What is the root cause of the Israel-Palestine conflict? A simple overview
It has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives and the displacement of millions, with its resolution closely tied to its historical origins. We'll provide an in-depth analysis.
The Israel-Palestine conflict has resulted in the death of tens of thousands and the displacement of millions, with its origins traced back to a colonial act over a century ago.
In response to an unprecedented attack by the Palestinian group Hamas, Israel declared war on the Gaza Strip. This recent escalation has once again captured global attention. Hamas fighters have caused the deaths of more than 800 Israelis through assaults on various towns in southern Israel. In retaliation, Israel initiated a bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, leading to the deaths of over 500 Palestinians.
Israel has also mobilized troops along the Gaza border, potentially gearing up for a ground assault. Furthermore, on Monday, it imposed a “total blockade” on the Gaza Strip, halting the supply of essential goods such as food and fuel to the already besieged area, an action considered a war crime under international law.
However, the unfolding events in the coming days and weeks are deeply rooted in historical tensions. For years, Western media, academics, military experts, and world leaders have characterized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a seemingly unsolvable, intricate, and deadlocked situation.
The Balfour Declaration, issued more than a century ago on November 2, 1917, was a letter written by Britain’s then-foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a prominent figure in the British Jewish community. Though it consisted of only 67 words, its impact on Palestine is still deeply felt today.
The Balfour Declaration pledged the British government’s support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and its commitment to help achieve this goal. This document is known as the Balfour Declaration.
In essence, this declaration represented a promise by a European power to the Zionist movement to create a homeland for Jewish people in a region where Palestinian Arabs comprised over 90 percent of the population.
A British Mandate was established in 1923 and remained in effect until 1948. During this period, the British facilitated significant Jewish immigration, with many new residents escaping Nazism in Europe. This policy led to protests and strikes by Palestinians who were concerned about the changing demographics of their country and the British confiscation of their lands for Jewish settlement.
The Balfour Declaration played a crucial role in shaping the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the historical events that followed.
During the 1930s, several significant events unfolded in Palestine:
- Arab Revolt (1936-1939): Escalating tensions in the region led to the Arab Revolt, which spanned from 1936 to 1939.
- General Strike and Boycott: In April 1936, the newly formed Arab National Committee called on Palestinians to initiate a general strike, withhold tax payments, and boycott Jewish products. This was a protest against British colonialism and the increasing Jewish immigration.
- British Repression: The six-month strike was met with brutal suppression by the British authorities. They launched a mass arrest campaign and carried out punitive home demolitions, a practice that continues to affect Palestinians to this day.
- Peasant Resistance: The second phase of the revolt began in late 1937 and was led by the Palestinian peasant resistance movement. They targeted British forces and colonial institutions.
- British Military Response: By the latter half of 1939, Britain had deployed 30,000 troops in Palestine. Villages were bombed from the air, curfews were imposed, homes were demolished, and administrative detentions and summary executions were widespread.
- Collaboration with Jewish Settlers: Simultaneously, the British collaborated with the Jewish settler community and formed armed groups. A British-led “counterinsurgency force” of Jewish fighters, known as the Special Night Squads, was created. Within the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish settler community, arms were secretly imported, and weapons factories were established to strengthen the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization that later formed the core of the Israeli army.
- Casualties: Over the course of the three-year revolt, approximately 5,000 Palestinians were killed, 15,000 to 20,000 were wounded, and 5,600 were imprisoned.
These events played a significant role in shaping the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and had a lasting impact on the political and social landscape of the region.
UN Partition Plan?
The UN partition plan, officially known as United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, was a proposal put forward in 1947. It called for the partition of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states.
Here are the key points related to the UN partition plan:
- Demographic and Land Ownership Disparities: By 1947, the Jewish population in Palestine had grown to 33 percent, but they owned only 6 percent of the land.
- Resolution 181: The United Nations adopted Resolution 181, which outlined a plan to partition Palestine into two separate states: one for the Jewish population and one for the Arab population.
- Palestinian Rejection: The Palestinian leadership and Arab states rejected the plan. They opposed it because it allocated approximately 56 percent of Palestine’s territory to the Jewish state, which included a significant portion of the fertile coastal region.
- Demographic and Ownership Context: At that time, Palestinians owned 94 percent of historic Palestine and constituted 67 percent of the total population. The UN partition plan was seen as favoring the Jewish community in terms of land distribution and territorial allocation.
Ultimately, the UN partition plan was a pivotal moment in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it contributed to the ongoing disputes over territory and the establishment of Israel as a state.
The 1948 Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic, was a pivotal and tragic event in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It marked a period of significant upheaval:
- Zionist Expansion: Prior to the expiration of the British Mandate on May 14, 1948, Zionist paramilitary groups had already initiated military operations aimed at expanding the borders of the future Jewish state. This included the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages.
- Deir Yassin Massacre: In April 1948, a shocking event occurred when more than 100 Palestinian men, women, and children were killed in the village of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem. This incident set a grim tone for the ongoing operations.
- Destruction of Palestinian Communities: From 1947 to 1949, over 500 Palestinian villages, towns, and cities were destroyed. This period is known as the Nakba, during which an estimated 15,000 Palestinians lost their lives, including in numerous massacres.
- Territorial Changes: As a result of these events, the Zionist movement captured 78 percent of historic Palestine, while the remaining 22 percent was divided into what is now the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
- Palestinian Displacement: Approximately 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes during this period. Many of their descendants continue to live as refugees, with an estimated six million residing in 58 camps across Palestine and neighboring countries like Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.
- Establishment of Israel: On May 15, 1948, Israel formally announced its establishment.
- Arab-Israeli War: The following day, the first Arab-Israeli war commenced. The fighting concluded in January 1949 with an armistice agreement between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.
- UN Resolution 194: In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which called for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, an issue that continues to be a point of contention and negotiation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Following the Nakba in 1948, significant developments occurred in the region:
- Palestinians in Israel: After the establishment of the state of Israel, approximately 150,000 Palestinians remained in the newly created state. They lived under a tightly controlled military administration for nearly 20 years before they were eventually granted Israeli citizenship. This period was marked by various restrictions and challenges for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
- Gaza Strip under Egyptian Control: Egypt assumed control of the Gaza Strip, which became a separate administrative entity.
- Jordan’s Rule over the West Bank: In 1950, Jordan began its administrative rule over the West Bank, effectively annexing it.
- Formation of the PLO: In 1964, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was established. The PLO served as a representative body for Palestinians and became a key player in the struggle for Palestinian rights. It aimed to achieve the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.
- Establishment of Fatah: A year later, in 1965, the Fatah political party was founded. Fatah is one of the prominent factions within the PLO and played a significant role in the Palestinian national movement. It is closely associated with its leader, Yasser Arafat.
These developments contributed to the evolving landscape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader regional dynamics in the Middle East.
The Naksa, or “setback” in Arabic, refers to the period following the Six-Day War in 1967, which had significant consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
- Occupation of More Territories: On June 5, 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel occupied the remaining territories of historic Palestine, including the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. This marked a significant expansion of Israeli control in the region.
- Second Forced Displacement: The Naksa led to what some Palestinians consider a second forced displacement, as many were uprooted from their homes and communities once again.
- Formation of Leftist Groups: In December 1967, the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was established. Over the following decade, various leftist groups carried out a series of attacks and plane hijackings that drew international attention to the Palestinian cause.
- Settlement Construction: One of the critical developments during this period was the commencement of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel established Jewish settlements in these areas, creating a two-tier system. Jewish settlers were granted the rights and privileges of Israeli citizens, while Palestinians lived under a military occupation that discriminated against them and restricted their political and civic expression.
The Naksa, the occupation of these territories, and the subsequent expansion of settlements played a substantial role in shaping the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the complex dynamics in the region.
The First Intifada
The first Palestinian Intifada, which spanned from 1987 to 1993, was a significant and transformative period in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
- Tragic Trigger: The Intifada began in December 1987 in the Gaza Strip following a tragic incident in which four Palestinians were killed when an Israeli truck collided with two vans carrying Palestinian workers.
- Spread of Protests: Protests rapidly spread to the West Bank, with young Palestinians engaging in acts of resistance, including throwing stones at Israeli army tanks and soldiers.
- Emergence of Hamas: The Intifada also marked the emergence of Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which engaged in armed resistance against the Israeli occupation.
- Israeli Response: Israel responded with a heavy-handed approach, including a policy known as “Break their Bones” advocated by then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. This policy involved summary killings, university closures, deportations of activists, and the demolition of homes.
- Unified National Leadership: The Intifada was primarily led by young people and coordinated by the Unified National Leadership of the Uprising, a coalition of Palestinian political factions committed to ending the Israeli occupation and establishing Palestinian independence.
- Recognition of PLO: In 1988, the Arab League recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.
- Characteristics of the Intifada: The Intifada was characterized by popular mobilizations, mass protests, civil disobedience, well-organized strikes, and communal cooperatives.
- Human Toll: According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 1,070 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the Intifada, including 237 children. More than 175,000 Palestinians were arrested.
- International Engagement: The Intifada prompted the international community to intensify efforts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The first Intifada was a pivotal phase in the ongoing struggle for Palestinian rights and played a role in shaping the dynamics of the conflict and international involvement.
The Oslo Accords marked a significant shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the subsequent formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Here are some key points about this period:
- End of the Intifada: The first Palestinian Intifada came to a close with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. These agreements led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.
- Creation of the Palestinian Authority: The Palestinian Authority was formed as an interim government that was granted limited self-rule within certain areas of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
- Recognition and Agreements: As part of the Oslo Accords, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized Israel and committed to a two-state solution. These agreements effectively gave Israel control over a significant portion of the West Bank, including land and water resources.
- Unfulfilled Aspirations: The Oslo process was intended to pave the way for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. However, the realization of these goals has not materialized, leading to ongoing frustrations and disputes.
- Criticism of the Palestinian Authority: The Palestinian Authority has faced criticism, particularly from some segments of the Palestinian population, who view it as a corrupt entity collaborating with the Israeli occupation. It is often accused of suppressing dissent and political activism against Israel.
- Gaza Barrier: In 1995, Israel constructed an electronic fence and concrete wall around the Gaza Strip. This barrier has had significant implications for the movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, effectively splitting the Palestinian territories.
The Oslo years and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority represented a complex chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both positive and contentious aspects. The desired outcome of a fully independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem has remained elusive.
The Second Intifada- Significant period
The second Intifada, which began on September 28, 2000, was a significant and tumultuous period in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
- Provocative Visit by Ariel Sharon: The Intifada was ignited when Ariel Sharon, then the Likud opposition leader, made a highly provocative visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. His visit was accompanied by thousands of security forces deployed in and around the Old City of Jerusalem.
- Initial Clashes: The visit led to clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, resulting in the deaths of five Palestinians and injuries to 200 individuals over two days.
- Widespread Uprising: The incident sparked a widespread armed uprising, known as the second Intifada, characterized by protests, violence, and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces.
- Impact on Palestinian Economy: The Intifada had a devastating impact on the Palestinian economy and infrastructure, leading to extensive damage.
- Israeli Actions: During the second Intifada, Israel reoccupied areas governed by the Palestinian Authority and initiated the construction of a separation wall. This barrier, along with the expansion of settlements, had severe consequences for Palestinian livelihoods and communities.
- Settlements and Their Growth: Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are considered illegal under international law. However, the number of Jewish settlers living on expropriated Palestinian land has grown significantly. They are supported by settler-only roads and infrastructure that divide the occupied West Bank, resembling the system of bantustans created during South Africa’s apartheid era.
- Expansion of Settlements: The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has increased from just over 110,000 at the time of the Oslo Accords to more than 700,000, occupying over 100,000 hectares (390 square miles) of land expropriated from Palestinians.
The second Intifada had a profound impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reshaping the dynamics and contributing to ongoing tensions in the region.
And Now in The 21st century
The period following the second Intifada witnessed significant events and divisions within the Palestinian territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip:
- Yasser Arafat’s Death: Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), passed away in 2004.
- End of Second Intifada: The second Intifada came to an end a year later. During this period, Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip were dismantled, and Israeli soldiers, along with 9,000 settlers, withdrew from the enclave.
- Palestinian General Election: In 2006, Palestinians held their first general election. Hamas emerged as the majority winner.
- Fatah-Hamas Conflict: Following the election, a Fatah-Hamas civil war erupted, lasting for several months and leading to the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians. This internal strife resulted in Hamas expelling Fatah from the Gaza Strip, while Fatah, which is the main party of the Palestinian Authority, retained control over parts of the West Bank.
- Israeli Blockade of Gaza: In June 2007, Israel imposed a comprehensive land, air, and naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, justifying it by accusing Hamas of involvement in “terrorism.”
These developments contributed to a significant division within the Palestinian territories, with Hamas governing Gaza and Fatah retaining control over parts of the West Bank.
The blockade of Gaza has had profound humanitarian and political consequences, affecting the daily lives of its residents and further complicating efforts to reach a resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Gaza Strip has been the target of several significant military assaults by Israel, resulting in devastating consequences for the Palestinian population:
- Military Assaults: Israel has launched four protracted military assaults on Gaza in the recent past, specifically in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021.
- Human Casualties: These assaults have resulted in the loss of thousands of Palestinian lives, including a significant number of children. Many civilians have been among the casualties.
- Infrastructure Destruction: Tens of thousands of homes, schools, and office buildings have been destroyed during these offensives, leading to severe infrastructure damage.
- Blockade Impact: Rebuilding efforts have been hindered by the longstanding blockade of Gaza, which restricts the entry of essential construction materials like steel and cement.
- Use of Banned Weapons: The 2008 assault involved the use of internationally banned weaponry, such as phosphorus gas, which had severe consequences for those exposed to it.
- Operation Protective Edge (2014): During the 2014 assault, known as Operation Protective Edge by the Israelis, more than 2,100 Palestinians lost their lives. This included 1,462 civilians and close to 500 children. Approximately 11,000 Palestinians were wounded, 20,000 homes were destroyed, and half a million people were displaced during the 50-day conflict.
These military operations have had profound and long-lasting effects on the Gaza Strip, impacting the lives of its residents, the region’s infrastructure, and efforts to establish stability and peace in the area.