A Rough Guide to… The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Leading up to the UN security council vote on Palestinian statehood on Friday, Impact will be publishing a series of articles on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Here is a short guide to the most important aspects of the conflict.

Where did it start?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict first began in the late 1800’s with Jewish migrants moving to Palestine. Sporadic acts of violence came about due to the tension caused by the new settlements.  These were  exacerbated when Britain and France took control of the region during WW1 and set up what some Arabs saw as a pro-Zionist administration.  The 1929 Palestine Riots, which included the Hebron massacre, resulted in the deaths of 116 Arabs and 133 Jews, as relations deteriorated between the two ethnic groups.


On May 14th 1948 the British Mandate for Palestine ended and, as part of the UN partition, an independent state of Israel was declared.  The vote at the UN over this issue was opposed by the entire Arab League, but still gained enough international support to pass. Following this, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan all invaded Israel, sparking the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, often called the War of Independence by Israelis and al-Nakba, meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, by the Palestinians.  The War resulted in many Palestinians leaving or being expelled, and massacres on both sides. The war lasted until early 1949 when the countries signed the Armistice agreement, establishing the green line, which laid down the new borders of Israel (who had annexed territory beyond the original UN partition during the war) and those of the surrounding Arab states. The War resulted in many Palestinians leaving or being expelled as well as a multitudes of Jews fleeing Arab countries and arriving in Israel.

1967 Six Day War

After increased hostility from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and a build-up of their troops along the borders, Israel launched what they described as a “pre-emptive”‘ strike, annihilating the opposing air forces that were assembled along Israel’s borders.  This led to a crushing victory against the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan within six days. As a result of this war, Israel gained the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from the Egyptians, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Intifadas (Palestinian uprising)

The First Intifada lasted from 1987 to 1993. It involved mass demonstration throughout the Palestinian territories and was the first time Palestinians acted together as a nation. It involved riots throughout the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem as a result of ongoing tensions during the Israeli control of the Palestinian people. More than 1,000 Palestinians were killed and IDF’s response was condemned internationally.

The Second Intifada started in 2000 when Ariel Sharon visited the temple mount where the Al-Aqsa mosque lies, a place sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and in a speech claimed “the Temple Mount is in our hands and will remain in our hands. It is the holiest site in Judaism and it is the right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount”. The resulting Palestinian anger over what was seen as a provocation by Sharon sparked mass protests, general strikes, and armed violence, including suicide bombings.  The Second Intifada ended in 2005 with 1,074 Israelis dead and 7,520 wounded, most of them civilians, while Palestinians had 5,616 killed and thousands detained.

On 25th June 2006, 19 year old Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas militants close to the Israel-Gaza border.  For Israel, his return had been high on the agenda, and he was recently released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners that were being held by Israel.

In late 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a military attack on Gaza in response to Hamas’ rocket campaign against Israel. The conflict lasted three weeks and many in the International Community declared it a disproportionate response.

Key Players

The current Israeli government is a right-wing coalition headed by the Likud party leader Binjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Many international leaders have found him very difficult to deal with; during his first stint as Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999, Clinton reportedly couldn’t stand him, while Obama has also had many disagreements with Netanyahu. Last week, after a G20 press conference, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Obama accidentally left their microphones on, which led to assembled journalists overhearing Sarkozy brand Netanyahu “a liar”.

The Palestinians formed the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, also known as the PLO, in 1964. This was the first time a national identity was formed. A few years later, Yasser Arafat became the head of the PLO.  During his time as leader he was accused of orchestrating many attacks against Israelis, including the Munich bombings, where members of the Israeli Olympics team were kidnapped in Munich and later killed during a botched rescue attempt. Nevertheless, he also participated in peace talks and  was partially responsible for the moderation of the PLO  in recent years, which become Fatah, the political party. Arafat was later awarded the joint Nobel Peace Prize with Israelis Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, for their work in bringing about the Olso negotiations.  Since Arafat’s death, Fatah has been under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas.

In 1988, Hamas was founded out of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ charter calls for the dissolution of the state of Israel and has been described as a modern Mein Kampf, though the party have since claimed to have ideologically  moved away from the charter (albeit, it is yet to be amended).  Hamas are currently headed by Khalid Mish’al.  The group generally takes a more aggressive stance than Fatah, rejecting the idea of a two-state solution as anything but a temporary measure.

Palestinians had their first elections in 2006, following Israeli withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In Gaza, Hamas defeated Fatah, who had moderated since Arafat’s death.  The Fatah-Hamas conflict ensued, which continued until a reconciliation agreement earlier this year.  This has yet to be ratified and at present could be seen as nothing more than a token gesture by both sides.

Differences between the West Bank and Gaza

The Israeli responses to Gaza and the West Bank have been very different. Since Hamas came to power in Gaza, Israel has put a blockade on Gaza, disallowing the transport of many items.  Recently, the blockade was eased  on non-military goods, but many say this is not enough. Most experts on international law have declared the blockade illegal.

In the West Bank, the Israelis built the separation wall, which runs along the border of the West Bank with entry and exit through checkpoints. While the Israelis say that successful suicide bombings have dropped dramatically since the building of the wall, Palestinians and human rights organisations believe that it breaches Palestinian human rights and liberties.

Settlements in the West Bank, which were built by Jewish settlers, have become a flashpoint in the conflict recently. Palestinians claim this to be stolen land; many of the settlers represent the most right-wing of Israeli society and inhabit the region to stop Palestinians living on land which they think is their biblical right to own. Settlers complicate the foundation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank as the government would have to forcibly remove them from their villages, something which happened before in 2005 and led to violent clashes between settlers and the Israeli military.

Attempts for Peace

While Israel has made peace with Egypt and Jordan, peace with the Palestinians has not been as easy to achieve.  Over the past decade there have many attempts to draw up an agreement by which the Palestinians gain control of the West Bank with land-swaps for the major Israeli settlements. The most recent of these talks was in 2008, which was disrupted by the aforementioned Operation Cast Lead.

Daniel Fine

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11 Comments on this post.
  • katy
    10 November 2011 at 20:01
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    this article seems very pro israel! And it’s left out so many facts!

  • Trey
    10 November 2011 at 21:46
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    This article is garbage. You have perceived the number of Israelis wounded to be more important than the number of Palestinians killed. Finally, no wonder peace has not been as easy to achieve – they took their country!

  • King
    10 November 2011 at 23:16
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    Maybe God is pro Israel too.
    There are more myths in the media than facts.
    And guess what? Jesus is coming back to Israel soon.

  • Alex
    11 November 2011 at 00:33
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    Pro-Israeli? It doesn’t even mention the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, when yet AGAIN, the Arab Nations (every one of them dictatorships) tried to destroy Israel. They attacked on Yom Kippur – the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

  • Mr. Hand
    11 November 2011 at 00:57
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    @ katy – I disagree. The article makes me mad at Israel. It reinforces my belief that Zionists are just bullies.

  • Ben
    11 November 2011 at 01:13
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    This article doesn’t shy away from the shortcomings of the Israeli government, so I don’t really think it could be described as “pro israel”. Also, as it’s a brief overview, the fact that facts have been omitted is inevitable. That isn’t to say that it’s right to leave out certain facts, but in the interest of brevity & introducing someone to the topic, cuts need to be made at times.

  • Hump World News » A Rough Guide to… The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Impact Magazine
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  • Barry Ford
    11 November 2011 at 06:42
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    I thought this was a very good ‘rough’ outline of the situation. Good job.

  • Yisrael Medad
    11 November 2011 at 07:25
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    You write: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict first began in the late 1800’s with Jewish migrants moving to Palestine.”

    Maybe the “conflict” began but Jews have been living in and moving to the Land of Israel constantly throughout history. While the Jewish nation lost political independence after the the second revolt against Rome failed in 135 CE, Jews were ruled by Rome, the Byzantine Empire, Arabs (who only arrived from the Arabian Peninsula in 638), the Crusaders (twice), Berbers, Ottoman Turks and finally, the British under a League of Nations Mandate from 1922. Jews were living by the 1800s in Hebron, Gaza, Safed, Tiberias, Nablus and other towns and cities. By the 1948 war, Jews were also living in the Gush Etzion area, north of Jerusalem, near the Dead Sea and other locations that fell into Arab hands and from which Jews were ethnically cleansed by Arabs.

  • Yisrael Medad
    11 November 2011 at 12:23
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    One other point: you write – “Settlers complicate the foundation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank”. But ask yourself this: the region of Judea, Samaria and Gaza were not in Israel’s control for the 19 years between 1948 and 1967 but no “Palestine” existed or was created (and we should recall that no state of “Palestine” ever did exist and when the British came, the local Arabs described themselves as Southern Syrians and demanded to be united with the French Mandate over Syria and Lebanon) then. No “settlement” existed and there was no Israeli “occupation”. So, how could the dismantling of Jewish communities solve that problem? Or, to take the illogic one step further to absurdity: if Israel must withdraw its citizens from J&S (and it did so from Gaza though no peace is in sight since not to mention the terror of the rockets), should Israel also do the same to its Arab population and ask them to remove themselves to the new state of “Palestine” if it does exist? Or are Jews only those to be subjected to transfer, dismantlement, etc.?

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