The Verlängert Krieg Of a Century: Israeli-Palestinian Tussle
"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.
Many Israelis revere the sanctity of the place as the holiest site in Judaism. In 2005, the chief rabbinate of Israel said it is forbidden for Jews to walk on the site to avoid accidentally entering the Holy of Holies – the inner sanctum of the Temple- believed to be God’s dwelling place on earth. The area around the revered mosque is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and is considered the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. It has been a potential source of serious violence in the past, especially in 2017.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers earlier packed into the mosque on the final Friday of Ramadan, and many stayed on to protest in support of Palestinians.
Palestinians had clashed with Israeli police nightly since the start of the holy month of Ramadan. The tensions began when police placed barricades outside the Old
City’s Damascus Gate, where Muslims traditionally gather to enjoy the evening after the daytime fast.
The clashes intensified in the evening when hundreds of Palestinians hurled stones and bottles at policemen, who in turn fired a water cannon and stun grenades to disperse them. Dozens of Palestinians were wounded. In response to these events, hundreds of Jewish extremists marched through Jerusalem’s downtown, chanting “Death to Arabs.” Others randomly attacked Palestinian people across the city. This led to severe clashes between the police, the Jews, and the Arabs within the city premises.
On Saturday, Israeli police blocked several buses full of Palestinians headed to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan. Hundreds of Palestinians complied with the police orders and walked the rest of the way to Jerusalem, chanting down the highway: “In spirit, in blood, we will take back Al-Aqsa!”
The violence was beginning to spread. Late on Sunday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets toward Israel, setting off air raid sirens in the southern city of Ashkelon and nearby areas. One rocket was intercepted, while two others exploded inside Gaza. There were no reports of damage or injuries. Israel, in response to the four rockets launched by Palestine, carried out an airstrike on a Hamas post. Gazan protesters affiliated with Hamas militant group also launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel during the day, causing dozens of fires.
Hamas, the armed wing of the Palestinian resistance movement, had issued a warning to Israel over its atrocities against Palestinian residents in occupied East Jerusalem, saying Israel will have to pay a “heavy price” for its actions. Addressing a special Cabinet meeting ahead of Jerusalem Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel “will not allow any extremists to destabilize the calm in Jerusalem... will enforce law and order decisively and responsibly.... will continue to maintain freedom of worship for all faiths, but will not allow violent disturbances... will emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said “the settler terrorism will only make us more committed to upholding our legitimate rights to end the occupation, gain freedom and independence, and establish an independent and fully sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its eternal capital.” He held the Israeli government responsible for the current escalation in Jerusalem and the “dangerous developments and sinful attacks that are taking place in the Holy City”.
This act is an example of ethnic cleansing, which is nothing but a reflection of the racist policies that Israel is following and that is consolidated not only in Jerusalem, but in the occupied Palestinian territories in general. Israel’s “provocative steps” in occupied Jerusalem and violation of Palestinian rights, including the rights of the people of Sheikh Jarrah in their homes, is playing with fire.
On the other hand, Israel’s foreign ministry said on Friday that Palestinians were “presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalist cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem.” Palestinians rejected the allegation. Thus, this blame game between both the parties has created a stalemate situation with no concrete solutions. The fight went on for almost 11 days, causing heavy casualties on the Palestinian side. But Israel suffered less because of its advanced military system. On 21st May, finally, the confrontation ended and the ceasefire was brokered by Egypt who was acting as a mediator.
India's Growing Relationship with Israel
In 1948, India was the only non-Arab state among 13 countries that voted against the UN partition of Palestine in the general assembly that led to the creation of Israel.
But the balancing act began only two and a half decades ago in 1992. The India-Israel relationship continues to grow, mostly through defense deals and in sectors such as science and technology and agriculture. But India has as yet never acknowledged the alliance fully. There were few high-profile visits, and they all took place when the BJP led NDA-1 was in power, under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Israel is the “Hindutva ideal” of a ‘strong state that deals firmly with terrorists’. Even back in the 1970's, the BJP 's forerunner Jan Sangh had made the case for ties with Israel. In 2000, L .K Advani became the first minister to visit Israel and Jaswant Singh visited as Foreign Minister. That year, both countries set up a joint anti-terror commission. In 2003, Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India. During the 10 years of the UPA alliance, the balancing act intensified and Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority that administers the West Bank, visited in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2012. The relationship between India and Israel strengthened under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who decided to take full ownership of the relationship.The first indication of the new phase came with an abstention by India at the United Human Rights Council on a resolution welcoming a report on Palestine by the HRC High Commissioner.
India and PLO
The relationship with Palestine was almost an article of faith in Indian Foreign policy for over four decades. At the 53rd UN session, India co-sponsored the draft resolution on the right of Palestinian self-determination. In the 1967 and 1973 wars, India lashed out at Israel as the aggressor. In the 1970 's, India rallied behind the PLO and its leader Yasser Arafat as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In 1975, India became the first non-Arab country to recognize the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people and invited it to open an office in Delhi, which was accorded diplomatic status five years later. In 1988 when the PLO declared an independent state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, India granted recognition immediately. Four years after the Narasimha Rao government established a diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv, India opened a Representative office in Gaza which later shifted to Ramallah, as the Palestinian government split between the Hamas and the PLO. New Delhi remained firmly on the side of the PLO which was seen as ready for a political solution and had accepted the two-state solution. India voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution in October 2003 against Israel's construction of a separation wall. It voted for Palestine to become a full member of UNESCO in 2011 and, a year later, co-sponsored the UN General Assembly Resolution that enabled Palestine to become an observer state at the UN, without voting rights. India also supported the installation of the Palestinian flag on the UN premises in September 2015.
Balancing Act: India’s Stance on the Issue
Contemporary India’s view of the Israeli–Palestinian question has roots,stretching back to 1936 when India observed Palestine Day on 27th September of that year. The year 2018 saw commencement of high-level diplomatic visits by India to the Middle East and to Israel, and New Delhi raising the prospect of solving the region’s oldest conflict. The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Palestine just a few weeks after his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu toured India, demonstrates why rising powers like New Delhi can play a major role in building peace between the two conflicting parties. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Palestine in February of 2018 was termed “historic” and touted to be an important factor in the West Asian peace process, indicating that India has a great role to play in the regional geopolitics.
Due to India’s support of a united, independent, viable, sovereign state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within recognized and secure borders side by side and at peace with Israel, it is understandable why various regional players and the UN is looking towards India as one of the countries that can mediate the two conflicting parties and change the political climate that has not truly witnessed peace since the late 1940s.
India has definitely increased its security ties with Tel Aviv, but it has also simultaneously strengthened ties with the Palestinian Authority. Its friendly image enabled India to garner an invitation from Palestinian National Authority (PNA) leader Mahmoud Abbas to sit on a proposed multilateral forum for negotiations on a peace deal between Palestine and Israel, a role that India can take up. On 17th May, India's permanent representative to the United Nations, TS Tirumurti, made a carefully crafted statement at the UN Security Council ''open debate” on the escalating Israel-Palestine violence, striving to balance India's historic ties with Palestine and its growing relations with Israel. India, a non-permanent member, attempted a delicate balancing act by reforming its traditional support for the Palestinian cause without abandoning its new friend Israel. T.S.Tirumurthy expressed concern over the violence in Jerusalem and the possible eviction process of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and warned against "attempts to unilaterally change the status quo" in Jerusalem. He also reiterated India's strong support for the Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to the two-state solution. But India was careful not to upset Israeli sensitivities. It directly condemned the rocket attacks from the Gaza area, but did not directly refer to the disproportionate bombing Israel has been carrying out on the impoverished Gaza strip since May 10. India also did not refer to the status of Jerusalem or the future borders of the two states, in line with a recent change in its policy. Until 2017, the Indian position was that it supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital that co-exists alongside Israel. The balancing was not well-received with the Israeli side when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a good rapport with Narendra Modi, thanked 25 countries who he said stood with Israel; but he did not thank India.
The world at large needs to come together for a peaceful solution but the reluctance of the Israeli government and other involved parties has aggravated the issue more. A balanced approach on India’s part towards the Israel-Palestine issue would help to maintain favourable relations with both the Arab countries as well as Israel.
Finally, a resolution seems possible to the protracted political chaos in Israel, where repeated elections have failed to bring a stable government. India supports the Palestinian government on the issue, but many in India support Israel vis-a-vis back-channel diplomacy—as the Israeli alliance is an asset to India with its advanced military system.
By Ruchi Shah and Souvik Biswas (Guest Writers)
Ruchi Shah is a first year student of Hindu College pursuing History Honours. She is a simple girl who thinks beyond. She has a lucid type of writing and analyses everything in detail. Writing fascinates her. Socio-economic issues interest her a lot.
Souvik Biswas is a first-year student from Hindu College, pursuing History Hons. He is also a writer and a coordinator of The Statesman Paper, Kolkata edition from the year 2016 to the present day. He currently writes articles for The Kootneeti. Being marked as a bibliophile and cinephile, Souvik states that he hates billionaires and dreams of a casteless and classless society.