History of the Land of Israel

Land of Israel

History of the Land of Israel

The history of the Land of Israel is one of the richest in human memory. Due to its strategic location and a string of historical developments, it has long been an arena of struggles, conquests and momentous events since antiquity. The Land of Israel has been an abstract geographical space throughout most of history, with vague boundaries, while often lacking a complete and separate political or administrative unit. The term "Land of Israel" (Eretz Yisrael in Hebrew), though long familiar in Jewish religious contexts, became much more common with the rise of Zionism.

The Land of Israel, in the southwest of the Fertile Crescent region that stretches like an arc between the Persian Gulf and Egypt, sits at the crossroads of the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe. Being a narrow strip between the Mediterranean and the desert, the land became a transit route of military, commercial, economic and political importance. The land’s main roads were forged according to local topography and became international transportation arteries that at times led to growth and at times to destruction. Already in prehistoric times, early humans who came from Africa wandered the land, and in the era of the first great civilizations of the ancient Near East, it served as a bridge between the major powers in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The land’s proximity to the desert also attracted nomads seeking shelter, food and water, especially during drought years.

Throughout the ages, many powers coveted the small and strategic space, and the land passed through the hands of many rulers. Some ruled parts of it from minor local dominions; others annexed it to large empires. All left their mark on it. The outcome was that the Land of Israel became an object of longing and interest. It has inspired masses to travel to it for purposes of pilgrimage, research, science, politics, missionary activity, literary and artistic inspiration and more.

The Land of Israel is one of the core subjects in the National Library’s collections, which contains innumerable interesting items related to its history. Among the varied materials, which include many rare items, are maps, books, manuscripts, academic articles, posters, photographs and press clippings. Many of these items are accessible through the Library’s website and provide a special glimpse into the land’s exciting history.