A Synopsis of the Israel/Palestine Conflict
The following is a very short synopsis of the history of this conflict. We recommend that you also read the much more detailed account, “The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict.”
For 2,000 years there was no such conflict.
The land of Palestine was inhabited by Palestinian Arabs. In 1850 these consisted of approximately 400,000 Muslims, 75,000 Christians, and 25,000 Jews. For centuries these groups had lived in harmony: 80 percent Muslim, 15 percent Christian, 5 percent Jewish.
But then in the late 1800s a group in Europe decided to colonize this land. Known as “Zionists,” this group consisted of an extremist minority of the world Jewish population. They wanted to create a Jewish homeland, and at first considered locations in Africa and South America, before finally settling on Palestine for their colony.
At first this immigration created no problems. However, as more and more Zionists immigrated to Palestine — many with the express wish of taking over the land for an exclusively Jewish state — the indigenous population became increasingly alarmed. Eventually, there was fighting between the two groups, with escalating waves of violence.
UN Partition Plan
Finally, in 1947 the United Nations decided to intervene. However, rather than adhering to the democratic principle espoused decades earlier by Woodrow Wilson of “self-determination of peoples,” in which the people themselves create their own state and system of government, the UN chose to revert to the medieval strategy whereby an outside power arbitrarily divides up other people’s land.
Under considerable pressure from high-placed American Zionists, the UN decided to give away 55 percent of Palestine to a Jewish state — despite the fact that this group represented only about 30 percent of the total population, and owned under 7 percent of the land.
When the inevitable war broke out the outcome was never in doubt, according to U.S. intelligence reports from the time. The Zionist army consisted of over 90,000 European-trained soldiers and possessed modern weaponry, including up-to-date fighter and bomber airplanes. The Arab forces, very much a third-world army, consisted of approximately 30,000 ill-equipped, poorly trained men. The U.S. Army, British intelligence, and the CIA all agreed: it would be no contest.
By the end of the 1948 war the Jewish state — having now declared itself “Israel” — had conquered 78 percent of Palestine — far more than that proposed even by the very generous UN partition plan. And three-quarters of a million Palestinians had been made refugees. Over 400 towns and villages had been destroyed, and a new map was being drawn up, in which every city, river and hillock would receive a new, Hebrew name. All vestiges of the Palestinian culture were to be erased. In fact, for many decades Israel — and the US, following its lead — denied the very existence of this population. Golda Meir once said, in fact: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian.”
In 1967, Israel conquered still more land. Following the Six Day War, in which Israeli forces launched a highly successful, Pearl Harbor-like surprise attack on Egypt, Israel occupied the additional 22 percent of Palestine that had eluded it in 1948 — the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It also occupied parts of Egypt (which since were returned) and Syria (which remain under occupation).
There are, then, two issues at the very core of the continuing conflict and escalating violence in the Middle East:
First, there is the inevitably destabilizing effect of trying to maintain an ethnically preferential state, particularly when the exclusionist entity is of largely colonial origin. As we have seen, the original population of what is now Israel was 95 percent Muslim and Christian. And yet, Muslim and Christian refugees are not being allowed to return to their homes in the current “Jewish state.” Israeli peace negotiators refuse to even discuss the possibility of applying this UN guaranteed right.
Second, Israel’s continued confiscation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza is being resisted by the Palestinian inhabitants. It is these occupied territories that, according to the Oslo peace accords of 1993, were going to become a Palestinian state. However, when Israel continued to take land in these areas and to move its citizens onto it, the Palestinian population rebelled. This uprising, called the “Intifada” (Arabic for “shaking off”) began at the end of September 2000 and continues to this day.