The November edition of WesternEye collated two views from both sides of the Israel/ Palestine conflict. While the peace process is still in effect, there are deep underlying arguments that do not yet seem to have been solved making the “peace” totally volatile and unpredictable. You can now read the two pieces online here and draw your own opinions, based on the views of those whose lives have been seriously affected.
By Ilya Shapira
According to the Torah, the Jews fled Egypt to the Kingdom of Israel, which was eventually established around 11BC. The Jews were then historically exiled from Israel from around 100AD and over the past two millennia, have settled all over the Christian and Muslim world. The Jews have maintained a separate religious and cultural identity to their fellow patriots during their two thousand years in exile; and as a result have suffered consistent persecution and violence in their resident countries. Intolerance of Jews in Europe eventually culminated in the Holocaust, which killed six million Jews between 1938 and 1945. To Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist, oppression suffered by Jews globally was the result of their inability to ever fully merge into their Christian or Muslim homelands. Herzl thus conceived the philosophy of ‘Zionism’; the belief that the Jews must establish their own nation state.
While still in exile, increasing hostility in Christian and Muslim Countries led many Jews to return to the land of Palestine during the 19th Century and early 20th Century. The territory of Palestine, most of which had formerly been ‘The Kingdom of Israel’, was at that time a Muslim country part of the Ottoman Empire and subsequently occupied by Britain following the First World War. In this period, Jewish migrants began to buy Palestinian land from Arab landowners and build communities. My Great-Grandfather was one of these migrants; after fleeing persecution in Ukraine in 1924, he helped build one of the collective Jewish settlements, or ‘kibbutz’, on land bought from a Palestinian landowner. By 1943, $560,000,000 had been paid for nearly 400,000 acres and Jews made up 33% of Palestine.
Following the Holocaust, Zionists began to assert that the Jews needed a Jewish state so that they would never again face genocide in exile. Britain left Palestine and a Partition Plan to outline Arab Palestinian and Jewish Israeli territory was recommended in 1947 by the UN, splitting Palestine and Israel about 45% and 55% respectively. The Jews accepted the plan but the Arabs rejected it, and declared war on the Jewish population.
In 1948, Israel won the War of Independence. It had, however, claimed over 15,000 Israeli and Palestinian lives, including the life of my Great-Grandfather. Israel was founded and a large amount of the territory earmarked for Palestine in the 1947 Partition Plan became part of Israel. Following the 1948 war; the Palestinian territory on the Mediterranean coast, which is now Gaza, became occupied by Egypt while Jordan occupied the remaining Palestinian territory on the Jordanian border, which is now the West Bank. Many Palestinian Arabs fled the new Israeli territory to Palestine and the surrounding Arab countries. However many Palestinian Arabs stayed and became Israeli citizens.
Israel’s independence in 1948 sparked fierce hostility from its Arab neighbours and other Muslim countries. Some Muslim countries reacted with aggression towards their resident Jews. My Grandmother, for example, fled Morocco amidst riots against Morocco’s Jewish population and arrived in Israel in 1952.
Between 1948 and 1967 Israel was routinely attacked by its surrounding Arab neighbours. Then in 1967, Egypt, Jordan and Syria prepared to simultaneously attack Israel with the aim of reoccupying the land and eradicating Israel. My mother, along with the rest of Israel, hid in a bomb shelter waiting for certain annihilation. However the Israelis defeated all the three countries in six days, and took over the West Bank from Jordan, as well as Gaza and Sinai from Egypt. Israel also claimed East Jerusalem which had been under Jordanian occupation as part of the West Bank. This was significant for the Jews as it meant they finally occupied the Western Wall, the most important place in Judaism with a consecration stretching back to 19BC.
Immediately after the Six Days War, Israel believed that the only way to prevent further attempts of annihilation was to control the West Bank, without which Israel would always be strategically extremely vulnerable. The decision to build settlements on the then largely empty desert reinforced the strategic control, but was also justified by some Jews who believed that Jews had the right to live in all of what was historic Israel.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) rose to prominence in Israeli occupied Palestine in the time after the Six Days War. The organisation promoted guerrilla warfare tactics against Israel such as hijacking Israeli planes and the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. However in 1993, the PLO recognised Israel’s right to exist in peace and rejected violence and terrorism. In return, Israel recognised the PLO as the representitives of the Palestinians. However Hamas, a more fundamentalist Palestinian organisation, began to use terrorist tactics against Israel and this reignited tensions between Israel and the Palestinian People.
In 1996, my mother and I took a bus from Jerusalem to our family home. [pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]When we arrived home we saw that a bus on the same route had been blown up by a suicide bomber, just an hour after.[/pullquote]
Israel would eventually build the West Bank Wall after suicide bombings had killed more than 540 Israelis between 2000 and 2006. This has caused travel restrictions for Palestinians but, since the wall was built, suicide bombings have all but stopped.
In 2000, Israel offered to withdraw from 92% of Israeli occupied West Bank and all of Gaza but Yasser Arafat rejected the proposal because it didn’t include enough territory for Palestine.
In 2008; Israel and Fatah (the largest faction of the PLO that had gained most of its support in the West Bank) entered into talks. Israel offered to withdraw from 93% of the West Bank as well as the transfer of territory to the Palestinians equivalent to 5.8 percent of the area of the West Bank. Palestinian President Abbas has since claimed that that they had “reached understandings in many of the core subjects” and were 2 months away from peace but unfortunately Israel’s Prime Minister was forced to resign due to an unrelated corruption scandal. Unfortunately talks broke down with his successor Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Gaza, meanwhile, Israel was far from reaching peace with Hamas. Israel had withdrawn from all of its Gaza settlements in 2005 and pledged to help the Palestinians build a sea port and rebuild an airport. However a civil war broke out in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas won the war and since 2007, 8,000 missile have been fired at Israel from Gaza. This in turn caused Israel to blockade Gaza, though Gaza still has a border with Egypt. Israeli troops have entered Gaza twice since 2005, with the aim of destroying their military infrastructure and stopping the missiles. Since the last operation, which was the result of large missiles being fired further into Israel, a ceasefire has been agreed and the blockade eased.
The Jewish people have got a long history of persecution and attempted annihilation and so will understandably go to extreme lengths to protect its citizens. Israel justifies the West Bank Wall and increased roadblocks because it has reduced suicide bombings and attacks on the Jewish population, they also justified the blockade on Gaza because it ultimately lead to a decrease in missile attacks. A responsible state must take necessary action to protect the lives of its citizens. These actions often affect innocent Palestinians and some people choose to only focus on this aspect in regards to the whole conflict. Nevertheless Israel has shown time and again that it is ready and willing to negotiate settlement withdrawal with the Palestinians; but they will never again compromise on their security.
By Rory MacLean
After the fall of Nazi Germany and the liberation of the remaining European Jews from the camps at Dachau, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, the Jewish people were gifted the land of Palestine by the United Nations and in 1948 under the eye of Ben Gurion the state of Israel was created. Then the Al-Nakba began, this was the forceful expulsion of the Arabs who had lived on the land for countless generations, villages destroyed and families ripped apart. In response to this the surrounding Arab countries invaded, the Israeli army repelled this, the first of many attacks and cemented its position as an independent state and only Jewish nation in the world.
The Palestinian state was then divided into the two separate parts we know today, The West Bank and Gaza, since then there have been more wars bringing the unnecessary death of both Israelis and Palestinians alike. Peace talks have generated new institutions such as the Palestinian Authority (PA) and dividing the remaining parts of Palestine into three zones under different levels of Israeli control, which all suffer from settlement building which is illegal under international law, although all settlers in Gaza were forcibly removed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in 2005.
When you are playing poker, you have to put in an ante, this is a set amount of money to look at your cards before the game starts, and here the antes are equivalent to trust in a fair deal. You keep committing these antes, but your hands are bad, the other player seems to constantly have a preferable position. Does it make sense to keep playing the game, when the hands you are being dealt are constantly bad, after a while you are just going to stand up from the table and walk away.
The Palestinian people have been dealt a series of rough hands but they are back at the table again. The lines drawn up in the Temporary Oslo Agreement in 1995 are still in place, no acceptable solution has been reached for the people. I was there just outside Bethlehem this summer in a village called Beit Sahour, this is quite a wealthy area in relative terms, with the average unemployment rate in Palestine being close to 70%. All I will do in this article is show you the views of ordinary people on the ground and tell you about their experience. The names have been changed but the stories are from people like you and I, barbers, welders, farmers and serving members of the PA who just want a life of happiness, freedom and prosperity.
Amro is a barber; he has a wife and two children, quite successful with his own shop and does enough business to get by easier than most in Palestine. My time there coincided with Ramadan, this is a time when many Palestinians are allowed through the separation wall into Jerusalem. This is so that they can buy presents for their family which are given during Ramadan when the fast is broken in the evenings. Travel is limited for Amro, he isn’t allowed to leave the West Bank, even just to go shopping with his wife and children, the only people who get passes for travel into Israel are children, selected women and men over the aged of 65 and, although men are granted passes this is incredibly rare especially for the ones who aren’t employed in Israel.
Amro told me on our walk through the hills of Beit Jala the Arabic for Jerusalem is al-Quds, he then went on to tell me that the word now holds another meaning to people, it means ‘the rest of the world’. For that is what Jerusalem now represents for those imprisoned behind the wall, a whole planet of experiences and people they will never be allowed to meet, an injustice that we can’t even comprehend, freedom of travel is something taken for granted every day but when stolen from you the effects are startling and severe. The new meaning of al-Quds was symbolic to me of the systematic destruction of hope that is being undertaken. I only once talked to Amro about the settlements and that was that night on the hills of Beit Jala, he said it would be easier to show me, and then a few days later he did.
Up the hill, a word to the gate warden, through the olive gardens and over the rocky hills, then you see them, the settlements, everywhere you go in Palestine they are there. These settlements are seen by most people in Palestine as the main physical obstacle to an effective resolution. The people that live in these settlements fall into two main groups; firstly those who are there because of the generous tax exemptions provided by the Israeli government to colonise these areas, and the second more damaging group are those who move there for the religious reason, to them this is the land promised to them by God and it is there duty to reclaim it. The people who help them with this are the IDF who will either offer Palestinians large sums of money for the land or just come in and declare it to be theirs and force the residents off.
The person we had walked to see was a friend of Amro’s, his house was flanked on both sides by large settlements and an Israeli checkpoint on the road in front of it. What struck me first when we got there was the huge digger, at least seven or eight metres tall, then the ridiculousness of it. Akhmed’s house consisted of little more than a small room, maybe five metres each way and a large outer area with stray sheets of corrugated iron to protected him from the elements. Since the arrest of his son he has been on his own at the farm which long ago was cut from the water supply. He can’t leave, for if he does the IDF will demolish it and the land his family has held onto for so long will become a further casualty of settlement expansion. For everything from water to gas for cooking he relies on the generosity of his friends, which comes in ample supply, as it did from all the Palestinians I met. Amro told me that recently Akhmed had begun moving his bed outside at night to sleep because the soldiers had tried to destroy his remaining crops and small buildings while he slept.
There are more stories, skilled workers who can’t gain employment due to the restrictions upon them, people who had been shot at when crossing checkpoints, others who had had their cars confiscated randomly by soldiers. Bedouins suffering from huge rates of cancer thanks to the banning of a solid waste management system, meaning all rubbish has to be burned releasing toxic carcinogens into the air. Natural springs in the Jordan Valley being militarised, privatised and then the water being given to the Palestinians, for free, but nothing there is truly free. The water is used as a tool of manipulation, giving the IDF a level of control of the local populations that is hard to break free from. With families having to accept the sporadic violence used against them, because if they choose to protest, the water will simply be cut off [pullquote align=”right” textalign=”right” width=”30%”]if they choose to protest, the water will simply be cut off,[/pullquote] now many Palestinians have no other choice in the more remote drier areas than to obey the IDF.
It was these small individual cases that hit me the most. When I was there I met people seem to have given up on an effective solution to the conflict and see it as a battle already lost. When there are demonstrations it’s their own people the PA who are stopping them pressing for better rights, many just view it as an ineffective, corrupt, puppet organisation installed by Israel to appease the outside world. But they haven’t been broken, these are a people of such love, acceptance and hospitality, while there I went to a wedding and everyone there was so joyful that I felt, it may take twenty years, it may take two hundred but they will not be defeated, among them there is always hope of something better.