By Gregory – Allow me to take you back in history in order to get a better understanding of the origins of the Israelites. The Israelites, also known as Jews, were Semitic Hebrew speaking people who inhabited the southern end of the Levant. The Levant is the region that stretches from what is currently Turkey in the north to Egypt in the south. The Israelites enjoyed political autonomy in the region from 1350 BC to 586 BC. This first period of autonomy, also known as the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea or House of David, ended with the destruction of the First Jewish Temple. This is when the Jewish Diaspora first began. The Hasmonean Kingdom provided a second period of autonomy for Jews, spanning a period from 140 BC to 35 BC. In 63 BC however, the region fell into the hands of the Roman Empire and Jewish independence started eroding. During the Jewish Roman war which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the Second Jewish Temple. A couple of decades later independence for the Israelites was totally lost when they were defeated by Hadrian’s army. The Romans changed the name of Judea into Syria Palaestina and barred the Jews from the holy city.
The Islamic religion was introduced in the region in the 7th century when armies from the Arabian Peninsula conquered parts of the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire. In 691 AD the Dome of the Rock was built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Archeologists discovered that the Dome of the Rock, a hugely significant site for Muslims, was built immediately on top of the ruins and foundations of the Second Jewish Temple, the holiest site for Jews. According to the Islamic tradition this is the place of Mohammed’s ‘Night Journey’ into heaven.
Over the centuries the region fell into the hands of rulers with divergent backgrounds ranging from Christian beliefs to the Islamic faith; Byzantine, Muslims, Crusaders, Ottomans and British to name but a few.
Bearing this ancient history in mind, it becomes clear why the current political situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories is so difficult, especially given the huge religious significance for both communities disputing the land.
At the end of the First World War, this region was transferred from Ottoman rule to the British. Most people think that the region was solely inhabited by Arab Palestinians at the time, and that the Jewish community in Palestine was non existant. The truth however is that 65% of the population was non Jewish (Arab Muslims and Christians) and 35% was Jewish. The Jewish population grew quickly as a result of Jews emigrating to Palestine in order to flee Nazi occupied Europe. This immigration was curbed by the British.
In 1947 the United Nations (UN) adopted the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine with a majority of 33 votes. The 13 countries opposing the plan were mostly Arab nations. Ten countries abstained. The plan was designed to create an independent Arab state alongside an independent Jewish state and a Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem.
The plan was accepted by the Jewish community and its leaders through the Jewish Agency but widely rejected by the Arab leaders, including the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee.
Immediately after the vote at the UN a civil war broke out. The civil war was fuelled by joy amongst the Jewish community that celebrated the prospect that Jewish independence would be restored (in areas assigned to a Jewish state by the UN) after it was lost many centuries ago. The celebrations were counterbalanced by the expression of discontent among the Arab community as they struggled with the idea of having a Jewish State bordering their Arab state. Palestinians saw the entire region as their territory.
Much of the fighting in the first few months of the war was initiated by Arab snipers firing at Jewish houses, pedestrians and traffic as well as Arabs planting bombs and mines in cities and on rural roads. The violence escalated when 1500 Arabs were killed in random bombardments and shellings of their villages. As a counter measure the Arabs organised, under the command of the Egyptian Al Husayni, the blockade of 100,000 Jewish residents in Jerusalem. The Jewish authorities tried to lift the blockade by sending armoured vehicles to the city, which failed as almost all vehicles were destroyed. Hundreds of Haganah members (Jewish paramilitary) were killed in the process. The situation for many Jewish residents, especially in the Negev desert and the North of Galilee was desparate.
While the Jewish population received strict orders from the Jewish authorities to hold their ground everywhere at all cost, the situation was different for the Arab Palestinians. The conditions of insecurity drove up to 100,000 Arabs from upper and middle classes in Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem and other Jewish dominated areas to move further eastwards or abroad.
The initial Jewish defeats were countered when David Ben Gurion reorganised the Haganah and ordered every Jewish man and woman to receive military training. Soon the civil war turned and the Jewish paramilitary conquered mixed zones such as Tiberias, Safed, Beit She’an and Accre. These moves also consisted of lifting the blockade on Jerusalem. At the same time, the first large scale operation of the Arab Liberation Army ended in a debacle resulting in the flight of more then 250,000 Palestinian Arabs, the start of what Palestinians call today Al Nakba.
The British mandate over Palestine ended on the eve of the 14th May 1948. That same day David Ben Gurion declared the independence of Israel in accordance with the territories assigned to a Jewish state by the UN Partition Plan. The next day, an alliance of Arab nations including Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon intervened in support of the Palestinians and attacked Israel, thus turning the civil war into a war between sovereign states. As a result of the war, Israel kept nearly all the areas that were assigned to the Jewish state by the UN Partition Plan and took control of almost 60% of the areas allocated to the proposed Palestinian state, including parts of the Negev desert, a wide strip between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv including the Lydda – Ramla area. Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza strip. As a result no Palestinian state was created and Palestinians had to live under Jordanian and Egyptian military rule.
As a result of the war approximately 650,000 Palestinian Arabs left, fled or were expelled from the areas that became part of Israel. Some 156,000 Arabs remained in Israel and became Israeli citizens (Arabs account for approximately 20% of Israel’s population today). A lesser known fact is that 10,000 Jews were forced to leave their homes in Palestine and a further 700,000 Jews were chased out of neighbouring Arab countries in the three years following the war. Most of them emmigrated to Israel. Jews who stayed in the eastern sectors of Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank were taken prisoner by the Jordanians in effect removing most of the Jews from Arab controlled zones.
Current borders of the region were shaped by the Six Day War in 1967, where Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip following a short but brutal conflict with its neighbours Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Since the end of the Six Day War Palestinians have been living under Israeli occupation. The occupation of the Gaza strip however ended in 2005.
An obstacle towards lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians is the Israeli civilian settlements that have been built in the West Bank and parts of East Jerusalem coupled with the travel restrictions for Palestinians imposed by the Israeli army across parts of the West Bank. Most of the current settlements were built on sites where Jewish communities existed during the British Mandate of Palestine but are seen as illegal by the international community. The UN upheld the view that Israel’s construction of settlements constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Fourth Geneva Convention stipulates that an occupier may not transfer parts of its own civilian population into occupied territory. Israel recognises the need for a two state solution but emphasizes this can only be achieved if the security of its civilians and nation as a whole can be guaranteed.
Another huge obstacle to a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians is the refusal of the vast majority of Palestinians and Muslims worldwide to recognise Israel as an independent state. Many Palestinian civilians and terrorist organisations such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, believe that Israel should be destroyed, wiped off the map and replaced by a single Islamic Republic of Palestine leaving the Jewish community once again without any land.
As a result of this belief some Palestinians see it as their duty to spread terrorism in Israel. On many occasions Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinian suicide attacks on public transportation, in bars, restaurants and night clubs. In recent years southern Israel has been suffering daily rocket attacks from the Hamas controlled Gaza strip. Such attacks provoke retaliation by Israel in the form of targetted killings of Hamas officials (who are considered as terrorists by Western powers), and the large scale elimination of terrorist facilities. The more moderate Fatah, including the current Palestinian president Abbas, recognises the need for a two state solution in order to end the conflict. Abbas stated in 2011 that the Arab rejection of the UN Partition Plan was a mistake he hoped to rectify.
This leaves us with the question of how to resolve the issue and to break the cycle of violence? Many diplomats, officials, historians and others have written about what they see as the ideal solution. Many solutions reached so far were influenced by their religious background, views and interpretation of the facts. My belief however is that each party in the conflict will have to make considerable concessions in order to reach long lasting peace. Leaders on both sides of the conflict might find it difficult to sell a negociated peace treaty to their respective populations.
A lasting peace settlement should include a two state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live in their own state. Palestinians and Muslims all over the world must accept the right for Israel to exist and thrive alongside its Arab neighbours. Palestinians must renounce all forms of terrorism and organise their newly founded state in a secular and democratic way so that Israelis and Palestinians can live free from fear. Palestinians should also renounce the right of return of its refugees and curb the influence of its fundamentalistic factions as peace can not be reached with fundamentalists. Israel and the worldwide Jewish community on the other hand must accept the right of the Palestinians to organise a viable state on the West Bank and the Gaza strip in accordance with the pre 1967 borders. Israel will also need to find the courage to dismantle its settlements on the West Bank and to eliminate the influence of colonists and Jewish extremists.
An idea for resolving the dispute around the old city of Jerusalem (and it is only an idea) is to allow it to be governed by both countries. A precedent for how this might work can be found in the the administration of the Belgian capital. The Brussels assembly is populated with Flemish and French speaking representitives and elected by the people living in Brussels. Both Flemish and French speaking authorities ensure the multicultural aspect of the city.
The ‘truth behind the wall’ lies in the fact that politicians on both sides of the conflict will need to take brave decisions, eradicate extremist views and make difficult concessions in order to bring long lasting peace for the entire population of the region.