A NOT-So-Brief History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
There are many words for addressing this crisis, according to a local Arab, an invasion, to a local Israeli, a tragedy and to an Orthodox Jew, a reclamation.
These are only a few ways of perceiving the conflict out of millions of others. A conflict that has claimed many lives, innocent, guilty, adult, senior, children, men and women without discriminating among them. As this topic has become popular again, there are many more people than ever justifying the deaths of numbers, while they are brothers, fathers and sisters to many others. If not today, for us to be able to change the future for the better, we must see the bottom of the iceberg, instead of focusing on the tip of it. So, let's ask the first question about this conflict, "When?".
Image: Western Wall, Jerusalem, Brittanica.com
Surprisingly, the first Jewish attempt to return to "Eretz Yisrael''(lit. "Land of Israel") after the Roman exile, dates older than many people might assume. For instance, during the 10th century, as a result of the leaders of Karaite Jews, under Persian rule, urging their followers to return to their ancestral lands, an act of mass-immigration to Jerusalem began. Once they arrived in the region, they settled in Kidron Valley in today's Judea and Samaria region of Israel, also known as West Bank. Until the 19th century, the region welcomed many more waves of Jewish immigration, most of which arrived during Ottoman rule, as Ottomans offered religious freedom to the Jews, who were forcefully converted or persecuted at the places where they lived prior to their arrival. An example of this situation would be the immigration of Sephardim Jews after their expulsion from Spain. However, mass immigration to the area started occurring after the late 19th century with the first Aliyah.
Aliyah means “ascent” in Hebrew. However, it is also the given name for the mass immigration of Jews to their ancient lands. The first one of these mass immigrations occurred during the late 19th century, mainly as a result of Jews being persecuted in Russia, as they were blamed for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Especially after the introduction of anti-Jewish laws by the Russian state, (also known as “May Laws'') movements such as Bilu and Hibbat Zion gained popularity among Jews and encouraged them to settle into Jerusalem, which was then under Ottoman rule. First Aliyah was significant news for the Jews of the world, as it showed them what was possible while also laying the foundation for the upcoming settlements.
The mass movements of Jews to Jerusalem had many reasons, some immigrated there to escape persecution, and some immigrated there to find salvation. However, until the foundation of the idea of Zionism, it was on a limited scale and much less organised. So what is Zionism? Zionism is the idea of Jews returning to their "ancestral lands", instead of staying in exile or settling somewhere else.
The idea of Zionism was first voiced by Nathan Birnbaum, who later went against his ideas, however, it was Theodore Herzl, who established the movement as we know it today. The movement became quite popular among the Jews of that time, due to the rise of antisemitism in Europe, which was more systematic than ever. For instance, it was the Dreyfus Affair, which was a case about a falsely convicted Jewish French soldier, that led Theodore Herzl, who used to be a Germanophile, to embrace Zionism. As similar incidents had been occurring all over Europe, the Jewish community lost their hopes of fully integrating within the European societies and started to direct their attention towards Zionism, which they perceived as a new hope.
As the Jewish population kept increasing year by year in the area, it caught the attention of the local Arabs, who wished to keep the Arabian characteristics of the area, as well as their dominance. After World War I, the British took control of Jerusalem, and encouraged the Jewish settlements with the Balfour Declaration, in order to create a Jewish homeland. However, this encouragement did not last long as years later the White Paper of 1939 was issued by the British government, which restricted the amount of Jewish settlements in the area. These acts by the British did not ease the tensions in the region, which only kept getting worse due to the formation of local militias.
Things were not so bright for the Jews in Europe at the time either, as the persecution against them was at its historical peak under the Nazi regime. This caused more Jews to flee to British-controlled Jerusalem even though it was technically illegal for them, as restrictions had been placed on the amount of Jews that were allowed to settle. Throughout World War II this situation continued and as a result, a third of the region consisted of Jews. After the end of World War II, both Arabs and Jews in the areas demanded independence from their colonial rulers, which only caused the intensification of clashes in the region.
This status resulted in the withdrawal of the British from the region following the partitioning of the region among Jews and Arabs by the UN, as two economically cooperating independent nations with a UN-administered Jerusalem in the middle. The Jewish side was content with this outcome decided on by the UN committee of 11 neutral states, however, the Arab side did not accept the existence of a Jewish state within the region, thus starting the first of three main wars between Arabs and Jews.
On 14 May 1948, Israel declared its independence within its borders decided on by the UN, which triggered the Israeli War of Independence, on the same day Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq initiated their invasion of the British Mandate of Palestine.
This conflict lasted for 8 months in total and resulted in Israel capturing more territories than given in the UN resolution, for the Palestinian state, the West Bank was annexed by Jordan and the Gaza Strip was put under Egyptian protection. The next crisis on the horizon was the Suez Crisis. On 26 July 1956, Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal and blocked Israeli access through it. This resulted in a French and British ultimatum to Egypt as well as an Israeli offensive to the Sinai peninsula. However, it lasted for a short while as Egypt agreed to stop its blockade against Israel on the Strait of Tiran in return for the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, where the UN sent its peacekeeping forces subsequently.
Some years later in 1967, the conflict culminated a second time, giving rise to the Six-Day War. Despite lasting for a short period, the escalation phase prior to it was initiated by the Egyptian removal of the UN peacekeepers from Sinai and the deployment of 100,000 troops to its border with Israel. As a result of similar escalations from all sides, on 7 June 1967, Israel launched its surprise offensive against first Egypt, then Jordan and lastly Syria.
Image: Six-day War in the Golan Heights, Brittanica.com
By the end of the week, Israel had significantly expanded in the area and had fended off all threats to its existence. Despite the bloodshed, this war did not mark an end to the conflict either. Skirmishes on the borders of Israel continued until the next major conflict known as Yom Kippur War. On 6 October 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel, which caught Israel off guard as they did not expect to be attacked during Yom Kippur, the holiest two days of the year for Jews. This war was to last nearly for a month and it ended with Israeli victory. The end of this war also saw Egypt's recognition of Israel in return for the Sinai Peninsula. After this war, the conflict between the Israeli and local Arabs was more reserved for Israel and PLO, instead of including leagues of Arab nations. However, the end of major wars between Arab nations and Israel did not see peace coming to the region either, as PLO proceeded further with their activities, which resulted in later Israeli anti-terrorist operations in Israel and even in southern Lebanon continuing until this day.
In the early 90s, there were attempts to seize hostilities between the sides. There have been even some negotiations leading to the set of agreements between Israel and Palestinians, also known as the Oslo Accords. Its aim was to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel based on the borders in UN Resolution 242. This would have seen self-determination coming to the local Arabs, alongside establishing a state for them, alongside bringing an end to the decades-long conflict. However, this treaty was not welcomed by everyone in both populations, as some perceived it as a loss of territory and some viewed it as a big compromise. Eventually, the Israeli prime minister (Yitzhak Rabin) who had signed it was assassinated, and PLO leader (Yasser Arafat) lost his popularity among the local Arabs, which later on led to the rise of the terrorist organisation called HAMAS.
Image: Oslo Accords, Brittanica.com
In conclusion, this conflict is deeply rooted within the region and its history. It is easy to make assumptions about the sides with limited information, calling them names or accusing them of things, and the hard thing is to actually hear their cry for peace. Without a good understanding of the conflict and its history, one would only contribute to its flames as he could only shout and accuse, instead of empathising and understanding. Especially at a time of crisis, like today, assuming sides to be black and white will only lead to more bloodshed, and silence the cries of peace, when almost everyone has lost a loved one to the conflict, and many other loved ones are waiting to close their eyes forever.
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