Dr Aniruddha Babar
“Why should they love us?Why do you think the Arabs are not entitled to resist strangers who come here suddenly as if from another planet, and take away their land and their soil, fields, villages and towns, the graves of their ancestors and their children’s inheritance? We tell ourselves that we only came to this land “to build and be rebuilt”, “to renew our days of old”, “to redeem our ancestors heritage”, etcetera, but you tell me if there is any other people in this world who would welcome with open arms an incursion of hundreds of thousands of strangers, and then millions of strangers, landing from far away with the weird claim that their holy scripture, which they brought with them also from far away, promise this whole land to them and them alone.”
~ Amos Oz, JUDAS
One of the biggest myths about the Israel-Palestine conflict is that it has been going on for centuries with underlying ancient religious animosity and hatreds. In fact, while religion is involved, the conflict is mostly about two groups of people who claim the same land which goes back about a century, to the early 1900’s.
Around then the region along the eastern Mediterranean we now call Israel-Palestine had been under Ottoman rule for centuries. It was religiously diverse, including mostly Muslims and Christians but also a small number of Jews, who lived generally in peace and that was changing in two important ways.
First, more people in the region were developing a sense of being not just ethnic Arabs but Palestinians, a distinct national identity. At the same time, not so far away in Europe, Jews were influencing by a movement called ‘Zionism’, which propagated “Jewish Nationality& Nationhood”.
In the beginning of 20th century, tens of thousands of European Jews started moving to what they called a “Promised Land”.
After First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the British and French Empires carved up the region of Middle East, with the British taking the control of a region it called the British Mandate for Palestine that changed the local political dynamics.
Initially British allowed Jewish immigration, but as more Jews arrived, settling into farming communes, tension between Arabs and Jews grew.
Both sides committed acts of violence, and by the 1930s, the British began limiting Jewish immigration. In response, Jewish militias formed to fight both the local Arabs and to resist British Rule. Then came the Holocaust, leading many Jews to flee Europe for British Palestine, and galvanizing much of the world in support of a Jewish state.
In 1947, as sectarian violence between Arab and Jews started to boil there, the United Nations approved a plan to divide British Palestine into two separate states: one for Jews, Israel and other for Muslims, Palestine.
The city of Jerusalem where Jews, Muslims and Christians all have holy sites, it was to become a special international zone under UN.
The plan was meant to give Jews a state, to establish Palestinian independence, and to end the sectarian violence that then became uncontrollable.
The Jews accepted the plan and declared independence as Israel.
However, Arabs throughout the region saw the UN plan as a ‘criminal conspiracy’to steal their land. Many of the Arab states, who had then recently won independence themselves, declared war on Israel in an effort to establish a unified Arab Palestine.
The new state of Israel won the war. But in the process, they pushed well past their borders under the UN plan, taking the western half of Jerusalem and much of the land that was to have been part of Palestine. They also expelled huge number of Palestinians from their homes, created massive refugee population whose descendants as of today numbers approx. 7 million. At the end of the war, Israel controlled all of the territory except Gaza, which Egypt controlled, and the West Bankwhich Jordan controlled.
This was the beginning of the decade’s long Arab-Israeli conflict.
In 1967, Israel and the neighbouring Arab states fought another war.
When it ended, Israel had seized Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan and both Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Israel was now occupying the Palestinian territories, including all of Jerusalem and its holy sites. This left Israel responsible for governing the Palestinians- a people it had fought for decades. In 1978, Israel and Egypt signed the US brokered Camp David Accords and shortly after that Israel gave Sinai back to Egypt as part of peace treaty.
At the time it was hugely controversial in the Arab world. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was assassinated; in part because of outrage against it.
But it marked the beginning of the end of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict.
Over the next few decades the other Arab states gradually made peace with Israel, even if they never signed formal peace treaties. But Israel military was then still occupying Palestinian territories in the west bank and the Gaza, and this was when the conflict became an Israeli-Palestinian struggle.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) which had formed in 1960s to seek a Palestinian state through an armed struggle, fought against Israel, including through the acts of terrorism.
Initially PLO claimed all of what had been the British Palestine, meaning it wanted to annihilate the state of Israel entirely.
Fighting between Israel and PLO went on for years even including 1982 Israeliinvasion of Lebanon to throw the group out of Beirut. The PLO later said it would accept division of the land between Israel and Palestine, however; the conflict continued.
As all of this was happening, among the chaos; Jewish from all over the world were started moving in and settling in ‘conflict zone’ who were called settlers, and they made their homes in the west bank and Gazaunder the nose of Palestinians.
Some moved for religious reasons, some because they want to claim the land for Israel and some just because the housing is cheap and often subsidized by the Israeli government. Some settlements are cities with thousands of people; others are small communities deep in the west bank. The settlers are followed by the heavily armed soldiers to guard them which created adverse impact on local Palestinians.
The influx of Jewish population makes the occupation much more painful for Palestinians which also resulted into the division of theirlands, which further make it difficult for Palestinians to ever have an independent state. Today, defying international law and criticism there are several hundred thousand settlers in occupied territories.
By the late 1980s Palestinian frustration exploded into the “Intifada”, which is the Arabic word for uprising. It began with mostly protests and boycotts but soon became violent, and Israel responded with heavy force. A couple of hundred Israelis and over a thousand Palestinians died in the first Intifada.
Around the same time a group of Palestinians in Gaza, who consider the PLO too secular and too compromise minded create ‘Hamas’, a violent extremist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
However, by the 1990s it’s clear that Israelis and Palestinians have to make peace and the leaders of from both the sides signed Oslo Accords.
The Oslo Accords establish the Palestinian Authority allowing it a little bit of liberty to govern themselves in certain areas. However, extremists on both sides opposed Oslo Accords. Members of Hamas launched suicide bombings to try to sabotage the process.
The Israeli‘rights’ protests peace talks, with ralliers calling Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin a traitor and Nazi. Not long after Rabin signs the second round of Oslo accords a far right Israeli shot him to death in Tel Aviv. This violence showed how extremist on both the sides can use violence to derail peace, and keep a permanent conflict going as they seek other side’s total destruction. That’s a dynamic that has been around ever since. Negotiations meant to hammer out the final details on peace drag on for years and a big CampDavid summit in 2000 comes up inconclusive.
Palestinians come to believe that peace isn’t coming and rise up in second intifada (2000-2005/2007) which turned out to be more violent than the first. By the time it wound down a few years later about 1000 Israelis and 3200 Palestinians died.
The second intifada transforms the dynamics of conflict to great extent. Israelis became much more sceptical that Palestinians will ever accept peace or that’s even worth trying. Israeli politics shift right, as a result; the country built walls and checkpoints to control Palestinian movements. The Palestinians are left feeling like negotiations did not work and violence didn’t work either that they are stuck under ever growing occupation with no future as ‘people’.
In 2005, Israeli Army withdrawn from inside the Gaza Strip. Hamas gained power but splits from “Palestinian Authority”dividing Gaza from the west bank.Despite the disengagement, the Gaza Strip is still considered by the United Nations, international human rights organisations and most legal scholars to be under military occupation by Israel,though this is disputed by Israel and other legal scholars.Following the withdrawal, Israel has continued to maintain direct external control over Gaza and indirect control over life within Gaza: it controls Gaza’s air and maritime space, and six of Gaza’s seven land crossings, it maintains a no-go buffer zone within the territory, and controls Gaza’s population registry, and Gaza remains dependent on Israel for its water, electricity, telecommunications, and other utilities.
Israel put Gaza under suffocated blockade and unemployment rises to 40%. The continuously expansive nature of the Israeli occupation into internationally recognized Palestinian territories threatens the ability of Palestinian leadership to solidify a recognizable territory for a State, and ultimately threatens the peace and security of both nations for the long-term. However, it may be noted that the Life in Palestine will continue by the grace of almighty, not by the UN or the World deciding whether it should continue or not.
This is the state of conflict as we know it today and the future of it neither known to Allah nor Jehovah but to the people from both the sides who are ‘bleeding’.
The writer is Asst Professor, Tetso College, Dimapur
Dr Aniruddha Babar