Israel can refer to many things - a modern state, a historical nation and, in the final analysis, a person.
The person - after whom the state and nation are named - was the son of Isaac and the Grandson of Abraham also known as Jacob, who gained his new name after wrestling an "angel1" sent by God to delay him at a river crossing. The Israelite people claim him as their ancestor, and thus their nation bears his name.
The historical nation comes and goes depending on the era - according to the history recorded in the Book of Genesis, Israel himself took possession of the land promised by God to Abraham but was then forced to leave it due to famine and died in Egypt.
The Israelites returned from exile in Egypt as recorded in the Book of Joshua and for the first time (JOS1:4) the boundaries of the Eretz Ysrael - the land of Israel according to the covenant between God and Abraham are written down - from the desert (probably the Negev) in the South to Lebanon in the North and from the Euphrates in the East to the Mediteranean in the West. It is unlikely that the Israelites ever occupied all of this territory and for most of the ancient period they were confined to the area West of the line of the River Jordan.
After the reign of King Solomon, Israel broke up into two kingdoms, with the Southern Kingdom, consisting mostly of the Tribe of Judah, centered around Jerusalem, and the Ten Tribes comprising the Northern Kingdom retaining the name Israel. The nation suffered under a succession of wicked kings; (granted, the authors of Scripture were probably biased about this, but they did seem to assassinate each other a lot), and was ultimately absorbed by Assyria. The inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom became known as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and their fate has long been a subject of popular speculation.
Over the period of its existence Israel was overrun by most of the superpowers of the age - Assyria, Egypt, Babylon and Persia being key examples - and drifted in and out of sovereignty, cliency and outright annexation according to their whims. The last power to occupy the ancient Land of Israel were the Romans, who eventually tired of the Israelite people's stubborn insistence of maintaining their own religion and national identity and had a good go at eliminating them, killing many and attempting to disperse the survivors across the empire. Actually, the Romans made several attempts at eliminating Israel, the last of which was made under the rule of the Emperor Hadrian.
However, Israel is more than the land - Israel is a land, a people and a religion all rolled into one and, just as it had done before, Israel survived in exile and eventually, Israel returned.
It took a long time for them to return - in years after the attempted genocide in 135AD the land of Israel was overrun by the Islamic Caliphate and passed from there into the Ottoman Empire, both of who were hostile to Judaism and suppressed any attempt at re-settlement. Aaliyah2 would have to wait for the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the 1920 Balfour Declaration, whereby the British Empire, who had gained stewardship of the Land of Israel from the Turks, lifted the ban on the return of exiled Israelites and resettlement began.
The Balfour settlements suffered extensive harrassment and violence from the Arabs who had occupied Israel during the exile, but received little in the way of help from the British until after WW2 and the Shoah, after which international sympathy for the Israelite people helped them to regain some measure of sovereignty. No sooner had the new nation been created, but its Arab neighbours attempted to destroy it - unsucessfully and on several occasions. By the time the dust had settled, the modern State of Israel had been created, stretching from the Jordan to the Sea East to West and from Lebanon to the Negev North to South with a deep salient touching the Red Sea at Eilat.
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Game and Story Use
- The "Angel Wrestling" from the Life of Israel the Patriarch could be a useful episode in the life of a PC travelling alone - particularly if on a pilgrimage for penetential reasons. Do not allow the PC to defeat the angel, or allow the rest of the party to get involved or it will degenerate into farce.