By Dennis James:
Part 1 of a 2 part series.
The Arab-Israeli conflict over Palestine has been going on for eons. However, the conflict which has been going on for over two millenniums had the fire under the proverbial frying pan lit up by the very body that had been setup to ensure world peace, the United Nations.
A History Lesson
The region was first known as Canaan. The word ‘Palestine’ comes the Roman name for the area ‘Palaestina’ which is again derived from Philistia which was the name of the region, the Philistines, a Canaanite tribe most famously known for the Giant Goliath from the biblical story of David & Goliath (1st Samuel of the bible for anyone who wants to know the story or the giant). Palestine has been invaded over the many millenniums by various peoples of varying creeds and religions. (The other favorite being India.) Known as the promised land, it has been a major flash point in world history. However, the rise of Islam in the second half of the first millennium A.D, was the proverbial stick that broke the camels back. The region from that time onwards became the boxing arena between the worlds largest religions, Christianity & Islam. In AD 600’s Muslim Arabs overran the region as they went on an empire building spree. By 1071 AD, The Seljuk Turks, had gained control of the holy city of Jerusalem. However, their reign lasted less than 30 years, as Christian kings across Europe egged on by the Pontiff at Rome Urban the Second, started the crusades in 1096. By 1099, the crusaders had conquered Jerusalem. They held the city till 1187, when the Muslim ruler Saladin attacked them and took over the reigns at Jerusalem. The region remained in Muslim hands while switching between various empires. The Ottoman Turks, took control of the region in 1517 and held it for over four centuries.
Of course, the culprits in this case of breaking the peace, were the world conquering British (surprised anyone? oh one there. Nah, he was just stretching). In 1917, while fighting the Ottoman Turks in Palestine in the first world war (1914-1918), the poms issued the Balfour declaration, which expressed British support for a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine, ‘without violating the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities. After the war ended the British were given control over the area by the League of Nations to help Palestinian Jews build a national home. This prompted many Jews from Europe and elsewhere to emigrate to the new territory, but the British fearing hostility from the Arab population posed limits on the immigration. In 1933, Hitler and his Nazi Party gained control over Germany. Hitler blamed the Jews and other minorities for the German defeat in the First World War, and he began the Holocaust in which he tried to eliminate the Jews of Europe. Large number of European jews fled to Palestine to escape persecution, crossing illegally across the Mediterranean sea or overland to freedom. This prompted the alarmed Arab populace to revolt against the British in 1936-37. As a result they attempted to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine. During the second world war (1939-1945), Hitler’s Nazi’s under the leadership of the S.S. and the Gestapo and under direct orders from the megalomaniac Fuhrer killed about 6 MILLION European Jews. This lead to increased cries for the establishment of a Jewish state. The British finally frustrated by the increasingly out-of-control situation turned to newly formed U.N. For help in 1947. The recommendations of the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine were adopted by the UN general assembly on November 29th, 1947. They called for the region to be divided into an Arab state and a Jewish state. The jews accepted the decision, the reaction from the Arabs was the polar opposite and fighting broke out. Israel proclaimed their independence on the 14th of May,1948. Arab states in the region immediately invaded the new nation the very next day. The British had already cut their losses and abandoned ship by then. However by the end of the war, Israel had gained over half the land which had been allotted to the Arab state. The rest of the Arab state’s territories had been taken over by Jordan and Egypt. Three major wars followed in 1956, 1967 & 1973, with the Arab nations taking quite a beating. The 1967 war ended in six days, and by the end of it, Israel had crushed the opposing military forces into submission and at the war’s conclusion held Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, Syria’s Golan Heights and The Gaza Strip and The West Bank. They also brought the eastern half of Jerusalem under control finally allowing jews to be able to pray at the Western wall. However, it also brought over a million hostile Palestinian Arabs under Israeli control. Israel’s neighbors tiring of repeated unsuccessful attempts to destroy the Jewish state, finally decided to recognize the nation’s right to exist and sue for peace. They however decided to continue their efforts to help form a Palestinian state by funding and support the newly emerging champion for the Arabs of Palestine the Palestinian Liberation Organization(PLO). Founded in 1964, the PLO is a confederation of Palestinian Arab groups that work to establish an Arab state in Palestine. In 1969, Yasir Arafat became its chairman. From 1965 to 1971, the PLO operated out of Jordan where they also challenged the rule of King Hussein. They launched guerrilla raids on Israel, which retaliated by attacking PLO bases. However, Jordanian army forces drove out the PLO forces who then moved to Lebanon. From there, it continued its attacks on Israel. In 1974, all the Arab nations and the UN recognized the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In 1982, Israel invaded southern Lebanon and Beirut in a bid to drive the PLO out of its bases there. However, when Israeli troops withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1985, some elements of the PLO returned there, along with Hezbollah, the terrorist organization. In 1983, the Syrian government had supported leaders in the PLO who rebelled against Arafat. Arafat and his Al-Fatah faction were driven away from Northern Lebanon as well. In the mid 1980’s the PLO was weakened by infighting, Israeli opposition and problems which caused conflict with important Arab governments. However , when Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip rose up in a series of violent demonstrations against Israeli rule called the Intifada, some PLO leaders gave their support to the cause. Israel retaliated by assassinating those top PLO officials who lent support. The Intifada also saw the rise of another Terrorist organization HAMAS. In late 1988 , Arafat recognized Israel’s right to exist as a nation alongside a Palestinian State. He also renounced the use of terrorism. Some rogue PLO members opposed to Arafat continued to harass Israel launching terrorist attacks against Israeli troops. In September 1991, Peace talks began in Madrid, Spain between Israel, a number of Arab states and Palestinians from the occupied territories. Talks also took place between the PLO and Israel. This gave birth to the Oslo Accord, signed in September 1993 in Oslo, Norway by which Israel and The PLO formally recognized each other and signed an agreement which included steps to end the state of conflict between them.
The Accord provided the start of the Israeli withdrawal from and the the start of a plan for self government for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In May,1994 Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and the city of Jericho in the West Bank. Since then Israel has slowly withdrawn from other areas of the West Bank. However Israeli settlements and wall building as well as various acts of terrorism by Palestinian terror groups have stalled the peace process. In the late 2000’s, Hamas gained political control over the Gaza Strip, which lead to increased attacks on Israel. The Israeli’s retaliated by blockading Gaza from the sea and launching devastating attacks including a small scale war in response to Hamas. The control of Hamas over Gaza remains one of the rocks blockading the peace process. However both Israel and the Palestinian Authority(PA)(It is the official governing body for Palestine in the present day scenario. It was setup to govern the Palestinian controlled areas after Israel started to withdraw) under President Mahmoud Abbas returned to the negotiating table to nail out a game-plan for a final agreement. This however, was brought to a back shattering stop after Abbas grandstanded the UN general assembly opening this month by presenting a unilateral request to the UNO for admission to its chambers as a fully fledged nation rather than the observer status it currently enjoys. The grandstanding may have given the satisfaction to Abbas that he had left a lasting legacy at the PA that he can boast about to his grandchildren and maybe to fellow Palestinians but he has brought the talks to yet another shuddering halt.
Click here to read the next part:Â The UN Debate On Nation No. 194: Palestine.