Quest for Statehood

The religious yearning of Jews to return to their land ultimately spawned the political movement of Zionism in the 19th century, when European anti-Semitism, in the form of persecution and massacres, presented Jews with an existential choice. Many Jews came to believe that they would only escape discrimination and murder in a state of their own. One of the first and most outspoken proponents of Zionism was Theodor Herzl, a prominent Austrian journalist. In the late 1890s, Herzl helped rally both religious and secular Jews around the idea that a viable Jewish state could be reestablished in the historic land of Israel.

The Zionists sought international backing for their quest to form a new political entity in the land of their ancestors—a sparsely populated desert wasteland described in the 1860s by Mark Twain as “a desolate country…given over wholly to weeds—a silent mournful expanse.”

In a major political victory for the Zionists, the British, with the support of Congress, issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917. In that Declaration, Great Britain pledged to facilitate the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. On that basis, the League of Nations awarded Britain the Mandate for Palestine in 1920.

In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states—one Arab and one Jewish. Even though more than half of the area allocated for the Jewish nation was desert, the Jewish community in Palestine immediately accepted the compromise. The Arabs rejected the plan, and five Arab armies invaded Israel, openly seeking to abort the creation of Israel.