The Land of Israel, also known as the Holy Land or Palestine, is the birthplace of the Jewish people, the place where the final form of the Hebrew Bible is thought to have been compiled, and the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity. It contains sites sacred to Judaism, Samaritanism, Christianity, Islam, Druze and the Bahá'í Faith.
The region has come under the sway of various empires and, as a result, has hosted a wide variety of ethnicities. However, the land was predominantly Jewish (who are themselves an outgrowth of the earlier Canaanites) from roughly 1,000 years before the Common Era (BCE) until the 3rd century of the Common Era (CE). The adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire in the 4th century led to a Greco-Roman Christian majority which lasted not just until the 7th century when the area was conquered by the Arab Muslim Empires, but for another full six centuries. It gradually became predominantly Muslim after the end of the Crusader period (1099-1291), during which it was the focal point of conflict between Christianity and Islam. From the 13th century it was mainly Muslim with Arabic as the dominant language and was first part of the Syrian province of the Mamluk Sultanate and after 1516 part of the Ottoman Empire until the British conquest in 1917-18.
A Jewish national movement, Zionism, emerged in the late-19th century (partially in response to growing antisemitism), as part of which Aliyah (Jewish return from diaspora) increased. During World War I, the British government publicly committed to create a Jewish National Home and was granted a Mandate to rule Palestine by the League of Nations for this purpose. A rival Arab nationalism also claimed rights over the former Ottoman territories and sought to prevent Jewish migration into Palestine, leading to growing Arab–Jewish tensions. Israeli independence in 1948 was accompanied by an exodus of Arabs from Israel, the Arab–Israeli conflict and a subsequent Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries to Israel. About 43% of the world's Jews live in Israel today, the largest Jewish community in the world.
Since about 1970, the United States has become the principal ally of Israel. In 1979, an uneasy Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty was signed, based on the Camp David Accords. In 1993, Israel signed Oslo I Accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization, followed by establishment of the Palestinian National Authority and in 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty was signed. Despite efforts to finalize the peace agreement, the conflict continues to play a major role in Israeli and international political, social and economic life.
The economy of Israel was initially primarily democratic socialist and the country dominated by social democratic parties until the 1970s. Since then the Israeli economy has gradually moved to capitalism and a free market economy, partially retaining the social welfare system.
Between 2.6 and 0.9 million years ago, at least four episodes of hominine dispersal from Africa to the Levant are known, each culturally distinct. The oldest evidence of early humans in the territory of modern Israel, dating to 1.5 million years ago, was found in Ubeidiya near the Sea of Galilee. The flint tool artefacts have been discovered at Yiron, the oldest stone tools found anywhere outside Africa. Other groups include 1.4 million years old Acheulean industry, the Bizat Ruhama group and Gesher Bnot Yaakov.
In the Carmel mountain range at el-Tabun, and Es Skhul, Neanderthal and early modern human remains were found, including the skeleton of a Neanderthal female, named Tabun I, which is regarded as one of the most important human fossils ever found. The excavation at el-Tabun produced the longest stratigraphic record in the region, spanning 600,000 or more years of human activity, from the Lower Paleolithic to the present day, representing roughly a million years of human evolution. Other notable Paleolithic sites include caves Qesem and Manot. The oldest fossils of anatomically modern humans found outside Africa are the Skhul and Qafzeh hominids, who lived in northern Israel 120,000 years ago. Around 10th millennium BCE, the Natufian culture existed in the area.