I am ashamed to say that whenever the news headlines something to do with Israel, Palestine, Gaza, Hamas etc, my eyes glaze over and my brain switches off more than usual in the face of this bewildering world. But I did catch that yesterday (15th May) was the Palestinan’s Nakba Day, which marks the day they lost Palestine to Israel in 1948. Then I did a search on the issue and stumbled on a photograph of a dead Palestinian boy, his beautiful eyes staring and vacant, a bullet hole in his chest and I know it’s high time I learned more about this inexhaustible tragedy. I did an essay on this conflict in year 11, which was (eeek) 21 years ago and other recent news reveals that the Palestinians have rejected yet another Israeli peace proposal. Is this the battle that can’t be resolved?
A more pressing question is – as I can’t remember anything about that essay, nor can I find it (I tried, thought I might experience instant enlightenment) – what is it all about exactly and where did it all start? Why is this little boy dead? (A note here – I may disturb people with my language but I’ve decided not to re-publish this photo. I will say that what happened to him and countless other innocents is utterly fucked.)
Gimme some context Rightio well first it’s probably helpful to know where the bloody hell this bloody place is…(see the little red bit?)
And secondly, how did the whole shamozzle begin?
Well, once upon a time there was an ancient mountainous land in the world’s Middle East known as Judea. It was home to an embattled people familiar with conquerors and mass migration. Their trials lead to the creation of a religion unique to them and their needs. It was known as Judaism. They stood fast to their rel and religion even after losing their independence to the Romans in the first century BC and 70 years later, lead a bloody rebellion that saw many Jews killed, enslaved or forced into diaspora (scattering from homeland). The Romans renamed the land Syria Palestina and continued to persecute the small Jewish population that remained. The land was later (638 – 750 AD) conquered once again by Muslim Arabs from the Islamic Empire, who lived their for thousands of years. The Christian European presence asserted itself at times throughout this period via the Crusades, which was Europe’s attempt to reconquer the birth place of Christianity, but the region mostly remained under Muslim control. By 1516, only about 5,000 Jews remained, holding firm to their belief that the land was given to them by God.
So how did the Jewish people keep their foothold all this time? Well a nasty something called Antisemitism began to brew in the West, starting way back in the middle ages (5th to 15th centuries). Jews lived separately from Christians and lived by ‘strange’ kosher rules. They weren’t allowed to take conventional jobs and so took to academia and money lending, which lead to the ‘profiting from the work of others’ stereotype. When monarchs fell into debt, they resolved the problem by expelling the Jewish money lenders. The Christian crCsades saw further banishment of Jews from their homes. Persecution continued through the ages and Europe segregated the Jews as an ethnic minority, labeling them with gold badges and generally giving them such a hard time that rebellion in the form of Zionism was inevitable.
What is Zionism?
The Zionist movement saw Jews of all persuasions – secular and orthodox, left and right – join to assert that the solution to “the Jewish Problem” (a term used extensively in Nazi Germany) hinged on migration to a common homeland – namely Israel. The first Jewish migration to Palestine (it was Ottoman Syria then, and Eretz Israel to the Jews) happened in 1882 when about 30,000 Jews moved from Eastern Europe to establish farms and escape antisemitism. About half of them stayed. The second wave of migration was in the early 1900′s and resulted in the establishment of the city of Tel Aviv, as well as Hebrew as the primary Jewish language. The Arab population was largely ignored and some jobs were lost to Jews. No love was lost between the two groups. Then in 1914, the Brits stepped in with their Balfour Declaration.
What was the Balfour Declaration? It was a letter from the UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to the Zionists which stated that, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…” It was later incorporated into a Mandate for Palestine, which essentially granted the region to Britain for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland. Two administrative areas became officially known as Mandatory Palestine, which was a geopolitic polity (a state as a political entity) under British Administration from 1920 until 1948. They were the land west of the Jordan River (Palestine) and the land to the East of the river known as Transjordan.
In 1918 the Zionist Commission was formed to promote Zionist objectives in Palestine and as Jewish influence (both in politics and culture) grew, Arab co-operation lessened. 1930 saw the formation of the Black Hand, an anti-Zionist, anti-British militant organisation which was armed and trained to kill Jewish settlers. The killing of their leader in 1935 sent the Black Hand into a frenzy, leading an Arab revolt. And here, my friends, things got really hectic…
The Arab Uprising essentially lead to 3 things…
1) The Haganah, a scary Jewish underground militia was formed.
2) The British responded with the White Paper of 1939, which severely restricted Jewish immigration into the area and soured British/Jewish relations.
3) It became clear that the Arabs and the Jews would not be friendly and the idea of partition was floated for the first time.
Then WW2 happened, along with the horrors of the Holocaust, and illegal immigration into Palestine increased and British resistance was met with the growing presence of Haganah. The UN felt mounting pressure to assist the damaged diaspora of damaged Jews who had survived the worst of nightmares, so they partitioned Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, meaning that in 1948, Israel was born.
This was an event seen by Arab Palestinians as The Great Catastrophe. They responded with violence and full-scale war erupted. Jews residing in Arab countries were expelled or fled and 260,000 sought asylum in Israel, where the Haganah prevailed and won back their borders. Meantime, up to 750,000 Palestinians were driven out, becoming refugees, some of whom settled in the Egyptian-administered Gaza Strip and Jordan-administered West Bank regions of Mandatory Palestine.
Unrest and violence stemmed from these refugee districts over the ensuing years, and lead to the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), who aimed to fight their way back into the original borders of Mandatory Palestine, as well as the self-determination of all Palestinians. The PLO secured assistance (in the form of training and arms) from Egypt because Israel were being generally and violently pesky toward Egyptian outposts, and Arab involvement in the conflict escalated, culminating in a pre-emptive strike from Israeli forces on Egypt and the 1967 6 Day War.
What was the 6 Day War? In 1967, the State of Israel went to war against their fed up Arab neighbours – namely Egypt, Jordan and Syria, who were acting for the PLO. Between June 5 and 10, Israeli forces pretty much swept their foes into the oblivion of defeat using effective intelligence and a well-played air-force destruction strategy. They took control of the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. Those names are pretty familiar these days aren’t thay.
This war marked a shift in focus for the Israel-Palestine conflict – from the PLO non-recognition of Israel to the fate of the Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Unrest in these areas was constant and violence frequent, the worst of which included the two Intifada (Arabic for shake-up).
What was the First Intifada?
This was a period of extreme violence and action (think molotov cocktails, stabbings, strikes, boycotts, graffiti, demolition and pretty much all those bleak images from the news) beginning in 1987 and ending in 1993. During this time around 1,100 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, 164 Israelis died and a further 1000 or so Palestinians were killed by their own, condemned as Israeli collaborators. This first intifada lead to…
The Oslo Peace Accords
UN initiated peace agreements had failed time after time over the years of unrest, until in 1993 when the Oslo Peace Accords brought Israel and the Palestinians (Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin respectively) together for the first time, to discuss the conflict face to face. The result of this friendly encounter was the Two-State Solution, whereby Palestine was given permission to establish an interim administration (the Palestinian National Authority or PNA) that would run a sovereign state in parts of the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for total recognition of the State of Israel.
It wasn’t too long before it became evident that Oslo fulfilled neither Israeli nor Palestinian expectations: Arafat declared that the agreement had been premature, and poor old Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a right wing Israeli radical.
The 2nd Intifada came off the back of another Bill Clinton lead failed peace talk at Camp David in July 2000 (the Camp David Summit) and is thought to be triggered by the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel (Shazza) Sharon to Muslim sacred place the Temple Mount. The subsequent riots between Palestinian civilians and Israeli militia continued until 2005. Many Israelis view the conflict as a PLO (Arafat) planned uprising, directly related to Oslo Accord concessions, while the Palestinians declare it another stab at liberation. The wash-up – when it finally ended in 2005 perhaps due to the death of Arafat in 2004 – was around 5,000 Palestinians dead, over 1000 Israelis dead and still no god damn resolution.
How do Hamas and Fatah fit into all this?
Well the Fatah is the largest faction within the PLO. It is the moderate, slightly left leaning political party founded by Yasser Arafat. THey claim that they can co-exist with Israel if Palestinians are guaranteed more power and autonomy.
Meanwhile, Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) is a Palestinian political movement, viewed in the West as a terrorist organisation and widely known for terrorism and suicide bombers. It is predominantly Sunni-Islamic powered and is Jihad driven. It openly calls for the detruction of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state in all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
After the death of Arafat, Hamas grew in popularity among Palestinians and won majority over its rival Fatah in the democratic Palestinian Legislative Council elections held by the PNA in 2006. This victory inflamed everything really, as well as stalled the diplomatic process and disabled international aid for Palestine. And what’s more, forget fighting Israel, Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah began to fight (and kill) each other in Gaza. Oh Lordy.
Attempts were made at harmony between these groups when in 2007, the Palestinian Unity Government was formed. Palestinians were optimistic about an end to Hamas-Fatah violence, a boost in PNA credibility and the lifting of sanctions on Palestine, but their optimism was shot down (so to speak) when Hamas violently seized power in Gaza only 3 months later. This left Fatah in control of the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza – and the PNA a Government weakened by division.
Meantime, the original Israeli-Palestinian resolution fell into hiatus as the Palestinians tried to sort themselves out. Israel refused point blank to deal with Hamas – with or without Fatah – and the conflict continues.
So what the hell?
And on it goes – Israel claims they are simply responding to Palestinian acts of terrorism while Palestinians claim they are resisting a violation of their rights and political sovereignty.
In 2007, the Annapolis Conference identified that the old (Oslo) Two State Agreement is the one mutually agreed upon to potentially resolve the conflict.
From 2010 to 2011, direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians resumed between Barack Obama, Israeli PM Benjamin (the ‘j’ is silent) Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas worked toward implementing the Two State Solution. These talks also failed when Netanyahu refused to extend a freeze on Israeli development and settlement in the West Bank.
There are hopes that Netanyahu – as his popularity and support among the Israelis grows – is in a strong position to soon take bolder steps toward peace.
The latest attempt at reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah was the Doha Agreement, signed in February 2012 in Qatari capital Doha, placed the Palestinian President (and Fatah leader) Mamhud Abbas at the head of an(other) interim government charged with organising elections later in 2012. There are hopes that a unified Palestinian state will somehow emerge.
It’s all bad. The remaining key issues are as they have long been: mutual recognition, borders, water rights, security, control of Jerusalem, refugee rights…The region is rich in history and culture, with significant religious sites of huge interest to people all over, yet tourists are understandably repelled.
But that’s all small biccies compared to the loss of life. Numbers aren’t clear but it looks like an estimated 14,500 people were killed between 1948 and 2009. Between 2000 and 2011, 1460 children like the boy in the picture were killed. Thousands more have been wounded, some recruited as child soldiers and most have had their education irreversibly disrupted.
And for the time being, it seems, this big ol’ issue appears to be in the big ol’ too hard basket.
And my rant – well I know it’s a cliche but fuck religion has a lot to answer for. Sorry to get all opinionated and anti-pants but can people please stop saying that God loves us all? Did he have a senior moment and forget vast chunks of the world’s population? Oopsie, sorry Ma’am, your child appears to have a bullet in his chest, sorry about that one but please believe that I love you ok. What a ridiculous notion. I’m off before I get really offensive.