Understanding Israel & Palestine. What The Fuck Is Going On Over There?

There is an impossible to ignore conflict going on in the middle east right now between Israel and Palestine.  For many years I have blindly sided with Israel because I was raised a Jew and an American and that’s just what we do.  In light of the recent events, a lot of people I respect and organizations I follow have been outspoken against Israel and what’s happening in Gaza.

Because of my respect for those who have been speaking out and my blind support being self-admittedly less-than credible, I decided that I would take an objective look into the history of the state, the creation of the modern Israel and the details of the current conflict.  I am not a scientist but I do know fact from opinion. These are my notes on trying to get the real story.

The History Of Israel

The first record of the name ‘Israel’ is said to occur in the Merneptah Stele, erected for Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah c. 1209 BCE, “Israel is laid waste and his seed is not,” though some argue it was mentioned as far back as 1400 BCE which is 200 years earlier than the Merneptah Stele.1 The Hebrew Bible describes constant warfare between the Jews and other tribes, including the Philistines, whose capital was Gaza. Around 930 BCE, the kingdom split into a southern Kingdom of Judah and a northern Kingdom of Israel.2 In 750 BCE the Assyrians destroyed both the Kingdom of Israel and the Philistine Kingdom.3

Around 540 BCE, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and took over its empire4 granting subjugated nations (including the people of Judah) religious freedom. Non-Jews wrote to Cyrus to try to prevent their return.5 In 333 BCE, Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great defeated Persia and conquered the region.6 The Maccabean Revolt took place in 167 BCE which eventually ended the Greek rule.7 The Hasmonean Dynasty of (Jewish) priest-kings ruled Judea from 142-63 BCE.8 From 37 BCE to 4 CE, the Herodian Dynasty ruled it.9

Judea was made a Roman province in 6 CE. In 66 CE, the Jews of Judea rose in revolt against Rome, naming their new state as “Israel”. There were many uprisings and massacres on both sides. The Roman province, until then known as Iudaea Province, was eventually renamed Palaestina, and this is where Palestine gets its modern name.10

Constantine I dedicated a “new Rome” on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium 330 CE, and the region became part of the (Christian) East Roman Empire.11 In 611 CE, Sassanid Persia invaded the Byzantine Empire and, after a long siege, Khosrau II captured Jerusalem in 614 CE.12 In 629 CE The Byzantine Emperor, Heraclius, who had promised to restore Jewish rights and received Jewish help in defeating the Persians, reneged on the agreement after reconquering Palaestina Prima, issuing an edict banning Judaism from the Byzantine Empire and ordered all Jews to be killed.13  

In 634–636 CE the Arabs conquered Palaestina Prima, renamed it Jund Filastin, and ended the Byzantine ban on Jews living in Jerusalem.14 Over the next few centuries, Islam replaced Christianity as the dominant religion of the region. From 636 until the beginning of the Crusades, Jund Filastin was ruled first by Medinah-based Rashidun Caliphs, then by the Damascus-based Umayyad Caliphate and after that the Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphs. In 691 CE, Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik (685–705 CE) completed construction on the Dome of the Rock shrine on the Temple Mount.15 Jews consider it to contain the Foundation Stone, which is the holiest site in Judaism. A second building, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, was also erected on the Temple Mount in 710 CE.16

In 1099, the first crusade took Jerusalem and established a Catholic kingdom, known as the Kingdom of Jerusalem.17 During the conquest, both Muslims and Jews were indiscriminately massacred or sold into slavery. In 1187, the Ayyubid Sultan Saladin defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin, taking Jerusalem and most of the former Kingdom of Jerusalem.18 From 1260 to 1291 the area became the frontier between Mongol invaders (occasional Crusader allies) and the Mamluks of Egypt.19

Egyptian Mamluk Sultan, Baibars (1260–1277), conquered the region and the Mamluks ruled it until 1517, regarding it as part of Syria. In Hebron, Baibars banned Jews from worshiping at the Cave of the Patriarchs (the second holiest site in Judaism), the ban remained in place until its conquest by Israel 700 years later. Under the Mamluks, the area was a province of Bilad a-Sham (Syria).20 It was conquered by Turkish Sultan Selim I in 1516–17, becoming a part of the province of Ottoman Syria for the next four centuries, first as the Damascus Eyalet and later as the Syria Vilayet (following the Tanzimat reorganization of 1864).21 Turkey’s Ottoman Empire ruled until Turkey sided with Germany in WWI.  When they lost the war, control was mandated to France & Britan, with Britan getting control of Palestine.22

Ultimately Great Britain found themselves dealing with consistent revolts from the Arabs and in 1947 after being drained from WWII they relinquished control to the UN.  The UN came up with Resolution 18123 which the Jews accepted but the Arabs rejected promising violence if enforced. The resolution was at a standstill because it required everyone to agree in order for it to be put into effect.24

On November 30th, 1947 civil war broke out between the Arabs and Jews. On May 15th, 1948 Egypt, Jordan, Syria and forces from Iraq invaded Palestine. They took control of all Arab areas and immediately began attacking Jewish settlements.25 The fighting lasted for 10 months and in 1949 all parties involved in the conflict besides the Iraqis and Palestinians signed the 1949 Armistice Agreements.26

During what became called the Jewish War For Independence, the “Palestinian Exodus” occurred causing over 700k Palestinians to flee or be removed from their homes in the conflict area.27 In the three years following the war, 800k-1mil Jews immigrated to Israel in what became called “Jewish Exodus From Arab And Muslim Lands” as a result of persecution, antisemitism, political instability, poverty and expulsion from both Arab territories and Eastern Europe.28

As a result of the Jews being attacked and the Armistice Agreements being signed, Israel won its independence. “The State of Israel is thus not legally derived from the partition plan, but rests (as do most other states in the world) on assertion of independence by its people and government, on the vindication of that independence by arms against assault by other states, and on the establishment of orderly government within territory under its stable control.” -Professor Julius Stone.29

Israel’s Modern Conflicts

In order to understand today’s violence, we need to understand the repeated violence involving Israel since its independence.  From the 1950’s-60’s there were bloody border skirmishes incited by Palestinian groups who aimed violence at Israeli citizens.  Israel responded with the Reprisal Operations which were purposefully bloody as to deter Palestinians from continuing their operations. While Israel’s Reprisal Operations ultimately won, there were massacres involved including the Qibya Massacre in which 69 Palestinians were killed, two-thirds of them women and children. Forty-five houses, a school, and a mosque were also destroyed.30

In 1956, Great Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt in an effort to take over the Suez canal after they announced its nationalization.31 The attackers were successful but were forced to give it back. Israel still managed to secure the freedom of ships to travel through the Straits of Tiran.32 In June of 1967 the Six-Day-War kicked off when Israel launched surprise attacks against Egyptian air fields in response to Egypt mobilizing forces around Israel and notifying the UN to remove all United Nations troops from areas surrounding Israel.33 Israel seized the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank of the Jordan River (including East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights.34

In 1967 Egypt, USSR, Jordan, Cuba and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) launched the War of Attrition in an attempt to gain back lost territory from the Six-Day-War. This resolved in 1970 with a cease-fire and no real peace negotiations. No borders were changed and no real strategic advantage was won by either side.35 In October of 1973 there was the Yom Kippur War which lasted less than a month where Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in another attempt to regain the lost territory. Again no borders were changed but this led to the 1974 disengagement agreements which ultimately gave back the Sinai Peninsula.36

In 1978 the increased Palestinian insurgency in South Lebanon resulted in the Palestinian Liberation Organization launching attacks against Israel. One of these attacks was the Coastal Road Massacre which was an attack involving the hijacking of a bus on Israel’s Coastal Highway in which 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, were killed, and 71 were wounded.37 Israel responded in 1971 with Operation Litani which was a full-scale invasion of Lebanon that would last until 1982.38 The UN would eventually step in and order a cease fire which the PLO did not respect since the documents didn’t mention them specifically. Five days after the cease fire was arranged the PLO agreed to it and it would be the first time a Palestinian leader had ever agreed to a cease fire with Israel.

After many rockets being fired into Israel and an assassination attempt by the PLO on Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom by Abu Nidal (founder of the militant PLO separatist group, Fatah39) in 1982, Israel launched a full scale invasion of South Lebanon, kicking off the Lebanon War with the help of the South Lebanon Army and the Lebanese Front.40 Israel would ultimately lose the war but they won strategically with the PLO being removed from South Lebanon. Hezbollah was created at this time as an effort to resist Israeli occupation of South Lebanon.41

The end of the Lebanon invasion and occupation in June of 1985 would kick off fifteen years of violence with South Lebanon insurgency groups like Hezbollah.42 This would also be the year that Hezbollah would publish their open letter to “The Downtrodden In Lebanon And The World,” in which they call for guerrilla style terror attacks against the west.43 Ultimately Israel would withdraw from South Lebanon and the South Lebanon Army would fall to Hezbollah.

1987 marked the beginning of the First Palestinian Intifada which was a mostly nonviolent uprising using civil disobedience. Israel initially tried to quell this action by killing large numbers of Palestinians.44 812 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces through the year 1991, 154 of them under the age of 17.45 Palestinians killed 20 Israeli citizens in this time.46 822 Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians as accused collaborators.47 This was not a war but the Palestinians would win with a number of major positive outcomes from international recognition of the cause, major media support and open criticism of Israel by The United States, Europe, The UN and the international community.

In its annual report of 26 August 1988, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices reported about the intifada in detail. The General Assembly reacted on 8 December 1989 with an unusually strong condemnation of Israel in Resolution 44/48. Israel was condemned for a long list of bad behaviors, which were called “war crimes and an affront to humanity,” among other things. The long list of charges included annexation, deportation, expulsion, destruction, collective punishment, administrative detention, torture, illegal exploitation, curtailing of free press, killing and wounding of defenseless demonstrators, breaking of bones and limbs of thousands of civilians, use of toxic gas and arming of Israeli settlers with the purpose to perpetrate and commit acts of violence against Palestinians and other Arabs, causing deaths and injuries.48

The Second Palestinian Intifada was far more violent. In 2000 when Ariel Sharon visited Jerusalem’s Temple Mount (or Haram al-Sharif) which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, the Palestinians took the visit as a provocation and began a violent uprising which was met immediately by violence from Israeli security forces.49 When cease-fire was finally declared in 2005, 3,307 Palestinians, including 654 children, and 972 Israelis, including 117 children, had been killed.

UPDATE*: In 2005 Israel executed on its disengagement plan with a full withdraw from Gaza.50 The plan for the withdraw included evacuating settlers from the settlements and forcibly removing anyone who didn’t comply and then buldozing the homes.51 The final result of the disengagement would be that there would be no civilian or military presence left in Gaza and therefore no one could claim the area was being “occupied.”52

In 2006 Hamas (labeled a terrorist organization by The United States and Europe53 ) won the Palestinian general elections with an overwhelming majority. On June 9th 2006, an explosion on the beach of Gaza which killed seven members of the Ghalia family caused Hamas to call an end to the cease fire and announced they would resume attacks on Israelis. Violence continued until a cease fire was agreed upon in November of 2012.54

So What’s Going On Right Now?

On June 6th, 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, the suspects being members of the Hamas terrorist organization.55 Israel has responded to the murders with a full-scale investigation and mass arrests of Palestinians and Hamas leaders. These operations have caused the deaths of at least five Palestinians and hundreds are being held without being charged.56 On July 2nd, 2014, a Palestinian boy was kidnapped and burned alive in an apparent revenge murder.57 Even before these incidents have occurred, several human rights organizations have pressed Palestinian leaders to go to the International Criminal Courts in response to human rights violations committed by Israel.58

Violence has escalated in the Gaza region with Hamas firing rockets that either land in their own territory killing civilians, or they actually reach Israel, though about 90% are shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome Missle Defense System.59 More than 803 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel since the beginning of this year.60

Conclusion & Opinion

What is happening at the moment in Gaza is a very complicated situation that ultimately results from heightened tensions between the two groups involved; one who feel they have an exclusive right to the land that was once entirely Palestine, and the other who feel they have the right to exist. In this current conflict both sides appear to be wrong for different reasons.

The Palestinians are wrong because they do not have a right to the land of Israel. Israel won its independence through a war which they didn’t initiate but ultimately won. The Palestinian groups need to realize this and accept it.

Israel is wrong because they should be the ones stabilizing the region and instead they are the oppressors who commit human rights violations. Even with Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO surrounding them, Israel has a moral obligation to find a way to make peace and get that region to become less volatile. Israel would have the backing of the entire world if they were defensive, but instead they bully the Palestinians and have been trigger-happy throughout their existence.

Israel oppressed the Palestinians and that created Hamas. Israel invaded South Lebanon and Iran helped Lebanon create Hezbollah. The more aggressive Israel becomes, the more these organizations are going to fight back. These militant groups shouldn’t have come into existence in the first place, and that fault lies on Israel being too aggressive.

The events leading up to the current conflict prove that the Palestinian backed Hamas group is at fault. The world doesn’t see this which is a result of the media skewing things the way they want to. That said, the response is that Israel will do as they have always done and commit atrocities in Gaza against the Palestinians. Israel will kill a large amount of innocent civilians and rather than focus being on peace and prosperity, the world will be yelling about Israel’s human rights violations.

The whole situation is horrible, and the only end I see is if Israel can finally stop oppressing the Palestinians and reacting to violence with violence. I’ve learned a lot about the situation looking at all this information and it’s disheartening to see the full picture as clearly as I do now. If Israel can’t be a leader and do what it takes to stabilize the region then the international community really needs to step in and make it happen. If not, there will be so much more innocent blood on both sides of this ridiculous conflict.

*Update added on July 22, 2014

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  12. http://www.geni.com/people/Khosrau-II-the-Victorious-King-of-Persia/6000000002187918581 []
  13. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/heraclius.html []
  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Israel#Prehistory []
  15. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerusalem-dome-of-the-rock []
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  18. http://www.historytoday.com/story/13721 []
  19. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Israel []
  20. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0013_0_13118.html []
  21. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Israel []
  22. http://www.contenderministries.org/articles/israelhistory.php []
  23. http://unispal.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/7F0AF2BD897689B785256C330061D253 []
  24. http://global.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1695871/United-Nations-Resolution-181 []
  25. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Arab-Israeli_War []
  26. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/arm03.asp []
  27. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Palestinian_exodus []
  28. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_exodus_from_Arab_lands []
  29. Professor Julius Stone, Israel and Palestine, Assault on the Law of Nations (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981) p. 127. []
  30. https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Qibya_massacre.html []
  31. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1953-1960/suez []
  32. http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Suez_Crisis.html []
  33. http://www.coldwar.org/articles/60s/SixDayWar.asp []
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  36. http://www.history.com/topics/yom-kippur-war []
  37. http://cdn.worldheritage.org/articles/Coastal_Road_massacre []
  38. http://www.worldheritage.org/articles/Operation_Litani []
  39. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Nidal []
  40. http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/AboutIsrael/History/Pages/Operation%20Peace%20for%20Galilee%20-%201982.aspx []
  41. http://www.cfr.org/lebanon/hezbollah-k-hizbollah-hizbullah/p9155 []
  42. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Lebanon_conflict_(1982-2000 []
  43. http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/document_conversions/89801/DOC_0000361273.pdf []
  44. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Intifada []
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  46. http://www.btselem.org/statistics/first_intifada_tables []
  47. Human Rights Watch, Israel, The Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority Territories,November, 2001. Vol. 13, No. 4(E), p.49 []
  48. http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/9216F6A5267BA65C052566190057021E []
  49. http://www.crimesofwar.org/a-z-guide/the-second-intifada-and-after/ []
  50. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Peace/sharonplantoc.html []
  51. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/10/AR2005081000713.html []
  52. http://www.nad-plo.org/etemplate.php?id=60 []
  53. http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/45323.pdf []
  54. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza-Israel_conflict []
  55. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/30/bodies-missing-israeli-teenagers-found-west-bank []
  56. http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/105345/World/Region/Israel-commited-serious-violations-in-West-Bank-op.aspx []
  57. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/05/palestinian-boy-mohammed-abu-khdeir-burned-alive []
  58. http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/08/palestine-go-international-criminal-court []
  59. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-20385306 []
  60. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Terrorism/rockets2011.html []