The student dictionary by Thorndike-Barnhart defines a conflict as a fight or struggle. The situation between the Palestines and the Israelis falls nothing short of this definition. The two states have been at it from the early 20th century. Although the conflict started in the early 20th century, its origin dates back to the period of the Roman Empire (Cohn; 2001). In 135 CE, the Roman Empire defeated a revolt against its rule over Jerusalem and consequently expelled the surviving Jews from Jerusalem and its surroundings, some of them were sold as slaves. The province was later renamed Palestine (Zartman; 1999). The 7th Century saw the invasion and conquest of Palestine by the Arabs. As a result, many of the remaining cultures were assimilated and absorbed the Arab and Islamic cultures (Halliday; 1946). A few people, however, maintained their Jewish and Christian beliefs. In the 19th century, many uprisings and revolts cropped up. These were mainly aimed at restoring the land of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people. Thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe and Yemen migrated to Palestine. During the First World War, the Great Britain captured part of the Middle East including Palestine and promised the Zionists a Jewish National Home in the Balfour declaration and on this basis they were later assigned mandate over Palestine from the League of Nations (Zartman; 1999). This was the start of a war that would last up to the present day (Tessler; 1946). Jewish immigration and land purchases met increased resistance from Arab inhabitants of Palestine who started several violent revolts against the Jews and the British. This paper seeks to look at the conflict from the 1920’s to the present day. Having looked at the origin of the war, the paper will address the issues of the causes and the effects the conflict has had on the Israeli and the Palestinian people. The paper will then look at the possible measures that should have been and can be taken to resole the conflict and possibly preventing the occurrence of another.
The conflict and the major cause
Arguably, many have stated the main reason why the Israelis and the Palestinians are at war is because of a piece of land. This is subject to question. Many people still do not accept this. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been more than a local fight for between two groups who want the same piece of land. Historians and political scientists have put the blame squarely on four factors; religious fervor, national aspirations, historical and economic grievances, territorial rivalry and geopolitical impact. These are undoubtedly the main causes of the conflict. These causes can be looked at while going through the events of the war.
Israelis and the Palestinians view the historical and economic grievances differently and each party has its own position on how historical grievances played a major role in causing the conflict. According to the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Muslims across the world, the conflict with Israel is viewed through the prism of anger at past humiliations- the bloody crusades of medieval times, centuries of domination of Jerusalem and the Arab world by European colonialists, and a belief that predominantly Muslim Palestinians have been forced to pay with their homeland for sins of the Europeans during the holocaust (Yacov; 1946). The blame is mainly put on the British as during the First World War, the British government was given the mandate to rule over Palestine on grounds that they would resettle the Jews in Israel. This is what brokered the conflict.
Another reason given to be the possible fuel of the conflict if not the cause is the religious humiliation faced by the Jewish persons over the years. According to the Jews, the conflict arose as a result of anti-Semitism and abuse of Jews at the hands of Christians and Muslims alike. From the 11th century pogroms against the Jews in North Africa, the Spanish Inquisition of the middle ages, to the Holocaust during World War Two, Jews remained outsiders in the lands of their birth. The nineteenth century saw the formation of the Zionist movement by the Jewish intellectuals whose intention was to establish a national homeland for the Jews. The land around the holy cit of Jerusalem was the natural point of focus. This is the land in contention.
From 1920, the British faced riots and uprisings both from the Arabs and the Jews. Jewish migration to Palestine was accelerated by the rise of the Nazis to power. Britain tried to prevent this migration. The British, however, were not ready to move as they had been granted by the League of Nations administrative control over much of Palestine. It is important to note that the area under British rule is what is considered modern day Israel and Jordan.
Between 1929 and 1939, many cases of violence were reported between the Jews and Arabs living in the British mandate. During this period, the number of Jewish immigrants had increased rapidly and in large numbers. It was in 1929 that clashes over Jerusalem’s Western Wall and in Hebron were experienced. The Jews and the Arabs were in conflict for this piece of land. This was controlled and although there was relative peace, tension still existed in the area. Jewish militia and the British forces had merged to protect the Jews living in the region. The relative calm experienced was not to last as in 1936, an Arab revolt kicked off a three year period of sustained violence. The Arabs were generally protesting the increased Jewish migrations into the region. They even went to the extent of not paying taxes.
The British decided to leave Palestine and granted self governance to the natives in 1947. This followed their inability to cope with the pressure that they were experiencing from the two sides. Although the British had left the region to the natives, the problem created was even greater than that which was there before. The issue of what to do next became the major test for the newly created United Nations. They later resolved that they would partition the region into Arab and Jewish territories. The mainstream Zionist groups accepted the idea while the Arabs, British and some Jews rejected it. This did not go well with the Palestinians as in early 1948, Palestine descended into a civil war. In the same year, Israel declared its independence.
The Israeli Palestinian war soon changed cause to an Israeli-Arab war. This was seen from 1949 as the Arab nations started attacking Israel from all directions (Gee; 1953). This saw the arrival of Egypt into the conflict. The UN intervened and brokered a cease fire between the nations. Israel now controlled 50% more territory than the UN partition plan had already envisioned, Egypt took control of the Gaza strip while Jordan controlled the West Banks and Jerusalem’s old city. Jordan was later to prove to be a hard nut to crack as the later prevented Jews from praying at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. Many Palestinians were now in a difficult position as they were either left as refugees or as immigrants in foreign lands that were now under Jewish control. As expected, many Arabian nations were not pleased with the idea of Israel becoming an independent Jewish nation. As they slowly gained independence from the European nations, there main agenda was to wipe Israel out of the map of the world. This saw increased pressure from Egypt, Syria and Jordan (Bregman; 1947). The war continued for decades as Israel tried to regain control of what they thought to be their land.
Different mechanisms were, have and are still being put in place to broker peace between the two states, Israel and Palestine. Within the Israeli and Palestinian society, the conflict generates a wide variety and opinions. The fighting in the region has been mainly conducted by militia groups who are the main hardliners in as far as brokering a peace agreement is concerned. Those who have been involved in the negotiation process in the years have been the Israeli government and The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Other outsiders assisting in the process are the United States, Russia, The European Union, The Arab League and the United Nations. This peace process has had its share of ups and downs where the members have failed to agree on key issues such as the Gaza Strip and the Western Wall. Owing to the fact that the 60’s and the 70’s saw the growing power of the Israelis, the Egyptians and the Syrians decided to unite and form the Arab League which has been in the peace brokering discussions since then.
Israel built a strong army that took control and charge of many of the happenings in the region. Palestine, led by Yaser Arafat, decided to sit around the table with the Israelis. All the efforts put into brokering a peace deal between the two nations cannot go unrecognized (Friedlander; 1975). Since 1979, American administrations of both political parties have tried to mediate solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some progress has been achieved. In 1991, the Madrid Peace Conference brought together senior representatives of the Israel, Arab and Palestinian states. 1993 and 1994 saw the Oslo and the Jordan peace agreements respectively. These were to broker peace between Israel and Palestine and resolve the ever existent land issue.
The 21st century saw the conflict take a new twist in Palestine. Since 2003, the Palestinian side has been fractured by conflict between the two major factions, Fatah and Hamas. The two parties have been at logger heads on the control of the Gaza Strip. This has given the Israelis advantage due their stable political understanding.
Effects of the conflict
It is obvious that where there is war there is loss of lives and property. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has seen massive loss of lives and property. Since the late 80’s to date, the conflict has seen the deaths of up to 10,000 people. One needs not ask what about from 1948 to date. The number of injuries is probably higher. Palestine has fallen victim to the highest number of deaths reported. The issue with the conflict is that, as much as it is the army and the militia groups who are mainly on the grounds fighting, innocent civilians are also affected by the conflict. With regards to the loss of property, one needs to look at the number of people who were displaced as a result of the conflict. Over 700,000 Palestinians were either left as refugees or immigrants as a result of the split of Israel and Palestine. Many of them were displaced. Those that were displaced did not do so willingly, this meant that the property they had accumulated over the years and was rightfully theirs was either left behind or destroyed in the conflict.
Another effect of the conflict is the grave effect it has had on the children of Israel and Palestine. According to a UN report, the conflict has been detrimental to the physical and mental well being of all children and minors. Interrupted education and living in constant fear of harm have characterized the life of the children in Israel and Palestine. Internationally, a minor is characterized as anyone below the age of 18, with exceptions in some countries. Israel and Palestine on the other hand, classifies children and minors during combat as those who a below the ages of 12 and 14 respectively. There are no juvenile courts in Palestine. Anyone above the age of 14 is tried as an adult. In Israel, it is mandatory that once one is through with basic education, he/she should attend military training. In September 2000, at least 954 Palestinian and 123 Israeli children were killed during an attack. This numbers are even greater in some years (Finkelstein; 2001). Many of the children that survive this ordeal later suffer from other forms of mental illness.
The Israeli Palestinian conflict has affected the international community at large. The Middle East is the chief oil producing region in the world. The conflict going on between Israel and Palestine affects oil production in the area. This affects the energy production levels in many countries that rely on oil from the region. Jihads have also been witnessed in some countries as a result of the conflict. In some countries, the issue between the Israelis and the Palestinians is taken very seriously. The recent attacks by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip that saw the deaths of over 1000 Palestinians received a lot of condemnation from the international community mainly the Arabian nations.
The Israeli and the Palestinian people have been in conflict from as early as the mid 20th century. This is the documented fact. The origin of the conflict, as seen I the introduction, dates back to as early as the Roman Empire. The future of the Palestinian and the Israeli people lies in the hands of their leaders. Conflict resolution is never a rose process. However, ever journey begins with a step (Zartman; 1999). For the people of this region to live and embrace peace, they need to accept first that there is a problem. The steps taken over the years are in no doubt commendable. The question, however, remains were these steps genuine steps or were the parties coerced by the international community. This brings out another issue in as far as the conflict resolution process goes. My view is that the two parties should be left to handle the matter on their own. Interference from the international community may not help in brokering peace. This is because some of them may have their own interests at heart. A good example is the Arabian League formed by the Arab nations. They participate actively in the negotiation process. The main reason why this was formed was to counter Israel’s increasing power which they viewed as a threat to them. Another instance is that of the European Union. It is Europe that is part of the main cause of the current conflict. The Germans are on record of having executed the Jews during the Holocaust period (Ellis; 2002). This leaves one wondering, how do these people end up among the chief negotiators in the peace process?
Be that as it may, many innocent civilians have lost their lives as a result of this conflict. The methodology used to broker peace between the two states is very important. The two principle parties need to seat and get their act together for the sake of the civilians.