They destroy Jerusalem and the First Temple, and expel the Jews. (Image: A painting by David Roberts depicting the destruction of Jerusalem.)
Many Jews return from Babylonia to Israel and rebuild the Temple.
Alexander the Great conquers the land, marking the beginning of Hellenistic rule in the area.
The Maccabean (Hasmonean) revolt takes place against the Romans, who had placed restrictions on the practice of Judaism and desecrated the Temple.
Jewish independence is reached under the Hasmonean monarchy.
The Roman general Pompey the Great captures Jerusalem in 63 BCE.
63 BCE-313 CE: Roman Rule
Roman rule continues until 313 CE. The Jewish people maintain their distinct sense of identity and connection with the Land of Israel, despite its long history as a battleground for many of the era’s most powerful empires. (Image: An attack against the Jews under Roman rule.)
538-142 BCE: Persian and Hellenistic Periods of Rule
The Common Era - Late Antiquity
Once again, the Jewish people preserve their sense of ethnic and religious identity throughout a period wrought with chaos and exile. The Jewish people will not again achieve any significant degree of self-rule in the region until the modern era. (Image: The Lod Mosaic)
70 CE - Destruction of Jerusalem and Second Temple
(Image: A depiction of the destruction of the Second Temple.)
132-135 CE: Bar Kokhba uprising against Rome
313-636 CE: Byzantine Rule
The Jewish revolt against Heraclius is considered the last serious Jewish attempt to gain autonomy in Palaestina Prima before modern times. (Image: Gold Coin depicting King Heraclius.)
The Common Era: Medieval Period
Throughout this period, numerous empires conquered and ruled the land. They occupy many holy sites, and the land is the center of conflicts between mainly Christian and Muslim groups, commonly known as the Crusades. (Image: A 13th century miniature depicting the Siege of Jerusalem.)
Persian invasion of the Land of Israel.
Arab rule over the Land of Israel. (Image: Caliph Umar bin al-Khattab entering Jerusalem.)
Caliph Umar bin al-Khattab completes construction of the Al Aqsa Mosque. It is built to the side of the Temple Mount.
On top of the site of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan builds the Dome of the Rock.
1099-1291: Crusader Domination (Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem)
David Alroy leads a Jewish uprising in Upper Mesopotamia, aiming to reconquer the promised land.
1210-11 CE: The "Aliyah of the 300 Rabbis”
Jewish-French scholars, their relatives, and their followers immigrate to the Holy Land during this period.
After fleeing persecution in Europe, the Spanish Rabbi and scholar Nachmanides travels to Jerusalem, where he establishes a synagogue in the Old City, known today as the Ramban Synagogue.
1291-1516: The Rule of the Mamluk Sultanate
The Common Era: Early Modernity
The land of the Jews is under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, and the subsequent Enlightenment fundamentally change the relationship between the state, individuals, and communities, and set the stage for the rise of secular nationalism. (Photo: Napoleon and the Jews)
Spain expels Jews from its territories, and five years later, Portugal follows. The expulsions lead Jews to other parts of Europe and the Ottoman Empire, including areas of modern-day Israel.
1517-1917: Ottoman Rule
Sabbatai Zevi claims he will lead the Jews back to historical Israel. Zevi was born in the Ottoman Empire and received a traditional Talmudic education. He was a charismatic mystic and positioned himself as the savior of the Jewish people.
The Rabbis banished Zevi for his strange antics and behavior. Through the support and promotion of Nathan of Gaza, he reported himself as a Messiah. He promises to defeat the Ottoman Empire, which prompts his followers to prepare for the return to Zion. But he turned out to be a false Messiah and converted to Islam to avoid execution. Zevi’s actions may have fractured Judaism, but this period reemphasized Jewish yearning for a return to Israel, a yearning that never went away.
1808: Napoleon Emancipates French Jews
The Perushim community, disciples of the Vilna Gaon, leave Lithuania to settle in the land of Israel in anticipation of the return of the Messiah in 1840.
1882-1903: The First Aliyah
Following pogroms in Russia during the early 1880s, roughly 35,000 Jews immigrate to Ottoman-ruled historic Israel from Eastern Europe, along with a smaller group that arrives from Yemen. Many of these Immigrants work and live in agricultural settlements called “moshavot.” (Image: A kindergarten class in Rishon Lezion in 1898.)
1895 - The Dreyfus Affair
The “Dreyfus Affair” significantly impacts Jews worldwide, who are shocked at the hatred over the entire Dreyfus situation. It proves to Theodor Herzl that assimilation cannot protect Jews from antisemitism, and he surmises that the solution is to establish a Jewish state.
1896-1897: Theodor Herzl and the First Zionist Congress
A visionary activist widely regarded as the father of modern Zionism, Herzl writes “The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat),” which argues that the answer to antisemitism is Jewish national self-determination.
Theodor Herzl convenes the First Zionist Congress, which adopts the Basel program, calling it a national home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Theodor Herzl later writes in his journal: "In Basel, I founded the Jewish State.... In... fifty years, everyone will realize it."
The Zionist Congress also establishes the World Zionist Organization. The Basel program initiates several longstanding objectives.
1904-1914: The Second Aliyah
Due to repeated pogroms, poverty, and ideology, Jewish immigrants from Russia, Poland, and Yemen begin to arrive in historic Israel and establish more agricultural settlements.
1917: The Balfour Declaration
The Balfour Declaration is issued, pledging the British government's support for establishing a Jewish national home in historic Israel. (Image: The letter from British Foreign Service Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild.)
1919: The Sykes-Picot Agreement
After World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the British and the French carve up the Middle East between them. Syria and Lebanon fall under French rule, while modern-day Israel and Jordan become part of the British Mandate for Palestine. The Sykes-Picot Agreement would define their respective spheres of influence in the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. (Image: The Treaty of Versailles)
The newly-formed League of Nations grants Britain “Mandatory” control over what is now Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan.
1919: The Weizmann-Faisal Agreement
Chaim Weizmann (president of the World Zionist Organization) and the Emir Faisal (son of the Sharif of Mecca) sign an agreement calling for close collaboration between their respective national movements, which draws staunch opposition from Arab nationalists. (Image: Chaim Weizmann and Emir Faisal in 1918.)
1919-1923: The Third Aliyah
Roughly 35,000 Jews, mostly young people from Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and Romania with strong Zionist and socialist convictions, immigrate to the British Mandate for Palestine. (Image: Road construction during the Third Aliyah.)
1920: Establishment of the Haganah
Women of the Haganah in the 1940s.
Following the murderous 1920-1921 Arab riots, the Jews in the British Mandate for Palestine realize they cannot depend on the British to shield them from Arab aggression and found the Haganah to defend themselves.
1924-1928: The Fourth Aliyah
67,000 Jewish immigrants arrive in the British Mandate for Palestine from Poland, Russia, Romania, Lithuania, Yemen, and Iraq. (Image: Jews protest the British White Papers.)
1929: Arab Revolt
Widespread Arab riots result in the mass murder of Jews. (Image: Jewish family evacuating the Old City of Jerusalem during the riots.)
1929-1939: The Fifth Aliyah
Beginning in 1929, the economy of the British Mandate for Palestine starts to grow and improve. Immigration to the land increases, continuing until World War II. Many Arabs also arrived in the Mandate, seeing economic opportunities and increased living standards. (Image: Women who immigrated to pre-state Israel during the Fifth Aliyah.)
1936-1939: Arab Revolt
Increased Jewish land purchases and frustration over British rule leads to a violent Arab revolt, killing hundreds of Jews. (Image: Jewish families fleeing the Old City of Jerusalem during the revolt.
After the Arab riots, the British adopt the White Paper, which restricts immigration into the British Mandate for Palestine.
1939-1945: The Holocaust
The Nazi regime ruthlessly murders six million Jews in a mass genocide. The unspeakable cruelty and horror European Jews experienced lay bare Zionism’s necessity for the safety and prosperity of the Jewish people. (Image: Holocaust survivors following the 1945 liberation of Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.)
The British create 15 Palestine Jewish battalions that became part of the British Army. Jews are spread throughout the Mediterranean, fighting with the allies. Many Jews led intelligence and rescue operations to save the Jews of Europe and end the war. The sentiment is to fight the war regardless of the White Paper and support the defeat of the Axis powers while also applying pressure on the British in the Mandate to lift the immigration restrictions.
1941: The Farhud
Arab mobs murder more than 180 Iraqi Jews. (Image: Displaced Iraqi Jewish family in 1951.)
The liberation of Nazi camps and the fall of the Third Reich displaces many Jews who have no home to return to and no country to take them. Jews in the British Mandate for Palestine and former partisan fighters displaced in central Europe clandestinely form the Brihah (Hebrew for "flight" or "escape"). (Image: Jewish refugees in a Cyprus detention camp.)
This organization, which intensifies its operations in 1946, aims to facilitate the exodus of Jewish refugees from Europe to Mandatory Palestine. Jews already living in the land organize "illegal" immigration by ship (also known as Aliyah Bet). The British detain Jewish refugees and deny them entry in most cases. The refugees were then taken to refugee camps in Cyprus. (Image: An identity check of Eastern European Jews leaving for the British Mandate for Palestine (post-World War II) as part of the Brihah.)
1948: Israel’s Independence
The State of Israel declares independence on May 14th, 1948, hours before the British Mandate expires. (Image: David Ben-Gurion proclaims Israel’s Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv.)