Question: What is the historical background of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
This is a very controversial question and there are many opinions and points of view on the subject. The following answer reflects the Muslim point of view on this issue.
The land of Palestine has been known historically for thousands of years. It is usually used to refer to the land that falls between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Jordan river to the east, and possibly other neighbouring lands. Jews and some Christians refer to the same land as the "Land of Israel" or the "Holy Land". The name Palestine came about because the "Philistine" people were among the earliest known people to inhabit this land.
Being located at the crossroads between several major civilizations, including the Egyptians to the west, Babylonians to the east and Romans to the north and west, Palestine was invaded and inhabited by many different peoples through the ages. The Bible also identifies this land as being the "Promised Land", which God instructed Moses and his followers to emigrate to after they left Egypt. The same story appears in the holy Qur'an as well.
It is believed that the Israelites, under the leadership of Moses, arrived in the land of Palestine in the 12th - 13th century BCE. The United Kingdom of Israel was established, but was later split up into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. At the same time, there were several other kingdoms of the original inhabitants of Palestine that existed in the land of Palestine.
Around 720 BCE, the Assyrian Empire invaded and destroyed the Kingdom of Israel, and the Israelites were exiled. In 586 BCE, the Kingdom of Judah was invaded by the Babylonians, who destroyed Jerusalem and deported most of the population to the Babylonian Empire. Later on in 538 BCE, the Persian Empire defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Israelites to return to Palestine. In 333 BCE, the Persian Emipre was conquered by the Greeks under the leadership of Alexander the Great. Palestine remained under Greek control for nearly 200 years.
After a period of instability and war, the land of Palestine finally came under Roman control around the year 63 BCE. Jesus was born and lived in this period when the Romans ruled Palestine. The wars between the Jewish people of Palestine and the Romans resulted in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Romans attempted to wipe out Jewish influence from Palestine. Around the year 330 CE, emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and this became the official relgion of the Byzantine Roman Empire, including Palestine.
The Muslims captured the land of Palestine and Jerusalem in the year 632 CE. Under Islamic rule, Jews were given religious freedoms and were permitted to return to Palestine for the first time in over 500 years. The Muslims continued to rule Palestine for nearly 400 years. The Crusaders, coming from Europe, invaded Palestine and ruled it for almost 100 years, from 1099 CE to 1187 CE. The Muslims regained most of Palestine in 1187 CE, and the last of the Crusaders left Palestine in 1291 CE. From 1291 to 1917, a period of 626 years, Palestine was under Muslim rule.
During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Palestine and most of the Middle East, sided with the Germans. In December of 1917, the British captured Jerusalem and by 1918 all of Palestine fell under British rule. In 1917, British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour issued the "Balfour Declaration of 1917", promising to establish a Jewish state in the land of Palestine for the first time in over 2000 years. At this time, the British instituted a policy of facilitating Jewish immigration to Palestine. The rate of Jewish immigration to Palestine accelerated during and after World War II, and many of those immigrating to Palestine were Holocaust survivors. This policy was therefore supported by other powers including the United States and France.
During the period from 1917 - 1947, hundereds of thousands of Jews arrived and settled in Palestine. This caused a huge change in the demographics of Palestine. The Arab Muslim majority that existed before the First World War was quickly being reduced as a proportion of the total population of Palestine by the huge influx of Jewish settlers. The Arab Muslim population led several revolts against the British occupation and against the policy of demographic change that they were overseeing in Palestine. The most well known of these was the 1936 revolt, which lasted around 3 years.
In 1947, Britain handed over the question of Palestine to the United Nations, which proceeded to devise a plan to partition Palestine into two nations, one Jewish and the other Arab. Jerusalem was to remain neutral and under international control. The Jewish leadership accepted the plan, but the Arabs of Palestine strongly rejected it. Other Arab nations also rejected the plan, as they wanted the situation in Palestine to be returned to the way it was before the First World War. Armed conflict between the Jewish and Arab populations of Palestine started soon after, and Britain formally ended control over Palestine. The state of Israel was established in May of 1948.
The Arabs of Palestine and other Arabs nations rejected the creation of the state of Israel on land which had been under Arab and Muslim rule for over 600 years prior to the First World War. Several Arab armies entered into the conflict which later became known as the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Israeli army, with superior training and equipment and support by European powers, was able to achieve victory. The war ended in 1949 with Israel in control of most of Palestine, except for the areas later to become known as the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Israel captured all of the territories it was entitled to under the UN partition plan in addition to large parts of the lands allotted to the Arabs. Hundereds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs left their homes and land to escape the 1948 war and became refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, the West Bank and Gaza.
Even after losing the 1948 war, most Arab and Muslim nations refused to recognize the state of Israel. In 1956, Israel invaded Egypt along with Britain and France to capture Sinai and the Suez Canal. The war was triggered by the Egyptian decision to nationalize the Suez Canal, which had been controlled previously by foreign companies. Israel, Britain and France were forced to withdraw from all Egyptian territories under pressure from the international community.
Another war broke out in 1967 between Israel and the Arabs. Although it is disputed which side started the war, the result was that Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula from Egypt and the Golan heights from Syria. In this war, Israel more than doubled the territory under its control. This war is also known as the six day war because Israel was able to defeat all Arab armies in six days. This was possible because of the strong military and financial support given to Israel by the Western powers. Although some Arab states turned to the Soviets for help, they were not willing to provide enough support to change the balance the power in the Middle East between Israel and the Arabs.
In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel to re-capture the territories they lost in 1967. Egypt was able to regain parts of the Sinai peninsula, while Syria regained parts of the Golan heights. However, with practically unlimited support from Western powers, Israel was able to fight the Egyptian and Syrian armies to a standstill therby forcing them to cease fire. The United States launched operation "Nickel Grass" a few days after the start of the war. This was an airlift operation that delivered weapons and supplies to the Israeli army. The operation lasted for at least one month, and transported at least 22,325 tons of tanks, artillery, ammunition and other supplies to the Israeli side. Many experts believe that without this airlift, the Israeli army would have faced total defeat by the Egyptian and Syrian armies.
In 1978, Egypt signed a formal peace treaty with Israel, becoming the first Arab state to do so. Egypt recognized Israel in exchange for Israel returning all Egyptian occupied lands. The Egyptian peace treaty with Israel was viewed as a betrayal by most Arabs, including most Egyptians. It also made it evident to the Palestinian refugees that the Arab states, especially without Egypt, will never be able to liberate Palestine or to facilitate their return to their homes and land. This led to the birth of a Palestinian nationalist movement and Palestinian resistance groups. These groups began to launch attacks on Israel and they established bases in neighbouring Arab countries. The Palestinians were most active in Lebanon, and in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to destroy the bases of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The PLO was forced to leave Lebanon, and the Palestinians lost all bases from which they could launch attacks on Israel.
Having lost all hope that liberation will come from the Arab states around Israel, the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza strip launched "The Intifada" (the revolt) in 1987. The Intifada consisted of protests, demonstrations and strikes that were intended to press for the rights of self determination and of the return of the refugees. The Intifada also received significant press coverage around the world, specifically for the images of young boys facing tanks and throwing rocks at heavily armed Israeli troops. The Intifada continued for nearly six years, during which the Israeli army responded with heavy handed security measures including imprisonment, beatings and even breaking the hands of young Palestinian boys caught throwing rocks at Israeli troops.
After the 1990 Gulf War, a peace conference was held in Madrid in 1991 in which the Arabs began formal peace negotiations with Israel for the first time. The peace talks reached their peak with the 1993 Oslo peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel agreed to grant some automony to the Palestinians in exchange for recognition of the state of Israel. Palestinians started to take control of some cities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and they established the Palestinian Authority which acted as a Palestinian government.
Progress in the peace talks was halted when in November, 1995, a radical right-wing Israeli assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel who led the peace negotiations. In the elections of 1996, a radical right-wing government was elected in Israel. The new Israeli government was opposed to the peace treaties that were signed and were against giving the Palestinians any autonomy over any part of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In September of 2000, after years of no progress in the peace talks and in response to the desecration of the Al-Asqa mosque in Jerusalem by Israeli troops, the second Palestinian Intifada was launched. The second Intifada was not limited to rock throwing but evolved into armed confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli army. Thousands of Palestinians and hundereds of Israelis were killed, many of them civilians on both sides.
The situation has changed little to this day. Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinian refugees, living in refugee camps now for over 60 years, continue to be denied the opportunity to return to their homes. The Israeli army continues to impose thousands of road blocks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in order to prevent Palestinian attacks. These road blocks have meant that most Palestinians are not able to leave their towns, not even for medical attention. The Palestinian economy is devestated and the Palestinians continue to live in poverty. Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian owned land and to build settlements in the West Bank, thereby making it harder and harder to ever achieve a two state solution to the conflict.
The Israelis claim to have the right to live in the land of Palestine because of the Jewish kingdoms that existed on this land thousands of years ago. Indeed, Jews have always lived in the land of Palestine and they have the right to continue to live there in peace. However, the Palestinian people who have lived in the land for many generations also have rights to the land.