Sunday, October 7

How did the current situation in Israel/Palestine come to be?

This is intended to be an objective introduction, which is an extremely difficult thing to do. At the outset I would like to acknowledge that both sides have suffered much, both sides have done things that are wrong, and I believe it is in the best interest of both sides to peacefully resolve the current conflict.

In the 1880s Zionism began to become a significant political movement. Jews from different parts of the world began to immigrate to what was then referred to as Palestine. The Ottoman Empire, which was based in present-day Turkey, controlled Palestine at this time. As more Jews moved to Palestine, they began to legally purchase land.

During World War I, France and Britain were two of the countries involved in trying to prevent the spread of the Ottoman Empire. In 1918, when the war ended, Britain took control of Palestine (at that time still its name). During this time, Jews were continuing to move to Palestine and purchase land. Additionally, Zionist political activists were working to secure pledges from different countries committing assistance to the establishment of a Jewish state in historical Palestine. The Balfour Declaration, signed in 1917, was a commitment from the British government to work toward such a state. Tensions between the Jews and Palestinians continued to rise from 1918 (when the British took control of the area) until 1947 (when the UN issued a resolution intending to establish a Jewish state). There were various periods of intense violence, with both sides suffering injustices. The Jews felt that their physical safety was being threatened (and indeed it often was), and the Palestinians felt that their legitimate concerns about a future Jewish state on their land were being ignored (at the time of the UN declaration Jews owned only about 6% of historical Palestine); they wished to have a say in controlling the territory they lived on.

In 1947, with the UN declaring a Jewish homeland on about 55% of what was historical Palestine, the British Mandate (meaning British rule over that part of the world) came to an end. The British decided they were going to withdraw from the area and cease being the ruling power there. They withdrew on May 13, 1948. On May 14, Israel declared itself a state. The Palestinians and Arabs living there were aware that this was going to happen and decided to attack the state of Israel when it was declared. They lost that war, and at the end of it Israel controlled more territory than the UN had mandated. During the war Israel had gone through and told people (Palestinians and Jews) to leave their towns because war was approaching. Generally the people were told they would be able to return soon; unfortunately, in the territory that Israel now controlled, non-Jews were not allowed to come back to what had previously been their homes.

In June 1967, conflict again engulfed the region. In this war, Israel took the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Similarly to 1948, people were told they needed to leave the region because war was approaching. Prior to 1967, the West Bank was part of the country of Jordan. When Israel took control of this region, they again refused to allow many non-Jews to come back to villages they had left. Neighboring countries took in some of the refugees, but not all. Many were farmers and lacked professional or technical skills that would have made the prospect of providing citizenship to them attractive to neighboring countries; skilled workers were able to emigrate, unskilled workers were not.

Currently, Israel is largely in control of the West Bank. They have almost complete military control over the entire area. They administer much of the municipal control as well (water, electricity, etc.). The problem is that Palestinians are literally citizens of no country. Israel has not annexed the West Bank, meaning they have not declared it Israeli territory and made everyone living in it citizens. Nor have they decided to return the West Bank to Jordan; Palestinians aren’t Israeli citizens, and they aren’t Jordanian citizens. They aren’t allowed freedom of movement from one town to another depending on which side of the separation barrier they are on. Now, if every Palestinian were a terrorist, this would be understandable. But, clearly, not every person I walk past every day is a terrorist. So, what are they to do? If you were told that you couldn’t drive to the next town 20 minutes away because you didn’t have the right permit, how would you feel? Adding to the difficulty of the situation, there are Palestinians that are willing to leave the West Bank and go to another country. However, there are not many governments, understandably, that are willing to take in unskilled workers as refugees and assist them in starting new lives in other countries.

Regardless of how one feels about the Jewish right to the land and God’s promises, one must deal with the reality that there are plenty of innocent Palestinians that are not being treated fairly and not being respected as people. What Israel is currently doing is not ok, and there needs to be a change of policy from the Israeli government. Either give Palestinians Israeli citizenship (which Israel won’t do because it would mean a Palestinian majority in Israel) and treat them like the Jews who literally live next door, or allow the Palestinians to form their own state. It is not right to treat people who are Palestinian completely differently than others who live in the same area. Yes, Israel has legitimate security concerns, but discriminating against ordinary people who want their children to do well in school and have happy lives is an unacceptable way of handling those concerns. Citizenship or a state need to be the answers, not walls and guns.


Tom said...

There needs to be more voices of reason like yours.

Anthony said...

What a lovely lot of touchy feely hogwash. Isreal has no way of knowing which Palestinians are terrorists and which aren't, do they? Therefore it is understandable if they decide not to gamble with the lives of their citizens by allowing palestinians the same rights as jews.