Michael Selhost Anne Beckenstein WRIT_101W_3 27 July 2011 History of Israeli-Palestinian Conflicts Nearly the entire world is familiar with the affairs between the Jews in Israel and the Muslims in surrounding countries. Their issues have been observed and recorded throughout history and have remained a prevailing concern amongst other civilizations for centuries. Many believe these oppositions will continue to exist, as disputes on which people the land of Israel rightfully belongs to remain constant. Although the conflicts between these nations are often common knowledge, many individuals are not acquainted with their origins or the reasons for their longevity. The Jewish and Muslim people of the Middle East hold a long history together which dates back to around 2,000 years before Christ, when both cultures were only at the beginning of their development, and continues to the present day (“Abraham”). This history contains events that became main influences of the conflicts witnessed today and can provide further understanding of the constant struggle between Israelis and Arabs. These events take place in three time spans: the time of the Old Testament, the rise of the Islam religion, and the last few centuries. Beginning with the first time span, and referring to the book of Genesis, the origin of the Jewish and Muslim people can be established. In the chapters 15-21 of Genesis, God promised Abraham He would bless his descendants, give them the land of Canaan, and that they would become a great nation. Genesis continues to state how Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who was old in age, convinced him to have his first son through Hagar, his wife’s maid. After Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, was born, God told Abraham that His covenant was intended to be fulfilled with the son of Sarah, not Hagar. After Sarah gave birth to Abraham’s second son, Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael were sent away because of Ishmael’s resentment towards his younger brother. God also blessed Ishmael, however, and promised that he too would be prosperous and become a great nation, although not His chosen people (King James Bible). From here, Ishmael, Isaac, and their heirs became distinctly separate in their identities: Isaac’s descendants, the Israelites, grew to be the twelve tribes of Judah (Gen. 29–30; 35:16–18; 48:5–6), who later became united in Egypt during a great famine (Gen. 42); Ishmael’s descendants, the Ishmaelites, also became twelve tribes, but in the lands outside that of the Israelites, where they grew to become the race of people living in northern Arabia (“Ishmael”). Both Isaac’s and Ishmael’s lineages would not engage in conflict until the times after Christ, although ancestors of modern-day Muslim nations would cross paths with the Israelites before then. After being enslaved for 400 years in Egypt, as foretold by God (Gen. 15:13), the book of Joshua speaks of the Israelites’ journey into Canaan, present-day Israel, and of the battles and conquests of several tribes living in the land in order for the Israelites to attain the land promised to them. The greatest adversaries of the Israelites were the Amalekites, Amorites, and the Philistines, and are written of many times in the Old Testament as relentless in their battles with early Israel. The wars between these groups continued until after the time of Solomon, when the region of Judea and its capitol, Jerusalem, had been established and were the first conflicts between the Israeli and Palestinian people as each group desired the occupation of Canaan as much as the other. For the next 970 years, Jerusalem was “invaded several times and controlled
by various groups, including the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Ptolemies of Egypt, Seleucids of Syria, and Romans” (“Palestinians”). During this time, wars between the Israelis and their former enemies ceased on account of the greater oppositions between them and the ruling empires. The next time span in the history of Israeli-Palestinian conflicts is a period over 570 years after the death of Christ. At this time, the Roman Empire had been dissolved, and Christianity had grown to become one of the leading religions in the Middle East. This is where the origin of the Islamic religion begins, and the story of its founder, Muhammad, takes place. Muhammad is believed to be a descendant of Ishmael and a family member of the Quarish, the ruling tribe of Mecca, though later he became an orphan. It is said the archangel Gabriel appeared unto Muhammad in a cave and told him he was a prophet of God. After this Muhammad began to preach the words now written in the Qur’an and, at the age of 52, migrated with his family to Medina where he established the Islamic religion(“Muhammad”). From here, Islam began to spread throughout the nations in the Middle East, but before its completion in uniting the Arabian people, the first conflict between the Jewish people and the newly formed Muslims took place. In 626, the tribal leaders in Arabia, the Quraysh, with the support of the Jews, planned to take over Medina and put an end to the Islamic community that opposed their pagan religions. With an army of 10,000 men, the Quraysh marched upon Medina, but, because the Muslims had dug a ditch around their city to protect it, the Quraysh were unsuccessful and defeated. Once the aid of the Jewish people to the Quraysh was discovered, the Jewish men were put to death, and the woman and children were enslaved. This event caused problems between the two groups lasting for many centuries (“Muhammad”). After Muhammad’s death in 632, Muslim soldiers under the command of Khalif ‘Umar forced the surrender of Jerusalem when the Jewish people were unable to defeat them (Abrahamson and Katz). In the following centuries, the Jews and Muslims would experience difficulties between each other during the Crusades, which were commenced to regain Jerusalem, but would eventually become less involved with one another as the Jews dispersed through Europe and the Muslims became more opposed to the Christian Crusaders (Hull). At the end of the Crusades, the Muslims regained the control of Jerusalem they had lost earlier to the Turks in the First Crusade, and the Jews had become oppressed and dispersed throughout Western Europe due to much persecution (ProQuest Staff). The last important time span regarding conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians takes place in the last 200 years, at the beginning of Israel’s independence, and is by far the most relevant. In the 1880s, Jews from various European countries began to migrate to Palestine in order to evade persecution. However, as more Jews immigrated into the area over the years, tensions between them and the Muslim majority rose, and in the 1920s, a number of confrontations began. In 1936, Muslims living in Palestine began a major revolt against the increasing number of Jewish immigrants. The revolt ended three years later when the British, who gained control of Palestine in the first World War, released the White Paper of 1939, a document which limited the number of Jewish immigrants (Sanders). Matters only became worse in the 1940s when the United Nations commissioned the partition of Palestine into two states: one for the Arabs who already lived there and one for the now greater number of immigrating Jews, due to the Holocaust. The Arabs rejected the commission, however, and in 1948, the independent state of Israel was declared. The Arabs eventually attained all the surrounding land, but never that which now belonged to the Jews. This partition was the start of the conflicts observed today, and what followed was “the first major Middle East war over the conflicting national aspirations of the Jews and Palestinians” (Sanders).
On May 15, 1948, one day after the State of Israel’s establishment, the Arab armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon invaded the new nation. Although the Arab’s army was much larger than the Jew’s, it was unorganized and divided, whereas the Jews were uniformed and prepared. The war continued for one year, with sequences of brutal fighting and cease-fires, and ended with the result of Israel’s victory in gaining an additional 2,500 square miles to their state. This war became known to the Jews as the War for Independence and was a catastrophe to the Arabs (“The War for Independence”). Another war occurred in 1956 when Egypt violated an armistice by blocking Israeli transports through the Suez Canal, a major international waterway, and Arabs began attacks on Israeli civilian centers from Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. More than 260 Israeli citizens had already been killed by infiltrated attacks before Israel began its retaliation on October 29. Israel would later receive support from Britain and France when the Egyptian president threatened their oil supplies, and, before the end of the war, Israel would gain control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Though a truce between the opposing nations was made, tensions between the two continued to exist (“The 1956 Sinai Campaign”). The last war at the start of Israel’s establishment is the most memorable and known as the Six Day War of 1967. On May 15, Israel’s government received word of a large Egyptian troop movement towards the Suez Canal and Sinai Peninsula. Egypt had been falsely informed by the Soviet Union that Israel had created brigades set for attack along the Syrian border and was urged to act with Syria in a counterattack. When Israel learned of Egypt and Syria’s intentions, it began various diplomatic meetings with involved nations in an attempt to resolve the matter without force. However, while Israel’s allies saw the event as the beginning of an unnecessary war, the other nations continued to see it as a chance to reach their goal of the past, to regain Israel (“The Six Day War”). As tensions continued to rise, both parties prepared for the war to likely come, and, on June 5, the Israeli Air Force took the first action by attacking the air forces of Egypt and Syria, as well as Jordan and Iraq, who were now involved. Four-hundred enemy aircrafts were destroyed in less than three hours, and, at the same time, Israel’s ground forces were enhanced against the Egyptian’s in Sinai. That same morning, Jordan had begun its attack on the inlands of Israel, and Syria had launched its attack using planes and artillery on the villages of Israel’s borders. Fierce fighting continued for days and resulted in Israel’s capture of the entire West Bank and Golan Heights, near Syria. At the end of the war on June 10, Israeli casualties numbered to about 3,750, and Arab casualties came to about 15,000. This war is known as one of the “largest battles in the history of armored warfare” (“The Six Day War”). From this war on, Israel’s main concern has been for peace with its neighbors, although conflicts between them continue to emerge. Nowadays, with the advancements of modern warfare, the outcome of a large-scale war can be the death of hundreds of thousands, even millions. Additionally, with the growth of international relations and concurrences between nations, the involvement in a Middle Eastern war becomes more imminent and the effects become more profound. As history has shown, there will likely always be conflict regarding who has control of Israel and the Holy City, and, with its enemies growing stronger, the event of a final war to capture Israel is becoming more of a reality. Time will tell whether or not these two groups of people will find peace, but, in the meantime, one can only expect that history will continue to repeat itself as it has since the beginning.
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