A Brief and Simple History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
After nearly an entire century, the Israel-Palestine conflict has become one of the most important and pertinent issues in the Middle East. A conflict that is responsible not only for the lives of thousands of people but also for dilapidating their households while also giving rise to terror groups that continue to grip the area in its claws.
Most people today believe that the Israeli-Palestine conflict has to do with a clash of two religious ideologies. However, it is not just a Jew vs. Muslim fight; put simply, it is a fight for two groups of people who claim that they have the right to the same land. One had already been living there, and the other was forced to migrate to this land due to increasing antisemitism but then made it their home.
Notably, before the issue began, people from all three major Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism, and Christianity — occupied the land under Ottoman rule. However, as time went on, two groups of people living in two completely different areas started to form a sense of nationality. The Palestinians started seeing themselves as more than just the ethnic Arabs, a group of people large enough that it warranted their own state. While somewhere far off in Europe, the Zionist movement gained traction, which called for a separate homeland for the Jews as their only hope for fleeing persecution they have gone through for a long time. These identities would soon clash and send the Middle East into a decades-long crisis that continues even today.
World War I — The Conflict Begins
The end of the Great War saw the fall of the mighty Ottoman Empire, leaving vast territories under the British and the French mandate. One such territory was Palestine, whose mandate fell under the hands of the British. Initially, the British allowed Jews to migrate to this area under the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which called for a separate homeland for the Jews in Palestine.
However, acts of violence began soon after their migration due to the conflict in interests and identities of the two groups coupled with a strong sense of Palestinian nationalism which caused the British to limit Jewish immigration. The Jews present in Palestine saw this as a threat to themselves and began to collectivize and form their militia groups to protect themselves from the Arabs and the British.
World War II — The Zionist Dream Becomes A Reality
The Holocaust in the Second World War saw Jewish persecution reach an all-time high, and many escaped, in large numbers, to British Mandated Palestine for refuge. Due to the horrors of the concentration camps, there was a great sense of sympathy in the West for the persecuted Jewish community. This prompted the Western states to further support and solidify the idea of a Jewish country so that they can escape from the anti-semitism they had experienced all throughout history. The Zionist dream was finally becoming a reality.
In 1947, the United Nations decided to divide the area of British Mandated Palestine into two states. Israel was to be a Jewish majority area, while the Muslim majority state would be called Palestine. The holy city of Jerusalem was to serve as a neutral religious zone as it was sacred to both Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
Reaction To Independence — Start of The Arab-Israeli War
Needless to say, the Muslim world was furious with the United Nations’ decision for the formation of Israel. They thought it was another attempt at colonialism by the West and a move made to eliminate the distinct identity of the Palestinians. Palestinian nationalists, now supported by the Arab League, set out to regain the land which they thought was stolen from them with the formation of the Arab Liberation Army. The Palestinian forces received help primarily from neighboring Arab states like Egypt, Jordan, and Syria which sent in their troops and orchestrated an attack on the Israeli forces immediately. With tensions at an all-time high, the Arab-Israeli war broke out in 1948, resulting in heavy losses in life and saw Israel ultimately coming out on top, holding most of the territory that was previously British Mandated Palestine. After being victorious, Israel took over West Jerusalem and even more Palestinian lands as spoils of war, which was in defiance of the UN-mediated treaty.
The outcome of the war saw a mass refugee crisis where the Palestinians were expelled from their houses as more and more Jews moved into Palestinian lands. Soon, Palestine was reduced to the Gaza Strip, controlled by Egypt and the West Bank under the control of Jordan, starting a decades-long conflict that only resulted in more bloodshed and suffering on both sides.
The Six-Day War
The Six-Day War
The conflict between the Arab world and Israel was becoming increasingly hostile in the year 1967. Despite significant threats from either side that they would declare war, neither side was deterred by these threats. Israel wanted their trade routes open, while Egypt made sure that it did not allow any shipment which carried Israeli goods to come through. Threats were hurled once more and after the Egyptian premier mobilized his forces, an Israeli airstrike was launched which destroyed the Egyptian aerial attack unit completely.
Due to the devastating aerial bombardment and poor communication between Jordan and Egypt, the Six-Day War was decisively won by Israel. Like clockwork, the Israeli state expanded its territory, taking over the entirety of Jerusalem and also occupying the only Palestinian lands that were left in Gaza and the West Bank. They even managed to take over parts of Egypt and Jordan. When it was all said and done, the aftermath of this war meant that Israel was in complete control of what once was a land dominated by Palestinians.
A Beginning To The End Of The Arab-Israeli Conflict?
After losing significant territory to Israel in the Six-Day War, the Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, signed the Camp David Accords, which the United States mediated under President Jimmy Carter. The Camp David Accords were a peace treaty between the two states that had been at odds with each other and resulted in Israel giving back Egyptian territory as a goodwill gesture. However, this peace treaty was not received well in Egypt. It was a move so controversial that it would later result in the assassination of Anwar Sadat by far-right nationalists.
Despite the initial outrage, neighboring Arab countries began to become less hostile towards Israel. They eventually also made peace with the newly formed country to escape from the brutal conflict, which was a cause for great unrest in the region.
Palestinian Liberation Organization
Yasser Arafat formed the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the 1960s with the greater agenda of taking all of Israel and regaining Muslim majority control in the area. PLO continued to fight with Israel in guerilla warfare and acts of terrorism which resulted in many civilian casualties. Despite orchestrating the attacks on Israel, Yasser Arafat finally agreed to a partition of the two states where some land would belong to Palestine and some to Israel. This was seen as a defeat to the PLO, which clearly failed to achieve the Liberation of marginalized Palestinian civilians and gave rise to more radical groups like Hamas.
The Oslo Accords
The Oslo Accords were a pair of agreements signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993 and 1995. These agreements were seen as the first step towards peace and independent governance of Palestinians when the lands were divided between Area A and Area B, with the Palestinian government being set up in the West Bank. Despite the overtly peaceful nature of the accords, both Palestinians and Israelis were in strict opposition to the agreements. This gave a chance to Hamas, who consisted of extremist Palestinians openly calling for an end to Israel, to inflict more violence as they bombed several key places, killing many civilians. On the other hand, there was widespread hatred for the Israeli premier by his own people, who called their leader an antisemite and a Nazi. This hatred would eventually boil over and would result in the assassination of the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.
Israeli Settlers: Making Palestinian Independence Impossible
While the conflict continued to heighten between Israel and Palestine, Israeli settlers moved into the Palestinian majority areas of the West Bank and Gaza strip due to multiple reasons. The cheap, subsidized housing attracted some; others were flocking to the West Bank due to the religious importance. Most, however, were moving to Palestinian majority areas because they wanted a sense of reclamation of the Israeli land.
This migration by individuals, now called Israeli Settlers, proved to be very detrimental in the broader scale of things. Moving into the Palestinian lands meant that these settlers were responsible for forcing thousands of Palestinians off their own lands. More importantly, the worst consequence of this move was not even the immediate harm of dislocation, but the presence of Israelis divided the Palestinian community to the point that collectivization and long-term independence became increasingly difficult. Today, close to a million settlers occupy these same lands despite their status being deemed illegal by international law.
Palestinian Emotions Boil Over: The Start of The Intifadas
Being left in a state of limbo, the Palestinian people eventually carried out an uprising called the Intifada, where both groups engaged in bloody conflicts. By the end of the second Intifada, more than 5000 people had been killed on both sides. Israel was becoming more and more skeptical towards Palestine and claimed that the Palestinians would never want peace in the region, so it was useless to negotiate. The presence of Hamas as a terror group did not help with this skepticism either. Instead, Israel gave up on peace, constructing concrete safety walls, and setting up military zones to keep the Palestinians in check.
Peaceful Negotiations Shot Down In Search For More
It is noteworthy here, that throughout the conflict, both sides tried to broker peace in whatever capacity they deemed fit so they could stop the bloodshed. However, in a lot of instances, the Arab side was not ready to keep their end of the bargain, and an increase in militant activity led to more anxiety within the Israeli state. There were examples of this all throughout the decades. Most notably, Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, tried to bring about peace by offering a lot of land to the Palestinians and even agreeing to have 97% of the West Bank being a Palestinian territory. Despite this initiative, Yasser Arafat refused to accept these terms, in search of a better future for the Palestinians.
The Current Situation
Hamas’s insurgency in the Gaza strip created a chokehold for the Palestinian civilians living there as Israel put the area under heavy surveillance. Any act of terrorism or insurgency was met with immediate backlash, and sadly, most of the time, it was the civilians who were at the receiving end of Israeli gunfire. This is the situation of the conflict even today. The decades-long war has left the people apathetic to the plight of millions of Palestinian civilians caught in a conflict spearheaded by extremist, intolerant groups and the new settlers who continue to smother and displace them from their own territory.
While many organizations have tried to broker peace between the two states, things seem to be very volatile as of now. And if nothing is done about the Israel-Palestine conflict, there is a big chance that there might be a third Intifada leading to more killing and bloodshed in this highly volatile and polarizing area within the Middle East.