The Arab-Israeli Conflict

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In 1948 the Jewish state of Israel was created out of the land of Palestine; the homeland of many Arabs who have lived there since the middle ages. Since then there has been continual conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis. From about 1500 BC, the Jewish people have lived in the land of Palestine. In the first century AD, Palestine was controlled by the powerful Romans. In AD 70 and again in AD 135 the Jews revolted against their Roman Rulers. The Romans crushed both the revolts severely and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, which included most of the temple, and expelled them from their lands.

The Jews fled to all corners of the Roman Empire over the next two hundred years and many became wealthy and even gained high positions in the governments of the new lands in which they lived. But during the middle ages, the Jews were expelled from Western Europe and many settled in the East, in Russia and Poland. But they were still persecuted. Nearly all Europeans were Christian and in many countries, they forced the Jews to live in separate areas. They were not allowed land or allowed to vote. Such anti-Jewish behaviour is known as anti-Semitism.

But in the nineteenth century the Russian Tsar was assassinated in 1881, there were many anti-Jewish riots. Then the new Tsar’s government encouraged the persecution of Jews. Many Synagogues were burnt down, Jewish homes were attacked and thousands of Jews were killed. Most of the Jews fled back to Western Europe and the United States. But even there, they felt they were not treated as equals. By the beginning of the twentieth century, an increasing number of Jews were demanding a Jewish homeland. By 1914 these Jews decided that it would have to be in Palestine.

This land was known to the Jews as the “Promised Land”, so called because the Jews believed God promised it to them. The Jews (or Israelites) had lived there nearly 2500 years before and where several thousands still remained. However it was not all Jews who wanted to have their homeland, the majority of Jews, who lived in Western Europe and the United States were happy where they lived, it was only a small number, mainly from Russia who desired this “Promised Land”. So between 1880 and 1914, 60 000 Zionists, so called because Zion is the Jewish name for Jerusalem, settled in Palestine.

There they bought land and started to farm and build houses. At this time, Britain needed America to enter the First World War, so they told the Zionist leaders in America (which had a high Jewish population) that if America entered the war they would support the creation of a Jewish state. So America entered the war. The trouble had begun. The Arabs had been in Palestine and the Middle East since the seventh century AD when they swept across the Middle East and North Africa from their homeland.

In their empire they spread their new found religion of Islam by force and settled. Then in the sixteenth century the expanding Turks, who were Muslims but not Arabs, conquered much of the Middle East. The native Arabs were forced to pay taxes and provide soldiers for the Turkish army. The First World War was a turning point for both the Arab and Israeli struggle. Turkey had decided to take the side of the Axis against Britain and its allies. Britain became afraid that it’s much needed oil supply from Persia (or modern-day Iran) would be cut-off by the Turks.

Therefore the British decided to encourage the Arabs to rebel against their Turkish rulers and seek independence. The British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Herbert McMahon exchanged several letters with Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca who was an important Arab Muslim figure. McMahon promised that if the Arabs fought against the Turks then Britain would be “prepared to support the independence of the Arabs”. An Arab army was raised and led by Prince Faisal, the son of the Sharif of Mecca. The army successfully blew up Turkish trains and disturbed the Turkish military supplies.

The Arabs believed they now deserved their independence and complete self-government only to be angered when they heard that Britain and France had secretly agreed to carve up Turkey’s Arab lands after the war between themselves. This was known as the Sykes-Picot agreement. The Peace of Versailles confirmed the Arab fears. Both Britain and France were given mandates to govern countries in the Middle East until the Arab people were considered ready to govern themselves. France was given a mandate over Syria and Lebanon, and Britain was given a mandate over Iraq and Palestine.

Both countries sent administers and troops to take control soon afterwards. As well as being angry over not gaining their independence, the Palestinian Arabs were being further frustrated by the increasing Jewish immigration into Palestine. This caused many violent riots to break out in Palestine where many Palestinians, Jews and British died and Britain was accused by the Palestinians of being Pro-Zionist. Meanwhile in Europe, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, bringing strong anti-Semitism. Thousands of Jews were driven out of Germany.

By 1939 there was almost 450 000 Jews in Palestine. The already existing tension in Palestine grew yet stronger as the Palestinians became afraid that they would lose their country to the growing amount of Jews. In 1937, the British government recommended the partition of Palestine into two separate countries due to terrorism. An Arab country and a Jewish country. However it was rejected by the Arabs and the fighting continued, so the British decided to limit Jewish immigration as the Germans (who Britain was now at war with since 1939) might support the Arab leaders.

Due to this, the Jews were angry and thousands took to the streets in protest. After the Second World War, there was further pressure on the British government as the already high demand of Jewish immigration flow increased with more vigour after the dreadful Jewish experiences in Europe. America which had a large population of Jews put pressure on the British government to let 100 000 Jewish refugees into Palestine. But the British refused and claimed that it would cause civil war in Palestine. Terrorism became worse so in 1947, they handed Palestine to the United Nations (UN).

In November 1947, the UN voted to divide Palestine into two states. The Palestinian Arabs strongly rejected the plan as the Jews were to be given the larger area of land. They felt that the Western Powers should find a home for them elsewhere; after all, it wasn’t the Arabs who were responsible for the holocaust. The Jews reluctantly accepted the plan but many weren’t completely happy as many Jewish settlements and Jerusalem, their holy city, was to be part of the new Arab state. After the plan was published the fighting became worse. Both sides struggled to control the roads into Jerusalem.

During the fighting many civilians were killed on both sides. Soldiers from Iraq and Syria advanced into Palestine to help their fellow Arabs. The Jewish Defence Force, Haganah, mobilised and organised the Jewish defence. In May 1948, the British finally withdrew from Palestine and some 300 000 Arabs withdrew from the land that was to be the new Jewish state of Israel. The fighting had begun. Many factors have contributed towards the current situation between the Arabs and the Israelis. I will look at how these factors have contributed and which have been most significant.

The refugee problem is enormous. During the 1948-1949 fighting between Israel and neighbouring Arab states, 700 000 Arabs fled from their homes in Palestine to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the other neighbouring Arab countries. The United Nations now reckons that there is about 2 500 000 Palestinian refugees today. After the 1948-1949 fighting the United Nations formed the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). They set up the refugee camps and provided food and the bare necessities needed. They also provided basic medical and education systems. The conditions in these camps were awful.

One British observer describes the conditions, “families huddled bleakly in overcrowded tents. They are without adequate food or sanitation”. This was very true. Initially, large families were kept in small tents, and later small huts of concrete and mud were built. The ground when it rained was churned by the many refugees into mud. In these damp conditions with wet clothes and blankets, influenza became an epidemic, killing thousands, many of which were the young and elderly. Other diseases also spread rapidly among these conditions and the lack of food made hunger widespread.

Most of the children in the camps were educated but were unable to make the most of this as many couldn’t leave the camps for work. Then the Israelis decided to not allow the refugees to return to their lands in Israel but allowed any Jew in the world to go and live in Israel in the “Law of Return”, which made matters worse. The Israelis solution to the issue of the refugees is that the Palestinians should be dissolved into the surrounding Arab states as their language, background and religions are very similar. The Palestinians thought otherwise.

The large refugee problem contributed largely to the current conflict in that it caused the first sparks of conflict as some Palestinian Arabs became very angered because of the lack of hope; therefore establishing the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was set up in 1964, with the aim of uniting all Palestinians in the fight to win back land from the Israelis using any means necessary. Most of its members were recruited from the refugee camps as some people there would rather die fighting for their land and against their enemy, than to be kept in the camps.

Yasser Arafat founded the largest group in the PLO, called Fatah. With the support of the Arab states surrounding Israel, they made a number of attacks on their enemy. Unfortunately for them, this changed after the six-day war. Before the six-day war, they had been provided by Jordan, Syria and Egypt which had given them vital support and supplies. However, the countries had been weakened by losses from the war, and were concerned with their own losses than the Palestinians.

From now on the Palestinians believed they had to continue their fight alone, especially as all of their land was now under Israeli rule. When the West bank was taken over by Israel, a further 350 000 Palestinians fled from their homes, mostly to Jordan. There, many joined the PLO and increased the number of attacks on Israel. The Israelis became increasingly annoyed. So, in 1968 the Israelis launched a full-scale attack on a major Fatah base in Karameh. With the aid of Jordanian troops, the PLO managed to knock out several Israeli tanks and planes and killed 28 Israeli troops.

This inspired thousands of Palestinians to join the PLO. With the increased strength and numbers, between 1967 and 1970, Fatah forces managed to kill over 500 Israeli troops. The PLO has also carried out acts of extreme terrorism. In 1972, nine Palestinians murdered eleven Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Germany. This made the PLO unpopular at first, but when people learnt more about the Palestinian’s situation and how they were subjected to refugee camps with no hope, the question of “What’s the difference between terrorism and freedom fighting? came up.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation has contributed largely to the current situation. Due to the Palestinians retaliating against their bad conditions, the Israelis fought back just as harshly to defend themselves. The circle of hate continues to repeat itself, with both sides wanting revenge. The PLO has contributed a lot to the fighting and if they had not been set up, then there would be less fighting. However, with the Palestinians in such a desperate situation, it would only take time for a group such as the PLO to emerge out of the hate.

On 8th December 1987, an Israeli army vehicle crashed into a lorry killing four of the Palestinians on board. Rumours spread that it was a deliberate act of revenge for the killing of two Israelis two days before. The funerals became mass demonstrations. At one of the funerals a youth was shot dead by an Israeli soldier. As tension increased thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip took to the streets in protest. They made barricades from tyres, corrugated iron and building materials where they stoned Israeli army patrols. The Intifada shocked Israel and the surrounding Arab states.

In fact, it shocked the world. The Israeli response to the Intifada was to insist on an “Iron Fist” policy. Live ammunition was used to counter the threat. All over the world, television and newspapers caught images of Israeli troops firing on teenagers. This caused a lot of unpopularity for the Israelis, so instead the Israelis took up a policy of “might, power and beatings”. But still the death toll rose as demonstrators were tear-gassed, beaten and schools were closed by the Israelis. The Israelis were condemned for their actions by world-wide opinion.

By September 1988, 346 Palestinians had been killed, many were under 16. The Intifada caused yet more hatred between the Palestinians and Israelis. The thirst for revenge on both sides has caused more tension and conflict. Religion is also a major factor. The city of Jerusalem has special religious significance to both groups, the Israelis, who are Jews, and the Palestinians, who are Muslims. Muslims believe that Mohammed rose to heaven from the Dome of the Rock, an important temple; whilst the Jews believe that the Western, or “Wailing”, wall is the last remaining part of the Jewish temple.

Both, therefore, bearing claim to the city and ready to fight for it. The Israelis also believe that the land of Palestine has been promised to them by God as it is to be their homeland. Because the Israelis believe the land was promised by God, they do not care whether the UN approves of their actions as in their eyes, God is the ultimate judge. Also many Palestinians believe Allah is on their side; and in extreme some become suicide bombers as they believe that martyrs go straight to heaven.

Religion is a major factor to the current conflict. As it was the fact that the Israelis believed that Palestine was their homeland that made them invade and take over Palestinian land in the first place. Having examined many different factors of the current conflict, I have come to conclusion that religion has contributed to the Arab-Israeli conflict to the greatest extent and is therefore more significant. Without religion, the Jews would not have invaded as it wouldn’t be their “Promised Land” and the Muslims wouldn’t hate the Jews.

Religion is both sides strongest claim to Palestine; therefore it has the highest significance to the conflict. The refugee problem and the conditions of the refugee camps is the next highest factor as the number of refugees made the conditions of the refugee camps worse; therefore angering more refugees which the PLO was mainly made up of. The PLO became stronger because of the desperation and hopelessness of the refugees. Therefore the PLO as a factor is due to the refugee problem and the conditions of the refugee camps.

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