Israel, Gaza, Hamas and Palestine. These four words have been making rounds in the news all over the world.
Why were there so many missile strikes recently on both sides?
Why are the Israelis and Palestinians fighting and over what?
To answer these questions, we need to delve deep into the complicated history between the Jews and the Arabs.
The tussle between Israelis and Palestinians is old; much older than the Indo-Pak or the Indo-Sino issues. But much like the Indo-Pak issue, the reason behind their differences is Religion and Colonialism.
For a fact, the conflicted land in the Middle East belongs to the Jews, according to The Old Testament. The region is said to be the spiritual homeland of the Jews. In 1000 BCE, King Saul had established the United Kingdom of Israel in the area (named ‘Canaan’). King Solomon, during the 900s BCE, had constructed the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. He named the area ‘Judah’ to preserve the Jewish connections in the land. After his demise, the area was split into Israel and Judah. Then came a slew of European rulers to conquer the land.
The Romans, to sever the Jewish connections, renamed the place from Judah to ‘Palestine’. Hence began the persecution of Jews by the Romans. Lakhs of Jews eloped from their homes to various parts of Europe and Africa, where they faced mass massacres, torture, discrimination and conversion.
Tired of all this, Theodor Herzl in 1897 started a ‘Zionist Movement‘ where a separate state for Jews was demanded and Palestine was chosen for the purpose. Thousands of Jews started immigrating to Palestine which was a part of the Ottoman Empire.
After the Empire’s defeat in World War 1, the Britishers took control of Palestine. During WW1, the Britishers had, in return for help, promised the same piece of Palestinian land to the Jews, Arabs and French. Due to the promise made to the Jews, there was a massive influx of Jews into Palestine, giving rise to the tensions between them and Arabs.
The Britishers introduced the White Paper of 1939, which first proposed the plan to divide the land of Palestine to provide separate states for the Jews and the Palestinians. But, the Holocaust during WW2 meant even more Jewish immigration, something that the Britishers couldn’t stop. By this time, the Jews had made up 33% of Palestine’s population. The friction between Jews and Arabs got out of hands for the Britishers and they handed the issue over to the newly formed United Nations and escaped.
The UN partitioned the map, giving 58% of the land to the Jews and the remaining to the Palestinian Arabs (Gaza Strip, West Bank) with Jerusalem being the neutral territory under the UN’s control. The Jews accepted the partition and formed Israel. The Arabs on the other hand did not like the fact that the Jews were given more land despite being in the minority.
This partition triggered a civil war in Palestine leading up to the 1st Arab-Israeli War in 1948. Seven Arab nations formed a union and sent their armies to Israel, only for Israel to emerge victoriously.
By annexation, Israel took control of 78% of the land, as opposed to the 58% that it had before the war. 700,000 Palestinians had to evict their houses as refugees.
The 2nd Arab-Israeli took place in 1956 mainly between Israel (alongside France & Britain) and Egypt (alongside the USSR) regarding the Suez Canal. Egypt came out on top. The 3rd Arab-Israeli War or the Six-Day War happened in 1967, the cause of which was also the denial of access to the Suez Canal. Israel won the war and captured Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, and the whole of West-Bank, becoming triple its original size.
Since West-Bank was captured, thousands of Israeli civilians started moving in and this settlement was called out by the UN, stating that it was nothing short of colonialism. West-Bank was the home for Palestinians and was under Jordan’s Waqf control. Even though Sinai was returned to Egypt for peacekeeping, Gaza and West-Bank were retained.
Gaza saw an uprising and a terrorist group called ‘Hamas’ came into being, intending to gain back the land that the Palestinians had lost. It started attacking the Israeli military, which served as a motivation for Palestinians to stand up to the Israelis. This led to the 1st Intifada from 1987-1993, the first time Palestinians protested against Israel.
Once it was over, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chief Yasser Arafat and Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin entered into a peace accord known as the Oslo Accord in 1993 which divided West-Bank into three areas: Area A (Full Palestinian control), Area B (Palestinian administration but Israeli security control) and Area C (Full Israeli control), which was acceptable to both the governments. But the general public of Israel and Palestine were unhappy with the agreement and PM Rabin was assassinated.
Benjamin Netanyahu became the next PM of Israel and he was always against the agreement. Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount, a 35-acre complex in Jerusalem that contains the third holiest site of the Muslims – Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock – triggered the 2nd Intifada that spanned from 2000 to 2005. 3000 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis died in a span of 5 years. Israel lost hold of Gaza.
In an attempt to tone down the terrorist activities around its border, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. It built a massive wall along the West-Bank to stop incoming terrorist activities in its territory. That saw an end to the Oslo Accord.
Ever since the Palestinians have seen a constant rate of eviction from their properties, with Israel claiming that the land historically belonged to the Jews. Now, most of West-Bank including Jerusalem is a conflicted land.
Now the question is, what triggered the recent violence between both the groups that saw so many deaths?
One of the reasons is the eviction of Palestinians from a complex in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. The recent judgement by an Israeli court, which came in favour of Israel, fuelled the fire. Later, the violence in Al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem Day was the last nail in the coffin.
Jerusalem is within the West-Bank. Temple Mount in Jerusalem is an important religious site for Jews, Muslims and Christians. While the Jews’ most religious site is the Western Wall of the compound, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site for Muslims all around the world. The entire compound is controlled by the Sudanese Waqf to date and non-Muslims are not allowed to pray inside it. The Jews pray the Western Wall from outside. However, during the month of Ramzan, the compound saw a surge in the number of Jews, accompanied by the police. Rumours spread that the Jews were offering prayer inside the compound and that triggered the entire Arab community, including the terrorist organisation Hamas. These two reasons led up to Hamas’s attack on Israel and Israel’s counter-attack that we have been reading about.
While it is difficult to assess and point out whose fault it is in all these years of violence and bloodshed, it can be said for sure that religion is taking away innocent lives on both sides, once again.
Student at Xavier Law School, Bhubaneswar.
I like to stay up-to-date with all the happenings in and around the world, with a special interest in Geo-politics and law.