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The Verlängert Krieg Of a Century: Israeli-Palestinian Tussle

Guest Opinion

"War is when the young and stupid are tricked by the old and bitter into killing each other"

- Niko Bellic


The ongoing tussle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is driven by several factors—ethnic, national, historical, and religious. After more than 50 years of war, terrorism, human suffering, negotiation, and then reversion to square one, Israel and Palestine continue to remain as far from a peaceful settlement as ever. The entire Middle Eastern region brews akin to a cauldron awaiting its boiling point—a volatile mixture of religious extremism mixed with politics.

The conflict is wide-ranging and long-lasting, with its earlier phases characterized as a tussle between the Zionist Yishuvs and the Arab population living in Palestine under the Ottoman and then the British rule. These earlier phases form a part of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. The key issues here are the absence of mutual recognition, border insecurities, water rights, a fight over the control of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, the Palestinian freedom of movement, and the want for a resolution to the refugee question. The violence resulting from the conflict has prompted international efforts as well as other security and human rights concerns, within and between the two sides, and internationally as well.

Roots of the Long-Drawn Tussle

The Israel-Palestine conflict has its roots in the late 19th century. With the emergence of major nationalist movements amongst the Jews and the Arabs, both geared towards attaining sovereignty for their people in the Middle East. The Balfour Declaration sparked off early tensions in the middle eastern geo-political arena. At that time, the region had a small minority Jewish population, although it was growing via significant Jewish immigration. Following the Mandate for Palestine, which included a binding obligation on the British government for the ‘establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’, tensions escalated into a sectarian conflict between the Jews and the Arabs.

Attempts to resolve the nascent conflict culminated in the ‘United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine’ of 1947 and, consequently, the 1947-1949 Palestine war, marking the broad contours of the modern history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In 1956, tensions mounted again with the ascent to power of the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, a staunch, Pan-Arab nationalist. Unsurprisingly, Nasser took a hostile stance towards Israel. The Six Day War of 1967 saw the Arab-Israeli forces clash for the third time. This war exerted a significant effect upon Palestinian nationalism, as Israel gained military control of the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza strip from Egypt. A 15-year long military occupation of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt followed, ending only in 1982 after the implementation of the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty.

The sporadic fighting that followed the Six Day War was christened the ‘Yom Kippur War of 1973.’ In this War, Israel was caught off-guard by Egyptian forces and the Israeli forces faced heavy casualties.

On June 5, 1982, less than six weeks after Israel's aforementioned withdrawal from the Sinai, increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians resulted in the Israeli bombing of Beirut and Southern Lebanon—and the Lebanon War of 1982. The First Lebanon War was followed by the Second Lebanon War in 2006, also known as the Israel-Hezbollah War. Hezabollah is a Shia Islamist political party and militant group, termed a terrorist outfit by European Union. With a parliamentary wing that is more powerful than the Lebanese army itself, it was founded in 1985 with the objective of expulsion of American and French forces from Lebanon. Hezbollah launched an operation against Israel to try to pressure the country into releasing Lebanese prisoners, killing several Israeli soldiers in the process.

Despite the ensuing peace processes, Israelis and Palestinians have failed to reach any final agreement. Progress was made towards a two-state solution, that envisioned the State of Palestine and the State of Israel to the West of the Jordan river with the 1993 ‘Oslo Accords’. Palestine wanted the 1967 borders, but unfortunately Israel did not accept that. Today, the Palestinians remain subject to Israeli military occupation in the Gaza Strip and 165 islands across the West Bank. Further attempts to broker a two-state deal sought to create an independent Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel. In 2007, the majority of both Israel and Palestinians, according to many polls, preferred the two-state solution to resolve the conflict.

Then, in May 2021 the 2021 Israeli-Palestine crisis again began with a peaceful protest that escalated into rocket attacks from Gaza and airstrikes by Israel.

Is Religion a Major Player in this Conflict?

Several factors pertinent to Islam and Judaism dictate the role of religion as the main catalyst, most notably the sanctity of holy sites. Zionists in Israel increasingly see themselves as guardians and definers of what the Jewish state should be and are uncompromising when it comes to making concessions with the Arabs. But Islamist groups in Palestine and elsewhere in the Islamic world have advocated for the necessity of liberating the holy territories and violence and hatred against Israel and the Jewish people. Rumors about the hidden religious agendas of the other side, propagated by extremists in the media, have exacerbated these tensions.

The clash at the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem has, again, brought to the forefront the contentious Israeli and Palestinian confrontations.

Background of this Squabble

Tensions in Jerusalem have soared in recent days, after an Israeli court ruled on 10th May that Israeli authorities can evict dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood (East Jerusalem), forcing them to give up their homes to Jewish settlers. Inflaming this situation, Israelis marked the verdict by celebrating Jerusalem Day, and the anniversary of when troops captured the town in 1967 including its majority-Arab neighbourhoods.

The Sheikh Jarrah property dispute is a long-running legal and political dispute between Palestinian refugees and Israeli Jews over the ownership of certain properties and housing units in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem that has been called a microcosm of the Israeli–Palestinian disputes over land since 1948. After East Jerusalem and the West Bank were captured and occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, the status of properties in East Jerusalem that had previously been owned by Jews, like in Sheikh Jarrah, have been in dispute.At the centre of the dispute is whether or not the Palestinian families legally owned the homes before 1967, when the neighbourhood was controlled by Jordan, or whether the land belonged to a Jewish trust which legally purchased it from Arab families in 1876 during the Ottoman era. While under the control of Jordan between 1948 and 1967, large parts of the neighbourhood had been razed, the trust eventually sold its ownership to Jewish settlers, and the Arab families remained in their homes and submitted documents to the courts challenging the trust’s purchase. An Israeli court had ordered the families to leave, as the property was owned by a Jewish religious association before 1948. A 1970 Israeli law allowed Jews to reclaim property in East Jerusalem from before it fell into Jordanian hands; no similar law exists for Palestinians. In subsequent days, clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police occurred over the anticipated evictions, as well as other issues.

The Al-Aqsa mosque, a point of recent contention, was first built in 637 AD, just five years after the prophet’s death. It has been destroyed, rebuilt and renovated multiple times. The Masjid al-Aqsa, or simply Al-Aqsa (“the farthest mosque” or “the farthest sanctuary”), is a lead-domed structure within the sacred precinct of Haram al-Sharif – “the Noble Enclosure”. The precinct includes the Dome of the Rock, the four minarets, the compound’s historic gates, and the mosque itself. Given its sacred significance, there was great concern about the precinct’s fate after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and its subsequent annexation of East Jerusalem. Although Israel granted jurisdiction of the mosque and complex to an Islamic waqf – “endowment” – Israel still commands access to the grounds and security forces regularly perform patrols and conduct searches within the precinct.