The country's history goes back thousands of years, to ancient times. Two world religions, Judaism and Christianity, began here. It is the place where the Jewish nation and religion first grew. Jews and Christians call it the Holy Land, because it is the place of many events described in the Bible, and because some commandments of Jewish law can be accomplished only on its soil.
Three thousand years ago, the Canaanites and other Semitic peoples lived here. Between about 1800 and 1500 BCE, another Semitic people, called the Hebrews, settled in Canaan. They were named the “Children of Israel” or “Israelites”. The Israelites had 12 tribes. They chose a [king], Saul, as their leader. The next king, David, began the Kingdom of Israel in about 1000 BCE and made the city of Jerusalem his capital. His son, Solomon, built the first Temple for the worship of their God. Solomon died in about 928 BCE. His kingdom broke into two countries. The northern country kept the name Israel. The southern country, called Judah, kept Jerusalem as its capital.
The Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel in 732 BCE and the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE and destroyed Solomon's Temple. Many Jews returned from Babylonia and built a country again and rebuilt the Temple. First the Persians, then the Greeks and then the Romans ruled the Land of Israel.
The Jews fought against the Romans but the Romans defeated them. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Jewish Temple there. Again, in 135 CE, the Romans defeated the Jews and killed or took many of them to other places. The number of Jews living in Israel became much smaller. Many were forced to live in other countries. This spreading of Jewish outside of Israel is called the Diaspora.
Many of the Jews who remained moved to the Galilee. Jewish teachers wrote important Jewish books, called the Mishnah and part of the Talmud there, in the 2nd to 4th centuries CE.
The Romans began to call this region by the word that became Palestine in English. The Roman and then the Byzantine empires ruled until 635 CE, when Arabs conquered the region. Different Arab rulers, and for a while Crusaders, ruled the land. In 1516, the Ottoman Empire conquered the land and ruled the region until the 20th century.
Since the Diaspora, there have been many attempts to make a new homeland for the Jewish people. In the 1880s, this wish for a Jewish nation in Israel became a movement called Zionism. Jews from all over the world began to come to the area and settled in desert zones, then governed by the Turkish and later by the British Governments.
On 14 May 1948, British control over Palestine ended. The Jewish inhabitants (under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion) declared independence for the new Jewish state. Immediately following Israel's declaration of independence, the armies of several nearby countries – including Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq – attacked the new country. Since the 1980s, Israel's main military opponents have been Islamist groups, such as Hezbollah.