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SPECIAL REPORT / ISRAEL at 50

Ancient Divisions

April 12, 1998

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict began thousands of years ago. According to the Bible, about 4,000 years ago, a Hebrew tribe entered the town of Shechem, modern Nablus, and settled in the "Land of Canaan."

Twice the Jews were exiled. Twice they returned.

Their state, Judaea, was repeatedly conquered, and they responded with rebellion.

In AD 70, the Romans crushed and dispersed the Jews. Their temple was burned, and their land was renamed Palestine.

While the Jews were dispersed, the land was not empty. It was ruled first by the Romans and then by Christians.

In the 7th century, Palestine came under Islamic rule. According to the Koran, the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from a rock on the site of the former Jewish Temple. There, the Arabs built the Dome of the Rock Mosque.

Christian crusaders tried to drive the Muslims out of the Holy Land. They failed, and for the better part of 12 centuries, Muslims ruled Palestine.

In the late 19th century, Jewish colonies began to form in Palestine, and in 1897, Theodor Herzl founded Zionism, a political movement aimed at reconstituting a Jewish national state in Palestine.

During World War I, Britain's foreign secretary, Lord Arthur James Balfour, legitimized the Zionist movement by issuing the Balfour Declaration, which pledged his nation's support for a Jewish state in Palestine with the provision that the rights of non-Jewish communities there would be respected. Shortly thereafter, British forces captured Jerusalem, and as a result, Britain received a mandate to govern Palestine.

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Following are key events in Israel's turbulent history:

1930s: Large numbers of European Jews flee to Palestine to escape persecution by Nazis. By the outbreak of World War II, the Jewish population in Palestine would stand at nearly 500,000.

1937: Britain proposes the formation of an Arab and a Jewish state, separated by a mandated area to include Jerusalem and Nazareth. Arab opponents counter with a demand for a single state with minority status for Jews.

1939: Britain reverses course and issues a white paper calling for a single state with a limit on further Jewish immigration.

1939-1945: Nazis kill about 6 million European Jews. Illegal and legal immigration during the war brings the Jewish population to 678,000 by 1946.

1947: Britain--incapable of reaching a solution amenable to both Jews and Palestinians--turns over responsibility for Palestine to the United Nations, which despite strong Arab opposition votes Nov. 29 to partition Palestine into two states separated by an internationally administered area to include Jerusalem. Jews accept partition proposal; Arabs reject it, leaving the two sides to prepare for war.

May 14, 1948: Britain's mandate over Palestine ends, and British troops withdraw. David Ben- Gurion in Tel Aviv proclaims the state of Israel, which is recognized within hours by the United States.

May 15, 1948: Israel is attacked by five of its Arab neighbors--Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq

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