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A History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Col (retd) Y Udaya Chandar

Israel was founded on 14 May 1948. Since that day, it has survived against the odds in the face of hostile acts perpetuated by its neighbours. Since March 2018, thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have gathered near the Israeli border fence as part of what organisers have called the ‘Great March of Return’. The weekly protests are designed to draw international attention to the disastrous impact of the Israeli-led blockade on Gaza and to the plight of Palestinian refugees. They have been strategically scheduled to end on May 15, the date that marks the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’, during which most of Palestine’s Arab population fled the area or were driven from their homes.

Approximately 70 percent of Gaza’s two million Palestinians are refugees who came from lands in what is now Israel. Since the protests began on 30 March 2018, at least 45 Palestinians have been killed, and several thousand have been wounded by Israeli forces. Although there have been instances of rock throwing and attempts to forcibly breach the border fence, the vast majority of demonstrators have been peaceful, and most of those killed or injured by Israeli forces were unarmed, including children and several journalists.

The United States (US) has done what it should not have done: on 6 December 2017, President Donald Trump declared that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This has now been done. Trump is a lone crusader in the move. Neither the United Nations (UN) nor any other country, including the European Union, is with him. So far, the world has resoundingly rejected his decision.

Many countries prefer a negotiated peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. Some want a ‘two-state solution’, while others want Jerusalem to become an international city administered by the UN. The UN also wants a similar solution. A few countries, including some Arab and Muslim states,hope that East Jerusalem will one day become the capital of Palestine.

Let us review the conflict between the states; it is a complex one. The Jewish people believe that Israel and Palestine both belong to them. Similarly, the Palestinians argue that the land belongs to them. Both think that God gave them the entire territory and that parting it is an insult to Him. They have been fighting over this since 1949.
Two millennia ago, the Roman Empire drove the Jews from Israel, after killing many of them. After the Jews fled the Romans, Arab Muslims occupied the territory. Much later, a large number of Jews returned to Israel and settled there after the Holocaust, buying land—at very high prices—from Arabs who had been there for generations.

In the 1800s, a powerful movement, known as Zionism, began in British-ruled Palestine and brought vast numbers of Jews to Israel. The British, with the help of Jewish militias, crushed the Great Arab Revolt against them; many Arabs were killed in the process. The tussle between the Arabs and Jews never ended and continues today, led by their respective military and militia organisations. After the British left in 1949, the Arabs proclaimed their independence in Palestine.

The Arabs, along with their brethren from neighbouring countries, attempted to invade Israel, but lost in the Arab-Israeli War of1949. The Arabs fled to nearby countries and lived there as refugees. The Gaza Strip,in Palestine, and the West Bank of the Jordan River were not among the lands that formed the new state of Israel. After the war ended in1949, Egypt took over the Gaza Strip,and Jordan took control of the West Bank.

In the1950s and 1960s, the Palestinians indulged in frequent raids into Israel with help from some Arab nations. A militant group, al-Fatah, emerged in Palestine in the late 1950s with the aim of reconquering the lost territory. This group joined with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, headed by Yasser Arafat, in 1964. Commando-style terror attacks by this group became frequent and intense. The Israelis responded in a number of ways, but they remained ineffective.

Meanwhile, the Arabs aligned with the Soviets, while the US took the side of the Israelis. The groups each received a great deal ofmilitary aid from the two superpowers,who were then engaged in the Cold War. There was another short conflict, the Suez War,in 1956,between the Egyptians and the Israelis. The Israeli forces were victorious.

The next major confrontation was the 1967 Arab–Israeli War (also known as the ‘Six Day War’), which was fought between 5–10 June. The war began with a successful pre-emptive air strike by Israel on the air forces of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. Later, in the ground battle, the Arab forces were very badly defeated. Israel took the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. At that time, Israel became a powerful and important nation on the world map. Later,duringthe 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel repeated its performance though slightly late. This resulted in a serious refugee problem for the Arab countries, which were soon overwhelmed by the arrivals of fleeing Palestinians.

Following the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel gave the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt, in 1982. Israel has not vacated the other territories conquered in the Six Day War,and this is a thorn in the flesh of the Arabs. In 1994, Israel entered into a peace treaty with Jordan, but even today a proxywar continues between the Arabs and Israelis with frequent raids by both of them.

The UN voted on the issue on 21 December 2017 and rejected Trump’s declaration by a vote of128 to 9. There were 35 abstentions, including from Canada and Australia. Seven countries, Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands, supported the US and Israel. Trump threatened that those who voted against him would no longer receive get any help from the US.

We must wait to see whether Trump’s aggression will steal the peace and tranquility of the rest of the world.
(The writer can be reached at yudayachandar@gmail.com)

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Ankur Kalita

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