Jessica: Right now, Israel is in the middle of a shaky truce with militant Palestinians from Gaza, a strip of land where Palestinians live.
This month’s deadly violence is just the latest in centuries of unrest in the region.
But why is what happens there so important to us here? Over the next few days, we will travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories to learn more about America’s most important ally in the Middle East.
For example, did you know America gives more money to Israel than any other country? And Islamic extremists use America’s support of Israel to justify attacks on the U.S.
And Lebanon, Syria, Iran and others have supported the Palestinians, even providing them weapons to use against Israel.
Since Israel is surrounded by enemies, it has built up a powerful military to defend itself, including nuclear weapons.
But war is nothing new to this region which has been fought over for centuries as the world’s largest religions struggle to control the Holy Land.
It is a land full of customs, contrasts and conflict.
Yotam: There aren’t quite a lot of cities around the world where you can actually walk from a whole modern building into a world that was built thousands of years ago.
Jessica: And as home to three world religions, it is the birthplace of some of the oldest stories ever told. It is the tiny stretch of land the size of New Jersey, from the Mediterranean on the west to the Jordan River on the east.
Jonathan Gross: It’s the promise land. It’s the Holy Land.
Ryan Jabarin: It’s pretty humbling. See how many people put their faith in all this sort of stuff.
Kimberly Usewicz: I only read about it in bible stories and never thought I’d ever have the opportunity to see it.
Jessica: Today, it is known as Israel and the Palestinian territories.
One of the holiest places for Christians is in Jerusalem. This is the Church of the Sepulcher where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.
And not far from here, I can show you one of the most sacred sites for Jews.
So that wall right over there is called The Western Wall, which is also known as The Wailing Wall. Jewish people believe it to be the remains of a great temple destroyed by the Romans. And many Jewish people come here to pray. But if you follow Islam, then you believe that this wall is the remains of an ancient mosque. And from here you can see the dome of the rock. So, let’s go check it out.
To enter the dome of the rock, you have to be completely covered. Muslims believe this is where the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. Muslims, Christians and Jews all believe this is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son.
All three major religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, trace their roots back to the biblical Abraham.
According to the Old Testament, God promised Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan. It was here that King Solomon built the first great temple for Jews in Jerusalem.
After Solomon’s death, invasions by foreigners and the destruction of the great temple led to the diaspora, or the scattering of Jews living away from their homeland of Israel.
In the years that followed, the land switched hands between the Assyrians, Greeks, Persians, Romans and Christians until the Ottoman Empire took over, ruling for 400 years.
During the first part of the 20th century, Arabs made up 90% of the population here. But after World War I and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, Britain took over.
Britain had control until the end of World War II. It was after the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust that Britain, along with the newly formed United Nations, pushed the idea of establishing a Jewish nation in the Holy Land.
The UN proposed two states, one for Jewish people and one for Arab people already living in the land known as Palestine. But the Palestinians rejected the plan. Still, the Jewish people established the state of Israel in 1948, sparking war with the Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled, becoming refugees in neighboring countries.
By 1949, Israel controlled about 80% of Palestine. But tensions over the state of Israel grew during the next two decades. And by 1967, Israel made good on its vow to get even for terrorist attacks, launching what is known as The Six-Day War.
The 1967 war showed the world the strength of the Israeli armed forces and it gave Israel 100% control of the land.
And over time, Israel gave up some of the land but the Israeli’s still control much of the area today. Still, the international community does not recognize Israel’s claim to territories like the Gaza Strip or The West Bank.
So who does this land really belong to? It depends on who you ask.
Jewish Settler: This is what we wanted for 2000 years. And what we prayed for when we were all over the world.
Palestinian: They came here and they destroyed many villages, they killed many people. You don’t have the right to kill people and then say this is our land for a thousand years. It makes no sense.
Jessica: The last four decades have been full of war, peace and deadlock. War in 1987 when the Palestinians led an uprising known as the Intifada.
There was hope for peace in 1993 when the U.S. helped negotiate the Oslo Peace Accords. Palestinians agreed to recognize Israel. Israel agreed to hand over control of The West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians. These were moves seen as the first steps toward a two state solution, a nation for Israelis and a nation for Palestinians. But violent extremists on both sides prevented the plan from ever being fully implemented.
In 2000, Palestinians rose up again, a second Intifada. And there were more suicide attacks against Israel than ever before.
PM Spokesman: We had a situation where every day, suicide bombers from extremist groups were just walking into Israel exploding themselves, killing innocent people.
Jessica: Israel retaliated with rockets and assassinations.
Fatah: Every time there is any action that would hurt an Israeli, the Israelis would retaliate by killing 1,400 people in Gaza and injuring 50,000 and destroying 25% of the buildings of Gaza.
Jessica: In 2002, Israel began building a separation wall along The West Bank, a network of fences and concrete walls with checkpoints designed to prevent suicide bombers from entering Israel. Palestinians say it has created the world’s largest open-air prison.
Since then, more peace talks have only led to more failure.
And that brings us to today. Peace talks have stalled but construction continues on the security wall Israel began building ten years ago. Some call it an anti-terrorism fence, others, a barrier to peace. Over the next few days, we will show you what life is like on either side of the wall.