The Middle East conflict is an intriguing issue. Everybody speaks about a battle which seems to have no end. The formation of Israel is carrying behind an intense series of conflicts which have amplified throughout history and have led to the isolation of the Palestinian population. It is important to understand the logic behind the actions of each of these two nations and their legitimacy and right to exist. In the end, peace is the question for the people living there. At the same time, since the area has been constantly shadowed with the atmosphere of conflict and war, extreme violence is a ready and well-known answer for these populations.
There are two spiritual traditions that currently have their religious site in the Temple Mount (Jerusalem): Judaism and Islam. It is important to acknowledge that the former has been present there for longer. According to the Jewish tradition, almost 4000 years ago, God judged that Abraham (Avraham Avinu – “our father Abraham” in Hebrew) would be the father of the Jews. Even though Islam found its origins only less than 1400 years ago (after the birth of Prophet Muhammad), still both traditions claim Abraham as being their father.
As stated in the biblical story, by God’s command, Abraham and his family were sent to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea to occupy the territory of Canaanites. God promised Abraham that this land, stretching out from Sidon (a city in the ancient Near East) in the north to Gaza in the southwest, will belong to them and their offspring. God has also promised blessings to him and his decedents, part of which now, 4000 years later, became known as the Israeli.
The rise of Zionism
It may appear that the well-known conflict between Israel and the Palestinian state could have been attributed to the reasons embedded in the religious traditions. However, interestingly enough, this is not the case, since the tensions arose solely because of the land. In the late 19th century, the Ottoman Empire ruled over the area that we know today as Palestine. At that time, the population consisted of 10% Christians, 87% Muslims and only 3% Jews who were living together in peace, with everybody speaking Arabic. Meanwhile in Europe, the states comprised by the Austro-Hungarian Empire were thriving for their independence, contributing to the formation of a golden age for nationalism. In this hyper-nationalist environment, Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian journalist of Jewish descent, became more and more convinced of the need to establish a Jewish state. This became soon a political movement which was termed as Zionism.
Zionism had then started to serve as a powerful philosophy. It led to the formation of the “World Zionist Organization”, which encouraged a massive migration of the Jewish population to Palestine. The aim of this migration was stated in the resolution that came off the First World Zionist Congress which took place in August 1897 in Basel, Switzerland:
“Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish people a legally assured home in Palestine. For the attainment of this purpose, the Congress considers the following means serviceable:
- The promotion of the settlement of Jewish agriculturists [farmers], artisans, and tradesmen in Palestine;
- The federation [unified organization] of all Jews into local or general groups, according to the laws of the various countries;
- The strengthening of the Jewish feeling and consciousness [national sentiment and national consciousness];
- Preparatory steps for the attainment of those governmental grants which are necessary to the achievement of the Zionist purpose.”
A few Zionists that were sent to Palestine were concerned about the actual possibilities of establishing a purely Jewish homeland in Palestine. At that time, they stated that “the bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man”. The reaction from the Arab side has been long discussed, some Zionists believing that the Arabs would fight back the migration whereas others sustaining that the Arabs would welcome them due to their European experience.
The unaligned promises of the British
Further on, the next crucial factor that played a key role in the record of the conflict was the British control over Palestine from 1917 to 1948. Starting with 1908, the Ottoman Empire had begun to face defeat and in 1918 the agglomeration of the territories was divided into states. Further on, the League of Nations declared mandates of France over Syria and Lebanon and of the United Kingdom over Iraq and Palestine. In 1917, British troops headed to Jerusalem to prove the resistance against the Ottoman Empire, which was not yet defeated. In order to gain the support of the Jewish community in this battle, in November 1917, the Balfour declaration was issued by the British. The document showed that the United Kingdom would “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for Jewish people” and that in turn, nothing should be done to endanger the existence of the non-Jewish population in the area. However, UK had previously made very different agreements. Only two years before the Balfour declaration, the British had promised the Sharif of Mecca power over Palestine in exchange of him initiating a revolt against Turkey. These series of incompatible promises dramatically raised tensions and have made the British betrayers; “one nation promised another the land of a third”. This was the beginning of a strong collision between the Jews and Arabs. In 1936, the Palestinians revolted over the British but they were brutally repressed. In return, the British issued another declaration through which they urged the establishment of a cap on Jewish migration to Palestine. Nevertheless, by 1938, the Jews were representing almost 30% of the population of the territory.
United Nations taking over the problem
Given the unstable context from that point, where the UK started to be seen as unreliable and therefore, powerless, newly created United Nations began to engage in finding a solution that would be acceptable to both the Jews and the Arabs. The UN proposed a partition of Palestine in two states, almost equal is dimensions. The Palestinians refused the division and in 1948 a war between the two populations was initiated. The victory belonged to Israel who in 1949 managed to occupy a third more land than stated in the UN proposal and Egypt gained control over Gaza while Jordan occupied the West Bank. In those circumstances, almost one million Palestinians left the territory and became refugees in the surroundings of their state. This was the beginning of the actual situation, in which the Palestinians are still exiled and dispossessed from their own land.
The UN partition plan was inconvenient for Palestine due to the Puzzle shape of the divided land
Israel’s attack on the Arab world as a mean of gaining recognition – The Six-Day War
After a steady status of 18 years, Israel started to feel threatened by its hostile neighbors and revolted Palestinians. Thus, in 1967, on the morning of June the 5th, they utilized the core feature of their army, their air force, in order to storm the Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian defense. Just in a few hours that day, the Israeli managed to gain total control over the Arab skies as the attack was completely unexpected. This war was called the Six-Day War, a disaster for the Israel’s enemies, resulting in the destruction of 80% of the Egyptian military capacity and over 3.000 dead and injured in Jordan and Syria. As a consequence of this war, Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, the Golan Heights of Syria and the West Bank. Finally, from this new superpower position, the Jews demanded again that their state is recognized.
The leaders of the Arab countries met in Sudan to formulate a response. They would not recognize Israel as a state and would strongly demand the withdrawal of Israel from their lost lands. Over the period, the Arab states faced the challenge of regaining their military strength and recovering their territories. The newly appointed Egyptian president from that time, Anwar Sadat, requested the help of the Soviet Union in order to revitalize the country’s army and respond to Israel’s attack. The Soviets provided Egypt and Syria with the most efficient missiles. Moreover, the presidents of Egypt and Syria agreed to conduct simultaneous ground attacks on Israel – Egypt across the Suez Canal and Syria in the Golan Heights. In 1973, October the 6th, the Yom Kippur war begun and the Jews felt fairly overwhelmed. They decided to focus their strength on the fight in the Golan Heights, as they were afraid that the Syrians would expand the fight to the center of the country. This war was followed by the Camp David Accords from 1978, which recognized the return of Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and stable relations between Israel and Egypt, derived from the first peaceful recognition of Israel by an Arab country. However, exactly 8 years following the war, Anwar Sadat was assassinated during the annual victory parade in Cairo. The crime was claimed by the members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
There is a question: Should we consider a 1-state or a 2-state solution?
What is finally the key to this long lasting and frustrating conflict? A lot of people in Israel would say that “a Palestinian state cannot be achieved anymore”. The reason behind this is because if that happens, radical groups will take over and control the state, just as it happened in Gaza. Their concern is legitimate since the whole region is very hazardous. But the international community thinks a “two-state solution” has to be plan A to tackle that problem. With regards to the long battle, different cultures, and economic situations, theoretically, a two-state solution should be more acceptable by both communities.
However, considering the two-state solution, the lack of unity amongst the Palestinian people does not help much either. The West Bank and the Gaza strip are getting more and more detached. The conflicts between Hamas and Fatah are increasing and therefore, the “fear” of elections is rising. Although there has not been any election for a long time and Abbas has not got a mandate, new elections will not help the problem at this moment at all. A government with the idea of national unity has to be created again.
This old problem will not fade away and can possibly get worse when accounting for the risk of radicalization. Considering Gaza, it’s well known that if people cannot produce, export and get the opportunity to rebuild their land, the risk of radicalization nowadays is much bigger than in the past. Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups are already probably active in Gaza. Therefore, all the conflicts in the region are in a way or another related to each other. With the recent stabbing incidents, another intifada or Gaza war may be probably soon to come.