Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians stem from a number of places, but if we set aside the biblical ancestry of Isaac and Ishmael, the conflict is primarily a land dispute: both Palestine and Israel claim the same area as their nation.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the disputed area was a part of the Ottoman Empire, with Muslims, Christians and Jews living in relative harmony. The Empire’s population at the time was 87% Muslim, 10% Christian and 3% Jewish, with these groups being equal in the population of Jerusalem city.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the people living in this area began to develop a distinct Arab ethnicity and Palestinian identity, despite the existence of an official Palestinian state.
During the same period In Europe, Theodor Herzl developed Zionism; the idea that Judaism was not just a religion, but also a nationality, and that Jews, therefore, were deserving of their own nation. They decided that it should be Israel. The Jewish people of the western world faced discrimination and persecution that made the idea of a Jewish nation, a place of sanctuary for them, even more attractive.
After World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the British and French split the Middle East between them. With Britain presiding over the area of Palestine, it issued the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the 1919 British Mandate for Palestine that aimed to establish a national homeland for Jews within Palestine. While also establishing separate institutions for each of the three religions, allowing them to ‘divide and rule’.
Jewish immigration to the area increased, making 30% of Palestine’s population Jewish. Jews purchased land from absentee Palestinian landowners and evicted their farmers and tenants.
In 1936, the Palestinians revolted against British rule, but, with the support of Jewish militia groups, were easily and brutally subdued. Yet Britain went on to publish a white paper limiting Jewish immigration to the area and aiming to establish a joint Arab-Jewish State. This aim was completely derailed by World War II. A post-war downtrodden Britain passed the ‘problem’ of Palestine on to the newly created United Nations.
In the meantime, the Holocaust encouraged the mass migration of Jewish people to Palestine, as well as provoking international support for the Jewish nation. In 1947, the UN proposed a two-state solution to the land dispute that partition the area into a Palestinian state and an Israeli state of equal size, with Jerusalem set aside as an International Zone. The Jews accepted the UN proposal, while the Arabs did not.
Arab states across the Middle East gained independence after World War II and they went to war against the new state of Israel in 1948 in the hopes of establishing a unified Arab Palestine. When the war ended in 1949, Israel occupied all of the UN’s proposed Palestinian state, except Gaza that was controlled by Egypt and the West Bank which was controlled by Jordan.
This war was impactful in a number of ways; to Palestinians, it became known as Nakba, or Catastrophe, as over 700,000 Palestinians became refugees, to Israelis, this war marked the birth of their homeland of Israel and in a wider context, it marked the beginning of hostile relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours. In 1964, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was established under Yasser Arafat with the aim of freeing Palestine from Israeli occupation.
In 1967, Israel went to war with the Arab states again in the Six Days War. This conflict was short but lucrative for Israel as it won and in the process seized huge areas of land: Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and the immense area of Gaza and the Sinai peninsula from Egypt.
Israeli’s began to move and buy land in Israeli occupied Palestine. They were often subsidised by the Israeli government and accompanied by Israeli armed forces for protection. These settlements are illegal under international law, but Israel refused to acknowledge the existence of Palestine and therefore the illegality of their actions.
In 1978, there was finally a move towards peace due to American political intervention. Under the Camp David Accords, Israel returned the Egyptian land it was occupying to Egypt. This move marked the conflict transition from a wider Middle Eastern issue to a more internal Israel-Palestine dispute.
Heightened frustrations with the continued Israeli occupation among Palestinians led to the First Intifada, or uprising, that escalated from protests and boycotts to more violent measures between 1987 and 1993. Many Palestinians began to believe that the PLO was too secular and that they were too willing to compromise, so Hamas was established. This extremist terrorist group is known had the explicit aim of destroying the state of Israel, yet much of their popularity among Palestinians stemmed not from their violence, but mostly from their social welfare work for the occupied people in Gaza.
The First Intifada ended with the 1993 Oslo Accords; a deal brokered by Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat that established the Palestinian Authority as a governing body that would be allowed to preside over Palestinians in a limited number of areas in Israeli occupied Palestine. This comprises sparked outrage from extremists on both sides.
The next attempt at peace, Camp David II in 2000, triggered the Second Intifada. 2002 marked a turn in the Israeli stance on the occupied lands, they began to believe that the Palestinians would never accept a peaceful compromise and decided to work to contain the Palestinian uprising instead: they built a wall and began restricting and monitoring Palestinians movements. From the Israeli perspective, this was self-defence. To Palestinians, it was another move toward totalitarianism in their occupied state.
In 2005, Arafat died and Israel withdrew from Gaza, allowing Hamas to take over this area, while also splitting from the Palestinian Authority. This situation continues today. The residents of Israel and their settlements are mostly shielded from the routine violence that the residents of Gaza are subjected to by both Hamas and the Israeli troops. Gaza is poorly governed and Israeli apathy for the plight of the Palestinians grows.
In December 2017, Donald Trump made America the first country to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A move that further aggravated Hamas, as they called for the beginning of a third Intifada.
There is no solution in sight. There are currently seven million Palestinian refugees that believe that they should have the right to return home when a peace agreement is made. Yet allowing these seven million to return would make Israelis a minority within their state, so they refuse to accept a right to return. Similarly, what should become of the Jewish settlers?
This conflict stemmed from colonial incompetence and a failure of two to recognise the other’s national narrative, but now the number of complexities and deal breakers for the parties involved has amassed to an extent that a peaceful agreement seems infinitely difficult to imagine.
By Muireann O’Shea – CoEditor