In a sense, the Zionist Movement began when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple of King Solomon and forced the Jewish people into Exile in 586 B.C.E. From that moment, Jews began yearning and praying to return to the land of their ancestors, the land they believed God had promised them as an eternal inheritance. Their dream was fulfilled 70 years later when King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylonia and gave the Jews permission to return to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and rebuild. When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E., Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel was disrupted for 1878 years. In 1948, when the modern State of Israel declared her independence and restored Jewish sovereignty over a portion of the Land of Israel, the dream of 2,000 years was at last fulfilled. Zionism is the modern political movement to restore Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel, that Jews might live in freedom and flourish as Jews, and it is also the age-old dream to fulfill the Covenant God made with Abraham when God promised him the Land of Israel as an eternal inheritance for his descendants.

While Jews have always lived in the Land of Israel in greater and lesser numbers, the modern Zionist movement was born of, and fueled by, the suffering and oppression of Jews, largely in Eastern Europe. Anti-Semitism was a fact of life in both Eastern and Western Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Moses Hess wrote Rome and Jerusalem in 1860, a book in which he described the world as consisting of two types of people: Aryans and Semites. While Aryans attempted to make the world beautiful, Semites attempted to make it moral. Because their worldview and goals were incompatible, Hess offered that these two peoples should not live together, but rather separate and apart from one another. Most consider Hess' Rome and Jerusalem to be the first published expression of the need for a Jewish homeland. Indeed, there were Jews at this time in the Land of Israel, poor and struggling to survive. They were support by Baron Edmund de Rothschild, who funded a score of agricultural undertakings.

In 1895, Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French army, was accused of a crime for which he had been framed. Trumped-up charges and forged documents contributed to his court-martial and Dreyfus, innocent of any wrong-doing, was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island. Eventually, the truth came out, but the French army nonetheless refused to reverse its verdict of guilt. Dreyfus was not exonerated until 1906, after the affair had become a national scandal. A young lawyer named Theodor Herzl, who came from an assimilated Hungarian Jewish family, covered the trial as a correspondent for the Neue Freie Press of Vienna. Herzl was shocked by the vehemence and vitriol of the anti-Semitism he encountered in France, a country which took pride in its culture, idealism, and system of justice. For Herzl this was a seminal event: in his life. Prior to covering the Dreyfus trial, Herzl had believed that the solution to anti-Semitism lay in assimilation; after witnessing the trial and the reactions of the French people, Herzl concluded that the only feasible solution to anti-Semitism was for Jews to live in their own country, in their own land, as an independent political entity. Political Zionism was born. Herzl devoted the remainder of his short life to promoting his idea, beginning with the publication of a tractate entitled "The Jewish State" in 1896 in which he outlined his goals. Herzl convened the First World Zionist Congress in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, bringing together Jews from different nations who were committed to a similar politically agenda.

A great many people contributed the Zionist Movement, representing a great many philosophical perspectives: Cultural Zionists, Political Zionists, Religious Zionists all worked to establish a Jewish country in the land of their ancestors. The Jewish National Fund was established at the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901. The JNF collected money from Jews around the world to purchase land in Palestine from the Turks who ruled over it in the Ottoman Empire. The JNF also spearheaded efforts to drain swamps, plan trees, and establish new agricultural settlements to cultivate the land.

Conflicts between Jews and Arabs existed from the very beginning. Both the Ottoman Turks, and later the British who ruled during the period of the Mandate (1920-1948) played one group off the other, making contradictory promises to both sides. As persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe, and later Germany, increased, more and more Jews moved to the Yishuv (the term for the pre-State of Israel Jewish settlement in Palestine). The British attempted to restrict Jewish immigration, but the pressing need of refugees inspired drastic measures. Zionist organizations organized secret transports to bring Jews from Nazi Europe from ports in southern Europe onto boats which brought them illegally to Palestine.

With the end of World War II and the crushing influx of refugees, the United Nations voted on November 29, 1947, 33-to-13 for the establishment of both a Jewish state and an Arab state in the Land of Israel, ending the British Mandate. No sooner had the United Nations vote been announced than the Arab Legion (Jordan's army) attacked the Yishuv community aided by soldiers from Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. The Jews had three fighting forces: the Haganah, the Irgun, and the Stern Gang, all of which were illegal underground groups because the British had made it illegal for Jewish to own or carry weapons, even in their own defense. The fighting raged on for months, as the date for the end of the British Mandate loomed nearer. On May 14, 1948, just prior to sundown, with Shabbat approaching, David Ben Gurion declared to the world the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel. Eleven minutes later, President Truman officially recognized the State of Israel; the USSR followed shortly. The following day, Israel was attacked by the armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. The War for Independence did not end until the following February, at which time Israel controlled the coastal plane, the Negev, the Galilee, part of the Sinai Peninsula, and the western half of Jerusalem. Israel signed armistice agreements with her Arab neighbors during the summer of 1949, at which time she returned the Sinai to Egypt.

The millennial dream of restoring Jewish sovereignty to the Land of Israel, and establishing a Jewish nation had been realized. For Jews around the world, it was a cause for great celebration, even as the struggle to maintain sovereignty and security and build the country began.

When Ben Gurion declared the independence of the Jewish state on May 14, 1948, Israel's national anthem HaTikvah was played:

So long as still within the inmost heart
a Jewish spirit sings,
so long as the eye looks eastward, gazing toward Zion,
our hope is not lost --
that hope of two millennia,
to be a free people in our land,
in the land of Zion and Jerusalem.

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