For nearly a century, the conflict between Israel and Palestine has held the world’s attention, beginning with the Balfour Declaration and continuing through the Six-Day War to recent events. This conflict’s history reflects the struggles and tensions in the quest for lasting peace in the region.
In recent developments, Hamas, a group of militant Palestinians currently in control of the Gaza Strip and dedicated to the establishment of an independent Islamic state in Palestine, attacked Israel on October 7, 2023. This escalation prompted Israel to declare a state of war with the aim of annihilating Hamas.
The history of this conflict dates back to the early 20th century, when, during World War I, the British were allies of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The British government also established connections with the Zionist movement, a Jewish nationalist movement with the goal of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It’s important to note that the terms Zionism, Judaism (the religion of Jewish people), and Jews are often used interchangeably due to their historical connections, but they represent distinct concepts. Zionism is a political and ideological campaign focused on Jewish self-determination and the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Many non-Jews are also part of this movement, while Jews are a religious group defined by their common religious beliefs in Judaism.
The Israel-Palestine conflict has lasted for over a century, beginning with the Balfour Declaration and continuing through recent events.
The British government’s interest in the Middle East was driven by its strategic trade routes and geopolitical significance. In 1917, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour drafted a letter addressed to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the Zionist movement. This letter, known as the Balfour Declaration, expressed the British government’s support for the establishment of a national home for Jews.
Following the end of World War I, the Allied forces emerged victorious, and Britain gained control over Palestine. The Balfour Declaration was incorporated into the text of the League of Nations. This period witnessed the beginning of Jewish immigration and settlement in Palestine. This immigration, backed by the British, heightened tensions between the established Arab population and the immigrant Jews. From then on, Arab Palestinians conducted various protests against Jewish immigration, British rule, and land disputes. Notably, the Great Arab Revolt from 1936 to 1939 led to the issuance of the 1939 White Paper by the British government, which limited Jewish immigration and the establishment of a Jewish state.
After World War II, international sentiment was sympathetic to the Jewish struggle for a separate homeland, largely due to the horrors of the Holocaust and similar events. Near the end of the British mandate in Palestine, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations adopted a partition plan for Palestine. This plan called for the creation of separate Arab and Jewish states, along with a special international regime for Jerusalem. The proposal was considered pro-Zionist by many, as it allocated 62% of the land to the Jewish state, despite the Arab population being double that of the Jewish population. Most Zionist groups, including the Jewish Agency for Palestine, accepted the plan. However, Arab leaders and governments rejected it, claiming that it violated the right to national self-determination according to the UN Charter.
The conflict has its roots in the early 20th century, when the British government expressed support for the establishment of a national home for Jews in Palestine.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the Chairperson of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization, and soon-to-be Prime Minister of Israel, announced the establishment of the state of Israel. The United States was the first country to officially recognize Israel, as President Harry Truman issued a statement of recognition on the same day. This declaration of independence initiated the Arab-Israeli war as neighboring states, including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, launched an invasion of Israel. The war concluded in 1949, with Israel expanding its territories beyond what had been allocated by the partition plan. The conflict also resulted in a significant displacement of Palestinians, leading to a refugee crisis. These events marked the beginning of a series of ongoing conflicts and tensions between Palestine and Israel.
In 1956, Israel invaded and took control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, territories previously under Egyptian control. This occurred during the Suez Canal Crisis. The Suez Canal is an international maritime trade route, and in 1956, President of Egypt Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal, leading to a military campaign by France, the UK, and Israel against Egypt. This invasion was widely condemned internationally, especially by the United States, the USSR, and the majority of UN member states. International pressure led to a ceasefire in November 1956, and the UN formed a task force to oversee the withdrawal of forces from Egypt, resolving the crisis in 1957.
Ten years later, the Six-Day War took place between Israel and Arab states. This brief war had significant territorial changes, with Israel taking control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. The Camp David Accords in 1978 marked a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, resulting in Israel withdrawing its forces from the Sinai Peninsula.
The history of the Israel-Palestine conflict includes two intifadas, meaning “uprising” in Arabic, which were a series of protests by Palestinians against Israeli rule in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Intifadas were movements of resistance, featuring mass demonstrations and Palestinian efforts to resist Israeli rule while striving for an independent Palestinian state. The First Intifada (1987–1993) began with Palestinian youth and involved acts of stone-throwing. It quickly escalated, and Israel responded with force, leading to casualties on both sides. This First Intifada eventually led to diplomatic talks and resulted in the Oslo Accords in 1993, aimed at establishing a two-state solution for the conflict. The Second Intifada (2000–2005) began when opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited holy sites in Jerusalem. It was marked by armed resistance from Palestinians against Israel and a military response from Israel. Diplomatic efforts eventually led to the cessation of this phase.
Israel’s declaration of a state of war against Hamas has raised the stakes in the conflict, with the potential for a wider war and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
In 2005, Israel unilaterally began withdrawing its civilian and military settlements from the Gaza Strip, although it retained control over the borders. The Gaza Strip, covering 365 square kilometers and controlled by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967, shares borders with the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Egypt to the south, and Israel to the north and east. Two crossings, Rafah and Karem Shalom, serve as gateways between Gaza and the rest of the world. Rafah is used for the passage of people and limited goods through Egypt, while Karem Shalom, controlled by the Israeli military, is used by humanitarian aid groups and emergency medical teams. Gaza Strip is divided into five districts: North Gaza, Gaza City, the central area, Khan Yunis, and Rafah.
Israel’s disengagement from Gaza allowed the Palestinian Authority to take control. In January 2006, elections were held to choose members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The main contenders were Fatah, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, the Palestinian resistance movement. It was the first time Hamas participated in parliamentary elections, and surprisingly, it won a majority with 74 out of 132 total seats. This led to tensions between Hamas and Fatah, driven by their differing approaches to peace talks and negotiations. In 2007, a violent clash between the two groups resulted in Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip while Fatah retained control of the West Bank, creating two distinct governing entities in Palestine.
Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Palestinian political and military organization that governs the Gaza Strip. It was founded in the 1980s with the primary goal of resisting Israel and establishing an independent Palestinian state.
Over time, Hamas has been involved in multiple conflicts with Israel, including the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead, as well as various conflicts in 2012, 2014, 2021, and the most recent one in October 2023. While previous clashes resulted in settlements and ceasefires on both sides, the most recent one has introduced new dynamics, particularly from the Israeli perspective.
In recent developments following Hamas’s October 7 strikes on Israel, President Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of war against Hamas. Israel’s strikes on Gaza have caused numerous casualties, and the blockade imposed by Israel has severely affected the civilian population, particularly hospitals overwhelmed with patients and limited resources for treatment. The Israeli government has issued a warning for people on the west side of Gaza to move south as they plan to launch a military strike involving air, water, and land routes. This evacuation could potentially affect approximately 1.1 million people who are already reeling from previous Israeli strikes. The international community, especially the UN, has expressed concern about the challenge of relocating such a large number of people, especially those receiving medical treatment in hospitals. The United States has openly supported Israel by providing military aid and diplomatic assistance. The US Secretary of State is engaged in discussions with numerous governments, including those in the Middle East, and has held telephone conversations with the Chinese counterpart to explore diplomatic solutions.
The dispute has persisted for several days, with each passing day witnessing escalation. A proposed ceasefire resolution by Russia in the Security Council was rejected, with the US, France, and Britain voting against it. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has called for an emergency meeting of its members to discuss the situation in Gaza. While the US supports Israel, President Biden has met with the Israeli Prime Minister to discuss the ongoing situation, but he also condemns the oppression of civilians. Numerous humanitarian organizations and human rights institutions have raised questions about Israel’s handling of the situation, particularly as visual evidence suggests that Palestinian civilians are suffering.
It is estimated that more than 3,000 Palestinians have been killed, with over 10,000 wounded, making this one of the deadliest periods in the conflict. Schools and hospitals have become perilous in the area, as the recent bombing of Al Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza resulted in hundreds of casualties. In response, people in Ramallah, West Bank, have gathered at night to protest the brutal oppression and alleged war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza.
Gaza is essentially an open-air prison, as Israeli forces have imposed a siege for several days with no incoming food, fuel, or other essential resources, leaving people uncertain about what will happen next.