To what extent can the creation of Israel in 1948 be seen as the main cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict between 1909 and 2009?
Over the last hundred years the Middle East has been one of the most troubled regions in the world. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a modern day struggle, which has lasted over a century.
Israel lies in the heart of the Middle East and is an area both Jews and Muslims feel they have a God-given right to. Since the creation of the state of Israel, a recurring struggle between the Arabs and Israelis has taken place, often resulting in violence, causing countless deaths. Numerous peace talks have been held, but almost all agreements have crumbled.
It is difficult to find an objective view of this conflict as there are so many interpretations. Even the ‘impartial’ BBC has been criticised by both sides for its reporting of Israeli tactics and its refusal to publicise the Gaza appeal. The Arab-Israeli conflict has a convenient elasticity; changing dramatically depending on who is reporting it. It is important to note that presenting an objective version of the historical events concerning this conflict is very difficult. 1
The creation of the state of Israel is evidently a major cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict; however, it is not as simple as it may first appear. Other factors have played a significant part in causing this ongoing conflict, and the role of these other factors will be investigated.
One underlying cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict was the creation of the state of Israel, and the united aim of the destruction of Israel. 2 The Arab world never wanted to see a sovereign independent Jewish state established in Palestine, nor where they willing to accept it. The first Arab-Israeli war (1948), the Six Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973) 3 were all fought by a coalition of Arab nations including Egypt, Syria and Jordan against Israel. The coalition’s aim was to eradicate the state of Israel. On the day Israel declared independence (14/05/1948), a coalition of five Arab nations invaded – this shows the Arab world did not want to see a sovereign state of Israel, and wanted to destroy it straight away. Avi Shlaim explains that many Israeli historians believe the Arabs were “united in their determination” to destroy Israel.4
Soon after the fighting of 1949, the Secretary of the Arab league stated: “As long as we don’t make peace with the Zionists, the war is not over. And as long as the war is not over, there is neither winner nor loser. As soon as we recognise the existence of Israel, we admit, by this act, that we are defeated”. This quote sums up Arab views towards Israel – Israel will never be accepted.
In 1965, Egyptian President, Abdul Nasser stated “the national aim is the eradication of the state of Israel”; and in a 1972 radio broadcast from Cairo, emphasized that "The Arab people is firmly resolved to wipe Israel off the map". 5 Mitchell G Bard argues that in 1973, Egypt and Syria "undoubtedly hoped to destroy the Jewish state”.6 However, Michael Neumann has a different view, arguing “The hatreds were the product of war, not the cause of it”. 7
Stewart Ross explains how the 1948 war sparked another motive for war, that the Arabs felt humiliated, wanted revenge on Israel and sought to restore their honour. He argues that the war was “far from solving the Problem of Palestine” and had a “dangerous” consequence, only making the conflict worse, leading to an Arab determination for revenge.8 The Arab world never wanted to see an independent Jewish state in the Middle East and tried everything to annihilate it. Arab rejection of Israel's right to exist as a sovereign state in the Middle East is a major factor in this conflict. Norman Lowe argues, “The Arab states refused to recognise Israel as a legal state and they vowed to destroy it”.9
Many, if not all Israelis believe that only Israel’s military power stand between them and annihilation. Believing Arab views of the peace process do not recognise Israel’s right to exist, Alan Dershowitz argues that until recently, the conflict was over the Arab leadership refusing to recognise any sovereign Israeli land, and its right to exist peacefully.10 Dershowitz explains the Arabs have “unanimously refused” every peace offer and “chose to fight” rather than accept the two states. The Arab world openly states they will never recognise Israel and aims to wipe the State of Israel off the map. Benny Morris argues “the whole Arab world” insists on Israel’s “illegitimacy and hope for its disappearance”.
11 The creation of Israel can therefore be seen as a significant cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Arguably, the Arab-Israeli conflict pre-dates the state of Israel and originates in the rise of Zionism. Zionism is a form of Jewish nationalism – supporting the upholding of Jewish identity and the return of Jews to the ‘homeland’ – Israel - to be liberated from anti-Semitic discrimination, and persecution which had historically occurred in the diaspora. Aliyah is the emigration of Jewish people from the diaspora to Israel.
The first Aliyah began in 1881. It laid the foundations for the national rebirth of a Jewish society with an estimated 35,000 Jews emigrating from Russia to Palestine to flee state-controlled violence and persecution. On February 27th 1920, over 1000 protestors took part in an Arab nationalist demonstration in Jerusalem carrying slogans saying “Stop Zionist immigration” and “Our country for us”. They felt they were being driven out of their own land by the Jews. Thomas Friedman argues that the conflict between Arabs and Jews began in the late nineteenth century, with Jewish immigration to Palestine, driven by Zionism.
12 During the riots in Jerusalem (1920) and Palestine (1921 and 1929); Palestinian Arabs manifested hostility towards Zionist immigration and Jewish communities, which provoked reaction from Jewish militias.
In 1935, the Irgun, (Zionist military organization), split away from the Haganah (Jewish Defence Force). Two high profile Irgun operations include the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (July 1946) and the Deir Yassin massacre (April 1948); both resulting in high death tolls. The deaths became a pivotal event in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Irgun was branded a ‘terrorist organisation’ by Britain. Zionist terrorism, along with mass immigration was a spark of conflict, with countless violence the conflict worsened.
The Holocaust was instrumental in causing the Arab-Israeli conflict and strengthened the need for Zionism in practice.13 It brought about huge increases in support for Zionism and immigration to Palestine. The Jewish population of Palestine leaped from 50,000 in 1906 to nearly 500,000 in 1948 – when the state of Israel was created. A report by the British Council of Churches describes the Holocaust as a significant event in causing the creation of Israel and consequently, the Arab-Israeli conflict. 14 T G Fraser argues that the holocaust is fundamental in understanding the Arab Israeli conflict and provided a ‘cosmic’ urge to create a Jewish state.
15 Few noticed Israel would be created in Palestine, inhabited by Arabs for over fifteen hundred years. As a result of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, Jewish immigration to Palestine significantly increased. The Arabs already living there felt they had no right to let the Jewish immigrants live in what they believed to be their land. They certainly didn’t want to see Jewish settlements in Palestine. Zionist militant groups such as the Igrun worsened matters further.
Great Britain has played a significant part in causing the Arab-Israeli conflict, via documentation passed by Britain, their role governing the mandate for Palestine, and the Suez War of 1956.
On 5th November 1914, Britain declared war on the Turkish Ottoman Empire (including much of the Middle East). Britain needed Arab help to defeat the Turks. In the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence, Britain declared that if the Arabs revolted in alliance with Britain against the central powers, Britain would in return recognise Arab independence.
The McMahon-Hussein Correspondence directly clashed with the Sykes Picot Agreement (1916) - a British / French agreement involving the partition of the Ottoman Empire. This agreement negated the promises made to the Arabs for an independent Arab homeland.
16 The Balfour Declaration (1917) complicated matters further, when Britain publicly supported a national Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was a significant event and directly contradicted the McMahon–Hussein agreement, causing the Arab world to resent the British for lying to them, along with the Jews
17 (consequently Israel).
Charles D. Smith explains that “Great Britain betrayed the Arabs after the war”.
18 Both peoples believed this land was their own and the Arabs did not want to see a Jewish homeland in their own land, especially as they had been promised this would be their own.
James Renton explains that the Balfour Declaration was the “beginning” of the problems in the Middle East today.
19 At the San Remo Conference held in 1920, Britain accepted the need to create a Jewish national home. Other superpowers supported an incorporation of the Balfour Declaration in the mandate. The Balfour Declaration led the League of Nations to entrust the United Kingdom with the Palestine Mandate in 1920.
Britain governed Palestine for the next 30 years. The British “immediately” encountered bitterness towards Zionism explains Charles D Smith.
20 The Palestinian Arabs thought they had exchanged Turkish rulers for British rulers. Frustrated that they had not gained independence and angered by the increasing Jewish immigration to ‘their’ country, they accused the British of being pro-Zionist, especially as the British High Commisioner to Palestine was Jewish. To the Arabs, the British seemed to favour the Jews, which increased their resentment. Ever since Jewish settlers had arrived in Palestine in 1882, there had been attacks on Jewish property and people.
21 Fighting in Jaffa and Tel Aviv in 1921 resulted in Jewish and Arab deaths. Britain responded harshly by stopping all Jewish immigration. The Arabs asked the British to make Palestine independent, hoping that the Arab majority would be able to dominate the Jewish minority; mounting pressure on the British to refute the Balfour Declaration and stop immigration. The British in Palestine seemed unable to satisfy either Jews or Arabs.
Jewish immigration continued to increase. By 1929 - 90,000 Jews had settled in Palestine, 22 which antagonised the Arabs. The removal of a screen at the Wailing Wall by the British on the grounds it impeded local Arab residents left Jews furious and resulted in the 1929 Jerusalem riots. Over four days, 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed mostly by British police. Mark Tessler explains how these events “intensified antagonism” between the two peoples. 23 Kristen Schulze supports Tessler, arguing, “the British attempt to calm the situation further exacerbated inter-communal tension”. 24
Palestine sprung into civil war (1936 Arab Revolt), lasting 3 years and costing hundreds of lives. The British responded harshly, hanging Arab leaders and destroying Arab houses. Arabs were held in administrative detention without trial and without proper sanitation, in overcrowded prison camps. The British forces were brutal – beating, torturing and killing Arabs. The Arabs resented the harsh British punishments and believed they favoured the Jews, especially as the British helped train the Haganah.
Ablert Houri explains how the British struggled to maintain a balance between the Israeli and Arab interests, ultimately leading to the 1936 revolt.
25 Israel joined forces with Britain and France in the 1956 Suez War. Israel felt obliged to help Britain, because of its role in supporting the establishment of Israel. It was also a chance for Israel to work closely with a major western power 26 as well as a good chance for Israel to secure its own military objectives. The Suez War made Israel even more disliked by the Arab world, having aided the despised Western world in an attempt to over-throw the strongest Arab nation.
27 The war made the Arab world even more anti-Western. Not only Britain and France had tried to overthrow the government of the leading Arab nation, but they had used Israel to do so.
28 Israel looked like an outpost of Western imperialism. T G Fraser argues that “with the active support of a major western power. It was also a clear conformation that the Arab-Israeli conflict had entered a more dangerous phase”.
29 Britain, wanting to be an important power in the Middle East; may have thought that helping build a Jewish homeland would strengthen their position. However, the British underestimated the Palestine problem, believing it would be easy to make the Arab majority accept some sort of Jewish state in Palestine. Kristen Schulze explains, “British policy was caught between conflicting promises” and that “a policy acceptable to both Arabs and Zionists was never achieved”.
30 Whereas, Norman Lowe argues that the creation of the state of Israel “outraged Arab opinion throughout the world. The Arabs especially Blamed Britain, who, they felt, had been more sympathetic to the Jews than to the Arabs”.
31 Ultimately, the conflict between Arab nationalism and the Zionist movement created a situation, which the British could not resolve or withdraw from.
Further causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict are un-peaceful actions and Arab nationalism which pre-date the state of Israel.
The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire led to a rise in Arab nationalism. Its ultimate aim was an independent Arab state. The Arab League was created in 1945 to foster stronger relationships between the different Arab nations. Following the emergence of Israel in 1948, Arabs were united in their hatred of the new Jewish state and resentment of Western powers (especially Britain and America for supporting the creation of Israel).
The Arab community has rejected many offers of an Arab homeland, before and after the UN approval of the creation of Israel in 1948. In 1947, a Jewish and Arab state was proposed, but rejected by Arab countries, leading to the first Arab-Israeli war.32 At the Khartoum Resolution (1967), the Arabs famously stated the “3 nos” - no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel. In 2000, American President Bill Clinton hosted peace negotiations agreed by Israel and rejected by Yasser Arafat, launching a new terror campaign against Israeli civilians. In 2008, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas rejected Israel’s proposal for a territory swap.
Arab nationalist leaders have continually rejected plans for a peaceful settlement, suggesting that peace with Israel is not on the agenda. This can be seen as a cause of conflict. In 1959, Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat was established. Five years later, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was set up, aiming to unite all Palestinians in the struggle to fight back for the land and eliminate Israel. Fatah carried out terrorist attacks on Israel, acting as another contributing factor to the 1967 Six Day war. Terrorist attacks included plane hijacking, kidnapping and suicide bombings; often resulting in harsh Israeli retaliation. Arguably the most notorious attack was the ‘Black September’ massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; stunning the whole world. In response, Israel assassinated the people behind the attack. Historians call this attack a “new terrorism” 33 and Eppie Briggs explains how this event showed the Arab-Israeli making it be=t infatada infact brought around benfits in the diplomacy of the Arab Israeli conflictconflict had gone “beyond state boundaries” in a “deliberate and frightening way”.
34 The first infatada was a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation (1987 – 1993). Israel retaliated harshly to Arab demonstrations and deaths resulted on both sides. T G Fraser 35 states this event changed “the nature” of the Arab-Israeli. However Michael Huds making it be=t infatada infact brought around benfits in the diplomacy of the Arab Israeli conflicton, argues the first infatada actually benefited the Arab-Israeli conflict, such as the PLO recognising Israel, denouncing terrorism. 36
making it be=t infatada infact brought around benfits in the diplomacy of the Arab Israeli conflictThe Second Infatada erupted in 2000, ending in 2005. The death toll was disastrously high. Although these events don’t lie at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they did mark a significant downfall in Arab-Israeli relations. Shlomo Ben Ami explains that the Second Infatada was a display of the “most abominable brand of mass terrorism”.
37 Bernard Wasserstein explains, “after more than three years of the second infatada, the slaughter of the innocents continues without surcease”, one both sides.
38 The controversial Israeli West Bank barrier is a further source of conflict. Israel argues that the barrier is necessary to protect Israeli civilians from Palestinian terrorism. Opponents of the barrier argue the route deviates from the Green Line into the occupied territories captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. Silvan Shalom explains that the fence is necessary, arguing, "We have the responsibility to protect our people."
39 David Makovsky argues that the fence is there “only the stop the attacks” and “if there was no terror, there would be no fence”.
40 However, Noam Chomsky, argues, “What this wall is really doing is taking Palestinian lands.”
41 Whatever ones view might be regarding the wall; the number of terrorist attacks on Israeli soil has been significantly reduced, saving many civilian Israeli lives.
The Second Infatada led to Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas took over (Islamic resistance movement - regarded by the west as a terrorist organization). A Hamas Covenant explained, “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam will obliterate it”.
42 By 2012, over 12,000 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel. There have been numerous Hamas terrorist attacks – provoking harsh Israeli response. Operation Cast Lead (the Gaza War) was a three week armed conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas in late December 2008 - each side declaring a unilateral ceasefire. The conflict resulted in 13 Israelis deaths and over 1000 Palestinian deaths. Daniel Byman wrote that “the 2008-09 war between Israel and Gaza was not just another round in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the violence was off the charts.”
43 The armed conflict resulted in an increased hatred of Israel by the Arab world, for using excessive force. Larry Derfner argued, “never has it launched such a ferocious reprisal”
44 regarding Israeli retaliation in Gaza. However, rocket attacks into Israel were significantly reduced.
The rise of Arab nationalism united Arabs in their hatred of Israel. Numerous terrorist attacks have been launched – always met with the inevitable and harsh retaliation. Whilst these events did not cause the conflict, they have deepened the crisis and ensure the conflict continues. They can certainly be seen as more of a short-term cause.
Fatah and Hamas are regarded by the west as terrorist organisations. America consistently reiterates Israel has a right to defend itself, by all means. However, it is argued that these groups fight for the same reasons - they believe they have been driven out of their own land and will continue to fight until they retrieve it.
45 Israel has been widely criticised for being too harsh, whereas many Israelis believe Israel should go further to stop the terrorism. Whatever one’s view, it is evident that Israel and the Arabs have both “commited acts of unpardonable violence” as argued by Shlomo Ben Ami.
46 It is obvious that the rise of Arab nationalism and unpeaceful actions have deeply worsened Arab-Israeli relations, causing the conflict to grow excessively more.
At first glance, it seems as the creation of Israel is the main cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Three major wars have been caused by its existence. Norman Lowe explains “the Arab desire to destroy Israel tended for much time to overshadow all other concerns”.
47 In 2006, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu famously stated, “the truth is that if Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war.”
48 However, on further inspection it seems the conflict originated before Israel existed, with the rise of Zionism and Jewish immigration to Palestine. Bernard Lewis argues “The Arab-Israeli wars had their origins in events long before the establishment of the state of Israel”.
49 The Arab-Israeli conflict has a root-cause in the fact that no one asked approximately 700,000 Arabs whether they accepted a Jewish national planted on their soil. The Zionist movement made the creation of Israel possible, so it can be argued that Zionism is a more significant cause of the conflict than the creation of the state of Israel. Thomas Friedman argues the conflict started with Jewish immigration to Palestine, “driven” by Zionism.
50 The resulting growth of Zionism and immigration, I believe are probably the original causes of the conflict as opposed to the creation of the state of Israel per se. It must be noted if the Arabs accepted the numerous peace talks, the Arab Israeli conflict as we know it today may be non-existent, as the potential for two different, states coexisting together was put on the table for a serious reality. However, a combination of Arab resentment, terrorism, and reluctance to recognise Israel; Israel’s retaliation (described by some as “terrorism”) and international interference, epically Britain’s involvement - continue to exacerbate and deepen the crisis. Peace is not inventible; The PLO recognised Israel's right to exist in 1993, and in response Israel officially recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Both Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel. Mitchell G. bard argues that the “decisions of Egypt and Jordan to sign peace treaties proved that conflict between Arabs and Israel is not inevitable”.
51 This can go against the fact that the creation of Israel was the main cause of the Arab Israeli conflict, as peace between two of Israel’s greatest enemies has been found. In my opinion, a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict will only be achieved through an end to the violence, when there is a Palestinian leadership in place who do not support terrorism and who will build a democracy; and when Israel is ready to assist in this process. When there here is clear, unambiguous acceptance by both sides of the goal of a negation settlement. Only then, we can hope for peace in the Middle East. “The case for peace is a hope for two homelands, side by side and prospering, with mutual respect for democratic governance and an enduring season of shalom and salaam”.