In order to understand the ongoing conflict between Jews and Arabs in the country, it is vital that we understand the nature of the conflict. First and foremost is the distinction between Jewish Nationalism and Arab Nationalism. The Jews, once inhabitants of Palestine, had emigrated and scattered over almost the whole of the earth’s surface, like Syria and many others. Their independence and their home was destroyed by the Romans.
After the fall of the Jewish State of Palestine and the last struggles for Jewish independence from the Romans in the years 70 and 135, up until the establishment of Israel in 1948, only two Jewish states have ever been formed. The first appeared in the Yemen in the fifth century, and took the form of a core of original Jews ruled by natives of southern Arabia converted to Judaism. The other was likewise similar. These were the only two instances in the long course of history when Judaism was anything other than a group of minority communities. However, all of this was to change.
In this paper, I will first explain the historical background of the region. As we will see, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only of a recent issue, and not a millennium-old conflict as had been believed. Then I will discuss the two major wars: the war of 1948 and the war of 1967, which I believed was the main decisive turning point in the relations between Israel and the Arab world. This will eventually help confirm my idea that Israel is not behaving in accordance with international law, and that its hostility towards other Arab countries was by no means justifiable in any possible righteous way.
Theodor Herzl, who created political Zionism, wrote of Palestine: “We should there form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism. ” Small Jewish colonies did exist within Palestine. Jews all around the world had come to settle in the Holy Land. (Rodinson, 1982; 12-13) The story goes that the Jews conquered and began to settle in the land of Canaan during the thirteenth century before the Christian era.
Then Moses led them out of Egypt, bringing them to the borders of the Promised Land. After Moses, Joshua initiated a prolonged military campaign in which they slowly took control of the territory and made it their home. Most of the contemporary scholars believe that it took the Jews many decades to establish hegemony over Eretz Yisrael, and even after its occupation, the Canaanite Commune still remained there. The Israelite political community developed steadily under the monarchical rule of David and Solomon.
Under the rule of David, the kingdom of the Jews stretched from the Red Sea in the south to what is today the southern part of Lebanon, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the east across the Jordan River to Ammon and Moab. The kingdom continued to develop and remained united through the reign of Solomon, the son of David. His accomplishments include construction of the royal complex in Jerusalem, consisting of the palace and the Temple; expansion and fortification of many other cities; and creation of an integrated political system for governing his kingdom.
Under his leadership, Jerusalem became a great city, and Palestine became an important country. However, there was also a downside to his administration. The side-effect was that there was an increase in class division, with the wealthy gaining from the growth of the state, while many common citizens were impoverished by heavy taxes levied to support the state’s building programme and the luxurious lifestyle of its upper class. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom split into two: the region of Judea and the region of Samaria.
Samaria was then occupied by Assyria while Judea preserved its independence only to lose it to the conquest of Babylonia. With it marked the end of the Jewish predominance in Palestine. The Jewish life was revived after Babylon fell to Cyrus and many of the Jews started to return home. (Tessler, 1994; 8-11) The Palestinians are descendants of two ancient peoples, the Canaanites and the Philistines. The former are the earliest known inhabitants of Palestine, which in the Bible is in fact called the Land of Canaan. It is widely believed that they entered the country around 3000 B. C.
Canaanite society was not united but rather composed of autonomous lands, each ruled by a king who had religious as well as political obligations. Jerusalem was one of the cities ruled by the Canaanites, until it fell to the ancient Israelites about 1000 B. C. The Philistines entered the area around 1200 B. C. and started settling in the southern part. Christianity was the main religion in Palestine and Aramaic was the most widely used language. Islam did not become the religion of the majority until the ninth century. In time, the people of Palestine were assimilated into Arabism.
With these long and intricate relations between the two, it is possible for many to be misled by the notion that Jews and Arabs have been fighting in Palestine for hundreds of years, and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is consequently an extension of an old rival dispute existing a long way back. This is entirely a misconception. The confrontation between Jews and Arabs only started about a century ago. So the political evolution of the Arabic-speaking world has been significantly influenced by its interaction with the Jewish people for only about one hundred years ago.
This means that the conflict between the two nations was not a millennium-old conflict as many believed it to be. Although this is the issue of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is also a broader conflict between Israel and the independent states of the Arab world. The fact that Palestinians are Arabs and that they see themselves as Arabs made other Arab countries involved. Other Arab states have joined in the conflict because they consider the Palestinians to have some legitimate rights. (Tessler, 1994; 69-74)
There is also a big question mark as to why there was such an enormous desire to take over Palestine since in the beginning Palestine was never attractive in the first place. In 1862, a very distinguished guest visited Palestine. The Prince of Wales, who was later to be King Edward VII, described this visit in his book “Sinai and Palestine”: Above all other countries in the world, it is a land of ruins… There is no country in which they are so numerous, none in which they bear so large a proportion to the villages and towns still in existence.
In Judaea it is hardly an exaggeration to say that whilst for miles and miles there is no appearance of present life or habitation, except the occasional goatherd on the hillside, or gathering of women at the wells, there is yet hardly a hill-top of the many within sight, which is not covered by the vestiges of some fortress or city of former ages. Moreover, the strong earthquake which struck Palestine in 1837, combined with a series of epidemics and famines, had led to mass emigration. Many of the Arab refugees then started to arrive in Palestine.
This led to the unequal proportion of the Jews and the non-Jews (1: 40). There is no doubt that Jewish immigration raised the standard of living for the Palestinian Arabs; that is, it provided them with jobs, higher wages, created a market for their agricultural produce, and increased the price of land. But this led to a loveless convergence of interests. The Jewish settlers needed the workers, and the local fellahin (Arab peasants) needed the work. The farmers exploited their workers, giving them in return very low pay.
When the Jewish immigrants arrived they were not hired because they were not prepared to work for Arab wages. In 1908, the Young Turks revolution altered the situation, and what seemed as a forthcoming confrontation between the new Jewish settlers and the fellahin and Bedouin in Palestine began to take shape. The basis of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as defined by Yosef Gorni, was seen in during these years: the doubt over the national identity of the Arabs of Palestine versus the doubt over the right of the Jewish people to live there. It was said that surprisingly it was easier for the right to recognise Arab nationalism.
They argued that because the Jews had only one country while the Arabs had many, the Arabs would have to surrender their national rights in Palestine and agree to live there as a minority. (Beilin, 1992; 110-111) The war between the newly proclaimed state of Israel and the Arab states was triggered by a bitter and bloody struggle between the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs starting from November 1947 to May 1948. Although the Arab states rejected the UN November Resolution on partition and supported the Palestinians with money, it ended in total collapse on the Palestinians, whether militarily or politically.
By 12 May 1948, the Jewish forces controlled nearly all the territory assigned to the Jewish State by the UN resolution, and were moving into Arab regions. The war of 1948 between Israel and the Arab states was a decisive turning point in the relations between Israel and the Arab world. Its psychological impact was immense: for the Israelis, their victory gave them confidence in their power; for the Arabs, the trauma of defeat and humiliation led to a deep desire for revenge, rehabilitation, and restoration of lost prestige. The war was a sign that peace with the Arabs will never happen.
The people of Palestine became refugees, dispersed all over the Middle East and their territory occupied, divided and annexed by Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. (Flapan, 1979; 295-296) It was said that the Palestinian decision to reject the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine was perhaps their biggest mistake. Had they accepted it, although the Arab states had voted against it, they could have been living now in their own independent state alongside Israel, thus sparing thousands of lives lost and the hundreds of thousands injured in the years.
Moreover, the enormous amount of money used to spend on arms purchase could have been used instead to develop the region and to alleviate poverty in the Middle East. The War of 1948 which started with the entry of Arab armies on 15 May into Palestine that shaped the course of Israeli-Arab relations for decades to come. The Revolt of 1937 was also important but the Revolt of 1937 was rather a conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine while The War of 1948 transformed this conflict into two worlds, one being the entire Arab world and the other that of Israel.
However, as they say, the clocks of history cannot be turned back. Under these situations, the importance of the Middle East, whether politically, economically, and strategically, has increased many times than ever before. The Zionist movement believed that the qualitative superiority of the Jewish people, that is, their intellectual ability would compensate for the superiority in numbers of the Arabs. By the 1948 war, it was confirmed that the military capability of Israel was placed at the same level with all the Arab states combined.
The war of 1948 led to the flight of most of the Palestinians, and Jordan took over the West Bank. But rather than resolving the conflict, these developments intensified it. Today, the people of Palestine are the most important factor among the powerful Arab states, for one reason, because they hold the key to real peace in the Middle East. Today, and not 50 years ago, the Palestinians are a more decisive factor and without a settlement with them in regard to mutual recognition it will be difficult to achieve a long-lasting peace settlement in the Middle East. Beilin, 1992; 116-117) The 1967 Israel-Arab War was another war that intensified the relationship between the two countries. Israel announced a full military mobilisation on May 19. On May 22 Egypt announced that it would close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli-flag vessels and to any vessels carrying strategic goods to Israel. The Straits of Tiran led into the Gulf of Aqaba, which provided access to Israel’s southern port of Eilat. Egypt said the purpose of this was to prevent Israel from transporting strategic goods it might use in an attack against Syria.
At the same time, Egypt also mobilised its troops towards the Israel-Egypt armistice line. The reason being to deter Israel from attacking Syria. On May 22 General Rabin reported to Israel’s cabinet that the Egyptian forces were in a defensive stance. The IDF concluded that Nasser would definitely intervene should Israel decided to attack Syria. On June 4, the cabinet of Israel authorised the attack on Egypt. The following day was followed by Israel’s massive bombing of the Egyptian aircrafts. Later that day, Jordan also joined in the fight. But they could not fight with the Israel’s air force.
Finally, Israel took over the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. The Israel’s air force was the key reason for its victory. Israel went on to attack Syria. After occupying Golan’s Heights, Israel stopped the attack, under the pressure of the United States. In the Security Council, Egypt charged Israel for aggression. But Israel claimed Egypt had struck first. It told the council that Egypt had moved in an offensive position and that the Egyptian planes took off in an attack on Israel. In reality, Egypt had not attacked by land or air and none of its aircrafts did approach Israel.
Neither the Security Council nor the General Assembly could take a stand on the hostilities. However, the United States was aware that Israel had taken the initiatives, but it supported Israel’s claim that Egypt had attacked it. Later, Prime Minister Eshkol acknowledged that Israel had struck first, but he said Israel’s attack had been a “legitimate defence”, in anticipation of an Egyptian attack on Israel. Israel argued, with its all time famous quote, that the “massive concentration of Arab forces on Israel’s borders” endangered its very existence, creating a feeling of sympathy from other countries.
General Matitiahu Peled, a member of Israel’s general staff during the 1967 war, said that “the thesis according to which the danger of genocide weighed on us in June 1967, and that Israel struggled for its physical existence is only a bluff born and developed after the war. ” He confirmed that Rabin has told the Israel cabinet that Egypt had not plan an attack. Ezer Weizman, chief of the general staff branch, said that if Egypt had attacked Israel, Israel would have defeated it. And Jordan and Syria posed no “real threat” whatsoever.
He went on to say that “a country does not go to war only when the immediate threat of destruction is hovering”. He explained Israel’s decision to strike that “we entered the Six-Day War in order to secure a situation in which we can manage our lives as we see fit without external pressures. ” He called the 1967 war “a direct continuation” of the 1948 war. Even if Israel had expected Egypt to attack, it is questionable as to whether a pre-emptive strike is lawful. The UN Charter, Article 51, characterises armed forces as defensive only if it is used in response to an “armed attack. This means that a pre-emptive strike is unlawful. India gave its view in the General Assembly on the discussion of the June 1967 incident that pre-emptive self-defence is not permitted under international law. Most states agree on that view, though some say force may be used in anticipation of an attack that has not yet occurred but is reasonably expected to occur imminently. However, this situation does not apply to Israel. Some states thought Egypt had violated Israel’s rights by its closing of the Straits of Tiran.
The main argument was that even if Israel had a right to passage through the Straits, it was probably not entitled to attack Egypt to assert that right. The closing of the Straits of Tiran was not an “armed attack. ” More so, even if Israel had the right to use force, it should use its force just only enough to secure its right of passage. The full assault on Egypt was by no means an acceptable act. (Quigley, 1990; 161-173) The Israel acts were never justifiable, for one, it violated all kinds of rules and laws concerning international agenda.
And yet, it seems there was never a real attempt in stopping the Israelis. Their paranoia of fear of the holocaust still haunted them to this very day and has hindered their ability to co-exist with others, mainly the Arabs. Perhaps it was the backing of the United States which led to Israel’s ignorance of the United Nations’ warning. To this very day, the United Nations has never proved itself powerful enough to handle such an international issue. In contrast, the Israelis proved the United Nations an impotent organisation since they cannot do anything to ease the tension in the Middle East.
After the end of the Cold War, the world was no longer a bilateral system. It is now unilateral, with the United States as being the only superpower (although this is debatable since any country that possesses nuclear bombs can be called a superpower). With the United Sates acting alone as the international police, one may always seem to wonder whether the United States, at the expense of an ineffective UN, will put an end to this “gone too far” Israel since it is, without question, a by-product of Western nations.