A Brief History of a Long War: The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

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A Brief History of a Long War: The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

A mosque located in the city of Jerusalem, which is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

A mosque located in the city of Jerusalem, which is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

"Jerusalem 155" by Simone Baldini is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A mosque located in the city of Jerusalem, which is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

"Jerusalem 155" by Simone Baldini is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

"Jerusalem 155" by Simone Baldini is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A mosque located in the city of Jerusalem, which is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

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116,074 lives.

That’s how many the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has ended.

Most have heard of the conflict, but few know what it means — for Palestinians, for Israelis, and the part that the U.S. plays. It’s a story that spans generations and marks one of the longest conflicts in modern history. 

Here in America

While 48 percent of American adults sympathize with Israel, only 13 percent are in support of Palestine. However, this leaves 39 percent of the populace unaccounted for, a 39 percent who only know the bare details of the conflict, if at all. Yet not many know that you can support both Palestinians and Israelis. 

Although the U.S., has, over the years, been key to the progression of the conflict, they have, as of late, taken a step back.

This doesn't stop U.S. politicians from disagreeing on the subject, with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at the forefront. The question over whether it is anti-semitic and out to destroy the Israeli state remains a debate, with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has been accused of anti-semitism herself, supporting the movement, while the rest of Congress remains firm in their opposition.

Jared Kushner has said that Palestinians "should have self-determination," but he is unsure over whether they are ready.

Despite the many misconceptions surrounding the conflict, it is clear that it is not a black-and-white issue.

However, as with all conflicts in the modern world, miseducation is key to its continuance.

Between fake and biased news, and the fact that this conflict involves two minority groups that have faced oppression in the past, there is only one word everyone can agree on that can be used to describe this conflict: controversial.

Today, France has drafted an initiative and the UN a resolution, both of which are seen to be favorable in Palestine, but only time will tell how long the conflict will continue to persist. 

Quick Facts

The Makings of the Conflict (1896-1948)

The most often heard question about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is what is it exactly?

To understand the makings of the conflict, you have to start from the beginning, and it did not begin as some would suggest.

Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish military officer who was wrongfully convicted for selling French military secrets to Germany. Although he would be completely exonerated and free of any charges, many only saw this as a reminder of how deeply anti-Semitism was ingrained in Europe at the time.

Theodor Herzl would write The Jewish State following Dreyfus’ exoneration, which called for a national homeland for the Jewish people. This would give rise to the concept of Zionism, which intended to create said state.

“Palestine is our unforgettable historic homeland.” Herzl wrote in an excerpt from the novel. “Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die.”

However, not all Zionists are Jewish, and not all of the Jewish population is Zionist. Making this distinction is imperative in understanding how the world around Palestine would shape the upcoming conflict.

In addition, Zionist merely means that one believes that Jewish people deserve a national identity of their own. Israel would be important in ensuring the safety of the lives of countless Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust after the war, so the concept of anti-Zionism has now been linked to anti-semitism. 

However, one does not need to be Jewish to be Zionist. In fact, one can be a Palestinian Zionist who argues for a two-state solution where both Jewish people and the Palestinians have their own national state.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917, for example,  also contributed to the idea of a Jewish state. 

Written by the Foreign Secretary of the British nation at the time, Conservative Party member Arthur Balfour, to one of the most prominent British Jews, Lord Rothschild, it promised the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people,” which would, incidentally, be located in Palestine, a place that had then held a Jewish minority.

“His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” Balfour wrote. “[We] will use [our] best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object."

Hearing from Students and Staff

For Palestinian sophomore Natalie Nour*, a two-state solution is possible, but would be “very hard to achieve.”

“My grandfather used to live in Palestine and he had a lot of land but it was taken away,” Nour said. “We were pushed out, and we are impacted in the way that if we want to visit Palestine, it is a very hard process to go through and they’d be interrogating us for hours. Even if we get there they can deny us entry.”

In 1970, her grandfather, who was a physician working for the PLO, was in prison for a year for providing medical treatment to Palestinians. According to Nour, he was physically and medically tortured and given the choice to either leave the country or stay in prison, to which he chose to flee to Jordan.

Nour’s mother would grow up there and later immigrate to America for college.

“There’s a lot to know about the conflict and there are two sides to it obviously, and, I don’t want to sound politically incorrect, but Palestine was there,” Nour said. “The Ottoman Empire dissolved, and they gave us to Britain, who allowed Israel to have a certain share in Palestine.”

Many Palestinians have similar stories. According to the American Community Survey, there are an estimated 85,000 Palestinians living in the U.S. as of 2013.

“Right now, we are being pushed out,” Nour said. “Palestinians have curfews, they’re restricted, and they can’t move. There is an occupation happening, and that is a fact. It's like the Holocaust, but in a much lesser way.”

She attributes some of Israel’s success in defense to America’s support.

“I feel like America is intervening in the sense that Israel has money, so they can influence the media,” Nour said. “So America sides with Israel because they have money, and that’s how they look at it.”

According to Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who sympathize with Palestine has decreased dramatically since 2001, correlating with the 9/11 attacks.

Ninety-nine percent of the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip today is Muslim, according to a census taken by the CIA, and, when asked in a January 2017 survey on a scale of 1-100 how warmly Americans felt towards Muslims, an average score of 48 was given.

Despite the 9/11 attack being unrelated, many in America have conflated it with their perception of Islam as a whole.

This generalization has led to the silence of Palestinian Christian voices, a community which has shrunk dramatically over time.

“I feel like the history is kind of mixed up, and people don’t know the full story of what’s happening,” Nour said. “People don’t know the full extent of what is going on.”

Israel's Beginnings (1948-1956)

Not long after the Balfour Declaration, the U.S. President at the time, Woodrow Wilson, who was against annexing colonies that had belonged to the Allied powers following World War I, helped to draft a peace settlement with the League of Nations that gave the British the mandate of Palestine following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.

This would later allow the British to begin immigrating Jews into Palestine. Yet, as time went on, Britain began to limit the number of immigrants entering the country due to Arab riots.

The stipulations of the agreement made by the Balfour Declaration would not be brought to fruition until World War II, where Jews faced persecution from all across Europe under Hitler’s regime. As many as 6 million Jews were estimated to have died as a result of the Holocaust.

Zionists, after the war concluded, would appeal to aid from the U.S., which worked to their benefit when President Truman approved their idea of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.

The Jews in Palestine, which were at that point roughly a third of the total population, were then drawn into action after a United Nations (U.N.) resolution divided Palestine into two: one section for Jews, and another for the Arabs. Israel was then declared a state by the head of the Jewish Agency, David Ben-Gurion, on May 14, 1948.

“We extend the hand of peace and good-neighborliness to all the States around us and to their people,” Ben-Gurion said in Israel's Proclamation of Independence. “We call upon them to cooperate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its land.”

As the majority of the population in the Middle East at that time were Muslim, several of the surrounding countries would invade the new state following the proclamation, and initiate what would be known as the Israeli War for Independence. It would conclude with Egypt taking control of the Gaza strip and the new state being formally established.

700,000 Palestinians would flee the region in the coming years, with the largest share heading to the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Jordan. In fact, many still live in refugee camps today.

Since the day that Israel that was declared a country, its territory has considerably grown. 

However, this was not without reason: Israel would come to rapidly expand its territory in what would later be known as the Arab-Israeli Wars.

These wars are what we know today as the expanded Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

Meanwhile, fellow sophomore Jessica Klein, who would describe herself as Israel-leaning, sees the conflict in a different light.

Although a student at Carlmont High School, Klein has opted this semester to study abroad in Israel. She has very much enjoyed her experience thus far, and she would say that she knows much about the conflict. 

“I know more than the majority of people my age in America,” Klein said. “I know what the conflict is, I have formed my own opinions on it, and I know various facts that people have told me.”

Similar to Nour, Klein also believes that facts can often become muddled in regards to the conflict.

“The thing is, everything I know is from a very biased source. Everything I know is from my mom, people from my synagogue, and friends.” Klein said. “I feel like people should make sure that they’re getting the right education.”

Klein worries about the misrepresentation of Israel in the media.

“If you just pay attention to those headlines, you are going to hate Israel, because there are some really biased things out there to make it look bad,” Klein said. “People don't realize that Israel is defending themselves. Facts will be misgiven because they won’t say everything that happened.”

Klein says that she has noticed multiple instances of this occurring.

“Palestine would bomb Israel, and Israel would want to defend themselves. They don’t want to kill people there, but want to stop the people from bombing them,” Klein said. “They’d tell them before that they were going to bomb them so that they would have time to get out but not be able to bring weapons.”

However, it was supposedly not so easy.

“But they would stay, or have children come in too because there are children there who are willing to die for their cause,” Klein said. “Then the press says Israel killed people.”

Most of Klein’s information on the conflict has come from her community and family members.

“My grandpa from my dad’s side has very strong opinions about it,” Klein said. “He’ll go around with newspapers that are pro-Israel and leave them places hoping someone would pick them up.”

Klein sees looking at both sides as most important when reading on the conflict.

"It's important to know all of the facts before judging," Klein said.

Number of Deaths

Through the objective standpoint of one who is neither Palestinian or Israeli, sophomore Varsha Raj, who attains most of her information of the conflict from American sources, does not see a dual state solution as likely.

“I think that they can definitely split up into two dates, but, at the same time, the conflict has been going on for so long,” Raj said. “Even if they tried to split, I think that there would be so much history that they would never come to a compromise because each one has dealt with their own opinion on why they want want they want, so I don’t know.”

Raj says that she does not favor one side of the conflict over the other.

Meanwhile, Hailey Hamady, a sophomore of Lebanese descent, takes a similarly objective stance. 

“I’m in between because both sides have a valid point and I find it hard to choose a single one,” Hamady said.

Hamady gains most of her knowledge about the conflict from her family and teachers.  “I have family members who have developed feelings about the conflict because when Palestine was being kicked out while fighting they entered Lebanon and took some family land.”

Hamady would say that she has a strong connection to the conflict because of her family.

“If America were to enter this conflict, it puts us in potential danger down the road because, potentially, if things get out of control, then a lot of immigrants from all over the Middle East will come to the U.S., and the few with radical viewpoints could bring some danger,” Hamady said.

The First Arab-Israeli Wars (1956-1973)

The second of the Arab-Israeli Wars would begin in 1956 over the Suez Canal. The president of Egypt at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had nationalized the Suez Canal, which, at the time, had belonged to France and Britain as a trading route which linked the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Promptly, the British encouraged Israel, which had the port of Eilat blockaded and had also been prevented from traveling on the canal, to invade Egypt.

Israel entered through the Sinai Peninsula to take control of Gaza, Rafah, and Al-Arish, while the Eisenhower administration in the U.S. would join in with the Soviet Union to support Nasser. Israel was instructed to wait for British and French intervention, which concluded with a U.N. Emergency Force, supported by Eisenhower, being placed in the area.

Israeli troops were forced to withdraw, and Egypt removed the blockade on Eilat.

But the Suez Crisis did not mark the end of the violence — in fact, it was only the beginning.

In 1964, after a meeting of the Arab League Summit, the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO) was formed with the intention of asserting Palestinian independence. They would play a key role in the events surrounding the conflict from thereon out.

The most prominent of these guerilla movements would be the al-Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat, which made attacks on Israel that would incite raids on PLO bases.

Not three years after the creation of the PLO, the Six Day War would occur when Palestinian guerilla groups launched attacks on Israel from surrounding countries, such as Syria and Egypt, with the latter country threatening to invade. Israel would respond by striking the village of Al-Samu in the West Bank, where as many as 18 would die.

“Our path to Palestine will not be covered with a red carpet or with yellow sand. Our path to Palestine will be covered with blood,” Nasser said in his re-election speech in 1965. “In order that we may liberate Palestine, the Arab nation must unite, the Arab armies must unite, and a unified plan of action must be established.”

In support of Syria, which had been weakened by an Israeli air strike, General Nasser of Egypt mobilized the army and closed the Gulf of Aqaba (including Eilat) to Israel. King Hussein of Jordan would sign a defense pact with Egypt, that would result in Israel making a preemptive strike that would kill 90 percent of the Egyptian Air Force.

An attack launched from Jordan would spawn a counterattack from Israel. This would culminate with the U.N. calling for a cease-fire, and the latter country seizing Golan Heights from Syria. Israel would end up tripling in the size of its territories, and there would be a dramatic increase in Palestinian refugees. 

Heightened Tensions (1973-1993)

The next Arab-Israeli War took place on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur in 1973, when Egypt invaded through the Suez Canal and Syria into Golan Heights. Israel would face heavy casualties but was able to draw up a series of peace agreements with Egypt that gave the latter the Sinai Peninsula for their acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist.

The Camp David Accords, in 1979, would mark the end of Egypt’s involvement in the conflict.

“[The Camp David Accords are] a collusion at the expense of and behind the backs of the Arabs aimed at helping Israel entrench [itself] on captured Arab land, including Palestine, and prevent implementation of the Palestinians' inalienable national rights," The PLO released in a statement regarding the accords.

Although peace would be made with Egypt, it would be not six years later when Israel bombed Beirut, Lebanon, a center for PLO strongholds, after mounting tensions with Palestinians.

The day after, Israel invaded Beirut and would occupy it from 13 June 1982 until a partial withdrawal in 1985 after negotiations with the PLO. The PLO would completely evacuate Beirut following another shelling.

However, Israel would not completely leave the area until as late as May 14, 2000, in what would be known as the South Lebanon Conflict.

Following was the First Intifada (1987-1993) a series of Palestinian uprisings where the details appear to be less cut-clear. Sources today continue to disagree over how the violence erupted --  according to American Muslims for Palestine, four Palestinians were killed by an Israeli Jeep and another was shot in order to repress an oncoming protest. However, others, such as the Jewish Virtual Library, consider these accusations to be false.

However, both agree that this would escalate into protests against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, totaling to 1,376 Palestinian deaths from Israeli officers, including 23 minors, and 94 Israeli deaths, including 4 minors.

The Palestinians threw stones, while the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fired guns. But it wasn’t the end.

The Intifada would forever leave its mark on the history of the West Bank. After all, intifada is the Arabic word for “tremor.”

Omri Osteryung, meanwhile, who served in the Israeli army in the rocket division and as a combat soldier, believes that a two-state solution, where each can exist with their own beliefs and cultures, is possible.

“I think that first of all, people need to understand the root of the issue, the reason of why it’s happening,” Osteryung said. “There is no such thing as black-and-white, no such thing as right-or-wrong, no such single solution. We need to be open-minded to people who are different from us. We need to open up.”

He added that, even though it affects him in every aspect of his life, whether in school, home, or the army service, he would like people to know that Israel is not defined solely by the conflict.

“The conflict is a little bit big here, but it’s not the only thing here. Unfortunately, a lot of people see that as the main topic here, but there’s a country here,” Osteryung said. “Israel supplies innovative technological inventions that improve the lives of many people around the world.”

He hoped everyone can feel welcome to enter the country.

“I think that it’s important that not only the Jews but any man or woman who wants to walk here in Israel can also come in here,” he said.

Through the perspective of a history teacher, Patricia Braunstein believes that it is imperative to look for unbiased sources when researching into a controversial subject such as this one.

“One of the challenges of modern journalism, just because of technology, and because the format has changed so much, is that there is a lot of bias that is inserted into modern writing,” Braunstein said.

Braunstein teaches World History, Life Skills, and AP European History at Carlmont, and often implements assignments - such as writing reflections on current events - that help her students better understand the differences in between news and opinion.

“It’s important to know your sources because there are so many things out there,” Braunstein said. “It's concerning — I see it a lot with students. People don’t realize what’s biased or not. And if people have that awareness, it’s not that hard to figure it out. The danger is that people are unaware of a difference.”

Braunstein also had a few tips to share for avoiding biased sources.

“I would look at things from fairly standard news sources and from more than one,” Braunstein said. “You should be aware that what you think is reading news should not be inserting opinion.”

Especially with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, opinion is often confused with fact as its history is still in the making. As aforementioned, different sources will often share different information or even neglect the other side of the argument. On occasion, propaganda will even be passed as news.

However, although it might appear challenging, Braunstein believes that it is important for students to remain educated about foreign matters such as the conflict.

“It’s easy for us to be insulated in our own nation, county, locale, your own life, but that’s the reason why we teach what we do,” Braunstein said. “And that’s why I teach -- people have to be aware of what’s out there, or else you’re letting others make decisions for you.”

*Name has been changed to secure the identity of the speaker

Most Important Locations

Modern Day (1993-Today)

The Oslo Accords, proposed in 1993 by the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Negotiator Mahmoud Abbas, was the first instance of active intervention on the part of the U.S since the Suez Crisis. It was signed at the White House under the Clinton administration. The agreement was made that Israel would recognize PLO for the PLO to recognize Israel.

However, the accords would swiftly fall apart, when in 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a radical Zionist. This would be exacerbated by a number of terrorist attacks waged on the Hamas.

The Hebron Protocol, which transferred Hebron to Palestinian control, was drafted in another attempt to prevent violence from breaking out. The Clintons negotiated for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who was involved in the proceedings, had lost the election to Labor Party representative Ehud Barak.

While Barak signed the Sharm al-Shayuk to encourage negotiations, initial meetings were to no avail, and he would fail a second time in making an Israel-Syria accord.

Clinton would organize a meeting at Camp David between Barak and Palestinian leader Arafat, but numerous disagreements over borders, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees would culminate with failure. 

“[The Palestinians] did not in the past and do not in the present constitute an existential threat to the state of Israel.” Rabin said following the ratification of the accords. 

It was not until riots inspired by Likud Party Leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, one of the holiest places in both Islam and Judaism that Israel was attempting to incorporate into Jerusalem, that any chance of peace from the Oslo Accords was lost. 

These events would motivate a second intifada between 2000 and 2005. Palestinian protesters began to throw rocks at Jewish worshippers near the Western Wall, Jerusalem, and were met with the bullets of surrounding officers.

Four Palestinians would die, and another 200 would be injured. Additionally, 70 Israeli officers would face substantial injuries.

This conflict between Palestinians and Israeli officers would spark another five years of violence, which would include terrorist bombings and a number of civilian deaths.

Angry crowds beat, stabbed, and disemboweled officers, while the latter killed Palestinians with bullets and tanks. This was all in the first week.

Ariel Sharon, with the promise of eliminating “terrorism” against the Israelis, would be elected the prime minister of Israel the following year. He would support the firing of a missile from an F-16 Israeli Warplane on Gaza, killing 11 and injuring over 100.

Although the end of the second Intifada is often subject to historical dispute, many trace it back to 2005 as the violence subsided with greater Israeli preventive measures.

The last major war was in 2006, when Hezbollah, a radical political organization that would arise following Israel’s assault on Beirut, killed Israeli officers in their efforts to coerce the country into freeing Lebanese prisoners.

Israel would recapture the prisoners, and, in the process, kill 1 thousand Lebanese and displace another million. While there were leaders who condemned the actions taken by the Hezbollah, it was largely seen as a victory by the surrounding nations.

Although it seems like the conflict is predominantly fought outside of Gaza, the violence is as internal as it is external.

According to the Palestinian-Israeli Timeline, which tracks the number of deaths and injuries in the region, it is estimated that in 2018 alone, 290 Palestinians, including 56 children, died, along with 14 Israelis, including one child.

The BDS movement, which was created in 2005 against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, has also been subject to much scrutiny. While the African National Congress endorsed the organization, the Republican political party of the U.S. has expressed strong opposition. It is now debated as an anti-semitic organization calling for the destruction of Israel.

Meanwhile, the PLO today now acts to represent the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), an autonomous Palestinian government that was created following the Oslo Accords.

After a conflict in 2007 between Hamas, a militant and designated terrorist organization, and Fatah, a secular organization that recognizes Israel and wants to end the conflict through diplomatic means, control of the Gaza strip has gone to the former, ensuring further violence with Israel.

Hamas is also guilty of taking aid money intended for needy Palestinians.

With 97% of the water in the Gaza strip contaminated, depression on the rise in Gazan youth, and 68% of the population food insecure, Palestinian children living in Gaza are the most adversely affected by the events of the conflict.

Yet even still, this conflict has extended far beyond the Gaza strip, and many see it as imperative that it be brought to an end. 

Timeline of Events