The beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Everybody saw it on television, in the newspaper or maybe heard it on the radio, the last century held many different conflicts in Gaza Strip. Basically, people know that Israel and Palestine are fighting for that land, each one pretending that they deserve it. A survey, done on CBU students, shows that most of them don’t know anything about the conflict. The only ones who knew a little bit about it were sure that Israel wanted the land to build a Jewish state after the tragedy of the World War II.
I asked a few students some questions before doing my survey to get a basic idea of their knowledge. Then I realized that I would probably have to ask different questions considering their lack of knowledge on the topic. Out of the nine students taking time to answer my questions, six had no idea what to answer and two said that Israel wanted the land as “compensation” after the Holocaust. Let’s take a look at the history, and consider facts that will help us understanding what are the reasons why Zionists (it’s important not to confuse Zionists and Jews) and Palestinian Arabs are fighting.
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Emerging a long time ago, this idea of having a land to bring Jewish people together came out in 1897. From August 29 to August 31 of that year, occurred in Basel, Switzerland (I swear I didn’t know that) the first Zionist Congress, held by the World Zionist Organization. Theodor Herzl who was named as the first President and who also was the author of “Der Judenstaat” (“the Jewish State”) was the initiator of that congress. The Zionist Congress travelled through many different European cities, and was held every two years from 1897 to 1946, except during the two World Wars.
As an answer to the question “why do Zionists want to take that land?" most people answer that they want a land because they want to build a Jewish State to stay together in peace after the Holocaust. History proves them wrong by showing that Zionists are trying to steal that land for more than a century, and the Holocaust happened only seventy years ago. Even though Arabs were killed by Zionists attacks during the 1940’s, in 1947, the United Nations decided to split the land and to give half of it to the Jews.
We can say that the seven millions of Jews who were killed during the World War II didn’t die for nothing, as compassion made the United Nations allow them to steal half of a country. Sure, what happened during the Holocaust was terrible, but I don’t think that Zionists should use it to claim “their” land. There is no land on earth that belongs to a religious group. A lot of religious groups are gathered together in the same area which is fine, but no religious group tries to make an independent country for a religion.
What would you think if all the atheist Mexicans come together and say: “We are going to take the Southern California and make it a Atheist State” It makes no sense. But the United Nations decided to agree with the Zionists and gave them a part of the Arab Palestinian territory. This was called the “partition plan” and was voted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 29, 1947. Palestinian Arabs felt violated of course, and the day after, on November 30th they reacted violently. It led to what experts call “The Civil War in Mandatory Palestine”.
The Civil War lasted until May 14, 1948 with the Jewish victory. On that day, Israel declared its independence. The British army, who was supposed to maintain order in Palestine, was preparing its withdrawal and didn’t really have a finger in the pie. Great-Britain’s mandate over the Palestinian territory was expiring on May 15; Israel declared its independence on May 14 because May 15 was Shabbat, as the story says. The day after, another important war started, the “1948 Arab-Israeli War” also known as the “War of independence” or the “War of Liberation”.
With Israel declaring its independence, the Arab neighbors of “the State of Israel” started to invade on May 15, showing their disagreement with the decisions that were made by the United Nations. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War happened in three phases, each phase being separated by some truce agreement. As the Soviet Union, Iran and the United States recognized Israel as a free State, the League of Arab States sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General, to proclaim its idea of building what they called the “United State of Palestine” instead of splitting the country in a Jewish and Arab two states “country”.
That letter, also known as the Cablegram from the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Folke Bernadotte, contained what was at that time a great idea, and maybe a good opportunity to try to solve the problem. Basically, they wanted to establish a single and democratically ruled state. This cablegram contained ten points that were asked to be presented in front of the General Assembly and the Security Council.
Each point was reminding facts and history, to explain how that territory belonged to Arabs, but also points that showed how Arabs were ready to share it in a democratic way with the Jews living in the same area. The Israelis said that the plan was not even considerable because Jews were a majority in the areas that were given to the Jewish State. At that time, China supported the Arabs, while the United States, Iran and the Soviet Union considered that the Arabs were entering the Israeli territory illegally.
Egypt, who was on the Arabs’ side of course enter the conflict by bombing Tel-Aviv in response to previous provocation. The whole all around Arab world followed, and Israel was attacked almost simultaneously by Lebanese, Iraqi, Egyptian and Syrian troops. But as Israel was a freshly new established state, Jews from all around the world were joining, making the average number of immigrant reaching 10,300 by month! That was really helpful to Israel who could increase its military forces amazingly.
By the day of the declaration of Independence, the Israeli strength was just above 29,000. At the end of the year, on December 30, the military forces counted more than 108,000 soldiers. Israel increased in number, but also found ways to get some more military equipment such as planes, weapons and armed vehicles. The war was on; both sides were bombing and fighting each other. The conflict lasted for a little bit more than three weeks. The United Nations called for a truce on May 29, but both sides kept on fighting till June 11.
That truce lasted for 28 days and was ending the first phase of the 1948 war. The ceasefire was overviewed by military officers from different countries, such as France, Belgium, United States or Sweden, all picked by the United Nations. This ceasefire had no other goal than just getting ready to fight again for both sides. The Arabs used it to reinforce their positions with new and fresh soldiers while the Israeli were buying new weapons from Czechoslovakia, and sending new soldiers on the field too.
There were around 30,000 Israeli soldiers when the truce was announced and a little bit more than 65,000 when the truce ended. Still during the truce, Folke Bernadotte was trying to find a way to settle the land politically. He was facing what he described as his obstacles: "the Arab world's continued rejection of the existence of a Jewish state, whatever its borders; Israel's new 'philosophy', based on its increasing military strength, of ignoring the partition boundaries and conquering what additional territory it could; and the emerging Palestinian Arab refugee problem" (Morris, Benny. 948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War) Bernadotte also presented his idea of a new plan of partition as following, that a union "be established between the two sovereign states of Israel and Jordan (which now included the West Bank); that the Negev, or part of it, be included in the Arab state and that Western Galilee, or part of it, be included in Israel; that the whole of Jerusalem be part of the Arab state, with the Jewish areas enjoying municipal autonomy and that Lydda Airport and Haifa be 'free ports'—presumably free of Israeli or Arab sovereignty" (same source).
Israel didn’t agree with that plan because they wanted Jerusalem, but they agreed to lengthen the truce for one more month. The Arabs rejected both the plan and the truce and on July 8 Egypt bombed Negba, which was an Israeli position. (Alfred A. Knopf. A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. New York. 1976. p. 330. ) This attack on the “Israeli territory” launched the second phase of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The second phase lasted only ten days but it was sufficient for the Israeli soldiers to perform a lot of operations, with the most famous one, Operation Danny.
It had for goal to secure two of the most important cities (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) and also the roads linking both those cities. The Jewish military forces launched a few other operations during those ten days conquering more territory and more dominance. The United Nations succeeded in calling another truce on July 18, which led to an almost two months break. Bernadotte again proposed a new partition plan on September 16 with a fair “distribution” of the territories and the internationalization of Jerusalem.
A militant Zionist group, Lehi, was scared that the Jewish Government would accept the plan so they assassinated Bernadotte in Jerusalem the day after. What Lehi didn’t know is that meanwhile they were planning their operation both the Arab and Israeli Government already rejected the plan and were preparing to fight again the next month. This was the end of the second truce. On October 15, the war started again, and both sides were conquering and losing some territories, and clue cities.
The British army, who said that they were agreeing with the United Nations when it was time to make decisions finally realized that Israeli positions were going maybe a little bit too far in Egypt as they were approaching the Suez Canal, which was controlled by Great Britain and pretty useful. On November 20, the Israeli shot down a photo-taking-plane sent by the British. The day after, four British routine reconnaissance planes were also shot down by the Israeli, killing one of the four pilots and taking the three other ones as hostages.
The rest of the squadron realizing that the four planes were not coming back went to look for them and also was attacked by the Israeli. Maybe that if Great Britain had decided earlier to seriously care about what was happening in Gaza Strip before it messed with their personal profits, they wouldn’t have lost those pilots. People don’t care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until they might lose something. The British army was supposed to maintain order over the Palestinian territory before the war started. As said earlier, they were preparing their withdrawal and they let the Jews attack the Arabs while they still were there.
It didn’t matter to them because they were leaving. But years later, when they realized that Israeli Forces were about to take control on the Suez Canal, they understood that if they wanted to keep it they would have to do something (or maybe should have done something by the past). The Jews were not only firing the planes but also finding the planes on the ground after shooting them, removing the usable pieces and then burning the rest to make sure that it would be useless. Tired of being shot down by the Israeli, who were saying that they could not difference them from the Arabs (really? , the British painted their planes’ wings to be more recognizable. The Jews started to understand that they were in a dangerous position and that fighting in Egypt was maybe a stupid idea, so they retired from Egypt and stopped fighting. At the end of the year 1948, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the “Resolution 194” which said that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so" and that "compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return. (Efraim Karsh, The Palestinians and The 'Right of Return' Commentary Magazine, May 2001. ) In the beginning of 1949, Israel started signing armistices with Egypt first, and with Lebanon, Jordan and Syria later. But this wasn’t fair. According to Leon Carl Brown "... when the war ended in 1949, Israel was in control of about one-third more territory (some 2,500 square miles) than it had been allocated by the United Nations partition plan" (Leon Carl Brown (2004).
Diplomacy in the Middle East: the international relations of regional and outside powers. I. B. Tauris. pp. 126) letting the Arabs with only Gaza Strip and the West Bank under control. After having its territory secured, Israel evicted the Arabs that were remaining on the new Jewish State. More than 700,000 Arabs were forced to leave their home and were told that they would never be allowed to come back in Israel or in any neighboring Arab country but Transjordan. Those Arabs were known as the Palestinian Refugees. "Arab-Israel Conflict. " The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Avraham Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 58-121. ) The conflict never really stopped, and by the Jordanian border there were always some kind of operations launched by both sides. In 1955, Israel killed 37 Egyptian soldiers in Gaza on a raid. After this attack, Egypt started to build a more serious army, by training the volunteers remaining in Gaza and making them “Fedayeen” (“those who sacrifice”) forces.
Years later, in 1967, Israel attacked the Egyptian forces in Gaza Strip and the Jordanian forces in the West Bank, annexing both the lands and taking control over Jerusalem. This conflict is known as the Six-Day War. To summarize quickly: as if receiving half of a land was not enough, Israel started a conflict with the real owners, after having more than what they should have got, they fight again because they want it entirely. What else could they do to mock the Arabs a little bit more? They named the freshly acquired Jerusalem as the Capital city of the Jewish state.
When you become aware of what happened since 1897, it is hard not to feel compassion for the Palestinian Arabs who were stolen and killed because Zionists decided that they deserved a land. Of course the Arabs were not white as snow after the conflict began and they also killed some of the Israeli forces soldiers. But with the Great Britain just watching instead of acting as they should have done, I feel like the Arabs did the right thing fighting back. Who could say with integrity that they should not have fought back and let the Jews steel their land?In my opinion, no one.
- A history of Conflict. BBC News http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/03/v3_ip_timeline/html/default. stm Benny, Morris.
- 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War Karsh, Efraim. (2001).
- The Palestinians and The 'Right of Return Commentary Magazine. Knopf, Alfred A. (1976).
- A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. New York. Kurtzer, Daniel. Lasensky, Scott.
- Negotiating Arab-Israeli peace: American leadership in the Middle East, United States Institute of Peace (readable on Google books) Palestine Refugees.
- The UN agency for Palestine Refugees. http://www. unrwa. org/etemplate. php? id=86 Pappe, Ilan. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
- The Middle East Quarterly (2006) http://www. meforum. org/1886/the-ethnic-cleansing-of-palestine
- Frequently Asked Questions About Israel. Israel Ministry Of Foreign Affairs. (2001) http://www. mfa. gov. il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2001/11/Frequently%20Asked%20Questions%20About%20Israel#refugee
- Green, Peter. ISRAEL and the Palestine right of return. (2003) http://wais. stanford. du/Israel/israel_andthepalestinerightofreturn51603. html Arnett, Peter.
- Palesinian-Israeli Conflict. http://www. azdema. gov/museum/famousbattles/pdf/Palestinian-Israeli%20Conflict-072809. pdf Survey from April 22, 2011 (see next page) Oral communication, April 22nd, 2011, California Baptist University.
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