The Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the longest and most controversial matters plaguing the world today. It is often gone unspoken about, but the eviction of the Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the violence that came as a result has been the subject of the latest surge in social media activism.
Yet, it remains a very complicated issue that few people are educated enough on to speak out about. I am far from an expert – my knowledge comes only from an undergraduate module and a few documentaries – but there have been parts of the conflict I believe have been misconstrued, as well as many vital details unmentioned, and I thought I would use the small amount of knowledge I do have to try and summarise the history of this conflict for those who want to understand it.
Why Is The Land So Contentious?
The conflict over the geographical area of Israel goes back to biblical times. The city of Jerusalem is of particular importance to three major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Because of the holy sites within the city, all three religions claim the right to jurisdiction over different parts of the city and the areas surrounding it and these parts often overlap.
Two thousand years ago, the Jews were exiled from the Holy Land in a mass migration known as the Jewish Diaspora. Since then, the idea of returning to the Holy Land has been an important part of Jewish thought.
This intention – to one day establish a Jewish state of Israel – is known as Zionism. However, for the last two thousand years, the Holy Land has been known as Palestine and has been inhabited by an Arabic ethnic group with a Muslim majority, who took up 93% of the population.
What Happened To Cause So Much Violence?
At the beginning of the twentieth century, most of the Middle East was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. This included the area that was then known as Palestine.
During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire allied with Germany and against Britain. Britain saw this as an opportunity to use the prospective defeat of the Ottomans to rally support in their favour. They knew that a defeat of Germany and her allies would result in a power vacuum in the region, which would need to be filled after the war.
So, Britain made to agreements. One was the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised the Zionists – who were rising in popularity – the establishment of the national Jewish home (Israel) after the War. The second was the Hussain-McMahon agreement, which promised Arab independence – including Palestine – following a victory.
The first of the agreements was used to gain support from Jewish leaders in Europe. The second was made in the hopes that Hussein, a religious leader in Mecca, would help overthrow the Ottomans from the inside.
Of course, these two agreements were made in complete contradiction to each other. The British government had acted with ignorance and short-sightedness.
By this point in the twentieth century, the Jewish people had suffered much oppression, discrimination, and genocide
When they did in fact win the war, both sides could not be granted what they wanted and this cause outcry. Britain granted itself a Mandate over Palestine – which is a fancy way of saying that it made it a colony – and neither side was granted independence.
By this point in the twentieth century, the Jewish people had suffered much oppression, discrimination, and genocide. The Russian pogroms had killed thousands of their people and they had been forced to relocate many times.
As well as this, they were the only one of the three major, monotheistic religions that did not have a national home. They were tired, and Zionism was gaining more and more support by the day. So, Britain decided to let them settle in Palestine.
Between 1922 and 1941, the Jewish population in Palestine rose from 93,000 to nearly 490,000. The Zionists believed they were migrating to a land they had been promised, whereas the Palestinians felt that another ethnic group was moving into their home and infringing on their land.
Conflicts followed, including the Wailing Wall riots of 1929, when 133 Jews and 116 Arabs lost their lives. Despite the violence, the British Mandate allowed Jewish settlement to continue well into the 1930s.
Suddenly, Jews could not leave Europe at the point that they needed to most
When they finally realised the damage they had done and the conflicts they had caused, the British government decided to limit Zionist migration and, once again, promise independence to Palestine.
However, this decision was made on the eve of Hitler’s election in Germany. Suddenly, Jews could not leave Europe at the point that they needed to most.
They had nowhere to flee to, and it even got to the point where the British intercepted migrant ships and sent them back to a Nazi occupied Europe. We all know what the devastating consequences of this were.
Throughout the Second World War, disagreements continued. Zionists called for an independent Jewish State within Palestine, mainly through partition, while the Palestinians still wanted to control the whole area independently, with no Israeli State.
At the end of the War, when the USA had gained more global influence, it was decided that Palestine would be split into two states – one Arab and one Jewish – and the State of Israel was established in 1948.
It is my belief that the British government should be held accountable for their previous negligence and this story must be included in the curriculum
Yet, when either side of this conflict is condemning the other, the colonial causes of the problems are never mentioned. It is my belief that the British government should be held accountable for their previous negligence and this story must be included in the curriculum. It is essential to understanding where this conflict started.
What Happened Next?
The establishment of the State of Israel was the beginning of a long century of war and violence between the two opposing groups. The Jewish virtual library estimates that 24,000 Israelis and 88,000 Arabs have lost their lives as a result of the conflicts since the end of the Second World War.
Israeli settlements on Palestinian territories and Palestinian retaliations, often backed up by other Arab states, have continued ever since. Although attempts have been made to make peace, they have never been successful.
The Camp David Agreement of 1978 resulted in a compromise between the Arabs and Israelis, when Israel returned Egyptian land they had captured in the Six Day War and Egypt became the first Arab state to formally recognise Israel as a country.
As a result of the Oslo Accords of 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation recognised Israel’s right to existence and in return were accepted as the representative authority for Palestine.
Both of these agreements seemed to be a stepping stone towards peace, but unfortunately this was not the case. Both agreements resulted in assassination attempts of their Arab representatives, Anwar Sadat and Yasser Arafat, respectively.
The first of which was successful and the second of which, although unsuccessful, shows how unwilling some interest groups within the conflict are to compromise.
What Is Happening Now?
Israel still occupies Palestinian territories, where Palestinians are still treated as second class citizens. The latest example of this is the Israeli vaccine role out, where, despite having one of the best vaccine programmes in the world, only 4% of the Palestinian population in the occupies West Bank and Gaza Strip had received the vaccine in March.
As well as this, infant mortality is more than five times higher for Palestinians than it is for Israelis, due to the inadequate healthcare that is provided for them.
However, this does not come without retaliation. The eviction of Sheikh Jarrah and subsequent raid on Al-Aqsa (the holiest mosque in Jerusalem) that happened this week is but one example of clashes between the two groups.
The Palestinian militant authority, Hamas, have retaliated with airstrikes, resulting in 7 Israeli civilian casualties, including a five year old boy. With the Israeli government responding again with more airstrikes (killing 72), it looks like Israel may be on the brink, once again, of a full scale war.
For now, we can live in hope that those in power call for a ceasefire and pledge expansion and resistance to come to an end
Unfortunately, there is no clear resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Partition has seemed to fail as many within both groups are not willing to compromise and settle for less than full jurisdiction over the Holy Land.
For now, we can live in hope that those in power call for a ceasefire and pledge expansion and resistance to come to an end. Mutual respect must be gained for both sides to admit each other’s right to self-determination and stop blaming each other for a conflict whose origins lie elsewhere.
I truly believe that more awareness of the role of the British Mandate in the Arab-Israeli conflict would be a positive step.
We can pray for peace.
Salam and Shalom.
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