The Israeli and Palestinian Conflict
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one that much of the American public, including myself until recently, believes has lasted for thousands of years. Except that line of thought doesn’t work since there wasn’t an Islam until it was established by the prophet Mohammed in 618 AD. This conflict also doesn’t have as much to do with religion as it does land. The problem stems more from two competing nationalisms. The beginnings of the conflict all started when the British made a few too many promises around the time of the early 1900’s. “Since that date, both Jews and Arabs have revolted against British rule, four Arab-Israeli wars have been fought, two intifadas (uprisings) have pitted the Palestinian masses against the Israeli occupation, Israel has been subjected to an unrelenting wave of terror, and thousands of Palestinians have been killed as a results of Israeli reprisals” (Palmer 2006).
The Main Issue
At the turn of the 20th century, the idea of statehood had taken root worldwide. Shortly following, many Jews wanted a country of their own. It is important to know that the founding of Judaism occurred in 1700 BCE by the prophet Abraham and the dispersion of Jews from the disputed land was accelerated by the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. In the 2000 years since then, the majority of Jews that had left their Promised Land to spread all throughout Europe and the rest of the world. However, their goal of creating their own country was now appearing to be something that could be within their reach. This caused a large influx of Jews back into Palestine to settle. World War I brought down the Ottoman Empire thanks to British, French, and Russian forces, giving them control of the Middle East. “They then proceeded to divide up the land, and the British were given a mandate over Palestine, and the Jewish Agency, the executive body of the Zionist Organization, accelerated its settlement of Jews in Palestine” (Palmer 2006). With the British now in control, the Zionists saw an opportunity to go ahead with their plans for statehood.
There was a book published in February 1896 written by Theodor Herzl called A Jewish State that inspired and gave birth to the Zionist movement. Meanwhile, as the situation in Eastern Europe became more and more unpleasant, many Jews began to look at their ancestral lands for refuge. It was argued that Jews would forever be persecuted in Europe and would never fully assimilate. “The only solution, Herzl argued, was the creation of a Jewish home in which Jews would be able to live without persecution and practice their religion as they wished” (Palmer 2006). “This idea unfortunately created a major clash between two rival ideologies: Judaism and Zionism on one side, Islam and Arab nationalism on the other” (Palmer 2006).
Creating a state for the Jews was not a goal for the British. They wanted to create a government in Palestine where power could be shared peacefully between all inhabitants. The Arabs on the other hand, did not trust the British or the Jews and refused to form any sort of government that included Jewish participation. This led to violence against the Jews since the Arabs felt unrepresented. Another issue was that “the British had earlier implied that control of Palestine would go to the Arab leader of Mecca in return for his willingness to lead a revolt against the Turks, although this matter, too, remained ambiguous” (Palmer 2006).
What was really problematic was that the Balfour Declaration, from which all of this conflict seems to stem from, was very open to interpretation. The language within it was not very specific in defining what it truly meant. The declaration gave a national home for the Jews, but it was not clear if this meant that Jews were free to settle in the land or declare it their state. The Zionist movement interpreted the declaration as permission to declare the land promised to them a state and start purchasing land, settling, and providing financial support. As the number of land purchases increased, the number of displaced Palestinians increased as well. “Invariably, the rapidly increasing number of Jewish immigrants threatened the Arab population in Palestine, many of whom found themselves marginalized by the growing economic dominance of the Jews” (Palmer 2006).
After World War II and the killing of millions of Jews in the Holocaust, thousands of Jews came to Palestine to look for safety. At this time, the UN General Assembly passed a plan to divide the lands of Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states. Jerusalem was placed under international control. The Arabs did not want the Jews to have control over any of the land, so they voted down this UN plan.
In 1948, after much planning and secretive acquisition of arms, the Jewish leadership declared the establishment of the State of Israel. They also convinced the United States and the Soviet Union to recognize them. As expected, the surrounding Arab states immediately declared war on the new state and attacked. The Israelis were ready for this and were very well armed. After 10 months of fighting, Israel kept all the original land and also 60% of the land that was planned for the Arab state under the UN plan. This caused about 1.5 million people to basically switch places, making Israel much more Jewish.
Israel has built up their defenses immensely since the original conflicts. They are strongly defending the land that they claim is theirs. There has also been conflict within the Palestinian government. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank have become divided, both geographically and politically. The Gaza Strip is very poor and is cut off from the rest of the world by Israel’s sea embargo. The people living there don’t have many basic needs like food, clothing, and water. The UN plays a large part in providing aid to the Gaza Strip.
If we take a look at the original UN plan to have two states, the map is clearly a red flag. Creating two neighboring states on a jumbled jigsaw puzzle is bound to create problems. The land should have been divided geographically equally, without separating any regions. One problem with this approach is that the city of Jerusalem is very important to Judaism, Islam, and also Christianity. Another problem with this two state plan originally is that it is based on exclusion. The Jewish state is literally meant to exclude all people except for Jews. Founding a state based on exclusion is headed straight into a number of problems. Once you exclude everyone except for “your people,” what happens if some of your people start to change or have different views? Do you then create new rules of exclusion?
A child that is ten years old today, living in either Israel or Palestine, has seen three wars in their lifetime already. Since the year 2000, there has been a constant state of conflict starting with the intifada from 2000 to 2005, the wars in Lebanon in 2006, and Gaza in 2009. This may result in a truly shaken generation that will hopefully want nothing but an end to all the violence, destruction, and endless conflict. Since the land is incredibly important to both groups, they must find a way to become one as a people and share the entire land that is being disputed. Dividing land, excluding people, and pointing fingers has not been a functional way to achieve a future of peace. Both Palestinians and Israelis must learn to be more accepting of one another, find common ground, and forgive past disagreements.
Not only does the current situation prevent a peaceful agreement, but many rebel and political groups have formed over the years as a result. Most notably, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas have come to be internationally recognized as groups fighting for the land in Palestine. While Hamas aims to create a purely Islamic state with the use of violence and brute force, the PLO has the purpose of liberating the people of Palestine while representing the Palestinian people and avoiding terrorist acts as of most recently. The PLO is the only organization that is legitimately recognized by the UN as well as Israel. Up until the Madrid Conference in 1991, the PLO was however seen as a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel. It was in 1993 that the organization had become a diplomatic power recognized as a peaceful representative of the Palestinians that rejected violence and terrorism.
Two groups of people, two desires for the same land, and two very strong reasons to oppose one another. The United Nations, Russia, the United States, and many other world leaders have tried to come up with a plan that would appease both parties. These plans are constantly rejected with an “all or nothing” attitude. The Palestinians believe it is their right to take their land back and establish a state. The Israelis also strongly desire all of their ancestral land given back to their people for settling and to be free of persecution. Israel is set on excluding Palestinians from their land, economy, and culture. Currently agreed-upon Palestinian land is being settled on by Israel even though the land was promised to the Palestinians. The UN is warning Israel to stop settling on land, which according to the agreement, the Israelis cannot settle on, yet they continue to do so. This is fueling the fire of anger for the Palestinians, but in Israel’s view, they could not have it any other way.
Can the two groups try to merge their two claims into one? Can the two states become a single, peacefully and mutually agreed upon state? In a perfect world, that sounds like a great solution. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be a need to mix religion into politics or a need to exclude certain groups from certain pieces of land. What we do know is that conflict is not sustainable, and a peaceful resolution needs to be found very soon.
Palmer, Monte. 2006. The politics of the Middle East. Belmont, CA, United States: Wadsworth Publishing Co.