Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Comprehensive Guide PART II

Understanding one of the world’s most controversial and deeply-rooted conflicts through Palestinian and Israeli history, from 1948 to 2021.  

Free Palestine march, London, UK. UNSPLASH Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona
Free Palestine 2021 Protest, London, UK. Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is undoubtedly one of the world’s longest and most controversial conflicts to date. With recent outbreaks of violence in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem; now more than ever it is crucial to understand the roots of this tension

SEE ALSO: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Comprehensive Guide PART I

At the core is the conflict between the Jewish Zionist movement and the Palestinian nationalist project – both of which claim rights to the same land. This conflict, however, is so much more complicated and multilayered than that with almost every aspect and historical detail being seemingly convoluted in some way.

Here is a comprehensive guide to one of the world’s most complex and polarized conflicts, from 1948 to 2021.

The United Nations, the 1940s

During the British Mandate period, which placed Palestine under the administration of Great Britain, the British government had given commitments to the Zionist Organization regarding the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The Zionist Organization worked to secure this national home, and in doing so, left many indigenous Palestinians feeling as if their inalienable human rights had been violated. The result was mounting resistance by Palestinian Arabs, followed by a resort to violence by the majority of the Jewish community as the Second World War drew to a close.

Post-World War II was a turning point for many reasons. Great Britain could no longer maintain its colonial expenditures, and there was a major power shift among nations. As an effort to put pressure on Great Britain to pull out its sovereignty in Palestine, Jewish paramilitary groups had planned the Bombing of the Semiramis Hotel (January 1948.) This terrorist attack led to Jewish paramilitary groups taking over former British military locations and taking advantage of abandoned infrastructure.

After almost a quarter of a century of the Mandate, Great Britain had submitted what had become the “Palestinian problem” to the United Nations, as conflicting obligations proved to be”irreconcilable.” At this point, violence was spreading rapidly across Palestine, and there was immense pressure for the newly established United Nations to form a solution.

United Nations, Switzerland
United Nations, Switzerland. Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on Unsplash

In 1947, the United Nations formed a committee, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP,)  to study the issue of Palestine and to make recommendations. UNSCOP put together two separate reports, the first being the Minority Report, which recommended a one-state solution of Palestine. The second report, which was ultimately adopted, was entitled the Majority Report, and recommended something entirely different: the Partition Plan, which called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with the city of Jerusalem as a separate entity to be governed by a special international regime. Maps of the Partition Plan show an imbalance between the demographic split up, with the Jewish community getting much more land set aside.

Immediately upon approval, intercommunal violence between armed Zionist groups and armed Palestinian groups broke out.

UNSCOP Partition Plan, 1947
UNSCOP, Partition Plan, 1947, Map. Highlight demographic imbalance, land ownership, and population distribution according to subdivisions in which Palestine was separated. Wikipedia

1948: The Establishment of Israel and the Arab-Israeli War

As seen in the map above, roughly 650,000 Jewish people went to the blue territory, and a majority of the Arab population – roughly twice the size of the Jewish community at the time – went to the orange. Indigenous Palestinians saw the Partition Plan as an extension of the long-running Zionist attempt to push the Palestinians out of the land, and in 1948, not only does Great Britain formally withdraw from Palestine, but Israel formally declares its independence on May 14, 1948.

Israeli Flag, Jerusalem, Israel
Israeli Flag, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Taylor Brandon on Unsplash

In response to the declaration of Israel’s independence, the Arab States of Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt declare war on the new state – albeit not to defend the Palestinians.

Israeli forces defeated the Palestinian militias and Arab armies. By the end of the battle in January, instead of Israel possessing 55% of Palestine, the new nations expanded well beyond those borders to 78%, possessing everything except the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and eastern quarter of Jerusalem.

In the same year, a conference was organized in Jericho to decide the future of the portion of Palestine that was held by Jordan at the end of the Arab-Israeli War. The Jericho Conference determined that Jordan would occupy the West Bank, Egypt would occupy Gaza, and Jerusalem would be divided between Israeli forces in the West and Jordanian forces in the East.

In this process, over 750,000 Palestinian civilians turned into refugees, in what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba or the “Catastrophe.”

The Consolidation of the State of Israel

After becoming a state in 1948 and establishing armistice agreements in 1949, the State of Israel demolished over 400 Palestinian cities. The alleged point was to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands, and key laws were passed to consolidate this colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

The Law of Return, passed in 1950, allowed for Jewish people from anywhere in the world to emigrate to Israel and claim automatic citizenship, declaring “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh (immigrant in Hebrew.)” Palestinian citizens who were expelled, however, were not allowed to return. The Absentee Property Law in 1950 alienated private Palestinian property and turned it over to Israeli authority to construct Israeli institutions. And the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency (Status) Law in 1952, set up organizations as official quasi institutions that had recognition from Israel. This allowed for the Land Acquisition Law, which appropriated all public land to the state of Israel.

This benefited the Jewish people explicitly in their charter, and the situation of land only being administered by the Jewish National fund continues today. This directly benefits the Jewish population as Palestinians are not allowed to buy or rent new land. On the rare instances where they can, they must first obtain permits from the Israeli military – a difficult, long, and exhausting process.

The 1950s and 1960s; The Palestine Liberation Organization

After the tumultuous events of 1948, roughly 150,000 Palestinians remained in Israel and were eventually granted citizenship, however, they were subjected to strict military rule. The 1950s and 60s saw a massive immigration movement to Israel by Eastern Jews, and a majority of this population was sent to towns on the borderlines, inhabiting land that was set aside for Palestinian refugee camps.

In the wake of the Nakba, Palestinian politics, nationalism, and society was put to the test. Palestinians found themselves to be on the outset, living in extreme poverty. This was a dismal situation, and it is hard to overstate what a collective trauma this was and continues to be for people in this region.

Palestine Street Art
Palestine Street Art. Photo by Snowscat on Unsplash

Formed in 1964 during a summit in Cairo Egypt (1964 Arab League Summit,) the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, emerged in response to the various compounding events that were taking place in the Middle East. PLO’s Palestine National Council (PNC) was first comprised of Palestinian civilians, who helped define the group’s goals, which initially included the destruction of Israel. Over time, however, PLO embraced a broader role, claiming to represent all Palestinians while later running the Palestinian National Authority (PA). Although PLO was not known to be violent during its early years, the organization has become associated with extremism, controversy, and terrorism.

Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, 1967

Israel and its surrounding Arab neighbors had plenty of reasons for mutual suspicion following the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s. The former Soviet Union had provided Egypt with a modern air force, and there was a major shift in the U.S. Israeli alliance that is still in place today.

Buying an aircraft from France, and tanks from Great Britain, Israel had built a powerful military. By 1967, it was close to even acquiring its own nuclear weapons.

The brief Six-Day War in 1967 came as a result of increasing tensions and border skirmishes between Arabs and Israelis. The border between Egypt and Israel was quiet compared to Israel’s northern border with Syria, where the two countries fought over disputed territory and Syria’s attempts to divert the Jordan River away from Israel’s national water grid.

With the United States now being Israel’s ally, Israel was able to continue its advance into Syria after seeking then receiving a green light from Washington, D.C. to launch a preemptive attack on the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian air forces.

Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, 1967
Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, 1967. Wikipedia

In the six days that followed, Israel routed the armies of Syria, Jordan, and Egypt; capturing the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai desert from Egypt. For the first time in almost two millennia, the Jewish holy places in Jerusalem were under the control of the Jews.

Palestinians, though, felt the biggest consequences of the 1967 war, as Israel began its occupation of the Palestinian territories, which continues to this day.

The aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War

The aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War ended with Security Council Resolution 242 largely crafted by the United States and Great Britain. Resolution 242 allowed for the possibility of enlarged Israeli borders to meet the criterion of security determined by Israel, and the wording of the Resolution itself, left open loopholes for Israel to retain the territories it had begun to occupy. Instead of treating the issue as a state-to-state matter between Arab countries, Israel, and Palestine; Resolution 242 eliminated the presence of Palestinians and by its omission, consecrated the element of much of Israel’s narrative that people and countries could deny the existence of Palestinians.

Palestinian rights were ignored and were deemed not worthy of mention by name in the international decision that was meant to resolve the conflict and determine their fate. This motivated the Palestinians to revive a national movement to push for its case and cause before the international community.

PLO began to ramp up its presence, and a group known as Fatah, led by the military leader, Yasser Arafat, started to dominate the organization. PLO launched attacks on Israel from its bases in Jordan, and as a result, in 1971, was forced to relocate its headquarters from Jordan to Lebanon. While in Lebanon, factions within PLO began to carry out terrorism plots, including high-profile bombings and aircraft hijackings. Arafat called for PLO’s attacks on Israel to stop as part of a plan to gain international legitimacy and acceptance

In October of 1974, the Arab League recognized PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. A month later, Arafat became the first non-state leader to address the United Nations, General Assembly.

This resurgence of Palestinian political agency and a shared national experience of loss, exile, and alimentation worked to help reshape a sense of Palestinian nationalism, identity, and purpose.

The First and Second Intifada, The Oslo Accords

The Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, triggered by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, started in 1987 and ended in 1991. This period of violence began one day after an Israeli truck crashed into a station wagon carrying Palestinian workers in Gaza, killing four and wounding ten people. Gaza Palestinians saw this incident as a deliberate act of retaliation against the killing of a Jew in Gaza several days before. By December 9th, Palestinians took to the streets to protest.

This period of bloody conflict prompted a peace process known as the Oslo Accords. Arafat signed a series of treaties with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

Signed in 1993 and 1995, the Oslo Accords established the Palestinian National Authority (PA), which functions as an agency of PLO, to govern parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

Peace between the Israelis was short-lived, however, as the Second Intifada – another period of bloody conflict – began in 2005 and lasted for five years. This uprising erupted just as the most serious negotiations for a final status agreement between Israel and PLO were being pursued.

Throughout 2000 and 2005, Palestinian suicide bombers used increasingly powerful bombs to kill large numbers of Israelis in their terrorist attacks, with over 1,000 Israelis being killed and much more severely injured.

The Rise of Hamas

Founded in 1987, Hamas is a Palestinian Islamist political organization and militant group that has waged war on Israel since the group’s founding. Hamas seeks to replace Israel with a Palestinian state, its “tactics” are mainly through suicide bombings and rocket attacks.

Hamas is known for carrying out terrorist acts in many countries, including Israel and the United States consider the group to be a terrorist organization.

In 2006, Hamas won the majority of the seats in the Palestinian Authority Legislative Council elections. This would have put Hamas in a commanding position for both the West Bank and Gaza, yet Hamas refused to accept previous deals that the PA had made with Israel. This led not only Western states to freeze out financial aid, which the PA depends on, but also high tensions between Hamas and PLO

The conflict between PLO, specifically Fatah, and Hamas came to a boil in 2007. When violence broke out, a war between the two organizations ended with Hamas governing Gaza independently.

Talks between Hamas and PLO have not been successful, meaning that there is no unified Palestinian authority, which further complicates peace talks. In 2017, the two sides did reach a preliminary unity agreement, but there have been no further advancements.

The United States and Israel

Despite controversy and many human rights violations in occupied Palestine, the United States has maintained its large-scale military, diplomatic and financial support for the Israeli occupation forces. This close relationship between the United States and Israel has been one of the most salient features in U.S. foreign policy since the 1940s, and well over $3 billion in military and economic aid is sent annually to Israel by Washington. This is rarely questioned in Congress, even by liberals who normally challenge U.S. aid to governments that engage in violations of human rights.

Protest against U.S. aid to Israel, 2021
Protest against U.S. aid to Israel, 2021. Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Almost all Western countries have shared the United States’ strong support for Israel, yet none have come close to offering the level of support provided by Washington, with the U.S. often standing alone with Israel at the United Nations and other international forums when objections are raised regarding Israeli violations of human rights and international laws.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, 99% of U.S. military assistance to Israel since its establishment came only after Israel proved itself to be far more powerful and stronger than any other Arab army, and after Israeli occupation forces became the sovereign power of the Palestinian population. It is alleged that U.S. support for the Israeli government is not primarily motivated by security needs of a strong moral commitment to the nation, but rather is motivated primarily to advance its strategic interests.

Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories, Human Rights Violations

Israel continues to impose institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians living in occupied Palestinian territories. Israel has displaced thousands of Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as a result of home demolitions and other imposed coercive measures. Israeli authorities have justified the demolishing of Palestinian infrastructure saying the buildings lacked Israeli issued permits, however, these are seemingly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

Palestinians also face discrimination through Israel’s budget allocations, policing, and political participation. According to the Adalah-The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Israel has over 65 laws in place that allow for discrimination against Palestinians. Palestinians’ rights to freedom of movement and access to natural resources have also been denied by Israeli authorities through laws and policies that, although violate international laws and human rights, are still present to date.

For a list of full human rights violations, click here.

Israeli Checkpoint, Palestine to enter Israel
Israeli Checkpoint, Palestine to enter Israel. Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

2021: What’s Happening Now

The recent outbreaks of the violence raging between Israelis and Palestinians are part of s complex, controversial, and complicated history which traces all of the ways back to the 1800s.

Since the escalation of violence in mid-May 2021, more than two hundred Palestinians and at least ten Israelis have been killed so far, with hundreds more wounded. After the clashes in Jerusalem’s Old City, tension increased and was compounded by the celebration of Jerusalem Day. On May 10, 2021, after several days of violence through Jerusalem, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups have launched hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory, and Israel has responded with airstrikes and later, artillery bombardments against targets in Gaza.

Unfortunately, this violence is nothing new in Palestine and Israel. But this time, Palestinians across the land, who have shared a collective experience of being dispossessed by Israel, have risen together. Palestinians are protesting in huge numbers in towns and cities throughout the world. Although Israel, Washington, D.C., and even some Palestinian officials might try to pretend that nothing has changed, something has, as Palestinians now may be more unified than ever.

Lily Adami

Content Editor Associate

Having a silly and hard-working personality, Lily loves getting to know people and is passionate about human rights around the world. She is enthusiastic about other cultures, history, and international affairs. Lily has a deep appreciation for traveling, her favorite places include: Amsterdam, Amalfi Coast, and South Africa.

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