This week, tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians have flared up again with the worst violence seen in decades. Meanwhile, the world awaits the illusive Two-State solution. Nothing happens. And neither can it. The endgame for Palestinian extremist organisations like Hamas is the destruction of Israel. There isn’t any real compromise. To them, a Palestinian state is “from the river to the sea.” So, what is happening, and why? Let’s dive into some history to find out:
The end of Israel
In the first century, war devastated ancient Israel for decades. The Roman armies destroyed much of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. Tensions and attacks on Jews around the Roman Empire led to a massive Jewish uprising against Rome from 115 to 117. In 131, Emperor Hadrian renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina and constructed a Temple of Jupiter on the site of the former Jewish Temple. Hadrian banned Jews from living in Jerusalem (a ban that persisted until the Arab conquest).
In 136, the Roman Empire finally crushed any rebellion from the Jews. The Roman province of Judaea was renamed Palaestina (Palestine in English). There was no country called Palestine.
No Palestine. No Israel
From 136 to 1945, there were no indigenous nations in that region. There was no Palestinian state. There was no Israel. The land was controlled by:
- Roman Empire (64 BC – 390 AD)
- Christians (Byzantine period, 390 – 634)
- Muslims (634 – 1099)
- Crusades and Mongols (1099 – 1291)
- Mamluks (1291 – 1517)
- Ottoman Empire (1517 – 1917)
There were always Jews present in this region, along with other indigenous peoples. The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was previously a church when the Christians held the territory.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Zionists who came to Palestine invested a lot of money in creating schools and infrastructure. If a Jewish state did eventuate, it would survive. At least, that was the hope.
The Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of the First World War. British foreign minister Arthur Balfour sent a public letter to the British Lord Rothschild, a leading member of his party and leader of the Jewish community. The letter subsequently became known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It stated that the British Government “view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The declaration gave the British government a pretext for claiming and governing the country. An agreement between British and French bureaucrats decided on new Middle Eastern boundaries. From then on, Diaspora Jews began migrating to Palestine from many nations.
A Nation is Born
In 1947, The United Nations approved a Partition Plan for Palestine. The Partition Plan recognised an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem under “an International Trusteeship System.” Jewish people received this joyfully, but the Arab community did not agree. Civil war broke out in the region, and more than 250,000 Arabs fled. Hundreds of thousands of Jews and Palestinians have suffered for centuries. People have lost their lives, homes, possessions, and loved ones.
On 14 May 1948, the last British forces left Haifa, and the Jewish People’s Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum. It proclaimed the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz, Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. The USA (Truman) and Russia (Stalin) recognised the new State but not the Arab nations, who marched their forces into Israel to “drive it into the sea’. Thus began the first Arab-Israeli war.
Many Jewish immigrants, who were World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors, began arriving in the new State of Israel. Many joined the Israel Defence Force (IDF). The war ended early in 1949 when Israel signed armistices with its neighbours (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria). Israel’s new borders were internationally recognised, except by the Arab States. Land granted to Israel remained under the control of various Arab nations. There was little or no outcry from the international community about this. But in 1967, Israel took those areas back, and the international community WAS outraged.
Over the next several years, Israel grew as Jewish people returned from the nations to which they had been scattered. The new country developed its land; the desert was reclaimed, and infrastructure was built.
The Six-Day War
In the 1967 six-day war, Israel captured territories that it had lost in 1949 – the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights (from Syria), the Gaza Strip (from Egypt), and the West Bank (from Jordan). Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. The war created what we know as modern Israel.
Much has happened since 1967. Sadly, there is still no end to the tensions between Israel, the Palestinians, and much of the Arab world. The Two-State Solution is no closer to being realised. It cannot happen until all parties are willing to compromise.
Arab countries want a pan-Arabic Empire as in the days of old. But the Jewish State is in the way. They aim to keep Palestinians in displaced persons camps in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon as pawns for a larger agenda.
The PLO and Hamas
The Intifada of the late 80s and early 90s led to Israel transferring governmental authority in the Gaza Strip to the Palestine Authority (1994). Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian government struggled with a stagnant economy, divided popular support, stalled negotiations with Israel, and threatened terrorism from militant groups like Hamas, which came to power in Gaza in 2007.
By 2005, Israel had withdrawn all troops and citizens from Gaza. Israeli settlers had to leave their homes like Palestinians did in 1948. Homes and infrastructure were left intact. The hope was the Palestinians would create a healthy state. Instead, Hamas destroyed houses and infrastructure. Much of the money donated by nations to help the Palestinians was (is) used to buy rockets and build tunnels to commit terrorist acts in Israel.
The Covenant of the Hamas makes for fascinating (and terrifying) reading, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Hamas rejects any negotiated peace settlement and views every Israeli citizen as a combatant. So, in their mind, it’s acceptable to bomb civilian targets because there is no such thing as an Israeli civilian. Hence, the firing this week of thousands of rockets indiscriminately from Gaza into Israel.
Compare that recklessness with the conduct of the IDF:
- First, they call anyone in or near a targeted building to warn them of an impending attack.
- Next, they drop leaflets in the area, giving the same warning.
- Thirdly, small unarmed (dummy) missiles are aimed at the roof of the building to be destroyed in a warning dubbed “Knock, Knock.”
Even with the greatest care, some civilians get killed because Hamas operatives don’t let them leave. Dead civilians get mileage with the media and create international outrage against Israel.
I spoke with a Jewish friend about the conflict recently, and he said: “We live in the hope of a free Palestine that is free from Hamas and Hezbollah and corrupt leadership.” Both Jews and Palestinians have a right to their homeland. But if things continue unchanged, it’s only a distant aspiration.