Current and Historical Antecedents of Israel – Palestine Conflict

| Shreyas Goutam

Jerusalem is a sacred city where the three Abrahamic religions were born – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. During ancient times following crusades and religious Wars, Jews were driven out of Jerusalem and for centuries this has become the homeland of Palestinian Arabs. Jews after losing out their homeland, were homeless for centuries and settled in different parts of the world.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine started in the early 19th century with both claiming the same land. Then the region around Eastern Mediterranean which now includes Israel and Palestine had people belonging to Islam, Christianity, and Jews. This changed as people started developing the essence of being not just Arab but a distinct Palestinian. It gave them a distinct national identity. At the same time in Europe, a new movement called Zionism had started which believed Judaism was not just religion but it deserved its own state.

With centuries of persecution, many believed Jewish state in their historic homeland in the Middle East was the only way for their safety. In the early decades of the 20th century, tens of thousands of European Jews started moving towards the Mediterranean. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, the French and the British carved a land for Palestine in the Middle East. British took over the region and called it the British Mandate for Palestine.

British allowed Jewish immigrants to settle here. But with the increasing number of Jews, tensions arose between Jews and the Arabs. This sparked a series of violence between the two groups, which made the British limit immigration. In response to this, Jewish Military groups were formed with the intent to fight the local Arab and British rule.

Creation of Israel

During World War II, when Hitler started his campaign of persecution of the Jews known as the Holocaust, many more Jews fled Europe for the British Mandate for Palestine. Later, following World War II, Jews started galvanizing support from much of the world to form a Jewish state.

In 1947, seeing rising violence in the region, United Nations approved the division of the British Mandate for Palestine into two separate states. Israel for the Jews, Palestine for the Arabs, and the city of Jerusalem which is a Holy site for all the three religions to be converted into a special international zone. While the Jews accepted a new state and declared independence, Arabs on the other hand saw it as a plan of European powers and the United Nations to grab their land.

Many Arab states which had recently become independent, united and declared war against Israel to establish a unified Arab mandated Palestine. The new state of Israel not only won the war but also took control of the western half of Jerusalem and expelled a huge number of Palestinians from their homes.

In 1967, the Six-Day war was fought between Israel and the neighbouring Arab states. Israel not only won this war too but also took Golan Heights from Syria, West Bank from Jordan, Gaza, and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. It also took control of Palestine including Jerusalem which resulted in them administrating over the Palestinian citizens whom they had fought.

PLO, Hamas and Intifada

In 1978, Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David accord brokered by the United States of America. This marked the beginning of the end of the wider Arab-Israel conflict although small skirmishes continued occasionally.

An organization called the Palestinian liberation Organisation commonly called PLO sought to fight against Israel even adopting acts of terrorism like suicide bombings. They wanted to annihilate Israel. But after decades of war, PLO said it would accept the land division between Israel and Palestine. After this many Israelis started settling in the West Bank and Gaza. The reason was not only religious but political and some even being economical as Israel was subsidizing their move. This also made Israel’s army more prominent in the area for the security of the Jews.

The intrusion of Jewish people in their area made Palestinians more hostile. They saw it as a plan of the Israeli government to change the demographic profile of the region. This act was also condemned by the United Nations which still does not recognize these Jewish settlements as legal. This made many Palestinians vacate their lands and the Palestinian dream of having a separate state became more distant.

This resulted in an uprising by Palestinians in the 1990s called the ‘First Intifada‘ which resulted in the death of many Palestinians and Israelis. A new group called ‘Hamas‘, a violent extremist group was created subsequently dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

In 1993, Israel and Palestine’s leaders signed the historic Oslo Accord meant to be initial steps towards Israel’s withdrawal from Palestine. It also established Palestinian authority in certain areas of Palestine.

At the turn of the century, there was another uprising called the ‘Second Intifada’ by Palestinians which went on for two years. This uprising was more violent and resulted in many deaths. This also created more scepticism in the minds of the Israeli leaders who were looking for peaceful agreements. The second in intifada also flamed the security concerns which was there in the minds of people of the Israel. This led the government of Israel to increase its security presence in the area.

Reasons for Recent Escalation

Being an important site for all the three Abrahamic religions, Jerusalem is divided into West and East. The former is controlled by the Jews and the latter by Arabs and Palestinians. Last Friday, the Muslims of Palestine visited Al Aqsa mosque, regarded as the third holiest site for Muslims after Mecca and Medina, to offer prayers during the month of Ramzan. They clashed with the Israeli police who had issued orders not to congregate in large numbers during Ramzan which they deemed was to prevent Palestine Muslims from congregating for prayers.

It must be noted that Israeli police also let right-wing Zionists undertake the ‘Jerusalem Day‘ march bringing them into a confrontation with the Palestinian Muslims as tensions increased. Israel armed forces stormed the mosque leading to injuries to the Palestinian Muslims. They alleged the Palestinians were prepared for violence and they retaliated in self-defence.

Following heightened tensions and escalations, the terrorist group Hamas started launching rockets from the Gaza strip targeting populated areas of Israel which ended up killing and injuring many Israelis. In retaliation, Israel carried out airstrikes killing many Palestinians and some Hamas terrorists.

The situation is extremely tense and the world is hoping the situation de-escalates and peace returns to the area without further bloodshed.

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