History of Israel

Before World War I, the Middle East region, including the Ottoman Syria (the southern part of which are regarded as Palestine), was under the control of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years. Towards the end of the 19th century, Palestine, which was divided between the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem, Syria Vilayet and Beirut Vilayet, was inhabited predominantly by Arab Muslims, both farmers and Bedouin (principally in the Negev and Jordan Valley), with smaller numbers of Christians (mostly Arabs), Druze, Circassians and Jews (predominantly Sephardic). At that time most of the Jews worldwide lived outside Palestine, predominantly in eastern and central Europe, with significant communities in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Americas.

The delegates at the First Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland (1897).

The roots of the conflict can be traced to the late 19th century, with the rise of national movements, including Zionism and Arab nationalism. Though the Jewish aspiration to return to Zion had been part of Jewish religious thought for more than a millennium, the Jewish population of Europe and to some degree Middle East began to more actively discuss immigration back to the Land of Israel, and the re-establishment of the Jewish Nation, only during 1859 to the 1880s, largely as a solution to the widespread persecution of Jews, and antisemitism in Russia and Europe. As a result, the Zionist movement, the modern movement for the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people, was established as a political movement in 1897.

The Zionist movement called for the establishment of a nation state for the Jewish people in Palestine, which would serve as a haven for the Jews of the world and in which they would have the right for self-determination. Zionists increasingly came to hold that this state should be in their historic homeland, which they referred to as the Land of Israel. The World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund encouraged immigration and funded purchase of land, both under Ottoman rule and under British rule, in the region of Palestine while Arab nationalism, at least in an early form, and Syrian nationalism were the dominant tendencies, along with continued loyalty to the Ottoman state, in the area.
According to Benny Morris, among the first recorded violent incidents between Arabs and the newly immigrated Jews in Palestine was the accidental shooting death of an Arab man in Safed, during a wedding in December 1882, by a Jewish guard of the newly formed Rosh Pinna. In response, about 200 Arabs descended on the Jewish settlement throwing stones and vandalizing property. Another incident happened in Petah Tikva, where in early 1886 the Jewish settlers demanded that their tenants vacate the disputed land and started encroaching on it. On March 28, a Jewish settler crossing this land was attacked and robbed of his horse by Yahudiya Arabs, while the settlers confiscated nine mules found grazing in their fields, though it is not clear which incident came first and which was the retaliation. The Jewish settlers refused to return the mules, a decision viewed as a provocation. The following day, when most of the settlement's men folk were away, fifty or sixty Arab villagers attacked Petach Tikva, vandalizing houses and fields and carrying off much of the livestock. Four Jews were injured and a fifth, an elderly woman with a heart condition, died four days later.
By 1908, thirteen Jews had been killed by Arabs, with four of them killed in what Benny Morris calls "nationalist circumstances", the others in the course of robberies and other crimes. In the next five years twelve Jewish settlement guards were killed by Arabs. Settlers began to speak more and more of Arab "hatred" and "nationalism" lurking behind the increasing depredations, rather than mere "banditry".
Zionist ambitions were increasingly identified as a threat by the Arab leaders in Palestine region. Certain developments, such as the acquisition of lands from Arab owners for Jewish settlements, which led to the eviction of the fellaheen from the lands which they cultivated as tenant farmers, aggravated the tension between the parties and caused the Arab population in the region of Palestine to feel dispossessed of their lands. Ottoman land-purchase regulations were invoked following local complaints in opposition to increasing immigration. Ottoman policy makers in the late 19th century were apprehensive of the increased Russian and European influence in the region, partly as a result of a large immigration wave from the Russian Empire. The Ottoman authorities feared the loyalty of the new immigrants not so much because of their Jewishness but because of concern that their loyalty was primarily to their country of origin, Russia, with whom the Ottoman Empire had a long history of conflicts: immigrant loyalty to Russia might ultimately undermine Turkish control in the region of Palestine. This concern was fomented by the example seen in the dismantling of Ottoman authority in the Balkan region. European immigration was also considered by local residents to be a threat to the cultural make-up of the region. The regional significance of the anti-Jewish riots (pogroms) in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and anti-immigration legislation being enacted in Europe was that Jewish immigration waves began arriving in Palestine (see First Aliyah and Second Aliyah). As a result of the extent of the various Zionist enterprises which started becoming apparent, the Arab population in the Palestine region began protesting against the acquisition of lands by the Jewish population. As a result, in 1892 the Ottoman authorities banned land sales to foreigners. By 1914 the Jewish population in Palestine had risen to over 60,000, with around 33,000 of these being recent settlers.