Today in Hebron, a city in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank territory of Palestine, I was at a small corner store buying hummus for lunch, when IDF soldiers and Palestinians began to clash on Shariya Al-Shuhada. But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this story. (You may want to pull up a map of Israel and it’s territories in another tab to reference.)
Over 2000 ago, Jews were expelled from Roman-administered Palestina and lived in exile in Europe, Asia and Africa. Arabs had lived there too, in relative harmony with the Jewish tribes and became the majority in the land of Palestine following the exile of the Jews. Many Jewish groups/tribes were thought to have disappeared completely.
In Europe, Jews were generally discriminated against and forced to live in Jewish-only areas which later became known as ghettos (in Western European cities) or shtetls (in the countryside of Eastern Europe) though many rose to high-ranking positions in government, banking, and business. In the Middle East, such as in Iran and the Ottoman Empire Jews were generally protected under Islamic law, however there were of course instances of discrimination.
In the 1910’s as Ottoman Empire began to crumble, Zionists from Austria-Hungary began to emigrate to the newly-established British Mandate of Palestine. Despite Britain’s feudal attempts to limit the number of Jewish Immigrants in the early 1900’s, they began to arrive in droves. Following the Holocaust, when approximately 8 million Jews were systematically murdered in German Death camps in Poland, many Jews from Europe and later, Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries, fled to Palestine. With the withdrawal of British forces in 1948, the State of Israel was created, marking the end of Mandatory Palestine. The state was created through means of violence.
In Palestinian history, May 14, 1948, is known as the Naqba, or Catastrophe, as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were forced to flee from their homes to ‘make room’ for the incoming immigrants. Many Jews from Middle Eastern countries (Mizrahim) were given the former homes of Palestinians, while Palestinians were pushed further and further East towards Jordan. ‘White’ European Jews were given brand new homes with modern appliances and were seen as superior to non-European Jews.
After the surrounding Arab countries launched several generally unsuccessful attacks on the newborn State of Israel, all the land of former Mandatory Palestine, as well as parts of Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon were occupied by Israel. A few years after the wars, Southern Lebanon and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula were given back to their owners, however, the Syrian Golan Heights were not.
At the same time, in Southwestern Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were pushed into an area known as the Gaza Strip, which, following said Arab-Israeli wars, was cut off from the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory. Almost immediately, these two Palestinian territories had different political movements and schism began to grow.
According to many Jewish scholars, archeologists, and politicians, the Palestinian territory known as the West Bank is the site of the ancient united Jewish kingdom of Judea and Samaria. Some religious Jews claim that these regions are their God-given land, and they have returned to claim it after over a millennium.
Jewish and Islamic sites are also too close for comfort. The ‘Temple Mount’ and ‘Western Wall’ in Jerusalem are the holiest sites in Judaism, but Islamic ‘Dome of the Rock’ and Al-Aqsa mosque, (considered to be the 3rd holiest in Islam) were built over 1000 years ago on top of the Temple Mount.
The Jewish Patriarchs (Abraham, etc.) and Matriarchs are buried in Hebron, which is one of the largest Palestinian cities. However, since Judaism and Islam (and Christianity too) share these prophets, it is also a holy site for Muslims.
The State of Israel’s government began to subsidize housing projects for Jewish immigrants in 1970’s in the West Bank, even though its considered Palestinian territory (not Israel-proper) for many reasons.
1. Israel is a small and expensive country to live in, so living in the West Bank is a cheaper alternative for poor Jewish immigrants.
2. A large and scattered Jewish population in the West Bank would help retain control over the land.
3. Some Jews believe it is their right to return to Judea and Samaria.
It’s important to note that Jewish settlers may live in the West Bank for any of those reasons, depending on the family, it is not simply a matter of religion. Either way, building new settlements (walled-off Israeli-only neighborhoods) in the West Bank is illegal under UN International Law of Occupied Territory. These settlements came along with Israeli-only roads and schools as well.
In the Gaza Strip, following the Israeli withdrawal from the region entirely in 2006, a classified-terrorist group Hamas rose to power democratically (though there is some doubt how democratically it really was), and declared in its constitution that Israel must be destroyed.
In the early 2000’s, Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank launched a series of brutal attacks against Israeli civilians, from suicide bombing to bus bombings to firing rockets to stabbings, against Israelis. Following these attacks, known as the First and Second Intifada an Arabic word for ‘shaking off’, the Israeli government commissioned the building of a giant separation barrier wall, which continues to stand. Though the wall protects Israelis from attacks, it was built over the line that Israel agreed to build it on, so it encroaches even further onto Palestinian land and cuts off many Palestinians from their families and farms.
Though Today the Palestinian territories have their own governments, the West Bank and Gaza Strip still rely completely on Israel for water, electricity, etc. Palestinians need permits to enter Israel to work, visit family, plant trees on land that they own, seek higher medical attention, etc. but these permits are often left pending, or denied.
In Gaza, the situation is dire, as Israel restricts the amount of food and supplies that are allowed to enter the region, and building permits are nearly impossible to obtain. Electricity, water and medicine are also very very limited. Gaza, with a population of 2 million in only 227 square miles (365 square kilometers) is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Gaza is considered the world’s largest open-air prison, with millions living in poverty, unable to leave, work for pay, and going hungry. The Gaza strip is one of the most densely populated places on Earth.
Palestinians who fled the country do NOT have the right to EVER return, which is a major source of contention as well, and are still considered refugees by the United Nations, even if they are 3rd generation. Both parts of that sentence are very controversial.
Supporters of the State of Israel and a Palestinian state both believe that Jerusalem is the indivisible capital. However, Jerusalem is in fact separated into East and West Jerusalem.
There have been several attempts to solve this conflict, the closest negotiation was between Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and PLO President Yasser Arafat. However, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a radical Jew in Tel Aviv, and the peace process crumbled.
Palestinians are upset that their land was taken and that their land continues to be taken from them. Many Jews believe that they deserve to have their own state in the Holy Land and that the Palestinians are a threat to their security as a people.
Not all Palestinians are victims: many Israeli Palestinians, are Palestinians within Israel-proper (not in the territories) that accepted Israeli citizenship. Yes, Israeli Palestinians. And not all Jews are anti-Palestinian. This is not a black-and-white issue.
Other important things to remember:
Palestinians are Arabs, but not all Arabs in Israel are or consider themselves Palestinians or Palestinian nationalists.
Not all Palestinians all Muslims; many are Christian. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which today is in the Palestinian West Bank.
The West Bank is a territory of Israel and is NOT simply ‘Palestine’. All of the land (Israel and the West Bank) is historically Palestine AND also ‘the Land of Israel’, but Palestine itself is not a country and has no officially defined borders, other than territorial treaties.
Gaza and the West Bank have two completely different governments and relationships with Israel, but both are Palestinian.
This conflict is NOT just a ‘Jew versus Arab’ conflict. There are Arabs who are Pro-Israel, “Pro-Peace”/Two-State, or don’t care at all. There are plenty of Jews who are “Pro-Peace”, Pro-Palestinian and even Anti-Zionist (Anti-Israel).
There are MANY perspectives on this issue, which is what makes it so incredibly difficult to understand, let alone solve. I’m leaving a lot of the details out, but that’s the gist of the 100-year long Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is still going on.
If there’s anything you think is especially important to mention, let me know and I can include. I tried my best to make this as short but coherent as possible.
I will be posting more on the current situation in Gaza, America’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and my time in Israel-Palestine soon! Thank you for reading, I hoped that helped!
The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, at night.