Search This Blog

Friday, 7 August 2015

A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

One of the conflicts in our news is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. With its constant coverage it can be viewed as an eternal conflict; in fact I have been told by my grandmother that her father said that World War Three would happen through this conflict during the 1970s. However the conflict only started during the mid-twentieth century. During the nineteenth century when both Israel and Palestine were under Ottoman rule Jews, Christians and Muslims got on well with an Orthodox Christian composer Wasif Jawhariyyeh reported that he used to play with his Muslim and Jewish friends as well as celebrating Passover and Eid with his friends. The conflict itself is not primarily motivated by religion but rather land. Today I will talk about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. If you are interested my information comes from the BBC, Al Jazeera, the YouTube channels TestTube and Crash Course and the books 1001 Days that Shaped the World and A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani.

The origin of the conflict does not start in modern day Israel and Palestine but rather the Austro-Hungarian Empire in central Europe during the late nineteenth century. The Empire had various nationalist movements where each wanted their own independent nation; this itself would lead to crisis with Serbian nationalists assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand leading to the First World War. A journalist called Theodor Herzl would start his own nationalist movement.
Theodor Herzl
Herzl was Jewish and throughout European history Jews had been oppressed and treated as second class citizens. This continued to happen well into the late nineteenth century such as in 1894 a Jewish officer in the French army called Alfred Dreyfus was incarcerated for treason on extremely flimsy evidence and it took until 1906 for his innocence to be proven. Herzl wanted to create a Jewish homeland where they would be free from persecution. This idea became Zionism. Quickly early Zionists chose Palestine to be this Jewish homeland but they envisaged it as a secular state for Jews rather it being a Jewish state. Centuries ago Palestine was home to the Jewish province of Israel until the Romans expelled them. There was an issue though with choosing Palestine; it was under Ottoman rule and Jews only made up 3% of the population of Palestine. During the dawn of the twentieth century Jewish immigration started to rise in Palestine as nationalism grew around Europe. Then there was the Balfour Agreement. 
In 1917 the British promised to create a Jewish state called Israel in Palestine while also ensuring that non-Jewish people in the area could have their own state. There were a few issues with this though. Britain was still fighting the Ottoman Empire during the First World War and the Ottomans still held Palestine. The British had also stated that they would rule Palestine in 1916 when the British and the French started to divide Ottoman territory in the Middle East. Also the British had promised the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali, Palestine if they revolted against Ottoman rule, which they readily did. Nevertheless following the war the British took control of Palestine as a League of Nations mandate (which was basically a euphemism for a colony). As apart of the Balfour Agreement the British agreed to 'facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions' to Palestine and between 1920 and 1939 Jewish immigration to Palestine increased by over 320,000. However problems started to occur.

Balfour to Independence
Jewish immigrants often bought Palestinian land to farm on which started to upset the Palestinians who wanted the land for future projects. Arab nationalism from nearby Syria also started to inspire Palestinian nationalism who wanted their own independent Palestine. Clashes between Jews and Palestinians started as early as 1920 in Jerusalem which escalated to the Arab revolt in 1936-1939 resulting in around 5,000 people being killed. In 1936 the Peel Commission proposed a partition of Palestine between Jews and Palestinians but few accepted this. When the British created a proposal to eventually create a Palestinian state and to limit Jewish immigration both sides became angry. The Jewish leaders became angry as the declaration came at a time when Jews in Europe were desperately wanting to leave Europe due to Hitler's anti-Semitic policies and the Palestinians were angry as they had to wait ten years for an independent nation. During World War Two the conflict subsided with Jews and Palestinians working side by side in the Palestinian Regiment fighting the Germans in North Africa. After the war when decolonization became official British policy tensions rose up again; Palestinians wanted their own state and limitations on Jewish immigration while Jews also wanted a free state but were angry at the British for not allowing open immigration for all Holocaust survivors. This escalated on July 22nd 1946 when a wing of the King David hotel in Jerusalem which had been taken over by the British administration was destroyed by the militant Jewish group Irgun. 91 people were killed including 41 Arabs, 17 Jews and 28 British people. This prompted the British to hand Palestine over to the newly formed United Nations who in 1947 adopted Resolution 181 dividing Palestine.
In blue is the proposed Jewish state while in brown is the proposed Palestinian state
 The two states were supposed to be equal in size but clearly the proposed borders could not create a stable country. In 1948 Israel declared its independence with Chaim Weizmann as the first President and David Ben-Gurion as the first Prime Minister.

The Conflict Starts
When Israel declared independence the members of the Arab League declared war and Israel had to fight against a coalition of Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Jordan (Lebanon fought for one battle and Saudi Arabia's troops were controlled by Egypt) in the aptly named 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Israel managed to defeat the coalition, mostly due to the Arab League not being organized, and it annexed a third more land than it once owned while Jordan occupied the West Bank and Old Jerusalem while Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip. Later Jordan and Egypt would annex the areas they occupied. Over 700,000 Palestinians had became refugees and had to flee to neighboring Jordan and Lebanon as they now became stateless. The wide dispersal of Palestinians and resentment towards Israel by the Arab League would cause problems for years to come.

Over the next eighteen years Israel led a precarious balance between both neighboring nations and discontented Palestinians who were upset about either their own or their relatives displacement. In 1964 the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded by Yasser Arafat to use guerrilla tactics based in other countries to attack Israel. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) even attacked the village of as-Samu in Jordanian West Bank to find the PLO which rankled Israel's neighbors. When members of the Arab League started to mass armies Israel made a preemptive strike in the aptly named Six-Day War. In six days Israel managed to defeat Syria, Egypt and Jordan taking the West Bank and Old Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Province from Egypt. 
Israel took over everything in green
Following the Six-Day War the United Nations released a resolution stating that Israel must withdraw from the land that it had seized during the war and all nations had to recognize Israeli and Palestinian independence. This was rejected. What followed (until 1978) was a reduction of the conflict from Arab-Israeli to Palestinian-Israeli. It is important to note that not all Palestinians are Muslims and Arabs but rather but their own ethnic group and as well many Palestinians are Christians. Throughout the 1970s Israel and the PLO would continue to fight each other with the PLO often using violence against civilians and Israel would intervene in Lebanon to fight the PLO. One notable example actually started in West Germany. During the 1972 Munich Olympics eight members of the Black September (a Palestinian terrorist group) kidnapped nine members of the Israeli Olympic team and during the botched rescue mission all the hostages were killed and three of the kidnappers fled. Later the Israeli intelligence force Mossad hunted down two of the kidnappers and assassinated them.  Making matters worse was that in 1967 the Israeli government had allowed Israeli citizens to create settlements in the West Bank which the UN denounced as being illegal. In 1948 Israelis in the West Bank numbered 480 which rose to around 4,400 in 1977. Eventually during the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur Egypt and Syria supported by many other countries invaded Israel and almost completely took over the country. However Israel fought back and actually managed to come close to taking over the Suez Canal. In 1978 the Camp David Accords overseen by US President Jimmy Carter returned the Sinai Province to Egypt and could have led to peace in the conflict but divisions prevented this.

PLO attacks on Israel continued and Israeli settlement in Palestine also continued causing rifts in both sides. Following the assassination of several Israeli officials in Palestine to reduce the amount of guerrillas fighting against them Israel invaded southern Lebanon to support the government against the pro-Palestinian militant group Hezbollah. Many Israelis were against the fighting as well which is evident in the Tel Aviv protest in 1982 where 300,000 Israelis protested against Israeli troops allowed 3,500 Palestinian refugees in Beirut to be massacred by the Christian Phalangist militiamen. By 1987 poverty, humiliating security measures, vast unemployment and under representation in the government caused many young Palestinians to start disobeying the government by throwing stones of soldiers and refusing to pay taxes. The same year when four Palestinians died in a car crash caused by army truck in the Jabalia refugee camp widespread protests caused the first Intifada (shaking off) began. For around six years Palestinians used protests which often escalated into violence such as throwing Molotov cocktails and stones while the Israeli police not used to protests resorted to violence earning international condemnation when they shot stone throwing children. Within the first two years of the Intifada Save the Children estimated that 7% of all Palestinians under the age of 18 had been injured by shootings, tear gas or riots while in the first year 53 children under the age of 17 had been killed. By the Oslo Accords of 1993 160 Israelis and 2044 Palestinians had been killed. With the Oslo Accords the PLO recognized Israel for the first time and Israel allowed the Palestinian Authority to be created under Yasser Arafat to give Palestine more freedom. Overseen by President Bill Clinton it ended the Intifada.

From the Oslo Accord
It seemed that peace was going to be achieved but in 1996 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had signed the Oslo Accord, was assassinated by a far-right Israeli citizen. Quickly negotiations broke down once more and after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the highly provocative area Temple Mount in 2000 a second Intifada was announced lasting for five years. This Intifada was much more violent claiming over 4,000 lives and ended through brute force rather negotiation. A large wall was even created in the West Bank segregating Israelis from Palestinians. Negotiations between Palestine and Israel continue today but there are many issues. The group Hamas located in the West Bank refuses to recognize Israel halting talks while Israeli settlements continue to grow in Palestinian territory where from 2004 to 2014 the number of Israelis in Palestine has risen from 441,178 to 771,000. Similarly the Jerusalem Light Rail train has been accused of purposefully favoring Israelis over Palestinians. 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that can be solved but it is a very divisive issue. Both Israel and Palestine have a right to be there and international pressure to fix the problem has been steadily growing since 2012 when Palestine gained UN non-member observer status. Likely in the next ten or twenty years the conflict will end but compromise would be needed to ensure peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. 

No comments:

Post a Comment