Catching Up on Israel and Palestine

On January 22, 2013, the Israeli elections declared Benjamin Netanyahu to be their Prime Minister for a third term. Ever since Israel’s declaration of statehood, Israeli elections have revolved around one major political issue-their never-ending territorial dispute with the Palestinians.

For those of you who haven’t been following this complex issue, here’s a small part of the historical background. The land of Israel was originally held as a sacred home for the Jewish people, but was taken over by multiple groups throughout history, including the Babylonians, Romans, Byzantine Empire, the Persians, and the Egyptians, causing the Jews to leave the state and scatter themselves throughout Europe, the Middle East, Palestine (the same area, as renamed by the Romans) and the United States. Due to widespread anti-Semitic persecution, many Jews supported re-establishing a Jewish majority state (Zionism). After World War I, the British gained imperial governance over the region of Palestine from defeating the Ottoman Empire. In 1922, the League of Nations signed the British Mandate of Palestine into effect, prompting many European Jews to migrate to certain regions of Palestine that were designated for Jews. This angered the Arabs who inhabited Palestine at the time, and Palestinian nationalism arose. Due to the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Zionist attitudes were strengthened worldwide, leading to the United Nations officially declaring Israel an independent state in 1948. Since then, Israel and Palestine have constantly been in dispute over who occupies the city of Jerusalem (a holy city both in Judaism and Islam, as well as Christianity) and more recently, the Israeli settlement in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The primary violent offenders are the Palestinian nationalist group Hamas, an admittedly anti-Semitic terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip under Sharia Law (not associated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Palestine’s official representative), and the official Israeli Defense Forces. While Palestine is aided by most of the surrounding Middle Eastern nations, Israel is backed up by the United States, which is why they have the stronger military force and have allowed themselves to expand into Palestinian territory.

To this day, the citizens of Israel and the territory of Palestine continue to suffer through an endless chain of retaliation attacks from each other. Recently, in late November, there was a series of revenge-bombings from both sides, triggered after the IDF’s planned assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari on November 14 as a start to “Operation Pillar of Defense.” The fighting continued for a week, and consisted of multiple war ethics violations on both sides: Palestine for targeting Israeli civilians (particularly through their bus bombing in Tel Aviv) and firing rockets from their own densely populated areas, Israel for using overkill force that harmed civilians (disputably unintentional, as Israeli Military Leaders claimed to be targeting Hamas Military bases with their bombings) and targeting Palestinian reporters. The bombings resulted in around 102-177 Palestinian deaths (the numbers are heavily disputed, especially over what percentage of them were civilians), while Israel only suffered 6 (4 of them civilians) with multiple people only injured. Before jumping to conclusions about their levels of aggression, it should be noted that Israel has relatively better technology and stronger defensive measures against Palestinian bombings, accounting for their lower fatality rates. Nearly a week later, the United Nations resolved to grant Palestine “non-member observer state” status in the UN, a partial step towards a two-state resolution to the conflict. In response, Netanyahu announced the next day that Israel would build 3,000 homes east of Jerusalem.  This move was publicly seen as another attempt at Israeli expansion, but was on Israeli territory. It was criticized by world leaders, however, as an attempt to place a stronghold over Jerusalem, one of the key cities in dispute.

The idea of a two-state solution has been criticized, however, for its failure to meet two contradictory demands from each side. Israel wants to maintain a Jewish majority in the democratic state, while Palestine wants their refugees who have been forced out of their land to be able to return to Israel. The other issue is that many people, especially Palestinians, are critical of Zionism and do not want a Jewish state. Some say the best solution would be for Israel to give up their need for a Jewish stronghold in the Knesset (Israeli Senate), and integrate Palestine with them into one secular democratic state, though this solution blindly assumes that people will actually look beyond race and religion, and avoid a massive partisan fight for power in that state. Others have suggested a three state solution, in which there is a third territory that serves to integrate Palestinian refugees from Israel, so as not to interfere with the Jewish majority or the Arabic independence in the other two regions (or by integrating Gaza into Egypt and the West Bank into Jordan). One of Israel’s biggest concerns with Palestinian statehood is that many Palestinians, mainly Hamas supporters, do not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and do not want a state, but to destroy Israel altogether. Palestine, on the other hand, fears that Israel, having the US’s backing power, will continue to expand, driving them out of their land. But fear is the root cause of the aggression between Israel and Palestine, which only justifies their paranoia. In a perfect world, we would never have to separate two states out of religious and ethnic differences, but what has become reality today can’t be undone.

By Matt Belson ’16

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