The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A primer in history
The current conflict between Israel and Hamas has its roots in Zionism-a movement seeking a Jewish homeland that arose in response to the widespread discrimination faced by Jews in the West.
With war once again breaking out between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the Middle East, we relook at the historical circumstances that led to the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine.
The modern state of Israel came into existence through the repeated efforts of Zionists to counter the growing anti-semitism in Europe and the West and also to fulfil their long-cherished dream of a Jewish homeland.
Britain played a major role in the formation of the modern state of Israel.
In the 1880s itself, long before Israel came into being, Jewish people from Europe had started emigrating to Palestine to form agricultural colonies in the region, responding to rising anti-semitism.
Later in the year 1917, during World War I, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration which made the British government committed to facilitating the formation of a “Jewish Homeland” in Palestine. There were clear political gains for Britain behind committing to help the Zionist cause. It garnered large support from Jewish groups for the allied powers in the war. Having a pro-British population in Palestine also facilitated the colonial interests of Britain.
However, the Balfour Declaration and the subsequent policies of the British 8, largely ignored the already existing indigenous population in Palestine.
In response to rising Jewish emigration to Palestine and tensions between the Arabs and Jews, the British government proposed to divide Palestine into two states. When this was rejected by the Arabs, the British started restricting the immigration of Jews into Palestine in 1939. This was in the hope of getting Arab support against Germany and Italy in the Second World War.
After the war, the Jews garnered considerable sympathy as the true extent of their losses and persecution under Hitler became visible. This forced Britain to find a solution for the plight of Jews, which led to the facilitation of further immigration into Palestine after 1945, despite resistance from the indigenous population.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the formation of a new state of Israel by dividing the British-ruled Palestine into two.
However, the plan, and the emigration of more Jews into Palestine, faced strong resistance from the indigenous population.
Despite this, the state of Israel was formed in 1948 through the violent military occupation of Palestine, resulting in the death of several civilians and leaving several hundreds of others homeless. Israel came into being on May 14, 1948, and was quickly recognised by the United States, the Soviet Union, and many other governments, fulfilling the Zionist dream of an internationally approved Jewish state.
Israel however had to face strong resistance from five surrounding Arab states - Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, which invaded the newly formed state and waged war against the Israeli army. When the war ended in July 1949, Israel controlled one-fifth more territory than was planned in the original partition plan and refused to return to the original partition line. Meanwhile, Jordan occupied the West Bank, which was originally assigned to the Palestinian state by the UN. Subsequently, Palestinian populations were forced out by Israeli troops from areas such as the towns of Lod and Ramla near Tel Aviv airport.
In all, more than 600,000 Arab refugees are estimated to have fled their homes as a part of the formation of Israel. The Israeli government refused to permit these refugees, who gathered under UN care in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, southern Lebanon, and Syria, to return to their homes inside the newly formed Jewish nation, and many Palestinians — and their descendants — stay in these camps to this day.
The newly formed state had to face several challenges including an effective strategy to hold off the resistance from Palestinians and massive Jewish immigration to settle the land in order to survive. It also faced multiple military attacks from its neighbouring countries over the next several decades.
Over the years, Israel emerged as one of the most powerful and advanced military forces in the world. It continues to bring in Jews from different parts of the world to live in mostly illegally constructed settlements on occupied Palestinian territories. According to reports, more than 750,000 Israeli settlers live outside internationally recognised borders of the Israel state.