The conflict in Israel/Palestine is never far from the headlines. Periods of relative and fragile peace can be ended all too easily with violence and antagonism from either side. Many of us have probably become so accustomed to the fighting that we rarely stop to think about the reasons for it. It is blamed for the seemingly endless unrest in the broader Middle East and gives ammunition to more radical elements of both sides.
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On one side you have the Jewish state of Israel and on the other, the semiautonomous, but occupied Arab Muslim territories of Gaza and the West Bank. However, like most conflicts supposedly religious in nature, the fighting is really about land, although that land holds key religious sites for both sides. Religion could be referred to as the “colour” of the conflict, while territory is the “essence” of it. The Palestinians want their own state, but the Israelis say they must be assured of their own security first.
Shades of grey
There is a range of opinion on both sides as to how much land either side deserves – some ultra orthodox Israelis want the entire area of the biblical land of Israel, and others simply want enough land for their people to live in peace and security with their neighbours. On the Palestinian side, there are those who want to destroy the state of Israel and simply have Palestine where it existed prior to 1948, and those who will gladly recognise Israel and just want a state of their own.
Many people have fought over the Holy Land since biblical times, but for the Jews – who are known as the “children of Israel” it is particularly seen as their ancestral home. The territory changed from Ottoman hands to British after World War 1 when it was simply Palestine. During and after World War 2 Jews who fled Europe because of the horrors of the holocaust went to their ancestral home. They joined the native Palestinians who were a mix of Christians, Jews and Arab Muslims. In 1948 the United Nations separated Palestine into Israel, Palestine and the city of Jerusalem. There followed the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, during which Israel took large swathes of the land designated as Palestinian. The Palestinian areas that remained in Arab hands – the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Gaza – fell under the administration of the neighbouring Arab countries Jordan, Syria and Egypt respectively. Hundreds of thousands of people – mainly Palestinians – were displaced as a result. Many were forced to leave property and land that they have yet to return to and tere are still Palestinian refugees in many surrounding Arab countries.
Six Day War
In 1967 Israel went to war with neighbours Syria, Egypt and Jordan. In the six days of fighting that ensued, Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. Israel’s occupation of all but the latter exists to this day. Since then, there have been periods of intense conflict between the Israeli state and Palestinian militant groups.
Most Palestinians would settle for a Palestinian state based on the borders prior to the Six Day War. However, Israel is unlikely to agree to this. Although it is against international law to build on occupied territory, Israeli settlements in the West Bank continue to be built, and a tall wall well within occupied land is nearly complete. Armed Palestinian militant groups - particularly Hamas in Gaza - continue to fire rockets into Israel which prompts heavy responses from Israel.