The Creation of Israel

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13824

During the 20th century, a movement began calling for a Jewish state in the Middle East. The problem was people had already been living there peacefully for hundreds of years. What happened?


People and Their Environment, World

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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The first image below is a holy site in Jerusalem called the Dome of the Rock for Muslims. The second image is a holy site for Jews called the Western Wall; note the Dome of the Rock in the distance.

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  • Given that there is so much modern-day animosity between Israel and the Middle East, how could these holy sites be so close?

Look at the history of Israel's creation to find out!

Ottoman Empire

By the time the Ottoman Empire entered World War I, it had ruled much of the eastern Mediterranean for centuries. Surprisingly, however, the Turkish people ruled this empire, not the Arab people.

Both Arab and Turkish people were Muslim, but they had completely different heritages.

As the Ottoman Empire expanded to the north and south, Turkish people quickly became a minority in the empire. If the Ottomans had any chance of maintaining control over a very diverse population, they would have to do things differently.

Instead of requiring people in the empire to convert to Islam, all Jewish and Christian people were made to pay a tax called a Jizya for following a different faith. While this made not being Muslim slightly more expensive, it ensured animosity did not grow between the different religions.

It maintained peace and stability in regions like Jerusalem, where all three lived.

Islam vs Christianity

This unique answer to diversity led to two holy sites close to one another. While it may seem surprising today, the major animosity in this region is purely a product of the 20th century.

British Palestine

The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in World War I. When that side lost, the Allied forces dealt with the empire by partitioning the country into several different pieces.

Sykes-Picot Division map

The British took control of modern-day Iraq but also agreed to become a steward over the International Sphere colored in orange on the map. This region was important because European Jewish leaders called for establishing a Jewish state.

By 1927, British Palestine was formally created as a transition country; this helped to establish a government in Palestine while also creating a Jewish state in the same region.

Palestine, British mandate, historical flag, United Kingdom

Because Britain, who now controlled the area, was interested in creating a Jewish state, hundreds of thousands of Jewish people from all around Europe began migrating here.

This required a much larger area of land to be given to Israel to create a separate space from Palestine.

In response, the White Paper of 1939 was created to limit the immigration of Jews for five years to allow the British time to accommodate the situation. However, by 1948, the British realized the situation was much more dire and relinquished their control over the area to the U.N.

Israeli Independence

panoramic view of Jerusalem

The U.N. had already been trying to solve the problem of two large and hostile populations in the same country. Their solution was to create two countries based on the population distribution of the two peoples.

UN 1947 partition plan for Palestine

This was not the cleanest solution, but it would have created two equally sized countries of three disconnected parts. It also maintained U.N. control of Jerusalem as an international city because of its significance to three different religions.

This proposal was never enacted, however.

On 14 May 1948, when the British occupation ended, the Israeli Declaration of Independence was issued, formally establishing the state of Israel and eliminating any opportunity for the U.N. to negotiate borders between the two countries.

The Arab League formed and preemptively attacked Israel because they feared Israel would try to take all of Palestine for itself.

  • Why did they care so much?

The people of Palestine had lived on this land for thousands of years and feared the influx of Jewish people. Even though Israel made no claims about conquering the entire area, the Palestinians felt they were protecting their homeland.

However, by the end of the conflict, Israel had rapidly built their army so much that it won the war and took a far larger piece of Palestine than originally partitioned.

Compare the map below to the one suggested by the U.N. to see how much more land Israel claimed.

United Nations Palestine map showing Armistice Agreements between Israel & Lebanon, Syria, Jordan & Egypt 1949-1950

The Israel and the Arab nations had lived peacefully together for some time. However, conflict became inevitable during the 20th century as hatred grew between these populations.

Watch a portion of the video below to review what you have learned while exploring deeper. (You'll watch the rest later in this lesson.)

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Continue to the Got It? section to review what you have learned about the creation of Israel, the conflict with Palestine, and the British government's mishandling of the situation.

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