The West Bank continues to be marred by bloodshed, as on October 17 Palestinian gunmen killed Rehavam Zeevi, Israeli Tourism Minister, In a hotel lobby. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) took responsibility for the crime and claimed it was retribution for the Israeli killing of Mustafa Zibri, their leader, on August 27. The killing sparked a massive Israeli occupation in some Palestinian towns in the West Bank, a move that immediately prompted violence in those areas. This cycle of attack and retribution has characterised the past year of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and again it threatens peace.
However heinous this may seem it is daily life for the Israelis and Palestinians. How and why people live in such horror can only be understood by examining the conflict’s history. It’s sheer length and magnitude has many resigned to the belief that while true peace between these sworn enemies is possible, it certainly is not probable.
My purpose is to give a clear understand of the strife’s background, its present and use these two to project a possible future. I will do so by presenting the emotional ties both sides have to the land, the Zionists appeal for a state of their own, the ramifications of their success and the struggle towards peace. I have pulled from many sources in order to give the most comprehensive picture possible.
Moses led the Israelites to freedom and out of many centuries in slavery. The forty years
of wondering that followed made the Israelites extremely appreciative of Canaan, the land they believed God had promised them as part of their agreement. The Israelites lived comfortably for
many centuries but successive conquerors—the Assyrian, Babylonians and Romans—were
enough to drive the Israelites off their land and begin a the Jewish diaspora.
By the seventh century the Christian Roman Empire had control of the Middle East region, at which time Islam was gaining popularity. Upon Muhammad’s (the founder of the faith) death, his followers sent armies to spread his message. They did so diligently and began establishing dynasties to retain control of the areas they had seized from the Romans. Except for the hundred year Roman control of Jerusalem, the middle east region has been entirely under Arab-Islamic rule (Compton’s Encyclopaedia 4th ed., s.v. “Israel” and “Middle East”).
Anti-semitic feelings in the nineteenth gave birth to the Zionist movement whose aim was to create a state in which the Jewish people could live free from persecution. The Zionists plea for a Jewish State in Palestine was continually denied by Britain, who thought that creating a Jewish state would be a contrast to its own imperialistic efforts (Fisher 1959). Also opposing their request were Christian fundamentalists who saw the creation of a Jewish state as a sign of world’s impeding end (Compton’s Encyclopaedia 4th ed.[cd-rom], s.v. “Zionism”). Finally In 1903, the British government offered the Zionist Land in Uganda. They refused it, arguing only in Palestine, on lands that were theirs via divine decree, could a Jewish state exist.
Changing sentiments lead Great Britain to expressed its support for a Jewish state in Palestine with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. After World War I’s end, the League of Nations reduction of the Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empires resulted in British mandate over Palestine. One of its duties under the mandate was to set up an infrastructure to foster the creation of a Jewish state. At this point, the world power found itself between two hostile people: the Arabs whom they governed in Palestine and the Zionists for whom they were laying the foundations of a state (Cossali and Robson 1986).
Lesch and Tessler (1989) state Palestine had always been the least progressive of the Arabs states and the British mandate brought with it a needed improvement in the educational and health system. They continue that under British rule Palestine was undergoing a vast societal upgrade, which only stagnated when the Palestinians rejected the 1947 United Nations land proposal. On the other hand, Cossali and Robson (1986) agree that these improvements were underway, but not for the Palestinians. They believe British advocacy of a Jewish State produced discrimination against the Palestinians, which manifested in the policies they imposed on the Arabs. Palestinian services were kept at their minimum. Arabs were constrained to study about Great Britain and nothing of their own region, yet the Zionists who lived in Palestine were left to make and implement their education system. But even more damning was the bureaucracy whose policies forced the Arabs into selling their lands, while encouraging the Zionists to buy in order to make room for future Jewish settlers. In essence the Jewish minority was allowed complete autonomy while the Palestinian Arabs were forced to obey the discriminatory policies of the British. The later may be a more accurate picture of Palestinian life under British mandate, considering the underlying purpose of Great Britain’s presence in the area.
German atrocities against the Jews during World War II increased sympathy for the nation. The once stern oppositions against Zionism began to wane and the creation of a Jewish state was seen as an immediate. Attempting to correct some of the mistakes it had made earlier, the British tried curtailing Jewish immigration, but this only led to a confrontation between the two and finally Britain, failing to complete it task, passed on the problem to the United Nations.
Finally in 1947 the UN drafted a partition which would result in both Arab and Jewish
states in Palestine. The Zionist accepted this partition but the Arabs did not. Neverthelss the UN
carried out the division, igniting Arab riots (WGBH Boston and Brian Lapping Associates).
A Conflict Is Born: 1948 and after
By May 13, 1948 The Zionist had control of their lands as proposed by the UN plus some Arab territories they seized. A mass exodus ensued with some Palestinians fleeing to Gaza, the West Bank and neighbouring Arab countries (WGBH Boston and Brian Lapping Associates). This would later have negative effects on the Palestinians’ ability to resist the Israeli.
On May 14, Israel, the Jewish State was declared and immediately forced from Syria, Jordan and Egypt descended upon the new state to destroy it. Fighting continued for several months but a truce was declared in 1949, by which timeEgypt had captured Gaza and Jordan annexed the West Bank. The little territories the Palestinians had migrated to were captured and occupied by others. They had become homeless in their own lands. (Lesch and Tessler 1989, 90)
Israel began implementing policies to define its statehood. The “Law of Return” was one such policy it guaranteed any Jew in the world full Israeli citizenship. Yet Palestinian-Arabs who were born in Palestine and know of no other lands are denied employment in any sector that “constitute defense” as the Israeli government sees them as a threat to national security. They are clearly treated as second class citizens even though the Israeli constitution stipulates they have the same rights as Jewish Israelis (Lesch and Tessler 1989, 92-4).
The majority of the Palestinians elite and intellects had migrated to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and those that remained in Palestine were left disorganized and leaderless. As the Arab world continued to ineffectively represent the Palestinian cause, The Palestinian Liberation Organization, in 1964, was set up exclusive for this. It’s charter labeled the Jewish State illegitimate and call for it’s total destruction a feelings shared by many Palestinians. (Sayigh 1979; Laqueur and Rubin 1984).
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Russia, hoping to destabilize the Middle East by creating a mini war, falsely reported to Egypt that Israel had mobilized its troops. Egypt feeling vulnerable threatened the closure of the Suez Canal to all Israeli vessels. The Canal was considered international territory by the UN meaning Egypt had no authority to close it. Israel felt the need to defend its only trade route to the East and so on June 5th, 1967 war broke out when Israeli troops sought and destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force. This would have been the end the wars except that Jordan initiated a missile attack on West Jerusalem. The Israeli forces stormed through the West Bank and soundly defeated the aggressors. They then invaded Syrian. By June 11, Israel emerged victorious and Had quadrupled its landmass by seizing the Gaza strip and the Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heigths from Syria. (WGBH Boston and Brian Lapping Associates).
It can be argued that Israel capitalized on the Russian deception to carry out her expansionistic endeavours, particularly since they invaded and captured lands from Syria who made no open threats. But it can also be argued that Israel acted out of justified paranoia. History taught the nation that her neighbours act as a group and just maybe she believed it easier to succeed at a pre-emptive strike that at a defensive battle. Supporting evidence lies in the fact that initially the acquired lands were not used for settlements, but as buffer zones to defend Israel’s borders. Once more, the Palestinians were the ones who suffered the most, because the military presence marked the beginnings of Israeli Occupation.
In 1970 some migrant Palestinians with the help of the PLO used Jordan as a base from which to attack Israel. Jordan’s King Hussein denounced such actions and a civil war ensured between the Jordanians and the Yassir Arafat lead PLO. The PLO was quickly defeated and soon after was expelled from the country. The organization moved its headquarters to Beirut and supported Palestinian guerillas’ aggressions on Israel from the southern tip of Lebanon. The Lebanese Government tried to curb the PLO’s actions but the violent situation coupled with increase Lebanese Muslim’s demands for more power in government, thrust the country into a Christian against Muslim civil war in 1975. By 1977 the Lebanese death toll had reached 40,000. The price of the war was becoming increasingly clear. Israel offered her help and invaded Lebanon in June 1982, driving out some 15,000 PLO and Palestinian militants, who were believed to be perpetuating the war (WGBH Boston and Brian Lapping Associates), Compton’s Encylcopedia 4th ed, s.v. “Jordon” and “Lebenon”).
The PLO had seemingly gone from a legitimate organization to a terrorist unit, whose leader was now living in exile. They had no success and Palestinian frustration was mounting.
“I am 73 years old. I have lived in Gaza when it was under Ottoman Rule. When that
passed, the poor remained poor and the rich remained rich, but they all remained here.
The British ruled over us; they left we stayed. The Egyptians followed, they tortured some
of us, they left and we stayed. The Israelis are the first who want to take away our land.” 
The above quote sums how the Palestinians view Israeli occupation. The occupied territories were only used as defense mechanism upon their acquisition, but Menachim Begin’s government of 1977 began a plan of Israeli settlements in those areas. Begin believe they were
the “Land of Israel” and if attempts were made to expel Israelis, it would be more difficult were they the majority, hence the gradual annexing of the areas (Lesch and Tessler 1989, 145; Cossali and Robson1986, 74).
After twenty years of frustration Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza began the Intifada or Uprising, included stone throwing, strikes and most other means of resistance. Retaliation by the Israeli forces produced 300 Palestinian deaths and another 6000 detention. Yassir Arafat realized that peace would only be achieved through diplomacy and, as the head of the PLO, declared Palestine an independent state and accepted the UN resolution to recognize Israel’s right to exist (Lesch and Tessler). However Israel refused to extend diplomatic recognition to the PLO who they saw as a terrorists. Palestinians were further angered when the collapse of the Soviet Union prompted an immigration of Russian Jews, greatly increasing Jewish settlement in the West Bank (WGBH Boston and Brian Lapping Associates). All these developments served to sustain the Intifada.
Simultaneous peace talks in Washington marked a turning point since it was then that the PLO became and official part of the peace process. These talks were jeopardised when in December 1992 the Israeli army deported some 415 Palestinian men in southern Lebanon because of their role in the uprising. Despite this the talks continued and on September 13, 1993, Yitzak Rabin—then Israeli Prime Minister—and Yasir Arafat signed the Washington Pact that granted Israel’s formal recognition of the PLO and limited self-rule to Gaza and Jericho in the West Bank. This agreement was also a milestone because the pact made provisions for an independent Palestinian State (Stavrianos 1999).
Nevertheless, the pact brought displeasure on both sides. Some Israelis, including—then opposition party leader—Benjamin Netanyahu accused Rabin of dismissing the needs of Israelis. Two years after the pact Rabin was killed by an Israeli Jew who had views similar to Netenyahu’s (Stavrianos 1999). Soon after Netanyahu became Prime Minister bringing with him his hawkish approach the issue that hampering the peace process. Arabs lays part blame for the derailment of the peace process with The Clinton Administration. They believe United States’
President Clinton did not push Israel hard enough to accept a compromise (Gergis 1999).
This is one example of the back and forth pattern the Arab-Israeli peace process had
taken in the 1990s. Once little progress is made, the events that follow—change of government, Israeli policy in occupied territories or a suicide bomb in down town Tel Aviv—undermine it. This pattern has continued to this day. September 26th marked the first meeting between Shimon Peres (Israel’s Foreign Minister) and Yassir Arafat (the president of the Palestinian Authority which has limited governance over the Gaza strip) after several weeks of postponements due to venue disagreements. Little was expected form a meeting that could be so easily sidetracked over a venue dispute. Nevertheless the meeting is a step towards peace, which is always positive.
The recent assassination of Rehavam Zeevi angered Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into suspending the withdrawal of Israeli troops from some Palestinian territories, an agreement that the meeting between Peres and Arafat had yielded. Also he promptly stated that war against Arafat would ensue if he doesn’t quiet the Palestinian territories. All these developments put in jeopardy an aim towards peace that is already very tentative.
Seemingly, Palestinians in occupied territories live similar lives to the blacks in South Africa under Apartheid. Like the blacks had, they need citizenship cards to enter certain parts of Israeli towns and are restricted from working in particular fields. But unlike the blacks in South Africa the Palestinians have no widespread international support. When the blacks took stone in hand to resist the constraints of apartheid they were seen as freedom fighters but when Palestinians do the same, they are regarded as terrorists. In fact Cossali and Robson (1986) state that many Palestinians feel the world has forsaken them. I am of the same opinion. The world
has not been nearly as strict on Israel as it had been on South Africa because unlike apartheid,
the problems in Israel, via the UN resolution of 1947, is the world’s creation. The UN imposed a nation and states in the middle of another country despite the Palestinian outcry, and once that was done it overlooked the new states immediate injustices on the people they had infringed upon (e.g. Deir Yassin) a tread that continues today. The truth is if the world were to sanction Israel it would be like a mother severely punishing a child whose personality she not only helped create but nurtured.
The lack outside intervention is only on reason why the violence still continues. Another factor is that each side has an indelible perception of the other. The Israelis view the Palestinians as a real threat to their national security and Palestinians see the Israelis as illegitimate colonizers who they can rid themselves of only through the Jewish state’s liquidation (Harkabi 1972).
Things in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process move very slowly and if the history of the conflict is any indication then I would be fair in saying that a year form now there will be no significant difference in the issue’s status. By that time, Israel may have pulled its troops from Bethlehem and other areas, restoring some quiet to the occupied territories, but without a doubt, the bloodshed that has characterised this conflict for fifty years will continue to head the news. After all no one expects peace overnight.
However it would be a mistake to think that the creation of a Palestinian State will automatically bring peace. The fact that these ideas the enemies have towards each other have been fostered by decades of fighting means that for true peace to be possible a complete change in Palestinian and Israeli mindset would have to take place. Each side would have to see the other as persons suffering the consequences of violence as they do and not as some force out for
their (the Palestinian’s or Israeli’s) total destruction.
Cossali, Paul and Clive Robson. Stateless in Gaza. London: Zed books, 1986.
Fisher, Carol A. and Fred Krinsky. Middle East in Crisis: A Historical Documentation Review.
Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1959.
Gerges, Fawaz. America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures, Clash of Interest. 1999.
Harkabi, Yesoshafat. Arab Attitude towards Israel. Israel: Israel University Press, 1972.
Laqueur, Walter and Barry Rubin. (Eds) The Israeli-Arab Reader: A documentary of Middle
East Conflict. New York: Penguin Books, 1984.
Lesch, Ann Mosley and Mark Tessler. Israel. Egypt and the Palestinians: From Camp
David to Intifada. Indiana: Indiana University Press 1989.
Sayih, Rosemary. Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries. London: Zed Books, 1979.
Stavrianos, Leften S. The World Since 1500: A Global History. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, New
Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999.
WGBH Boston and Brian Lapping Associates. The Fifty Years War: Israel and the Arabs.(1999),
PBS DVD Video.
 “Palestinian Militants Kill Israeli Cabinet Official.”by Lee Hockstader Washington Post. 18 October 2001, sec A, p 1
 By Rashad al Shawwa, former Mayor of Gaza, in Dover November 18, 1981 as cited in Lesch and Tessler 1989
 “Assassinating Middle East Peace.” Washington Post. 19 October 2001, p. A 28.
 “Palestinians Reject Demands To Extradite Israeli’s Killer.” By Lee Hockstader. Washington Post. 19 October p. A 24.