Israel and Palestine

Image courtesy of Backpack Travel Blog.

By Rachel Rochford (‘23)

Conflict in the Gaza strip escalated recently. The situation is tense and discussion on the topic can become pugnacious rather quickly. Thus, many are left to wonder over what exactly is happening. This often leads to hurtful and untrue assumptions, furthering the heated nature of discussion on the topic, and discouraging further thought given to the matter. Three main questions exist; what is happening in the Gaza Strip? How did the situation come to this? And, where do we go from here?

To start with the current situation would ignore the reasons for it, and so we begin with the history of the area, starting just before the conclusion of WWI. Around this time, the idea of Zionism, or Jewish nationalism was gaining popularity in Europe. Most Zionists of the time hoped for a safe haven for Jewish people, not necessarily a Jewish political state. In 1917 then, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration which outlined the country’s support for the establishment of a state for Jewish people in Palestine, which was part of the Ottoman Empire. 

At the end of WWI, the leader of the Ottoman Empire was defeated, and the British took control of Palestine. The area’s population consisted of an Arab majority, a Christian minority, and a Jewish minority all of whom coexisted peacefully. 

One of the misassumptions frequently made when examining this conflict is is of religious nature as people assume that if someone is considered “Arab”, they are also Muslim. This is not true. The term “Arab” refers to a person who originates from an Arab country of which there are twenty-two. One does not need to be considered Arab to be Muslim nor do they need to be Muslim to be considered Arab. Hence, this is not the “religious war” it is often made out as. 

Back to the history though, at the conclusion of WWI, the British established a colony in Palestine. While there, they also began creating separate institutions for each separate faith, dividing people by religion as they did so. Then, between the 1920’s and 1940’s, Jewish immigration to Palestine skyrocketed as many Jewish people in Europe aimed to escape persecution. Tension then began to rise between Jewish and Arab residents of the area. When WWII began, the conflict toned down and remained that way until the end of the war.

Then, after WWII, the conflict resumed and the newly formed United Nations took a vote on the future of the area. There, in the late 1940’s, they voted that Palestine would be split into two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian. The states were meant to be equal in size, and, were at the time. However, the proposed map of the area saw the two states split in an odd way. 

Image courtesy of the New York Times.

Consequently, this partition plan was unlikely to work from its beginning as the borders shown above are simply not logical. Shortly after this plan was created, the British left, Israel declared statehood, and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War began.  

The war saw neighboring Arab nations join in support of Palestine. The conflict lasted just over nine months and saw thousands of deaths along with the displacement of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs. This conflict ended with an armistice and an Israeli victory. Israel now had a third more land than before the war. Jordan also annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem while Egypt controlled the Gaza strip. 

Things remained this way until 1967 when Israel went to war with a number of Arab states again. This was dubbed the Six-Days War as it lasted six days after which Israel won. With this, the country gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan heights.

After this, the UN passed a resolution requiring the withdrawal of Israel from the land it took during the war along with the recognition of both Israel and Palestine though this action did not achieve much. 

Then, Israel began building settlements in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. International law sees these as illegal settlements. In Israel’s eyes though, Palestine is not a state and thus, these settlements are just. 

Following this, Palestinians launched the first Intafada or “shaking off” which saw boycotts of Israeli products, refusal to pay Israeli taxes, and a rise in protests. It also saw the founding of Hamas which has the goal of transforming Palestine into an Islamic state, liberated from Israel. In 1993, this group employed its first suicide bombing against Israel. Hamas also created a number of social welfare programs, building mosques and schools in Gaza which was a main reason in its receiving support. 

The Oslo Accords followed this in an attempt to find a peaceful solution for the area. Then the Clinton Talks began and they were close to a peace deal, but not close enough, and a solution was never reached. 

The second Intafada began in 2000 following protests after then Israeli Prime Minister Candidate Ariel Sharon led a brigade of 1,000 armed guards to the Temple Mount or Al-Asqa mosque in Old Jerusalem. This Intafada was much more violent and saw the deaths of 4,000 people. 

The construction of the Israeli Wall began in 2002 and it was built around many Israeli settlements that had not originally been part of the country. Israel viewed this as an act of self-defence while Palestine saw it as an illegal seizure of land. Following this, the area has seen its fair share of violence with rockets launched by Hamas, violent crackdowns by Israel, and far too many casualties. Both sides claim to be responding to the other and the cycle of violence perpetuates itself. 

This brings us into recent years where further provocations have occurred. In 2017 for example, the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and began construction on an embassy there. This was problematic as both Israel and Palestine claim the area as a capital. Thus, foreign nations have long left their embassies in other locations as a means of neutrality. The U.S. moved sparked Palestinian protests during which Israeli forces killed 57 people and injured 2,700 more. The death toll was brought up to 58 as a baby died after inhaling tear gas.

Needless to say, the situation had not calmed much from the end of the second Intifada. Recently though, the story has reached the headlines again. In early May, protests began in Jerusalem over the decision of an Israeli court on the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute ruling in favor of Israeli settlers. Around the same time, Israel began preventing some Muslim Palestinian gatherings in celebration of Ramadan, also leading to protests. In conjunction, these factors have led to the uptake in protests currently occurring. Hamas fired rockets and Israel began airstrikes, hitting several buildings and roads as they did so. One of these roads leads to the area’s largest hospital and one of the buildings had previously housed the Gaza offices of both the Associated Press and the news network Al Jazeera. The death toll from all of this has reached more than 200 people.

With no signs of de-escalation currently apparent, one begins to look for a solution. Time and time again, the issue has been ignored and shoved to the side. And, each time, the area has experienced more conflict. A practical solution is needed and while the Oslo Accords and the Clinton Talks both tried to reach this, they were unable to resolve the issue as it is so complex. In a two-state solution, for example, tasks would begin with how to separate the land, something that is beyond intricate. What happens to settlers? Who gets what with access to which resources? How can peace be ensured? What prevents one side from invading the other? The questions continue on. And on. And on. 

The world is stumped. And while individual nations and the United Nations issue statements condemning violence in the area, it continues because no one has a tangible and fair solution to the problem. Things may calm down in the area as time passes, but they will not be stable until an agreement which both sides can accept is reached. Unless a resolution is found now, this cycle of rising and fading violence will continue until someone else is writing this same article, still waiting for a solution to a century-old conflict. 

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