When we read this topic, the first question that occupies our mind is why is the issue of Israel and Palestine so complicated? The simple answer is that this issue includes elements of the India-Pakistan partition, the Kashmir issue, Ram mandir, and Babri masjid dispute altogether. The questions which occupy our mind are why is Jerusalem so important? And why do both Israel and Palestine want it? As of now, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have a very strong connection with this region which is why they fight among themselves for ownership of this region. The one thing in common is that the holy books of all the three communities namely, Torah, Bible, and Quran talks about Abraham and Jerusalem.
All three religions mention the area of Jerusalem with different names like Jews mention it as Yerushalayim, Muslims mention it as Al-Quds, and Christians mention it as Salem.
For Jews, Jerusalem is their spiritual homeland and holiest site. In the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, Jews had their temples and the Western walls in Jerusalem are a part of it.
For Muslims, Jerusalem is the 3rd holiest site of Islam after Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem has the Dome of the Rock, a place from where the Prophet Mohammed went to heaven.
For Christians, Jerusalem has the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified.
Around 4500 years ago, Abraham who is considered the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam had two sons. The elder one, Ishmael was a Muslim prophet, and the younger son, Isaac was an important figure for Jews and Christians. According to the old testament, God asked Abraham and his people to settle in Israel which was earlier known as Canaan. Jews call this country has Eretz Israel or Land of Israel.
In 1000BC, King Saul established his Israeli kingdom here. The 1st Jewish temple was made in Jerusalem by King Solomon and kept the name Judah for Jewish connection. After the death of King Solomon, this kingdom was divided into two parts, Israel and Judah. This kingdom was also ruled by different rulers like Persians, Egyptians, Ottomans, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs. When Romans ruled this place they changed the name of this area from Judah to Palestine to disconnect the Jewish connection. The word Palestine is derived from “Philistine” which refers to an area that was occupied by Philistine invaders. In the Roman Empire, Jews were widely tortured and expelled from Judah. The expelled Jews move to different cities of Europe but still were a victim of widespread prosecution, religious conversion, and mass massacre.
In the 11th century, crusaders expelled Jews from France as they considered Jews as the killers of Jesus Christ. Even in Spain, Jews were a victim of the Granada Massacre in which 4000 Jews died. In the 14th century, Africa and Eurasia were hit by a plague known as the Black Death in which half of the European population was dead. Then a fake rumour was spread that Jews are spreading the plague and 900 Jews were burned alive. In the 17th century, Yemen discriminated against Jews which is known as Mawza exile. Here, Yemen sent all the Jews to deserts for dying. In the 18th century, Italy assigned only a limited area for Jews to stay and they were converted into other religions forcefully.
Due to all these situations, the Zionism Movement was undertaken by Theodor Herzl in 1897. The main aim of this movement was to let the Jews live peacefully in their separate State and it was decided that the Jewish homeland will be in Palestine. This led to Jewish immigration in Palestine.
Background of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Until 1947 the entire area which now consists of both Palestine and Israel was only recognised as a single country “Palestine”. In 1947, due to rising conflicts, the United Nations (UN) decided to divide the area into two parts, the Jews and the other for the Palestinians. Palestine consists of two parts namely, West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arab countries disliked this partition made by the United Nations (UN) and wanted the entire area to be known as Palestine without any division. Whereas, the Jews had no problem with the division and they established their own country named “Israel” in the year 1948.
Until then there existed no country named “Palestine” and thus, to recognise and establish the rights of its people there were numerous wars in the Middle East between Arab countries and Israel for the coming 30 years.
In the war of 1948 named as NAKBA, more than 7 lakhs were forced to leave their homes and become a refugee in their near Arab country.
In the war of 1967 named SIX DAY WAR, Israel acquired all its nearby territories and became 3 times its original size. In this war, Israel acquired control of the West Bank. This move of Israel was highly condemned by United Nations (UN) and many other countries as it would lead to no chance of peace in near future. Israel replied to this condemn by stating that they have acquired all the territories via proper war and if Arab counties acquired the area owned by Israel they would have never returned it.
In 1948, the map of Israel’s geographical location consisted of 50% desert area, the western area is the coastal region, whereas the northern area is the hilly region. Towards the east, the Jordan River is located which separates Israel from Jordan. The main challenge and the drawback for Israel are that it has very limited resources.
History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
The history of Israel majorly relates to the Ottoman Empire, one of the long-lasting dynasties of world history. The Ottoman Empire came into existence around the 12th century and the main goal of its leaders was the expansion of the empire. The Ottoman Empire consisted of Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Macedonia, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Bulgaria, Hungary, and parts of North Africa. In the 12th century, many countries were weak and unorganised but the main reason behind the success of the Ottoman Empire’s large dynasty was its large advanced army. However, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Ottoman Empire had to leave its major territories due to poor leadership, international negativity, Balkan wars, social and political instability within the empire.
Under the control of the Ottoman Empire during 1516-1917 AD, Palestine was a land that was religiously diverse and where Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews all lived together. Thereafter, in the early 1900s, several Jews started talking about the Jewish homeland, and the Zionism Movement. In reality, the Zionism movement was first initiated twenty years ago by Theodor Herzl in 1897 in Switzerland. It was decided that a separate Jewish homeland shall be formed in Palestine. However, this decision was not supported because there were only 8% jews in Palestine then. At the same time, Palestinians also wanted their own independent country. So on one hand, Zions demanded a separate homeland and on the other hand, Palestinians wanted an independent country. Soon, Britain gained knowledge of this situation and wanted to use it for their benefit. The main reasons behind the desire of western powers (UK) to control the middle east regions are as follows. Firstly, at that time oil became a very essential and valuable commodity because of which everyone wanted control over the oil reserves of the middle east. Secondly, the middle east enjoyed a very great strategic position and location. Britain wanted to have access to the Persian Gulf and Suez Canal to continue its control over India.
In 1914 during World War I, Britain and the Ottoman Empire fought against each other.
In 1915, British representative Henry Mcmohan went to Arab leaders with his proposal and offered that Britain will agree to Arab independence if they will support Britain against fighting with the Ottomans.
In 1917, British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to a leading figure of the Jewish community, Walter Rothschild. This letter mentioned making a Jewish homeland in Palestine, this letter is also known as Balfour Declaration. Thus, Britain was making two promises at the same time. Firstly, Britain promised independence to the Arabs living in Palestine. Secondly, promised Jews to make a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
In 1918, after the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and its territories were divided among the allied powers (Britain, Russia, and France). For such division to be done properly many agreements were formed. The agreements formed then are deeply related to modern-day ongoing conflicts such as the Lebanese Civil War, Syrian Conflict, Iraq’s instability, and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Here, Britain promised the same land to France through the Sykes-Picot agreement, Arabs through Henry Mcmahon correspondence, and Jews through the Balfour Declaration.
Agreements which emerged Palestine problems
In 1917, the British government issued a public statement to make a national home for Jews in Palestine, this letter is regarded as the “Balfour Declaration”. In other words, the Balfour Declaration was in support of Zionism. However, this declaration created many confusions and problems shortly.
Firstly, the term ‘national home’ was used in this declaration to support Zionism but such a term was never used in international laws before this. This confused the exact meaning of the term and whether it refers to the creation of a separate Jewish country or not.
Secondly, the British government wanted to support the Palestinians too so they stated in the declaration stated that the Jewish national home would not cover the entire area of Palestine. Further, it was stated that the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish community living in Palestine shall not be affected.
Thus, Balfour Declaration was the main reason for the division of Palestine into Israel- Palestinian territories and the initiation of Israel-Palestinian conflicts. In other words, western powers were successful in controlling the middle east regions for their interests.
This agreement is also known as Asia Minor agreement. This agreement is named after British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and Francois Picot. During World War1, the United Kingdom and France signed a secret peace treaty with the assent of Russia and Italy. This treaty was signed to avoid confusion after the collapse of the Ottoman empire and allotted the various parts of the middle east to the allied powers. According to this agreement, the present area of Iraq was given to Britain, the present area of Kuwait was given to France, and the present area of Armenia was given to Russia.
Thereafter, a single Arab state was created for those territories which were acquired by France and Britain in unity. This Arab state was divided into two parts, one was under French protection and the other was under Britain’s protection. Moreover, Palestine was kept under the international administration as it is a holy place. Further, Russia did not receive the territories promised to it as it stepped out before the ending of World War I.
Later, when Arabs became aware of the Sykes-Picot secret peace treaty then they felt betrayed because Britain’s representative Henry Mcmahon in his correspondence promised the Arabs an independent state if the Arabs revolted against the Ottomans. But according to the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Arab land was divided and these modern-day territories of Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine were formed.
Mandate for Palestine
World War I ended but the problems for Palestine were in their beginning phase. The area of the Gaza Strip faced huge destruction as a result of war. Due to this famine hit them people died of hunger and deadly diseases. Moreover, political tension was at its peak due to uncertainty in the territory.
Around 1920, the implementation of the Balfour Declaration was taken into consideration and 16,000 Jewish immigrants were called. In 1921, 18,000 more Jewish immigrants were called. These Jewish immigrants were buying properties in Palestine, seeing which Arabs protested this act so the British assured limitation of the Jewish immigration.
In July 1922, the League of Nations, Mandate for Palestine Jewish national home was approved. This also supports the Balfour Declaration and mentions the historical relationship of Jews from Palestine. This mandate came into effect in 1923.
At this point, both Palestinian Arabs and Jews knew that the date on which this mandate ends, two factors will play important role in deciding the future of that area, namely, population and ownership of land. In both aspects, jews enjoyed an upper hand as every year Jewish immigrants reached Palestine.
From 1926 to 1930, the British understood the fact that if the number of Jewish immigrants increased in Palestine then the rights of Arabs will be compromised. As a result of which British demanded to stop Jewish immigration for the time being. Zionists found this step to be against their interest and due to international pressure this limitation was removed.
In the 1930s began the assault and wide persecution of Jews in Germany under the rule of Hitler. This resulted in a huge increase in the number of Jewish immigrants in Palestine. As per past records, 30,000 Jewish immigrants reached Palestine in 1933, 42,000 Jewish immigrants reached Palestine in 1934, 61,000 Jewish immigrants reached Palestine in 1935, and by 1936 the Jewish population of Palestine was over 4 lakhs. At that time 1/3rd population of Palestine consisted of Jews.
White Paper of 1939
Mass Jewish immigration in Palestine gave rise to violence. Thereafter, the British government said that it was Britain that allowed mass immigration and now Palestine is a state where people of two different societies live which cannot be united. The White Paper of 1939 was introduced by the British to partition the state of Palestine into two parts where Jews and Palestinians will live in their respective areas.
Along with this, it also mentioned the putting of limitation to the Jewish immigration for the upcoming 5 years then. But this was the time when the Jews were treated mercilessly in Germany due to which illegal immigration continued and violence in Palestine was at its peak.
Partition of Palestine
Until 1947, Palestine was under the control of Britain. However, in 1948 Britain handed Palestine to the newly created United Nations (UN) because it could not sustain the chaos created by itself.
The United Nations passed the Palestine Partition Plan 1947 under the United Nations Resolution 181. As per this resolution, Palestine was divided into two states, namely, Independent Arab and Jewish State. Furthermore, the entire area of Palestine was divided into 8 total parts. Out of which 3 parts were given to Jews, 3 parts were given to Arabs, 1 part was given to Jaffa, which is an Arab enclave under Jewish territory, and 1 part was Jerusalem which was regarded as a neutral territory under the control of United Nations trusteeship council
Thereafter, voting regarded Palestine partition was done in United Nations, then 33 countries voted in favour of the partition, 13 countries voted against the partition, and 10 countries refused to vote.
Arab countries opposed this partition plan and walked out from the General Assembly. They thought that the Arab population is almost twice in Palestine and which is why they should be given preference. However, UN Partition Plan was adopted.
Civil war broke out in Palestine between Arabs, Jews, and British forces just a day after the UN Partition Plan was adopted. This Civil war is generally known as the 1st Arab-Israeli War. until this period, the British did have partial control over Palestine and intervened to stop the violence.
On 14th May 1948, the British left all their claims on Palestine and left due to worsening conditions of Palestine. So on this day, Jews declared an independent country named Israel. Israel was given recognition as a country by the United States and Russia. Although Jews were happy with the partition, Arabs felt cheated as they wanted entire Palestine. Arabs were of the view that entire Palestine is their homeland.
Wars between Arabs-Israeli nations
1st Arab-Israeli War
On 15th May 1948, nearly 7 Arab nations formed a Union and sent their army to Palestine, and declared a war on Israel. This war continued for 10 long months and surprisingly, Israel won the war and acquired 60 per cent of the area given to the Arabs as per the UN Partition Plan. Due to this war, 7 lakh Palestinians were forced to leave their place and became refugees in their own homeland. This incident is known as “Nakba” which means disaster.
Seeing the widespread displacement, UN Resolution 194 was adopted by the UN General Assembly, this resolution states that the Palestinian refugees who wish to return shall be allowed to do so. If they do not wish to return to Palestine then they should be compensated for their properties.
After the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, various Armistice Agreements were signed. Armistice Agreements are the agreements signed by the parties of war stating that the war has reached an end. In 1949 Israel signed Armistice agreements with Jordon, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt for ending the war.
2nd Arab-Israeli War
The 2nd Arab-Israeli War took place in 1956 due to Suez Canal which was made in Egypt by France. Suez Canal is a major international trade point and the war took place due to the matter of its ownership. The two parties in the war comprised Israel, Britain, and France on one side, and Egypt along with the Soviet Union on the other.
In this conflict, Russia threatened to fire Nuclear missiles on Western Europe, whereas, the United States urged to bring the conflict to an end. The United States further warned all of them to be fined with economic sanctions if the conflict does to end.
The war had a major impact throughout the countries. By the time war came to an end, Egypt won and their leader Abdel Nasser emerged as a powerful leader but this Swez crisis established an important power shift. Before this war, the world power was enjoyed by Britain and France. But after the war, Europe and the Soviet Union emerged as new world powers.
1967: 6-day war
The next war held between Israel and Arab nations took place in 1967 in which Israel won and the whole map of the Middle East was transformed.
The war commenced on 13th May 1967 when the Soviet Union gave an intelligence report that Israel is preparing and collecting its armed forces for the Syria invasion. To protect Syria from invasion, Abdel Nasser then president of Egypt sends their army to the Sinai Peninsula. At this point, Egypt had full faith in its military superiority.
On 5th June, 200 military jets of Israel attack all the Egyptian airfields due to which the airforce of Egypt was destroyed. Israel did the same thing with the airfields of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq too.
On 7th June, Israel successfully took East Jerusalem and West Bank from Jordan. On the fourth day of the war, Israel acquired the territory up to the Suez Canal which includes the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt.
In this war of 6 days, Israel acquired many areas and became three times its original size. As a result of this war, Israel established its military superiority in the Middle East and acquired control of the West Bank.
Now, Israel was left with three choices on how to deal with the West Bank, firstly, it could make West Bank a part of Israel but then the 1 million Arabs located in West Bank will have to be given Israeli citizenship and voting rights. Secondly, give back West Bank to Jordan, and lastly, to make West Bank a Palestinian state. Until the time government could make a decision, many Israeli citizens started living there and making their permanent settlements in West Bank. However, United Nations stated that these settlements have no legal validity and peace cannot be restored in the Middle East if such incidents occur continuously. Many other countries also regarded it as a wrong move and termed it as colonization, expanding plan of its country.
In this war, the Sinai Peninsula was captured by Israel which was one of the major important areas of Egypt. This act was regarded as a big victory for Israel and a great loss for Egypt because Egypt always attacked Israel from the Sinai Peninsula. After this war, Abdel Nasser resigned from his post of President.
The 1973 attack
In the 1970s Egypt was suffering from many economical losses and their new President was Anwar Al Sadat.
In 1973, on the holy day of Jews, Yom Kippur also known as the Day of Atonement. On this holy day, the President of Egypt ordered an attack on Israel to show their superiority but Israel survived the attack and won. However, this attack left a need for long-term peace between both regions.
In 1978, US President, Jimmy Carter invited the President of Egypt and Israel to resolve conflicts in the long term. This was a 12 day long secretive process in which it was decided that on one hand, Israel will hand over the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt and on the other hand Egypt will give access to Israel for using the Suez Canal. Along with this, Egypt will also recognise Israel as a country for the very first time. Therefore, a permanent peace agreement was signed between Egypt and Israel which is known as Camp David Accord. From this day, whatever war took place were no more Arab-Israeli wars instead they became Israel-Palestine conflicts. Where all the western countries praised this move of Anwar Al Saddat, the Arabs got furious with this move and removed Egypt from the Arab League in 1979. Furthermore, in 1981, Anwar Al Saddat was assassinated.
Sabra and Shatila Massacre
On 20th September 2000, Israel’s opposition leader, Ariel Sharon visited the temple of Mount, the holiest site of Jews where two Islamic landmarks Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque are located. This is a very important site for both religions and the government of Ariel Sharon wanted this place to be under the control of Israel.
In the year 1985, the Sabra and Shatila massacre took place in which 3000 Palestinian citizens were murdered. Though this attack was performed by a militant organsiartion it is said that the defence forces of Israel helped them too. After the investigation of this massacre, Ariel Sharon who was the defence minister of Israel then took personal responsibility for being unable to stop the bloodshed. Due to this, Ariel Sharon was barred by all the Palestinian figures like Yasser Arafat from visiting the temple of Mount, yet he visits that place. This act of Ariel Sharon made Palestinians furious and they started a protest by pelting stones to protect their holy site. In response to this protest, Israeli police fire rubber bullets, and tear gas.
1st Intifada (1987- 1993)
The term Intifada is an Arabic term that means to shake off and Palestinians used this word in the sense of “uprising”. In the 1st Intifada, the level of violence was very low but it is considered an important event in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In the past many years, there were many terror attacks on Israeli borders. Due to such attacks, the Arabs who lived in Gaza Strip and West Bank became violent in time. They wanted to claim all the territories acquired by Israel in the war of 1967.
This led to the birth of Hamas who killed a military officer of Israel. After a few months, they killed six more military officers of Israel’s defence force. This act motivates Palestinians to fight against Israeli soldiers.
In December 1987, an Israeli truck driver met an accident with a car in which Palestinian workers were present and the rumours spread that the car crash was intentional. After this incident began the widespread demonstration and Israeli’s were attacked around 700 times. At this point in time, Israeli armed forces were only trained to fight the soldiers and not the civilians but Palestinians had no army at all, only civilians were protesting and doing riots. To curb the riots, Israeli forces used tear gasses, water cannons, rubber bullets, curfews, and mass arrests. This incident occupied wide coverage of the media and for the very first time, Palestinians saw Israeli’s as oppressors. Due to these circumstances, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was formed which was a political organisation under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin talked about the peace negotiation for which Oslo Accord was signed in 1933.
The Oslo accord was signed by Israel Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, along with the United States President, Bill Clinton, and Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. It was a set of agreements for the establishment of the Palestinian government, and the West Bank was divided into three sections, namely, Area A which constituted 18% of the West Bank, Area B which constituted 22% of the West Bank, and Area C which constituted 60% of the West Bank. Area A contained the maximum population of Palestine and the Palestinians had full control over government and security. This was a very huge and historic step because the Palestinian government was given the chance to self-rule for the first time. Area B had the government control of Palestine but the Israeli military will be present as the security control will be of Israel. Area C includes the area where Israeli settlements were present and were under the complete control of Israel. This area consists of the maximum natural resources, agricultural lands, mineral and water resources. However, this accord was strongly opposed by the Palestinians and Israelis, and Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by the Israeli ultra-nationalist.
2nd Intifada (2005- 2005)
After the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, the next Prime Minister was Benjamin Netanyahu who was against this Oslo Accord since the first day. The same year when Benjamin Netanyahu was appointed as the new Israeli Prime Minister began the 2nd Intifada.
After the violence of the 1st Intifada, general Israeli civilians avoided any kind of Palestinian involvement. Whereas in Palestine, terrorist organisations like Hamas and Islamic jihadi were also forming. The 2nd Intifada was much violent in comparison to the 1st Intifada. The 2nd Intifada took away 4000 lives and also developed the concept of suicide bombings.
Operation Defensive Shield
In response to these attacks, Israel started a military operation named Operation Defensive Shield. This operation was planned to reduce terrorism by taking into control the territories given to Palestine under Oslo Accord. Because under Palestinian control these areas were becoming terror camps. Due to this operation Suicide bombing was reduced by 70%. After this conflict, Israel started constructing a security barrier around the West Bank so that no terrorists could enter Israeli areas. This made the security of Israel extremely strong and suicide bombings completely stopped.
Hence, this topic involves various elements of the Israel-Palestine issue. Their history dates back to more than 70 years. Since World War, the entire Middle East region has seen series of wars, each of which changed the map of the countries in the region. This article is inclusive of what is Israel-Palestine conflict, the history of the Ottoman Empire, the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, McMohan-Hussein Correspondence, what is Balfour Declaration, western powers in the Middle East, Sykes-Picot agreement and Mandate for Palestine, WW2, an influx of Jewish immigrants and problems, UN Partition Plan of 1947, Resolution 181, 1st Arab Israel War, Nakba, Partition of Israel and Palestine 1947-48, 2nd Arab Israel War, Suez Canal War, 1967 6 Day War, and West Bank settlement, Camp David Accord – Israel and Egypt, 1st Intifada, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Oslo Accord, Israel-Palestine Peace Agreement, 2nd Intifada, and Suicide Bombings and Ariel Sharon, and Operation Defensive Shield.
This article is written by Sneha Mahawar from Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies, Bangalore. The article discusses the concept of the conflict between Israel and Palestine in light of its past relations and conflicts.