The roots of the current Arab-Israeli conflict stretch back to ancient history.The crux of the issue lies in the fact that a small sliver of land, which is located west of the Jordan River and east of the Mediterranean Sea is holy to three different religions. Some refer to this land as “Palestine”while others call it Israel. Regardless of its name, it is considered holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews and it plays a central role in the origin of these religions.
For Jewish people, this reion is the Promised Land. They believe that it was given to them by God. The Jewish people were forced from the land in A.D. 70 by the Romans, who then changed the name to Palestine. Ever since then, Jews dreamed of returning and recleiming their biblical land.
In the late 1800’s there was a rise of anti-semitism in Eastern Europe, large scale massacres of Jews, called pogoms, had happened in Russia. Many Europeans blamed Jews for economic problems. Europe no longer felt safe for Jewish people, they felt that they could only be safe in their own country. In 1896 Theodor Herzi wrote The Jewish State, which helped launch the Zionist movement whose goal was to set up a Jewish nation in Palestine.
The biggest obstacle or the Zionist’s was the Arab population which already lived in Palestine. The Arabs had been living there for hundreds of years and felt no obligation to make room for Jewish immigrants. The Arabs felt that it was not their fault that the Jews were expelled by the Romans, nor did they feel responsible for the rising anti-Semitism in Europe.
In early 1917 the British led an Arab revolt led by T.E. Lawrence against the crumbling Ottoman Empire of which Palestine was a part of. In exchange for their support the British promised the Arabs self-rule in former Ottoman territories. However, in 1917 the British issued the Balfour Declaration which declared British support of a Jewsih state in Palestine. Thus British policy contradicted itself by promising the same land to two different groups. After the war Britain took over Palestine as a League of Nations mandate. Neither the Arabs nor the Israeli’s received their promised independent state. Under the mandate system, Britatin was to control Palestine until it was ready for self-rule. Both groups felt betrayed. Jewish immigration to Palestine continued, which added to the tension between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish immigrants. Britain had a difficult time controlling the two groups and in 1936 civil war erupted.
World War II marked a turning point in the controversy over Palestine. Arabs and Jews continued to fight each other until Britan could no longer control the situation and in 1947 handed Palestine over to the UN, which proposed a division of Palestine into two states. The Jews accepted the proposal while the Arabs rejected it outright. On May 14 1948 the independent state of Israel was born. On May 15 five surrounding Arab nations attacked it. The war led to an increase in Israeli territory and Israel controlled more than half of the land set aside for the Arabs under the UN partition plan. The war resulted in more than seven hundred thousand refugees living in camps in neighbouring Arab states. Ever since 1948 they have demanded the right to return to their homes in Palestine. Today, this issue remains as one of the core concerns in Palestine.
The War of Independence as it is sometimes called, was the first in a series of wars. The next major conglict was the Six-Day War of 1967. Israel feared an attack by Arab neighbours and launched a pre-empitve strike against Egypt and Jordan. In six days Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. These areas became known as “occupied territories.” The Arab nations were humiliated by this and vowed revenge.
In 1973 Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel on the most solemn day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. After some initial success Egypt and Syria were pushed back. However their leaders believed that they had redeemed themselves from the humiliation of the Six-Day War.
In the late 1970s, Israeli Prime minister Manachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat together got together at the U.S. presidential retreat in Camp David, and lay the framework for an agreement that eventually led to a Israeli-Egyptin peace treaty in 1979. Egypt recognised Israel’s right to exist. Despite the peace between Israel and Egypt, conflict continuedbetween Israel and her other Arab neighbours. Many Palestinians still lived in refuhee camps, while others lived under tight Israeli military control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinian frustration erupted with the intifada, which was an uprising of young Palestinians in the occupied Gaza and West Bank territories. Their wepons mainly consisted of stones which they hurled at Israeli military police. When the Israeli’s responded with bullets, the Palestinians gained a great deal of sympathy from nations around the world.The intifada helped push Israeli and Palestinian leaders to seek a resolution to the fighting.
In 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat, head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, signed the Oslo Accords. It was based, like the Israeli Egyptian treaty, on the principle of “land for peace”. Both sides agreed to develp a final peace settlement by May 4, 1999. This date has come and gone but a final settlement has not yet been reached.
Palestinians have limited self-rule in forty percent of the West Bank. This area, along with the Gaza Strip is only a smalll part of their dream. Palestinians demand complete self-rule in all of West Bank and Gaza. Many Israeli’s fear their country’s security if Palestinians are allowed to set up their independent country. Another key issue concerns the future of Jerusalem. East Jerusale, was taken over by Israel after the Six-Day War and a united Jerusalem was made the Israeli capital. Palestinians claim that East Jerusalem should be considerd part of the West Bank and demand control over it.
Palestinians and Israeli’s also disagree on the issue of Palestinian refugees. Yasir Arafat has demanded the “right to return” , furthermore he has demanded that thse who do not return be compensated for their loss. Israelis fear that the makeup of their nation would be greatly altered if 4 million Palestinians returned and would cease to be the Jewish nation it is today. Also Thousands of Israeli’s have settled in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Israel is very concerned as to what would happen to the Jewish settlers in those areas if the Palestinians secure complete self-rule. It will take a great deal of flexibility by both parties to finally resolve this age old conflict.