Home / History / The Hebrew-Arabic conflict after the founding of Israel

The Hebrew-Arabic conflict after the founding of Israel

“There was no such thing as Palestinians… It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, 1969

“Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors “
Hamas Charter, 1988

In 1947, the Zionists managed the fulfillment of a two thousand year old dream when they founded the State of Israel in the Promised Land, hoping they would give their people a refuge from prejudice and the anti-Semitism they faced in Europe. The debatable justice in the permission given to them by the British and the UN made them feel free to dislocate a people that was already living in the region, starting a conflict that lasts for over six decades.

Right after the announcement of the decision by the UN, Arabs of Palestine started protests, and with the official founding of the State of Israel, on 15 May 1948 (the day the British Mandate officially ended), the neighboring Arab states (Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and, later, Lebanon) attacked/intervened against the Jews. The War of 1948 between Arabs and Jews ended with the defeat of the Arabs who, one after the other, signed peace treaties. Until July 1949 all Arabic countries had fallen back, and Israel managed to annex even more lands than those previously proposed by the UN.

The founding of the state led the Israelis name 15th of May “Independence Day” while the Palestinians refer to the same day as “the Catastrophe”. As a result of the war 700,000 Arabs relocated to Gaza, the West Bank and neighboring Arabic countries.

Jerusalem (photo)
Jerusalem (photo)

In 1967, tensions were escalated, with the Arabic countries surrounding Israel with armed forces. Conflicts between Israeli and Syrian military forces coordinated with Palestinian guerillas led to a new crisis. Egypt, prompted by Russians who maintained that Israel was about to move against Syria, sent forces on the Sinai Peninsula, and Jordan unified with the Arabic alliance, completing the encirclement; only Lebanon abstained. The Israelis asked the French, the British and the Americans for help, without a positive response. In 5 June 1967 Israel started the pre-emptive Six Day War, destroying all the airports of Egypt and thus grounding its air force, something that caused a disturbance among the Arab nations and finally daunted them from participating in the war. Six days later, Israel stood a victor on new lands it took (Suez canal, Jordan river and Golan Heights). Most of all, it had full control of Jerusalem. 300,000 more Palestinian refugees relocated to neighboring countries.

The triumph didn’t last long, as the new borders demanded a larger presence of army forces than what Israel had under its command, and the need to govern one million more Palestinians was born. The international public opinion turned against Israel for commencing warfare without a declaration of war against it and also for expanding its borders. Under Article 2 of the UN charter, no state is allowed to annex foreign lands through war. Charles De Gaulle declared an embargo on Israel concerning military equipment, when France was Israel’s sole supplier. A solution was found when America agreed to provide fighting jets to the victorious country. Peace didn’t seem like a certainty and the UN issued the Resolution 242, according to which, on the one hand Israel was obligated to withdraw military forces from “occupied territories” (referring to the newly-annexed regions) and, on the other, it recognized for both peoples in the region the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries”.

While negotiations continued, Israel commenced a method of creating settlements developed during the ‘30s, intended on establishing a small village overnight; the “tower and stockade” method. As soon as it gets dark, the Israelites transport pre-constructed lodging and fortification materials and when the sun goes up, a watchtower and a small habitable settlement is ready to be inhabited and defend itself against any threat. Then, these settlements expand to form villages and cities. This method is still used to create illegal settlements on Palestinian grounds (they are deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice and the Fourth Geneva Convention).

In 1973, a new war broke out, the Yom Kippur War (a day of religious festivity for Judaism), by Egypt and Syria against the Israeli army. Israel soon found itself in a difficult spot, since it had underestimated the enemy forces and had to deal with problems in the supplying of military materials to its army. Once more, America solved the problem, with Nixon as President at the time, while the Soviet Union’s involvement in supplying the Arabs was not enough to counter the Israeli advances. Nixon, fearing a direct embroilment of the Russians in the war, secured a peace treaty. Egypt decided to abandon its allies (Russians and Syrians) with the exchange of the Sinai Peninsula and “a new start” with the USA, something that bore fruits later, in 1979, with the bipartite peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The treaty was signed in Washington, when Carter was President. Thus, Egypt became the first Arabic country to officially recognize Israel.

Painting depicting the war of 1973 (photo)
Painting depicting the war of 1973 (photo)

The civil war in Lebanon (between the Christian establishment and the Muslims who, thanks to the Palestinian refugees, were no longer a minority) gave the opportunity to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Front) to charge in the northern borders of Israel. This led Israel to make a surprise attack on the Syrian forces that were fighting on the side of the Muslims of Lebanon. The procession of war with the involvement of Israel caused serious losses to every side involved, including the slaughter of hundreds of Palestinian civilians. In 1983, the Jewish forces backed off from Beirut, capital of Lebanon, with a USA intervention.

Israel continued to create settlements in the West Bank, aiming at isolating Arabic villages and cities that could form a Palestinian government or to realize the divine promise for a Jewish homeland that would reach the Jordan River. Until 1992, the Jewish population in the occupying lands reached 100,000. In 1987, after decades of settlements, bureaucratic harassment, taking of Palestinian land, economic underdevelopment and oppression of basic human rights, the Palestinian people of the West Bank and Gaza rose up, in a protest movement known as the First Intifada (Arabic for “shaking-off”) which lasted four years. The struggle involved children, women and old people throwing stones on tanks, striking, protesting and declaring embargo on Israeli products, but it also involved PLO members, who took the lead of Intifada in January of 1988, making terrorist attacks targeting Jewish civilians. There were also executions of Palestinians who were considered to be Israeli collaborators.

In 1988, PLO declared the founding of the Palestinian State in Algeria, a state that has never gained lands, autonomy or independence. This declaration is considered to recognize the 1967 borders and Israel’s right to exist, and led the USA and other countries to open a dialogue with the PLO.

First Intifada, 1989 (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
First Intifada, 1989 (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

During the Gulf War (1990-1991), Yasser Arafat (leader of the PLO) supported Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Kuwait in the effort to annex it, and thus opposed America’s position of attacking Iraq. Supporting Saddam torpedoed the relationships between the PLO and the US, as well as other countries siding against Saddam, like many Arabic, oil-producing ones. This support from Arafat to Saddam, apart from being surprising (since Kuwait was a resort to many Palestinian refugees), proved to be misjudged, since, among other things, it led to the relocation of 200,000 Palestinian refugees from Kuwait after Saddam was defeated. Many Arabic nations stopped funding the PLO, which was led to a crisis.

After the end of the Gulf War, the road to peace negotiations was opened and the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 was held, with the participation of Israel, Palestine, neighboring Arabic countries (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan), America and Russia. Palestinians with connections in the PLO were not allowed to participate after Israel’s objections. The conference failed to reach to a peace accord between Israel and Palestine, but such an accord was signed between Israel and Syria (1994).

Israel and Palestine signed the first Oslo Agreement in 1993. It was signed by the Israeli government and PLO, after secret meetings where Israel recognized PLO to represent the Palestinians and as a partner to negotiations. On its side, the PLO recognized the State of Israel. Clinton called Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin at the White House to show support for the first agreement. With the Oslo Agreements (the second was signed in 1995) the Palestinian Authority was established (with Arafat as President), with limited governing powers in Palestine. Also, terms were set on the borders, the settlements, the issue of governing Jerusalem, the issue of Israeli army presence in Gaza and the West Bank after the recognition of Palestinian autonomy and the issue of the refugees’ return. What did not happen, was the official establishment of a Palestinian state. The two representatives soon returned to reality, with their hopes refuted in the next years, when hostilities and deaths continued from both sides, with each side accusing the other.

Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat at the White House 13/09/1993 (photo)
Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat at the White House 13/09/1993 (photo)

Bill Clinton, probably wanting to personally resolve the Israeli/Palestinian issue before the end of his term, hastily set up a meeting of the two representatives at the White House, without even setting the terms of the negotiations. The 2000 Camp David Summit (11-25 July) led nowhere, since Arafat was not willing to give way to the Israeli demands for the exchange they offered. Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, offered more than 95% of Arafat’s land claims (he asked for the 1967 borders – before the Six Day War), but he considered that 100% of them was rightfully Palestinian, therefore he saw no reason to compromise. Also, a term for the return of the Palestinian refugees was for 9% of Gaza to be annexed to Israel. This reduction of land mass was not accepted by Arafat. Israel saw Arafat’s stance as being ‘intransigent’; that the Palestinians were not willing to make any compromise. Arafat felt he was in a dead-end, since what the Israelis considered a compromise his side rather saw as theft.

The summit was held during a period when the relations between the two heads of state were tense and the only result was that Israel looked morally superior, seeming like it was ready to make recessions but met with an immovable opponent. In this climate of impossibility of cooperation and dialogue, Arafat returned to Palestine to receive congratulations from the Arabic people for saying ‘no’ to both the Israelis and the Americans. On the contrary, Barak’s political support went up in smoke, since he looked incapable of solving the Palestinian problem. Barak’s posterity would soon receive another blow. Cause for the new drama was the visit by Ariel Sharon (president of the right-wing party in Israel) on the Temple Mount in September 2000, where he made the statement: “The Temple Mount is in our hands and will remain in our hands. It is the holiest site in Judaism and it is the right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount.” Palestinians saw this as being a great challenge (they consider the Temple Mount to be their own holy monument) and riots started, soon to escalate to the Second Intifada (2000-2005). The death toll reached 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis, soldiers and civilians in both sides. In 2003, Sharon (Prime Minister at this point) unilaterally announced a “disengagement plan” with the promise for a gradual withdrawal of soldiers and settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. In 2004, Arafat’s death and his succession by the more moderate Mahmoud Abbas as the President of the Palestinian Authority, opened the road for restarting the peace talks, and in 2005 the two sides decided to cease the violence. Both sides committed to the “Roadmap for Peace”, a plan formed by the E.U., Russia, the U.N. and the USA. The evacuation was completed in September 2005, with the entire Israeli military presence in Gaza withdrawing and the settlements being abandoned. Whoever among the Jewish civilians denied leaving, was forced to evacuate by the Israeli army.

But the Palestinians surprised and worried everyone when they elected Hamas in the 2006 elections (Hamas won 57.5% of the votes, the second party being Fatah with 32.5% – the elections were deemed fair by international observers). Hamas, an Islamic organization with a military character, was formed during the First Intifada and is described as a terrorist organization by many countries of the West, the Middle East and Asia. Another chain reaction of violence begun, with Hamas attacking Israel with rockets and Israel replying with air strikes. Any attempt for a ceasefire fails until 2009, after many human losses.

Loss of Palestinian Land 1946-2010 (photo)
Loss of Palestinian Land 1946-2010 (photo)

In 2010, Israel received an outcry from the international community when it attacked the ship Mavi Marmara which carried aid from the Free Gaza movement, resulting in the deaths of nine passengers. After the denial of Israel to apologize for the incident (claiming the ship was carrying terrorists), Turkey, Israel’s ally, sent away the Jewish ambassador. At the same time, Mubarak’s removal from Egypt’s government during the Arab Spring events cost another ally to Israel.

Since 2012 the incidents between Israel and Hamas intensified, with periods of reciprocal attacks following periods of relative calm. In June 2014, three Jewish boys were kidnapped (and were later found dead), with Israel accusing Hamas. The kidnapping and assassination of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem, probably an act of retaliation, led to the latest intense incidents of the summer of 2014; among the most bloodied in the history of the two nations’ conflict. The death toll reached 70 Israelites and 2,100 Palestinians.

Hamas and Fatah decided, in the spring of 2014, to have elections within the following 6 months; elections that where indefinitely delayed.

Read:

  • Ismat Sabri – Cartographic analysis of the Jewish Settlements in Palestine – The case of West Bank of the Jordan River (diploma thesis for the National Technical University of Athens, 2009)
  • Rita Gabai-Shimantov – Israel, The rebirth of a state (Dioni, 1998)
  • Yves Marc Ajchenbaum – ΙIsrael-Palestine: One land, two nations 1948-2002 (Melani, 2004)
  • Chalazias Christos – Palestine, the drama of a people (Vasdekis, 1982)
  • Ahmat Shahin – The Israel colonialism and the Intifada (Diplomatic Agency of PLO in Athens, 1988)

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