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The History of the Israel Palestine Conflict

The Israelis and Palestinians have a long history of conflict, caused by both internal and external forces

By Rohan Kudva

Ever since its independence in 1948, Israel has been at conflict with Palestine, over a disputed territory within its enclave, the West Bank. Israel is known as “the Holy Land” because of its importance to the three Abrahamic religions - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. For Christians, it is the site of Christ’s burial place. For Muslims, it is believed to be the place from which Muhammad rose to heaven. Finally, for Jews, it has the Western Wall - all that remains of the holy temple of biblical times. Pope Benedict the 16th, in reference to Israel,

“As I passed alongside it, I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation.”

The history of the dispute goes back even further to 1897 when Zionism came into existence and called for a Jewish state in Palestine. To escape persecution, Jews had fled from Europe to Palestine, believing it to be their promised land. The Arab population objected to the Jewish settlers' claim on their land.

With the Balfour declaration in 1917, the British government was in favor of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. However, the Jews wished to take this mandate even further, as David Ben Gurion said,

“The present map of Palestine was drawn by the British mandate. The Jewish people have another map which our youth and adults should strive to fulfill: from the Nile to the Euphrates.” After the fall of the Ottoman empire in 1922, the United Kingdom was given the mandate to govern Palestine by the League of Nations until May 14, 1948.

During this time, there was tension between the Arab and Jewish communities, with the rise of the Zionist movement among Jews and the Palestinian Arab nationalism among the Arabs. With the rise of antisemitism in Europe in 1939, Jews were forced to flee to Jerusalem. The British government, which was in charge, placed restrictions on the free settlement of Jewish refugees in Palestine. Following conflicts rising between the Arabs and the Jews in 1947, the British government handed over control of Palestine to the United Nations. As a result of the Holocaust in Germany, the United Nations was convinced that the Jews needed a homeland, and therefore worked to partition Palestine into two states - a smaller state for Arabs and a larger state for Jews.

The United Nations also decided that Jerusalem would be international. The Arabs were not pleased with this decision. The state of Israel was born on May 14, 1948, immediately after Britain gave up its mandate and this was recognized as legitimate by the US and USSR.

Immediately after the state of Israel was formed, the conflicts escalated and Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbors - Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Israel won, and as a result, increased its territory by a quarter. Thousands of Palestinians fled to neighboring Arab countries, fearing Jewish rule.

The territory of Palestine consisted of East Jerusalem, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. In 1967, during the six-day war, Israel defeated the Arabs and captured the Palestinian territories of Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur war, the Arabs attacked Israel and were defeated again. In 1978, Egypt signed a historic peace treaty with Israel and received in return the Sinai territory. In 1993, the Oslo Peace Accords tried to initiate peace between Palestine and Israel. Although the peace accords were signed, they were never implemented because of resistance from both the Jews and Arabs. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, although conditions there remain very difficult for Palestinians. The conflict continues to the present day.

The evolution of the state of Israel (1947-present). Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

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