THE CONTROVERSY THAT IS ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
By Vithusan Kuganathan & Neel Shah
Before you read the this article, I want to make sure that the following is put forward. This is an incredibly sensitive issue and for that reason the proceeding article is an attempt at informing you, the reader, as opposed to persuade. Also, it is important to remember, Palestine refers to the nationality of the Arab population in Israel. Not every Palestinian is inherently Muslim and it refers to the nationality as opposed to religious identification.
history - vithusan
As many of you know, Jerusalem is a site, home to a plethora of religious monuments. In Islam, it is considered the third holiest site after mosques in Medina and Mecca, due to the presence of the Dome of the rock. This is one of the aforementioned religious monuments. This was also one of the original Qibla, (direction in which Muslims prayed), as it was said to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad rose to heaven and talked to God. There is also prevalent Jewish interest in the area. For example, the Wailing wall is the ancient remnant of Ancient Jewish temples after they were destroyed circa. 586BC due to Babylonian conquerors seizing the land. There is also some Christian influence, as some believe it to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and there is also the Church of the holy sepulchre, where many Christian pilgrimages head towards. What I am trying to put forward is that Jerusalem is an amalgamation of so many different religions and this has led to some cultural tensions. This in and of itself didn’t necessarily mean that social unrest was guaranteed. Quite the opposite in fact. The Ottoman empire allowed for the free practise of religion and in Jerusalem, the religious populations were roughly equal. During this time, Jerusalem was an area of peaceful coexistence, where Passover and Ramadan could be celebrated. Not only this, the crusades meant that persecuted Jewish people would often seek asylum in Jerusalem.
state of israel during the 20th century
Throughout the 20th century there was the rise of Jewish nationalism or Zionism, which essentially sought to produce a Jewish state. This was becoming so popular due to the historical persecution of the Jewish population. It was an attempt to create a land in which this persecuted group could finally find a place they belong. Considering the historical link Jerusalem had with Judaism, it seemed to be a prime location and soon Israel (or the territory it used to be) was handed over to the British after World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1917 the British government issued the Balfour Declarations, through which they supported the Zionist movement and promised the land that was Palestine at the time, would become somewhat of an autonomous state. From 1920 to 1939, migration of Jewish people into Palestine was around 320,000. Then throughout World War II, the British restricted migration into Palestine, which was shocking considering the atrocities going on in Europe at the time towards the Jewish people. This wasn’t necessarily a time of cultural tension between the Jewish and the Arabs, but more of a clash between the Palestinians and Israeli towards the British, considering the ambiguity of the area on an international stage. From here, the UN proposed the partition plan of 1947. The diagram below shows the original territorial divide, which was roughly half and half, which in and of itself heightened tensions, as the Arab population was roughly twice as much as the Jewish people. This caused political unrest, leading to the Arab – Israeli war, through which the Palestinians attempted to gain more land through military conquest. This evidently didn’t work, and the Israeli counter attack led to them occupying most of the territory within Israel. This eventually led to Nakba – “catastrophe”.
This is Arabic for catastrophe and essentially describes the period that proceeds the Arab – Israeli war, which internally displaced 700,000 Palestinians, with many fleeing to Gaza and others fleeing to surrounding countries like Egypt and Jordan.
the six days war
This war waged in the middle East, between Israel and the surrounding countries, of whom many thought of Israel as an aggressive country seeking to attack the surrounding countries. Nasser, the Egyptian president in 1956 defied British order and attacked Israel during the Suez Canal Crisis. This ended with a UN sanctioned ceasefire and left lingering feelings of mistrust, with the Israeli and Egyptians both expecting a war soon enough. And soon enough a war began – the six days war, which lasted – well 6 days. This was between Israel and its neighbours – Syria, Jordan and Egypt. This war was incredibly complex, but in a sentence, the war left Israel better off, in terms of land. They managed to annex the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Golan heights from Syria as well as the West Bank from Jordan. They eventually signed a treaty with Egypt – prime minister Begin (Israel) and president Anwar Sadat (Egypt) signed said treaty eventually resulting in Egypt getting their land back in 1982. Sadat was murdered 2 years later in 1981 by an Egyptian soldier and Rabin (Israel) was murdered in 1995. This was incredibly significant as it meant resolve went against the wishes of the public. Overall, the six days war caused more tension between Israel and the surrounding countries, which haven’t been completely settled and a level of resentment still exists to this day.
The Palestinian Liberation Organisation began attacking Jewish communities and committing acts of terror from 1960 onwards. They essentially sought a separate state from Israel however were willing to divide up land gain autonomy for that land. However, the demography of Israel was changing. This is because Israelis were moving into the Palestinian areas, i.e. Gaza and the West bank. The growing settler movement, meant there was an increased military presence in these areas, and some communities were divided to give room for the new settlers. By the late 1980’s, the Palestinians had had enough.
THE FIRST INTIFADA (1987 - 1993)
This word intifada is Arabic for “uprising” and began with peaceful protests, however soon devolved into violent demonstrations. The Israeli government responded harshly to the uprising and it led to 100 Israeli deaths and over 1000 deaths altogether. This led to the increase in support for Hamas, which is considered to be a terrorist group which occupies Gaza. The resolve was the Oslo Accords of 2003 and this allowed the Palestinian Authority, which gave greater freedom and autonomy to Palestinian territories and also promised that Israeli forces would eventually withdraw from Palestinian territories. Extremists on both sides attempted to derail peace talks with suicide bombings and eventually Yigal Amir, and Israeli ultranationalist, shot and killed Rabin.
THE SECOND INTIFADA (2000 - 2005)
The second intifada was a bloodier uprising and was because many Palestinians felt they weren’t getting anything from the peace talks and subsequently begin to revolt. It led to roughly 1000 Israeli deaths and 3200 Palestinian deaths. This made the Israeli government change their policy to Palestine and they manage it by building walls and increase military presence. In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza through which Hamas took the opportunity to take power and they from the Palestinian Authority. This led to Israel establishing a blockade around Gaza. The blockade was severe, leading to unemployment rates rising to 40% within Gaza.
TRUMP AND JERUSALEM - NEEL
On the 6th of December 2017, the president of the United States of America (arguably the most influential nation in the world), Donald Trump, announced plans to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in addition to plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv (the internationally recognised capital of Israel) to Jerusalem. This was a controversial move as some Palestinians (and members of other nations) believe Jerusalem should be split between Israel and Palestine as it was in 1967 (before the Six-Day War).
Some nations supported the move, namely Israel, as well as Honduras and Nicaragua, who took similar actions in Israel. However, the majority of nations disapprove the move, with most nations voting for condemnation of US actions in a UN vote (where only 9 nations opposed the vote). In addition, on the 19th December, a UN vote on ‘Palestinian right to self-determine’ 176 nations voted in favour, while only 7 nations opposed.
the effects of trump's decisions
· 16 people were killed and 2908 injured from the protests that broke out following President Trump’s declaration.
· Israeli forces responded to border protests in Gaza with live ammunition, killing a 20-year old man.
· Turkey’s Prime Minister and Saudi Arabian King Salman have declared Islamic unity against the US decision on Jerusalem during a meeting in Riyadh, to support the rights of Palestinian ‘brothers’.
· Bethlehem loses out on tourism due to nearby clashes between both sides.
· Malaysian leader, Najib Razak heads a protest in the seat of federal government, Putrajaya, involving thousands of Muslims opposed to Trump’s decision.
· 120 nations voted in favour of a UN assembly for the US to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital on the 28th December.
· Trump to cut humanitarian aid to Palestine from planned $125 million to $60 million, a significant cut as the US supplies 30% of aid to UNRWA (the UN relief agency responsible for Palestinian Aid). This is a significant drop from the $355 million donated in 2016, and could show a shift in the US’s position as mediator towards support of Israel.
The international community appears to criticise the US decision, which appears to have broken a state of relative peace in the Israel-Palestine region. However, Trump claims this to be a move to progress negotiations in the region. This arises the question; will there ever be a solution to the conflict?
There have been many proposed solutions to the conflict, however so far, all solutions have been unsuccessful. Some of the solutions are:
· The two-state solution – this solution suggests the division of the land between two nations for the two groups; the state of Palestine and the state of Israel. Although this is the most accepted solution, it is unlikely to settle the dispute due to issues such as the ownership of Jerusalem.
· The one-state solution – this solution proposes equal rights to both groups and equal citizenship, regardless of ethnicity or religion. However, the problem with this solution is the government – the person running the country may favour one ethnic or religious group over another.
· Binationalism – this solution proposes two systems and two nationalities under one state, like the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, this may lead to political and social divide.
PRESENT - VITHUSAN
At present, tensions are sky high due to a multitude of reasons – primarily the decision by Trump. Not only this, water insecurity is also growing exponentially, especially in Gaza, where discriminatory policies from an Israeli company mean that water isn’t being distributed evenly throughout the state and is causing problems in smaller villages, where water is having to be rationed. This mirrors South Africa and Cape town, where day 0 could mean there is no more water in Cape town’s reservoirs at all.
Overall, the only chance for a future that this territory has is through acceptance – acceptance of the fact that neither party is leaving any time soon. Not only this, further communication between the two conflicting parties needs to be present. For example, in Sri Lanka, after the civil war, one of the ways of de-escalating tensions was through communication between the two feuding parties, not just at a political level, but on a level so that the public can learn to peacefully coexist with their neighbours. Israel and Palestine are both keen on segregating communities and ensuring social contact is minimal, however this is just an aversion of reality, as the only way to progress is socially integrate the two different communities, so that greater social cohesion may finally occur as it once did during the Ottoman empire.