Understanding the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

Dan Cameron
Jun 24 · 19 min read

In the late1800’s a movement began to develop called Zionism. It was based on the general notion that Jews around the world should have their own homeland. It took decades for the idea to gain traction, but significant populations of Jews were suffering persecution at the hands of the communists and liked the idea of returning to their biblical roots. Prior to WWI, Palestine was under Ottoman (Turkish) rule.

World War I extended into the Middle East and Great Britain was having difficulty fighting the Turks who were allied with Germany. The British High Commissioner in Egypt made a deal with the Sharif of Mecca in what was known as the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence. The letters comprised an agreement that if the Arabs would revolt against the Ottoman Empire in alliance with the United Kingdom, in return the UK would recognize Arab independence. Later, the 1916 Sykes–Picot Agreement, between France and the United Kingdom, conspired to split and occupy parts of the already promised Arab country. So, after betraying the Arabs, Great Britain took control of Palestine by virtue of the Sykes-Picot deal. Then, to complicate matters in 1917 Great Britain and the United States agreed to the Balfour Declaration, which intended to establish a national home for Jewish people in Palestine. To soften the blow, the declaration stated: “nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

From the beginning the plan was bitterly opposed by Arab leaders and by the Palestinian people who, for obvious reasons objected to the idea of a Jewish State or any significant immigration of Jews on to what was their land. Keep in mind that in 1917 Palestine, the Arab population was about ten times greater than the Jewish population. Therefore in 1918 the British government made assurances to the Arabs that no actions would be taken that would infringe on their economic, political rights or the self-determination of the existing population. Given that proviso, Britain was to facilitate the limited immigration of Jews into Palestine so long as the rights and position of other sections of the population were not prejudiced.

In 1920 Great Britain convinced the League of Nations to place Palestine under British control, known as the British Mandate for Palestine.

It should be noted that Great Britain was still an imperial power and as such really didn’t give too much thought or consideration to any of the indigenous populations under its authority.

For the next two decades Britain walked a fine line between the Jews who demanded unlimited immigration and the Arabs who wanted none. In 1936 the Arabs staged a revolt, followed by Zionist (Jewish) terrorist attacks. In 1939 Britain established a five year plan limiting annual immigration to 15,000. The Jews responded by ignoring the ban and pursued illegal immigration; they also began an undeclared war of terror against Great Britain. The Jewish population of Palestine grew from about 50,000 at the end of WWI to 500,000 at the start of WWII and as many as 600,000 by 1948.

Persecutions in Eastern Europe and Germany sent wave after wave of new immigrants to Palestine, but during WWII the situation became more desperate as German and Polish immigrants were forced to flee or be slaughtered by the Nazis. Thousands of Jews were dying in overloaded boats that were either capsizing or being sunk by torpedoes. Tens of thousands were being detained or in hiding. The British were holding to their immigration ban and no other country would accept them as refugees.

It was against this backdrop that in the spring of 1942, Zionist leaders met in New York City at the Biltmore Hotel. 600 delegates in all, from 18 different countries were in attendance. The purpose of this conference was to notify the world of their intent to pursue the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, with or without British consent. Their goal was to go beyond the Balfour Declaration which merely approved restrictive immigration of Jews into Palestine. The Zionists were establishing their own Nation! While they did not outline specific borders, it is quite apparent that they intended to take as much of the Promised Land as possible. The declaration that resulted from the conference was for consumption by the United Nations in general and the United States in particular; promising to play nice with their Arab neighbors:

· Point 1: American Zionists assembled in this Extraordinary Conference reaffirm their unequivocal devotion to the cause of democratic freedom and international justice to which the people of the United States, allied with the other United Nations, have dedicated themselves, and give expression to their faith in the ultimate victory of humanity and justice over lawlessness and brute force.

· Point 5: In the new values thus created, their Arab neighbours in Palestine have shared. The Jewish people in its own work of national redemption welcomes the economic, agricultural and national development of the Arab peoples and states. The Conference reaffirms the stand previously adopted at Congresses of the World Zionist Organization, expressing the readiness and the desire of the Jewish people for full cooperation with their Arab neighbours.

· Point 8: The Conference declares that the new world order that will follow victory cannot be established on foundations of peace, justice and equality, unless the problem of Jewish homelessness is finally solved. The Conference urges that the gates of Palestine be opened; that the Jewish Agency be vested with control of immigration into Palestine and with the necessary authority for upbuilding the country, including the development of its unoccupied and uncultivated lands; and that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth integrated in the structure of the new democratic world.

I’m not sure if anyone at the time picked up on the inherent contradiction between democracy and the establishment of a Jewish Commonwealth. You see, at the time this declaration was written, the Arab population of Palestine was about 1,600,000 or double the Jewish population. And almost none of the Jews were indigenous to Palestine. The Zionists had left unsaid the obvious problem of being a democratic minority in a mostly Arab land.

The solutions were to first drive out the British and then expel the Arab majority; this meant first, terrorism and second, ethnic cleansing. The plan worked brilliantly, to drive out the British they needed to raise the costs of occupation beyond a level that was politically palatable. This included the bombings of police stations, trains, train stations, buses, marketplaces; an officer’s club and the British headquarters in the King David Hotel where 91 people were killed and 46 injured. They also kidnapped and murdered British personnel, most notoriously, was the 1944 assassination of Walter Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne, who at the time was serving as the British minister of state in the Middle East. By 1947 the British had had enough; the long struggle against the Nazis, the constant attacks by Jewish terrorists; pressure from the United States to loosen immigration policies; and pressure from the Arabs, with whom they had promised to restrict Jewish immigration had all taken an unbearable toll; besides there was no oil or significant natural resources to exploit. Speaking of exploitation, Britain was playing the role of puppet-master in the politics of Iran, wishing to maintain complete control of its oil reserves.

The British ended their “Mandate” and turned Palestine over to the United Nations. The U.N. plan called for a partition of Palestine into relatively equal slices. The partition roughly divided areas that were majority Jewish and majority Arab. Jerusalem was to be an international city under U.N. control. At the time of the plan less than half of the land in Palestine was owned by Arabs, slightly less than half was owned by the British Crown, and only about 8% was owned by Jews or the Jewish Agency. In any case, the Arabs rejected the plan outright and the Jews only accepted the part that provided for the establishment of a Jewish State. The Assembly had no power to implement its resolution and the Security Council would assume none… so the plan was dropped.

The United States had a great amount of sympathy for the plight of Jews, particularly after six million had died as a result of the Holocaust. U.S. politicians were falling all over themselves in support of a Jewish State, not in small part from the growing influence of wealthy and powerful Jewish –Americans. The Truman Administration was skeptical. Both the Departments of State and Defense were adamantly against the creation of a Jewish State, believing it to be a potential source of great regional instability. Nevertheless, 1948 was a presidential election year and Harry Truman was expected to lose his office to Republican Thomas Dewey. Truman knew that antagonizing Jewish-American opinion-makers in an election year could spell defeat… So, on May 14, 1948 the British left Palestine; Israel declared its Independence, and it took Harry all of eleven minutes to officially recognize the new State of Israel! On November 2, 1948 Harry Truman was elected President of the United States in what is considered the greatest election upset in American history.

Thugs

Wherever there is a power vacuum, it doesn’t take long for thugs to move-in. In the months leading-up to the British withdrawal, violence started breaking out. First it was the Arabs, who accurately expected an attempted Zionist takeover of their land. Armed militias began attacking Jewish cities and attempted to set up a blockade between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The Zionists had been preparing for years; going underground to illegally manufacture guns and bombs, and to train soldiers. They were financed by wealthy and sympathetic Jews from around the world. Many of the new immigrants were hardened soldiers. They were angry; well-armed; self-righteous and determined to drive out the Arabs. Palestine was a powder keg waiting to explode!

Their first assault is known today as the Deir Yassin Massacre. Deir Yassin was a peaceful Arab village outside of Jerusalem. Unfortunately for the villagers, it was along the route that was under Arab blockade. They were expecting trouble and kept a watchful eye for the Jewish military. It happened at 4:30 in the morning on April 9, 1948, approximately a month before the British departure. When the Jewish Militia was spotted, the villagers took up arms to defend their homes. The stiff resistance was unexpected and a fierce fire-fight ensued. The militia went house to house throwing grenades and shooting everyone in sight, heavy artillery was brought in, flattening much of the village. Men, women, children and the elderly were slaughtered; many having already surrendered. Some were tortured and some were paraded through the streets of Jerusalem. One woman eight months pregnant was shot and killed at short range. The Red Cross reported over 200 deaths. Before leaving, the militia looted and stripped anything of value from the homes, businesses and dead bodies.

As the news spread, Arabs throughout Palestine fled for their lives, abandoning their homes and property, hopeful that someday they would return to their country. Shortly after the British departure, the neighboring Arab countries of Egypt, Syria and Jordan attacked the new Jewish nation in what is best described as a blatant land grab, each hoping to defeat Israel and thereafter carve up the country to expand their own borders. Those Palestinians still clinging to their homes were warned to leave.

The Arab world calls the ensuing Palestinian exodus, the Nakba (catastrophe). More than 700,000 Arab Palestinians fled their homes, becoming permanent refugees. No other country would accept them and for the past seven decades they have never been allowed to return home; their land confiscated and resettled by Jews from around the world. Very few remained in Palestine and those that did were simply absorbed, as a minority, into the new State of Israel, which could now call itself both a democracy and a homeland for the Jews. They went from owning 8% of Palestine to owning 100%, plus the additional territories that it gained from defeating neighboring countries.

From a rational perspective, this was always intended to be a war of conquest: the ethnic cleansing of an unwanted Arab majority. It was never a Civil War or a War of Independence. The invading Jews were displaced Europeans and in spite of their terrible plight, had no moral or legal justification to invade a peaceful country, with no organized military; and then expel its citizens forever, simply stealing their land and property.

It’s interesting that the founders of Israel were originally far left leaning, Central European, Worker Party socialists, with roots in Marxist philosophy. Up until 1977 all Israeli Prime Ministers were associated with the Mapai (Workers Party of the Land of Israel), or its later incarnation, the Israeli Labor Party. Even today, by U.S. standards Israel is a very left leaning socialist driven country. Its banks and major industries (159 Israeli businesses) are nationalized; heavy government subsidies are paid to Jewish immigrants and certain religious groups. The vast majority of land in Israel is owned by the government, only 6.5% is owned by its citizens. Most real estate in Israel is simply leased from the government.

After the 1948 war, Israel’s relations with its neighbors continued to be contentious. In 1967, Israel invaded Egypt; (its second war of conquest) destroyed its air force and drove its army from Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula taking control of both territories, though later the U.S. pressured (actually paid) Israel to give back the Sinai. Egypt called on Jordan and Syria for help; Israel responded by easily defeating both countries and pushed Israel’s territory to the Jordan River (absorbing what is now the West Bank) including Jerusalem. 300,000 Palestinians fled the West Bank. The Israeli military pushed north, defeating the Syrians and taking control of the Golan Heights, 100,000 Syrians fled. In six days, Israel took permanent control of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, creating about 400,000 new refugees. Israel began building Jewish Settlements and today there are about 18,000 Jews living in the Golan Heights and half a million living in the West Bank.

President Assad of Syria retaliated against Israel by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. He later agreed to terminate support of these groups and make peace with Israel in exchange for the Golan Heights. Israel walked away from the negotiations and later annexed the territory, though the U.N. has never recognized its legitimacy. This was land critical to Israel’s water supply. By controlling the Golan Heights, they also controlled the headwaters of the Jordan River.

The United Nations considers all Jewish Settlements in the “Occupied Territories” (the land acquired by Israel after the six day war) to be in violation of international law. The U.S. technically agrees, however, has blocked any international sanctions against Israel. Consequently, Israel continues to build settlements in spite of the United Nations, and the U.S. keeps sending Israel money.

Refugees

In 1948, the Jews succeeded in solving their own refugee problem (through the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 indigenous Palestinians), but in doing so, created a whole new population of refugees. Today, they are defined as those who lost their homes and means of livelihood between June of 1946 and May of 1948. The descendants of the original refugees number approximately five million. Almost one third or 1.5 million “live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem… Socioeconomic conditions in the camps are generally poor, with high population density, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers… The remaining two thirds of registered Palestine refugees live in and around the cities and towns of the host countries, and in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, often in the environs of official camps. While most of UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) installations such as schools and health centres are located in the Palestine refugee camps, a number are outside; all of the Agency’s services are available to all registered Palestine refugees, including those who do not live in the camps.” [6]

For example the Al-Shati Refugee camp in the northern portion of the Gaza Strip has a population of almost 90,000. If we extrapolate its population density to a common measurement, the population equates to over 200,000 per square mile. By comparison, the most densely populated city in the world is Manila, Philippines which has a population of 111,000 per square mile.

As I’m sure you have surmised, the inhabitants of the 58 Refugee camps have been dependent on the charitable support of other nations. In 2013 alone, a total of $1.1 billion was donated to UNRWA, of that figure, $294 million was contributed by the United States. The Palestinians who live in the occupied territories are basically prisoners of the Israeli government.

But, if you are a U.S. politician, don’t get caught using the term “Occupied Territories”. Chris Christie naively made the mistake while giving a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. He later apologized for his blunder to Sheldon Adelson; previously mentioned as the billionaire Casino Magnate and heavy hitting republican donor. Saying, “…that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement,” [7]

Their borders, roads, ports and airspace all are controlled by Israel; they are only allowed limited civil government; infrastructure is poor; they have no opportunity to engage in international trade; economic opportunities are limited; the Palestinian Authority is extremely restricted by Israel, which makes every effort to block any international recognition. A few years ago, however, the U.N. did vote for international recognition of the PA (Palestinian Authority), over the objections of Israel and the United States.

After the U.N. vote, Israel immediately announced the approval of 3000 new settlements East of Jerusalem, in defiance of International law and U.S. policy. Israel was furious that the Palestinian Authority would dare seek international recognition; but was even more upset by the newly created unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. The U.S. and Israel consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. So, in June of 2014 when three Israeli teenagers were murdered in the West Bank, Prime Minister Netanyahu — knowing that they were dead — kept the information secret; lied to the public and insisted that they were kidnapped to justify a massive West Bank search… except that it was a phony search intended to punish the West Bank Arabs and dismantle the Palestinian Authority/Hamas Unity Agreement. It turned out that the two men responsible for the murders, though loosely connected to Hamas; were not acting on orders… they were just murderers. Anyway it gave the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) a green light:

· Raids have targeted more than 1000 private homes, the offices of political parties, refugee camps, and the campuses of Birzeit University near Ramallah and the Arab American University in Jenin, resulting in the detention and arrest of students and staff.

· More than 500 Palestinians have been detained and/or imprisoned. Those arrested include at least seven members of the Palestinian legislature and many individuals who were recently released by Israel as part of a prisoner swap. There are currently more than 5000 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons.

· Israeli soldiers have also targeted children for arrest, bringing the total number of Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel to more than 250 according to news reports.

· In conducting the raids, Israeli soldiers have caused widespread damage to private property, ransacking homes and offices, and confiscating computers, files and other property. They also raided the offices of journalists in Ramallah, including Russia Today television, damaging and removing computers, equipment, and hard drives. [8]

· And according to a report from Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights: …During the course of Israel’s three-week campaign of mass arrests in the West Bank, ostensibly to search for the killers of three settlers, the Israeli military and police conducted an average of 18 raids per day into Palestinian homes, charities and businesses, stealing cash and property worth an estimated $3 million…. [9]

The IDF mission was called Operation Brother’s Keeper. By the way, there were no search warrants issued or needed, because, to Israel, all Palestinians are considered terrorists or potential terrorists and as such are denied basic due process rights.

Netanyahu was not finished. It was his intent to destroy both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas; render them both useless; and teach the Palestinians a harsh lesson… never to challenge the authority of Israel. Therefore, On July 7, 2014, an Israeli airstrike caused a tunnel explosion, killing seven Hamas militants. This incursion into Palestinian territory was intended to incite a response from Hamas. And it did, Hamas retaliated by firing 40 scud missiles toward Israel.

Operation Protective Edge had begun, it lasted seven weeks and before it was over the Israeli military had fired 34,000 artillery rounds: 12,000 smoke, 3000 illumination and 19,000 explosives; using an American-made Howitzer 155-millimetre cannon. These were mostly fired into Gaza City with little regard to civilian casualties and intentionally crippling the cities fragile public utility infrastructure. In the aftermath more than 2,200 Palestinians lay dead; almost 11,000 wounded (by comparison, 66 Israeli soldiers and 5 Israeli citizens died in the conflict); it is estimated that 520,000 Gazans were displaced from their homes; almost every piece of critical infrastructure, from electricity to water to sewage, was seriously compromised by either direct hits from Israeli air strikes and shelling or collateral damage. The UN calculated that more than 7,000 homes were razed and an additional 89,000 homes damaged. Rebuilding costs were calculated to run from $4 to 6 billion. On the other hand, Israel was successful in its stated mission of destroying all Hamas tunnels from Gaza into Israel. Of course Netanyahu knew about these tunnels for years and simply could have ordered them flooded with water.

For its part, Hamas and other groups fired 4,564 missiles and mortar shells into Israel, killing three Israeli citizens. The rest were either intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system or fell harmlessly to earth.

Monetary costs

You may question my opinion that our government’s unwavering support of Israel is totally the result of the Israel Lobby. Perhaps, you may ask, our government has other really good reasons for its continued support, however, I personally doubt if continued support is either morally or strategically justified. Not to mention that our status in the region and the world has been diminished by the relationship, as has the safety and security of our nation. But, forgetting all that for a moment, let’s look at the financial costs of this “Special Relationship”.

It has been estimated that the true cost of our aid to Israel is in the trillions of dollars. In addition to direct aid (estimated at over $4 billion per year), there have also been several indirect costs:

· $139 Billion in aid to Egypt and Jordan, paid as bribes to sign peace agreements with Israel.

· Lost American jobs resulting from Defense aid financed by the U.S. that normally would go to U.S. defense contractors, but under special terms, Israeli defense contractors receive the money instead. In addition, Israel doesn’t have to account for how U.S. aid money is spent.

· Arab oil producing nations retaliated against America for supplying Israel with U.S. weapons, which were then used against Arabs during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. OPEC, including Saudi Arabia initiated an oil embargo against the United States and other countries that also supported Israel. When adding everything together, the oil crises cost the American economy approximately $1 trillion dollars.

· A secondary result of the oil crises was the establishment of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. To date these have cost the U.S. $134 billion. According to an Oil Supply Guarantee, which former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (yes, he was Jewish) provided Israel in 1975, Israel gets ‘first call’ on any oil available to the U.S. if Israel’s oil supply is stopped.

· Humanitarian aid to Palestinian Refugees.

· The second Iraq war. It is estimated that the war has already cost American taxpayers $1.7 trillion, with another $490 billion owed to Iraq war veterans. Since the Iraq invasion in 2003, some 500,000 Iraqis have been killed (mostly civilians) as well as 4,491 U.S. service members. The U.S. military destroyed much of Baghdad during its “Shock and Awe” campaign of airstrikes and then stood idly by and watched as much of Bagdad, including the National Museum of Iraq was looted by thieves. Israel was useless during both Iraq wars. Any action or involvement would have proven toxic to the fragile Arab coalition.

In spite of popular misconceptions that the war was over Iraqi oil, Cheney’s connection to Haliburton or George W. Bush’s desire to finish the job his dad had started, the main reason we invaded Iraq was to protect Israel. President Bush was surrounded by Neo-conservative, pro-Israel hawks (Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, James Woolsey, Scooter Libby, John Bolton, David Wurmser and Elliott Abrams; also joining the fray were well-known journalists like Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol and William Safire [10] ) who pushed hard for regime change in Iraq, Iran and Syria… all enemies of Israel. Even though Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons had been destroyed; and that Israel had previously bombed Iraq’s nuclear capability; and that U.N. inspectors had found no evidence of Weapons of Mass Destructions (WMD’s) or a new nuclear program, Israeli dignitaries (Netanyahu, Peres, Sharon, Barak) began a campaign to warn the President, Congress and American News outlets of Saddam Hussein’s hidden WMD’s and secret Nuclear program. Israeli intelligence confirmed the hysteria. The U.S. Israel lobby went to work on Congress and friendly Administration officials. So, even though Saddam Hussein had none of these capabilities and had no intentions of invading Israel… Bush and the U.S. Congress were convinced to the contrary and worrying about an impending Arab-Israeli conflict… ordered the invasion. The result has obviously been a disaster. [11]

In my view, regardless of its history and its detractors, Israel exists and that is not going to change any time soon. It is not likely that the Palestinians or its Arab neighbors will be able to wish it away or blow it away. Israel’s main problem is not its enemies; its not U.S. opinion or even continued financial or military support. Israel is now capable of its own self-sufficiency and self-defense. When Israel implodes, it will be a result of its own inherent contradictions. The first, it exists as a majoritarian democracy and a Jewish nation; and second, it maintains both an internal democracy and an external military dictatorship.

For the past seventy years, Israel has been painting itself in a corner. In wars of conquest, Israel has taken control of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. It then removed its settlements from Gaza, and has left the remaining Palestinians to stay as its virtual prisoners. The West Bank, on the other hand has half a million Jewish settlers. Israel can’t accept a two State solution because if it agreed to provide the Palestinians enough land for a viable State, the Jewish Settlers would likely revolt against the Israeli Government; and the move would be very unpopular within the State of Israel. They like keeping the Palestinians squashed in an insignificant geographical area and under the thumb of a vastly superior military. Netanyahu was forced by a tight election to acknowledge publicly, what is well known in Israel: It is political suicide for any politician to really support a Two State Solution. The One State Solution is even more unpalatable to Israelis. If Israel annexed Gaza and the West Bank and made everyone citizens, then Jews would become a demographic minority, losing control of Israel’s government. The current system however, is unsustainable in the long term and eventually the apartheid-like control over the occupied territories will self-destruct, like it did in South Africa… both on humanitarian grounds; and the long-term suppression of a growing Palestinian population, now over five million people, will prove impossible and internationally intolerable.

1. http://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees.

2. http://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/chris-christie-occupied-territories-apology-105169.html

3. http://imeu.org/article/israels-west-bank-crackdown

4. http://www.cloggie.org/proggold/2014/07/28/idf-looting

Dan Cameron

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Author of Greed, Power and Politics, The Dismal History of Economics and the Forgotten Path to Prosperity. https://greedpowerpolitics.com/