In honor of the Jewish state’s 69th birthday, we present, in no particular order, 10 little-known aspects of modern Israel’s history.
1. El Al used to fly to Tehran.
Iran and Israel enjoyed mostly good relations up until the Islamic revolution that overthrew the shah in 1979. Iran recognized Israel in 1950, becoming the second Muslim-majority country to do so (after Turkey). Iran supplied Israel with oil during the OPEC oil embargo, Israel sold Iran weapons, there was brisk trade between the countries, and El Al flew regular flights between Tel Aviv and Tehran. All that ended a week after the shah’s ouster, when Iran’s new rulers cut ties with Israel and transferred its embassy in Tehran to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Even after 35 years of hostilities, however, Iranians have less antipathy toward Jews than any other Middle Eastern nation. A 2014 global anti-Semitism survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that 56 percent of Iranians hold anti-Semitic views — compared to 80 percent of Moroccans and 93 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. For more on Israelis in Iran, check out the 2014 documentary “Before the Revolution.”
2. Israel is home to hundreds of Nazi descendants.
At least 400 descendants of Nazis have converted to Judaism and moved to Israel, according to filmmakers who made a documentary about the phenomenon several years ago. In addition, others converted to Judaism or married Israelis but do not live in the Jewish state – such as Heinrich Himmler’s great-niece, who married an Israeli Jew and lives overseas.
In Israel’s early years, the state was roiled by a debate over whether to accept German reparations for the Holocaust (it did), and Germany remained a controversial subject: From 1956 until 1967, Israel had a ban on all German-produced films.
The tiny pasta balls known as Israeli couscous – called ptitim in Hebrew – were invented in the 1950s at the behest of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who asked the Osem food company to come up with a wheat-based substitute for rice during a period of austerity in Israel. The invention, which Israelis dubbed “Ben-Gurion’s rice,” was an instant hit.
4. Israel had no TV service till the late ‘60s.
The first Israeli TV transmission did not take place until 1966, and at first was intended only for schools for educational use. Regular public broadcasts began on Israeli Independence Day in May 1968.
This 1958 scene of a family watching television could not have been photographed in Israel, as the Jewish state had no TV until 1966. (Wikimedia Commons/JTA)
For almost two decades more, Israel had only one channel, and broadcasts were limited to specific hours of the day. A second channel debuted in 1986, and cable was introduced in 1990. Today, Israeli TV is a popular source for Hollywood scriptwriters: “Homeland” (Showtime), “In Treatment” (HBO), “Your Family or Mine” (TBS), “Allegiance” (NBC), “Deal With It” (TBS), “Tyrant” and “Boom” (Showtime) all are remakes of Israeli shows.
5. Queen Elizabeth II’s mother-in-law is buried in Jerusalem.
Prince Philip’s mother, born in 1885 as Princess Alice of Battenberg and congenitally deaf, spent much of her life in Greece after marrying Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (yes, he was simultaneously prince of two different European countries). During the Nazi occupation of Greece, Alice hid a Jewish woman and two of her children from the Nazis, earning her eventual recognition by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as a “Righteous Among the Nations” and by the British government as a “Hero of the Holocaust.”
She moved to London in 1967 to live in Buckingham Palace with her son and daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II. After the princess died two years later, her body was interred in a crypt at Windsor Castle. In 1988, she was transferred to a crypt at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives – honoring a wish she had expressed before her death. The Mount of Olives is home to the world’s oldest continuously used cemetery.
6. Alaska Airlines airlifted thousands of Yemenite Jews to Israel.
When anti-Jewish riots broke out in Yemen after Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence, Yemen’s Jewish community decided to move en masse to the Jewish homeland. James Wooten, president of Alaska Airlines, was among those moved by their plight. Between June 1949 and September 1950, Alaska Airlines made approximately 430 flights in twin-engine C-46 and DC-4 aircrafts as part of Operation Magic Carpet, the secret mission that transported nearly 50,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel. Pilots had to contend with fuel shortages, sandstorms and enemy fire, and one plane crash-landed after losing an engine, but not a single life was lost aboard the flights.
Royal Wedding of Queen Elizabeth II & Prince Philip, 1947.
“It’s hot out here, Lilibet.” “Yupp.”
Among those seen include: King George VI, Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother, Queen Mary, Princess Margaret, Princess Alice (Philip’s mother), King Peter of Yugoslavia, Princess Alexandra, Queen Victoria of Spain, Princess Rene de Bourbon Parma, Earl of Milford Haven, Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten, Lady Milford Haven, Crown Princess Louise of Sweden, Lady Elizabeth Lambart, Duchess of Kent, Princess Juliana of Holland, Prince John of Luxembourg, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Prince George of Denmark, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, Princess Eugenie of Greece, LVO Margaret Rhodes first cousin of Elizabeth II, Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott and the Count of Barcelona.
“In 1953, at the
coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Alice was dressed from head
to foot in a long gray dress and a gray cloak, and a nun’s veil. Amidst
all the jewels, and velvet and coronets, and the fine uniforms, she
exuded an unworldly simplicity. Seated with the royal family, she was a
part of them, yet somehow distanced from them. Inasmuch as she is
remembered at all today, it is as this shadowy figure in gray nun’s
The christening of Princess Anne, the Princess Royal at Buckingham Palace, 21 October 1950. The Princess’ god parents were Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; the Hereditary Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Princess Margarita of Greece and Denmark; Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark, Princess Alice; Earl Mountbatten of Burma; and the Hon. Rev. Andrew Elphinstone. [x]
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York, later Queen Elizabeth II (21 Apr 1926 London-)
Princess Elizabeth was the eldest daughter and first child of two for the Duke and Duchess of York (later George VI and Queen Elizabeth).
Namesakes:Elizabeth after her mother, Alexandra after King George V’s mother (Queen Alexandra) and Mary after her paternal grandmother, Queen Mary
Nicknames:“Lilibet” by her close family
Titles:21 April 1926 - 11 Dec 1936 Princess Elizabeth of York; 11 Dec 1936 - 20 Nov 1947 The Princess Elizabeth; 20 Nov 1947 - 6 Feb 1952 also Duchess of Edinburgh; 6 Feb 1952 - present Queen Elizabeth II
Coronation:2 June 1953 (despite the death of Queen Mary; she had asked that it go on despite this before she died)
Education:firstly, at home with her younger sister Princess Margaret by their governess, Marion Crawford, lessons focused on history, literature, language and music; later, private tuition in constitutional history, French; she was a member of Buckingham Palace’s 1st girl guides group, and later became a Sea Ranger
Interests:dogs (especially corgis), horses, equestrianism; charities and organizations (she is the patron of over 600)
Friends/Special Relationships:Elizabeth was beloved by her paternal grandfather, King George V and she regularly visited him in 1929 during his serious illness
Important Events:her and her parents made the first transatlantic telephone call on May 18th, 1939; she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War; transition of the British Empire into the Commonwealth of Nations; 1977 Silver Jubilee; in 1981 she was shot at, however the shots were blanks; Michael Fagan broke into her bedroom at Buckingham Palace but to no surprise the Queen handled it very well (as she does all things); the 80s and early 90s were a time of struggle and criticism for the royal family, but they pulled through with the help of their fearless leader, the Queen; March 1992 - her son, Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah Ferguson, separated; April 1992 - Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips divorced; November 1992 - Windsor Castle suffers severe fire damage; December 1992 - the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana formerly separate and then divorce in 1996; August 31st, 1997 Princess Diana is killed in a car accident; the Queen gave a heartfelt and moving speech before Diana’s funeral which shooed off any public hostility that had existed; 2002 - Golden Jubilee; February/March 2002 - Both Elizabeth’s mother and sister pass away; 2003 - keyhole surgery in both knees; 2012 - Diamond Jubilee; July 27th, 2012 - Opened the Summer Olympics in London; August 29th, 2012 - Opened the Paralympics (she had also opened the Olympics in Montreal in 1976); played in a short film with Daniel Craig as James Bond for the Olympic ceremony; April 4th 2013 - received a BAFTA as the “most memorable Bond girl yet”; December 18th, 2012 - peace-time Cabinet meeting (first monarch to do so since George III in 1781)
Notable Tours:her first tour was in 1947 - Southern Africa; October 1951 - Canada and Washington, DC; 1953-1954 World Tour; 1957 USA and Canada (and again in 1959); 1961 Cyprus, India, Nepal, Iran and Pakistan; 1961 Ghana; 1964 Quebec, Canada; Ronald Reagan’s California ranch (1983); October 1992 - Dresden, Germany - angry demonstrators threw eggs at the Queen; 2002 Jubilee tour of the realms; 2011 - USA and Canada - she opened a memorial for British victims of 9/11 during her time in the US; October 2011 - Australia;
Fun Facts: She is the most widely travelled head of state in history; only twice during her reign (during two of her pregnancies - 1959 and 1963) did Elizabeth not open British Parliament; she implemented royal walkabouts; in 1991, she became the first British monarch to address a joint session of the United States Congress; in 1992 the Queen sued The Sunfor publishing her Christmas message two days early and she won; she is the longest-lived and second longest reigning British monarch; and the second longest living current Head of State (after the King of Thailand)
First Met Future Husband:1934
Engagement:July 9th, 1947
Place of Marriage:Westminster Abbey
On November 20th, 1947, Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark (10 Jun 1921 Corfu, Greece-) and had four children:
Prince Charles Philip Arthur George of Edinburgh, later Prince of Wales(14 Nov 1948 London-) who has married twice and has issue from his first marriage.
Princess Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise of Edinburgh, later Princess Royal(15 Aug 1950 London-) who has been married twice and has issue from her first marriage.
Prince Andrew Albert Christian Edward, later Duke of York(19 Feb 1960 London-) who has been married and has issue.
Prince Edward Antony Richard Louis, later Earl of Wessex(10 Mar 1964 London-) who is married with issue.
Princess Alice was the mother of Prince Philip. Princess Alice was born in Windsor Castle, the great granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She was married to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark in 1903, and the couple had 5 children. When Philip was a young boy she suffered from mental health problems and was institutionalised for several years. She was well known in her later life for her humanitarian work which included hiding several Jews during World War Two and being involved in many charities. In later life, Princess Alice went to live with her son and daughter in law at Buckingham Palace, until her death in 1969. In 1988, she was allowed to be buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and in 1994 she was named as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, for her actions in World War Two.