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Israel is understood to be a Jewish state and thus claims Hebrew as an official language. However, there is also a large community of Arab people within the country, which is why Arabic is the second official language of Israel. Although Israel is the officially recognized name and state of this region, there are many who still refer to the area by its previous name of Palestine in opposition to the Jewish state. The term Southern Levant is used in some cases to refer to this region when the speaker wishes to remain politically and theologically neutral.

The Arabic speakers within Israel are primarily Arabs, with the exception of Yemenite and Mizrahi Jews. As with many countries that have multiple national languages, a majority of the citizens are bilingual. In the case of Israel, mainly Arabs are bilingual, with some exceptions among the Jewish population. The government itself is considered bilingual as well and either Hebrew or Arabic may be spoken in any government institution. However, since not all citizens speak both languages, the majority of politicians speak Hebrew, for simplicity’s sake. There has been some debate over recent years concerning the language of road signs. Traditionally, signs have been in both languages, but in 2008 the government announced that it would only be creating new signs in Hebrew. The issue has been met with much controversy.

Israel occupies the geographic area known as the Southern Levant. The southern portion of the country is covered by the Negev Desert, which is actually an extension of the Sinai Desert. The Negev Desert’s name is derived from the Hebrew “Neghebh”, meaning dry. Another major geographical feature of the country is the Jordan Rift Valley, home to the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. The Jordan Rift valley is home to the lowest location on earth, in terms of land elevation: the Dead Sea. The climate of Israel is considered temperate.

Israel has a long and rich past. There is evidence that Neanderthals occupied the area as early as 11,000 BCE. Following the arrival of modern humans, several early civilizations arose out of the area. These include the Natufians culture and the Gassulians. There is little information on these peoples, but is it believed that the Gassulians were predecessors of the Canaanites. A number of artifacts have been found from the Gassulians, who lived during the Middle Chalcolithic Period. These artifacts include evidence of mud-brick houses containing wall paintings, as well as decorative pottery. Also around this time major cities began to develop, such as Jericho. The Gassulians occupied the southern Levant from 4300BCE to 3300 BCE.

During the Bronze Age, Semitic languages began to arrive in the Levant from Africa. This took place roughly around the year 3750BCE. Along with this African influence, which arrived in the region by way of Egyptian cultures, the Levant cultures were largely influenced by Mesopotamians, such as the Akkadians and the Sumerians. Most of the foreign influence came in the form of trade, especially as a meeting area for the Egyptians and the Mesopotamian cultures. Thus, the area was also convenient for the two groups to also stage warfare. Another region in which cultures collided was the Southern portion of the Levant, where Canaanite culture developed. This was an area particularly contested between the Egyptians and the Hittites.

During the Iron Age, from 1200BCE to 332 BCE, people known as the “Sea Peoples” began to create settlements on modern-day Israel’s Southern Plains region. These civilizations would later develop into the Phoenician civilization. The Phoenicians are known for their many advances during the Iron Age. One of these was the Phoenician Alphabet, which was on of the world’s earliest, non-pictographic scripts. This alphabet would develop and later contribute to both the Hebrew and the Arabic alphabets. Another major contribution of the Phoenicians was monotheism. Known as the Ancient Israelite Religion, it is considered one of the first monotheistic religions in the world. A few major cities would arise out of these earlier settlements as well, and would become major centers for trade in the region, increasing the area’s wealth.

By around 1020 BCE, the ancient Kingdom of Israel was established in the region. This period of time is known as the United Monarchy. The development of wealth in the area drew renewed interest from Egypt and the Mesopotamian culture of Assyria. In 930 BCE, the kingdom was divided into two separate kingdoms. The Northern part of the kingdom retained the name of Israel, while the southern portion became known as Judea. The city of Jerusalem became the central city of the southern kingdom of Judea. It is at this point that the political atmosphere of Jerusalem started to dominate the rest of the Levant region.

Meanwhile, in the northern-most section of the Levant Persian influence declined and the region was captured by Alexander the Great. Alexander also captured the territory that had belonged to the Kingdom of Israel. After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, control of the northern area of the Levant fell into the hands of Seleucus I Nicator, founder of the Seleucid Dynasty. During the reign of this dynasty, the sciences and the arts flourished. Due to this, the time is viewed as a golden age for the region. The southern portion of the Levant fell under control of the Ptolemy Dynasty of Egypt after Alexander’s death. In Jerusalem, Ptolemaic rule consisted primarily of a council of aristocratic families of the city, who controlled all politics within the city.

The rise of the Roman Empire had a profound impact on the Levant. Both the Seleucid providences, as well as the kingdoms of Israel and Judea were annexed by the Romans as part of the Iudaea Province. In response, the Jews in Jerusalem rebelled against the oppressive Romans, thus leading to Roman retaliation. It came in the form of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Another revolt by the Jews, known as Bar Kokhba, was the last major uprising against the Romans within Jerusalem. For two years, the Jews established their own independent state in Israel. The Roman Emperor Hadrian, in response to this uprising, expelled all Jews from the Province and renamed the area Syria Palestina after the enemies of the Jews, the Philistines. This is the origination of the name Palestine for the region. The expulsion included heavy persecution of the Jewish people.

Following the rise of Byzantium after the split of the Roman Empire, the region of the Levant, now known as Palestine, fell under the control of the Byzantines. Under the Eastern Church, Jerusalem became a center for Christian worship. Byzantine rule continued until the city fell to the Persians in 613 CE. The Persians expelled Christians from the city with the help of the Jewish people who remained in Jerusalem. The Jews did so under the promise of regaining Jerusalem. However, they were betrayed by the Persians, who signed a treaty with the Byzantines, resulting once again in the expulsion of the Jews from the city. Just a few years later, the Byzantines attempted to regain Jerusalem from the Persians under the Emperor Heraclius. The Jews fought on the Byzantine side of the war this time, under the promise of amnesty. However, when the city was regained in 629 BCE, the Jews were once again betrayed by their ally and were massacred instead.

Five years after the Byzantines regained the city, the entirety of Mesopotamia, including Jerusalem and the Southern Levant, would be affected by one of the most far-reaching influences of the time- the Rise of Islam. Under the Caliph Umar, the Temple Mount became one of the most contested sites in Jerusalem, and remains so to this day. Upon his arrival in the city, the Caliph is said to have prayed at the rock. Sixty years later, the Dome of the Rock was completed.

The location, upon which the Dome is built, is also known as the Temple Mount and is important to both Islam and Judaism. The rock is said to be the location of where Muhammad’s ascent to heaven occurred, making it the third holiest site in Islam. In Judaism, the mount is also known as Mount Moriah and is where the Divine Presence rested and also where the dust was gathered to create man. It is also said to be the place where Abraham bound Isaac. The First and Second Jewish Temples were both located on the mount before their destruction. It is also believed that the Third and final Temple will also be located on the exact same spot. Today, the Muslim Dome of the Rock still stands on the location. It is one of the oldest Muslim buildings in the world. Due to the religious significance of the site, it is one of the most violently fought-over plots of land in the entire city of Jerusalem. Both Israel and Palestine claim sovereignty over the location. Shortly after the completion of the Dome of the Rock in 691CE, the al-Aqsa Mosque was also built. Although Jerusalem was an important city to the Muslim conquerors, it never gained the economic and political importance to the caliphate that cities such as Baghdad, Cairo, and Damascus carried.

Tensions between the three religions escalated with the Caliph al-Hakim’s order to destroy Jewish places of worship as well as Christian churches within the city in the year 1010 CE. This act was one of the principle reasons that Pope Urban called for a complete Christian recapture of the city eighty years later, in 1096 CE. With this act, the Crusades began, which were a series of campaigns with the primary goal of recapturing the Holy Land from Muslim rulers. Just three years, after its initiation, the city of Jerusalem and many other cities throughout the Levant were captured by the Franks. Jerusalem was conquered under the leadership of Godfrey de Bouillon. However, his forces had met strong resistance from both Muslims and Jews in the area. Upon Christian takeover of the city, there was heavy persecution and eviction of the Jews and Muslims. Christian control of the region lasted nearly a century, until it was captured in 1187 CE by the Muslim Sultan of Egypt, Saladin. However, the Kingdom of Jerusalem continued until 1291 CE. His regaining of the city led to the re-admittance of both Muslims and Jews. Additionally, Saladin allowed Christians to also worship within Jerusalem in a treaty signed in 1192.

Under Saladin and the other Ayyubid sultans, there was a time of relative peace in the region for roughly eighty years. Warfare returned when the Mamluks from Egypt defeated the Sultans in 1244, and by 1260, they had also gained control of Jerusalem. Mamluk rule lasted for nearly two-hundred years. In Arabic the term mamluk means “owned.” Mamluks for centuries had been emancipated servants, who had served in the court and as soldiers. The rise to power of the Mamluks reached its pinnacle in 1250, but their presence in the Arab Empire had begun much earlier. Under Mamluk rule, there were two distinct dynasties: the Bahri Dynasty and the Burji Dynasty.

Mamluk rule officially ended in 1517, when there was a peaceful transfer of power into the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Under the Ottomans, Hewish immigration into Palestine was ever-present. Initially, the Jews were allowed to stay in Jerusalem, in an enclave around the Tiberius. This was allowed by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1537. Zionism, a Jewish movement that called for the return of Palestine to the Jewish people as their original homeland, also factored into the amount of Jewish immigration during this time. However, by 1660, tensions once again arose between the Jews and the Turkish Muslims and there was a massacre of the Jewish settlements within the city.

Zionism was further fueled by the events of World War I. In 1917, the Ottomans were defeated by the British, who created two states from the newly-conquered Ottoman territory. This is known as the British Mandate period. The first of these was called Mesopotamia and consisted primarily of the area that makes up modern-day Iraq. The second state was comprised of modern-day Israel, as well as the West-Bank, Jordan, and Gaza. In addition to Zionism, pressure from the rise of the Nazis throughout Europe following World War I and leading up to World War II, led to more Jewish immigration to the area. One of the most influential documents during this time was the 1939 White Papers, which limited Jewish immigration into the area. The White Papers also outlined an agreement that the British would hand the territory of Palestine back to the Arabs within ten years. Coincidentally, the White Papers were signed the same day as the Night of Broken Glass, when Jewish property was ransacked and Jews were massacred throughout Nazi occupied territory. It led to 30,000 men being taken to concentration camps.

World War II had a profound and tragic impact on Jewish populations around the world. Nearly half of all European Jews were murdered and nearly all of the survivors became stateless. Once more, Palestine began to see an influx in immigration to the territory, which was still under control of the British. Immigration continued to be as strictly controlled as it was before the war. This was mainly due to British fears that allowing mass numbers of Jews to enter the territory would harm relation with the Palestinians, who were a key aspect to maintaining strategic positioning in the area. As a solution to this problem, homeless Jews were placed in internment camps and were allowed into Palestine in stages. However, this strategy received much international criticism. In addition to the controversy surrounding the issue, matters were further complicated by British financial problems and control of Palestine was handed over to the United Nations.

As a solution, the United Nations created two states out of the former British Mandate. The first of these was Palestine and the second, Israel. Key to the negotiations was to decide which state would control Jerusalem. The U.N. decision was to maintain the city themselves. The plan was met with acceptance by Jewish leaders and rejection by Palestinians and all other Muslim states. Regardless, the new state of Israel was proclaimed by the U.N. on 14 May 1948.

Shortly after the proclamation of the Jewish state, war broke out between the Palestinians and their Muslim allies and the Israelis. This would become known as the War for Independence by the Israelis, and more commonly as the Arab-Israeli War. It was the first in a series of wars that progressed between the two groups. The primary cause of the war was Arab resistance to the creation of the Jewish state of Israel. The creation of the new state was supported by both the United States and Russia, but other countries rejected the formation of Israel. These include Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, Syria, and Iraq. This was especially due to the fact that under the White Paper of 1939, the British had made an agreement to hand the whole of Palestine back to the Palestinians by 1949. The United Nations’ decision violated this contract, just one year before the return of the country. The Arab-Israeli War only lasted for roughly one year, but the fighting was slow. By 1949, the war was over, primarily due to Israeli advantages in both manpower and financial circumstances.

The Arab-Israeli War was officially ended with the Israel Armistice Agreements in April of 1949. In the agreements, which were between Israel and Palestinian allies: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, the territory was divided by armistice lines, known as Green Lines. These separated Israel from the Jordanian West Bank and the Egyptian Gaza Strip. The agreements led to mass migrations of Jews into Jewish-controlled territory and Palestinians into other Arab-controlled countries. Palestinians were considered refugees in these countries and were commonly denied citizenship, thus creating a group of stateless peoples. The same year as the signing of the Israel Armistice Agreements of 1949, Israel proclaimed that Jerusalem was the official capital of the state.

The agreements only lasted for eighteen years, until the initiation of the Six-Day War in 1967. As its name suggests, the Six-Day War was an extremely short-lived war. However, the resulting repercussions and loss of life to the countries involved was great. The Six Day War, also known as the Third Arab-Israeli War, occurred in June of that year, from the fifth to the tenth. It involved Syria, Jordan, and Egypt and arose out of the tensions that lingered from the previous Suez Crisis that took place in 1956. At the initiation of the War, Egypt placed troops in the Suez Zone, a sign to Israelis that their neighbor was about to attack. Rather than waiting for Egypt to make the first move, Israel launched a military campaign that within days almost completely destroyed the air forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Israeli forces were able to reach the Suez Canal, just two days later. Israel also progressed thirty miles into Syria. As a result of the Six Day War, Israel gained control of the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights.

Israel now also controlled all of Jerusalem. Later that year, in 1967, the United Nations called for Israel to withdraw from the territories that they had occupied during the conflict. However in 1980, Israel passed the Jerusalem Law, which declared united Jerusalem, including the West Bank, as the official capital of Israel. The United Nations in turn declared the law null and void. Today, Israel still claims Jerusalem as its capital, although internationally it is not recognized as such. By 1987, the Palestinian uprising group known as the First Intifada had formed within Israel. An increase in violence occurred within the country. The group also supported the bombing of Israel during the Gulf War by Iraqi forces under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, even though Israel was not an active participant in the war.

In 1992, a new president was elected by the name of Yitzhak Rabin. One of the top priorities on Rabin’s agenda was to establish peace accords with the Palestinians. Just one year after his election, the first step towards this goal was accomplished with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. This treaty gave Palestinians in the West Bank the right to govern them selves. In return, the Palestinian Liberation Organization acknowledged the state of Israel’s right to exist and also pledged to end the acts of terrorism in the country. In addition, the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty was signed the next year, in 1994, which allowed for better relations between the two countries. In 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist, who opposed his negotiations with the Arabs. The next president to be elected was Ehud Barak, who withdrew Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and created the Israeli West Bank Barrier.

Although there had been several steps towards peace within the country, in 2006 tensions began to escalate with Lebanon. The Second Lebanon war initiated with the continuing assaults and the abduction of two Israeli soldiers across boarders by the group Hezbollah. Hezbollah was a Lebanese military group and political party. The war was only one month long.

Although there had been several steps towards peace within the country, in 2006 tensions began to escalate with Lebanon. The Second Lebanon war initiated with the continuing assaults and the abduction of two Israeli soldiers across boarders by the group Hezbollah. Hezbollah was a Lebanese military group and political party. The war was only one month long.
By 2008, tensions had escalated within the country as well between the Israeli government and the Palestinian resistance group Hamas. Many countries consider Hamas a terrorist organization. However, they view themselves as a political party. These tensions arose from the failure of a ceasefire agreement between the two groups, the result of which was the Gaza War. The war lasted for three weeks and was eventually ended with ceasefires from both sides, yet clashes between the two groups have continued to occur.

Today, the government of Israel is considered a democratic republic, which practices universal suffrage. The country is led by a president, which is primarily just a figure head, as well as a prime minister. The prime minister holds most of the leadership responsibilities as head of the state and is elected from Israel’s parliamentary body known as the Knesset. Rather than a constitution, Israel was governed by the Basic Laws of Israel. However, in 2003, the Knesset began to codify a constitution based on these laws.

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