January 2013 - Le Nurb
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The Conflicts in Palestine MAX SERJEANT
The conflict in the area that is now Israel has been going on for decades and has become one of the defining problems of our time. This tiny strip of land has become one of the most important in the world, with three of the world’s greatest religions being born there and almost every empire in the western world having claimed it at some point.
“This tiny strip of land has become one of the most important in the world.” While immensely complex and multi-faceted, the problems faced in the region today roughly boils down to two different ethnic groups, with differing religions, both believing they have the right to inhabit the area and seemingly unable to cohabit peacefully. The roots of the current situation date back to Roman times when the land was populated by the Jewish people. In response to rebellion against their rule, the Romans sacked the temple in Jerusalem and exiled the Jews. The area was then settled by Muslim Arabs who have lived there since the seventh century. While coming under the control of everyone from the Crusaders, to the Byzantines and the Turks, the general population of the area remained ethnically the same until the last century. At the end of the first world war the area was under British government. In 1917, the Balfour declaration announced it to be official British policy to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and Jews started the immigration process. World war two was the pivotal moment in the history of the conflict as British power started to fade, leading to it’s withdrawal from the region. The holocaust also convinced both the Jews and rest of the world that there was a need for a Jewish homeland. As the British left, it was agreed
to partition the area into two roughly equal states, one Arab and one Jewish, however violence erupted before this could be acted upon. Neighbouring Arab countries Jordan and Egypt invaded and took The West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively, but the rest of the area became the new state of Israel. Tensions boiled over again in 1967 and Israel recaptured the two Arab territories during the Six Day War, leading to their incorporation into the state of Israel. However, there was a UN resolution which gave them the status of autonomous Palestinian zones. Economically starved and effectively second class citizens, the Palestinians have been resisting Israel ever since leading to sporadic outbreaks of violence. Israel is easily the dominant force militarily, having established a strong western style state with a powerful army; Palestinians resort to guerrilla tactics and home made weapons. The Palestinian cause has always struggled to unite, something which has cost it dearly when dealing with Israel. Elections were held in Gaza in 2006 and Hamas, considered by many to be a terrorist group was elected. Hamas is a rival party to Fatah, the party in power in The West Bank and the two often fight each other before fighting Israel. Hamas is also an armed resistance group, often firing rockets at Israeli
towns and cities. While causing few casualties, a large area of southern Israel has grown used to dropping everything and finding shelter when the sirens go off. On the other side, the huge growth in Israeli settlement in the West Bank has become the biggest issue.
“This is the situation we find today, there is an ever present simmering tension which periodically boils over into warfare.” Some of this is sanctioned by the government, while some Israeli’s take it into their own hands to settle land here against Israeli law. All of these settlements are considered illegal by the international community. The much smaller Gaza Strip has been sealed off by Israel, who have built a wall around it preventing movement in or out. This is the situation we find today, there is an ever present simmering tension which
periodically boils over into warfare. The latest increase in violence was caused when the Israeli Defence Force assassinated Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari. Hamas retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities, killing three in a direct hit on an apartment building. In the days since Gaza has been under constant bombardment from air and sea, with 1350 separate air strikes at the time of writing. This has resulted in ninety Palestinian deaths. Israel claims to be targeting militant targets exclusively, however with Gaza being one of most populated areas on earth, civilian casualties have been high. Egypt is trying to arrange talks between the two parties in order to bring an end to the current situation but there are no signs of a ending of hostilities and the Israeli army is just outside Gaza, threatening to invade. A lot has been made of the timing of this attack with elections coming up and the ruling Israeli party struggling in the polls. There are also claims that Jabari was actually involved in trying to negotiate a permanent ceasefire with the Israelis, which potentially undermines the Israeli argument that it is the peaceful faction and simply trying to defend itself. However, even if this current crisis ends, we are a long way from finding a lasting solution to the problem. It is hard to see a way in which the two groups
would be able to live together peacefully after the decades of blood shed between them. At the same time both groups are firmly entrenched in the region and would never leave unless driven out by the other. Israel is in a precarious position, hated by it’s neighbours but with a powerful lobby in Washington – despite it’s superior military, it would have probably been destroyed by now if it didn’t have American backing. The Palestinians, for their part, have allowed internal fighting and disorganisation to prevent any coherent resistance, resulting in the terrible position they now occupy. Foreign powers, including the British, have to accept their portion of the blame for the situation, and the international community can be criticised for sitting and watching it develop. It is hard to think of a place where so many people have been killed, from the beginning of human history, right up to today and unfortunately that shows no sign of changing any time soon. Ethnic, religious and land related tensions have combined to create an explosive mix and like so often, it’s the ordinary people who end up suffering the most.