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June 3, 2019 | by  | in Liquid Knowledge Splash | [ssba]

Liquid Knowledge: On Israel and Palestine


This week’s column returns to its roots in attempting to simplify the trickiest of global issues. This week, I’ve attempted to summarise what has been described as the most “intractable” conflict in history. Two pages barely scratch the surface of a heavy issue, but in any case, I’ve departed from my typical jovial tone to deliver an objective and (very!) brief outline.


Two Groups, One Land

Although ‘Palestinian’ encompasses anyone with roots in the land now referred to as Israel, it is commonly used to reference Arabs. Israelis are predominantly Jewish.


The Israeli–Palestinian conflict as we know it today began in the early 20th century. At its core are two groups who lay claim to the same land. Jews, fleeing persecution in Europe, hoped to establish a homeland in what was then a British-controlled territory. This territory wasn’t a country, but an area called ‘Palestine’, occupied by Arabs and Jews: both hoped to claim the land as their own state.


Jews occupying and immigrating into this territory considered it a return to their ancestral homeland, and hoped to establish an independent Jewish state. Palestinians resisted, claiming the land as rightfully theirs, asserting that it was a state by the name Palestine. In 1947, the UN attempted to avoid disputes by apportioning the land to both, but this failed and lead to conflict—the consequences of which still linger.


1948 Israeli War of Independence

In 1948, Israel was declared an independent state by the Jewish Authority. This began an Arab–Israeli struggle rendering 700,000 Palestinian civilians refugees. By the end of the war, Israelis possessed 77% of the disputed territory. Each side views the events of 1948 differently—Palestinians recount a premeditated Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign against Arabs, and Israelis claim that the mass exodus was owed to spontaneous Arab fleeing, exacerbated by collateral wartime tragedies. Today, over seven million Palestinians (those originally displaced and their descendants) remain uprooted. A Palestinian right to return remains a critical condition of any future settlement.


1967 Six-Day War: The West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem

This war left Israel occupying the West Bank and Gaza (or the Gaza Strip), territories home to large Palestinian populations. The Israeli occupation of these territories has reached nearly 52 years, the longest in modern history.


Currently, the West Bank is controlled by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (or PLO), who run the Palestinian Authority (PA) and handle Palestinian territories. It remains under Israeli occupation, and Palestinian movement and activities are restricted. Jewish communities and settlements have been created in the area to deny land to Palestinians. Around three quarters of these Israelis live on or near the West Bank border with Israel, blurring the lines of any future Palestinian state. Israel wants this territory fully incorporated as their own, while Palestinians consider it illegally occupied Palestinian land.


Opinion favours the Palestinian conception; international lawyers view the occupation as a violation of the Geneva Convention.


Gaza is a densely populated strip of land surrounded by Israel, but populated almost exclusively by Palestinians. It is now controlled by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group. Hamas’ takeover of Gaza prompted an Israeli blockade over goods into Gaza. The blockade has softened, but basic supplies remain limited and contribute to significant humanitarian harm by inhibiting access to electricity, food, and medicine. Hamas is known for acts of violence against Israel, particularly suicide bombings, and firing thousands of rockets into Israel. Israel has retaliated with major bombing campaigns (2012) and air and ground assaults (2014).


Tensions have led to Hamas governing Gaza, while the PLO control the West Bank. The PLO conducts peace talks on behalf of Palestinians, but poor relations with Hamas undermine their ability to present a united front. Palestine is still not considered a ‘state’ or country but is pursuing international recognition of statehood.


Finally, the Israeli victory reunified Jerusalem: a territory considered by Israel to be their capital, which Palestinians also claim parts of as theirs. Jerusalem is highly contested because it is home to holy sites for both Judaism and Islam; how to split the land fairly remains a key issue for any settlement. Globally, almost nobody recognises Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, with the UN Security Council declaring Israel’s decision to annex East Jerusalem a violation of international law.


The Intifadas

Two notable Palestinian uprisings in Israel have affected relations between the two states. In 1980, the first intifada spurred demonstrations and mass boycotts of work in Israel, alongside attacks on Israelis with rocks and firearms. The Israeli military responded forcefully and Palestinian fatalities were significant. The second uprising in 2000 was considered the catalyst for a darker era of relations; a bloodier crisis which grew from the collapse of the peace process. Palestinian demonstrations were fired on by Israeli soldiers, and Palestinian militants escalated violence in response with suicide bombings, sniper fire, and rocket attacks. Loss of life reached the thousands on both sides.


Global Perspectives and a Solution

Most non-muslim countries recognise Israel and maintain diplomatic relations with them, though critical of Palestinian treatment and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. Opinion is generally more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.


Under a negotiation process named Oslo, peace talks began in 1993. The aim is to compromise on territorial allocation in exchange for an end to the ongoing violence.


A “two-state” solution purports to establish Palestine as an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest for Israel. Effecting this, in reality, remains difficult. Alternatively, a “one-state” solution proposes that all the territory becomes either Israel or Palestine. The implications of this are tricky: it means either the end of the Jewish state, or permanent second-class citizenship of Palestinians in a continued Jewish Israel. Even if the two were to merge, the Arab population would exceed that of the Israeli Jews, posing an existential threat to the only democracy in the Middle East. Any successful agreement must grapple with four core issues: West Bank borders and settlements, Israeli security, Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem.



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