12 months of anniversaries in the Holy Land

2017 in the Holy Land: from Nebuchadnezzar to the Six-Day-War, dates and anniversaries to understand the challenges of our times

Another year of violence and vileness, of persecutions and arbitrary executions, of the loss of innocent lives – among them high numbers of children. 2016 leaves the Middle East – and the rest of the world – with a heavy legacy of unsolved conflicts; with the burden of wars, in Syria and Iraq; the plight of migrants, displaced persons, old and new tensions on the brink of exploding. On close examination, also 2017 began under a dark omen, notably with the Istanbul massacre. The New Year will bring back memories of events and anniversaries marking the tragic history of this tormented world region, the Holy Land in particular. This rich calendar of anniversaries can help us learn more about the history of the past decades.

From Nebuchadnezzar to Balfour, from Saladin to Hamas, extending to countless armed conflicts: the year 2017 ushers in various commemorations and anniversaries that have marked – and in some cases continue to mark – the tragic history of this tormented world region, the Holy Land in particular, all containing number 7, a highly symbolic number that is considered sacred in many cultures and faiths; a veritable windfall for Cabala and numerology enthusiasts. But let us stick to the facts, starting with the most recent events.


Arthur BalfourThe 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The year 2017 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (November 2 2017), a letter written by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. In the letter, Balfour declared that his government “views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish People.” A number of geopolitical experts have recently referred to the letter as an analogy for a partition plan in the post-war scenario of Syria and Iraq. The event leading up to the Balfour Declaration was the first Zionist Congress (political movement and ideology upholding the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine), called by Hungarian writer and politician Theodor Herzl in Basil, Switzerland, in 1897.  The year 2017 will mark the 120th anniversary of this event.

The 70th anniversary of UN Resolution n. 181. Flipping the pages of history we come to November 29 1947. Seventy years ago the UN adopted Resolution 181 that paved the way to the establishment of the State of Israel.

On that day the UN General Assembly adopted the partition plan of Mandatory Palestine envisaging the creation of a Jewish State extending to 56% of the national territory, and an Arab State in the remaining part, with a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem.

The Arabs’ rejection of the Plan led to the outbreak of a series of Arab-Israeli wars extending from 1948 to 1973. Including the Six-Day War (June 5-10 1967).

Israele bandiera militare

50 years of Israeli occupation. Thus 2017 will also mark the 50th anniversary of Israeli military occupation of Palestinian Territories resulting from the Six-Day War, fought by Syria, Jordan and Egypt against Israel, that won over the three fronts, seizing – inter alia – the West Bank and East Jerusalem from the Jordanians.

Despite the many UN Resolutions, the latest, n.2334, adopted by the Security Council past December 23, calling for the halting of Israeli settlements, the military occupation continues.

Thirty years ago: the first Intifada. The intifada (revolt) was a result of Israeli occupation. The first, called the “Intifada of the stones”, broke out 30 years ago, on December 8 1987, in the wake of the death of four Palestinians from the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, whose car collided with an Israeli truck. The uprising, consisting of general strikes, rallies, clashes with the occupying forces and civil disobedience, rapidly extended from Gaza to the West Bank. It lasted six years, until the Oslo accords (1993) and the handshake between Rabin and Arafat, with a death toll of over 1200 Palestinians and of approximately 150 Israelis.

Israele bambino contro carro armato M1 A1 Abrams40 years of Right-Wing government in Israel, 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza. As for the less epochal events – albeit highly significant in political terms – the year 2017 will mark the 40th anniversary of the historical electoral victory, in 1977, of right-wing Likud Party headed by Menachem Begin, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. The election cornered Labour in parliament opposition seats for the first time since 1948, where it sits since then… On the Palestinian front, 2017 will mark the 10th anniversary of the conquest of Gaza by Hamas, officially founded 30 years earlier, in 1987, by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, killed in 2004 in an Israeli airstrike. In 2006 Hamas won the election to elect the Palestinian Legislative Council (the Parliament of Palestine), to the detriment of competing Party Fatah, which until then had appointed the President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). A series of armed clashes between Fatah and Hamas led the latter to gain control of the Strip in 2007, at the end of a civil war.

Ottoman Empire, Saladin and Nebuchadnezzar. Going back in time to 1517, the year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the seizure of power of the Ottoman Empire over Palestine, which lasted until 1917; exactly 100 years ago. In terms of military conquests the New Year marks 830 years since the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, and the ensuing fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Turning back the pages of history the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar razed the city of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., 1430 years ago.

Two devastating earthquakes. And while Italy’s chronicle of the past months was shattered by devastating earthquakes, the New Year will be an occasion for the Holy Land to commemorate 180 years since the seism of 1837 – the epicentre of which was in Galilee, with a death toll of 6000-7000 people – and the earthquake of 1972, 80 years ago, whose epicentre was in the area of the Dead Sea, that took the life of over 500 people, causing severe damage in the cities of Jerusalem, Ramla, Tiberias and Nablus.

Pio IX

170 years of the Latin Patriarchate. Finally, in 2017 the small Latin Catholic community of the Holy Land will celebrate the 170th anniversary of the Apostolic Letter “Nulla celebrior” (July 23 1847) in which Pope Pius IX announced the establishment of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Ad multos annos!