The Arab-Israeli conflict came about from the notion of Political Zionism. Zionism is the belief
that Jews constitute a nation (or a people) and that they deserve the right to return to what they consider to
be their ancestral home, land of Israel (or Palestine). Political Zionism, the belief that Jews should
establish a state for themselves in Palestine, was a revolutionary idea for the 19th Century.
During World War I, Jews supported countries that constituted the Central Powers because they
detested the tyranny of czarist Russia. Both the Allies and Central Powers needed Jewish support, but
Germany could not espouse Zionism due to its ties with the Ottoman Empire, which still controlled
Palestine. British Prime Minister Lloyd George & Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour, favored Zionism and
supported their cause in a letter that became known as the Balfour Declaration, ensuring that the British
government would control Palestine after the war with a commitment to build the Jewish national home
there, promising only to work for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine and not harm the civil and
religious rights of Palestine’s “existing non-Jewish communities”.
After the Great War, Britain’s Forces jointly occupied the area known as Palestine with Faysal’s
(Iraq) Arab army. The British set up a provisional military government in Jerusalem that soon became a
struggle between Jewish settlers and the Arab inhabitants. In April 1920, the Palestinian Arabs revolted,
killing Jews and damaging property, opening the Arab nationalist revolution in Palestine.
The League of Nations awarded the Palestine mandate in 1922, charging Britain with carrying out the
Balfour Declaration, encouraging Jewish migration to Palestine and help create the Jewish “national home”.
But the Arabs suspected the British mandate would hold them in colonial bondage until the Jews achieved a
majority in Palestine.
Winston Churchill issued a white paper denying that the British government meant to give
preferential treatment to Jews with a proviso for restricting Jewish immigration to conform with Palestine’s
“absorptive capacity”. Another action that seemed to violate the mandate was the creation of the Emirate of
Transjordan, removing two-thirds of Palestine that lay east of the Jordan River from the area in which Jews
could develop their national home, claiming the partition was only temporary.
During the first civilian governor of Palestine, it looked as if Jewish-Arab differences would be
resolved when more Jews emigrated out of Palestine than immigrated and with the presence of a
complementary relationship among the two peoples, but the hopes dissipated during the 1929 “Wailing
Wall Incident”. The Wailing Wall (a.k.a. the Western Wall) is a remnant of the second Jewish Temple,
symbolizing the hope that one day the Temple will be rebuilt and the ancient Jewish rituals revived; but the
Wall also forms a part of the enclosure surrounding the Temple Mount, which the Dome of the Rock and
al-Aqsa mosque stand atop; Muslims feared that Jewish actions before the Western Wall could lead to their
pressing a claim to the historic site.
In 1928, Jewish worshipers brought some benches to sit on. The police took them away several
times, but the Jews kept putting them back. To Muslims, this activity was an attempt by the Jews to
strengthen their claims to the Wall and retaliated by running a highway past it to distract the worshipers.
Several fights broke out that escalated into a small civil war. Arabs perpetrated massacres in other places
in Palestine. The British constabulary was inadequate and Britain sent a commission of inquiry; later
issuing a report that justified the Arab position. The colonial secretary, Lord Passfield, placed blame on the
Jewish Agency and the Zionists, and Britain tightened restrictions on Jewish immigration. Due to domestic
embarrassment, the British government issued a letter explaining away the Passfield condemnation, hardly
appeasing the Zionists, but angering the Arabs.
As Arab animosity increased, the Arab Higher Committee in Palestine called for a general strike,
paralyzing the country for several months. The British sent another commission of inquiry, headed by Lord
Peel, which recommended partition, giving a small area of northern and central Palestine to the Jews, while
leaving the most to Arabs. But the Palestine Arabs opposed the partition, fearing its’ acceptance would be
a step toward their loss of Palestine. Britain scaled down the offer and eventually retracted it.
Seeking a peace plan that would satisfy all parties, Britain called a conference of Jewish and Arab leaders
in 1939; but no agreement was reached. Then, Britain issued the White Paper, announcing that the
mandate would end in ten years, providing Palestine with full independence. Jewish immigration would be
limited until 1944, after which it could continue only with Arab consent. The White Paper seemed to sell
out Britain’s commitment to help build the Jewish national home. The Arabs also rejected the White Paper,
stating it postponed their independence and did not stop Jewish immigration.
As World War II came to a close, Zionist terrorist groups, such as the Irgun Tzvei Le’umi and the Stern
Gang, blew up buildings and British installations in Palestine. The British went before the UN General
Assembly in 1947, admitting that it could no longer maintain the mandate. The UN created the Special
Committee on Palestine, who recommended partitioning Palestine [again!] into seven sections: three for
Arabs, three for Jews and one for both. Neither the Palestinians nor the Arab countries welcomed the plan.
The Zionists did not like the plan completely, but accepted it as a step toward forming the Jewish state. But
Jewish paramilitary groups soon seized lands not allotted to them, while Arab commandos retaliated
against Jewish targets.
Both sides committed acts of terrorism against civilians. Large numbers of Palestinians panicked and fled
to nearby countries. In May 1948, the Jewish Agency Executive Committee declared those parts of
Palestine under Jewish control were now part of the State of Israel and that the provisions of the White
Paper limiting Jewish immigration were null and void. Zionists urged the Arab inhabitants of Israel to
“play their part in the development of the state, on the basis of full and equal citizenship”. But many
Palestinians distrusted the Zionists and looked to their Arab neighbors for help.
In 1947-48, a war ensued between the Israel and the Arab nations. The Arab armies, underestimating the
Israeli forces and determination, were defeated. From the Arabs’ perspective, their defeat in Palestine
humiliated their armies and discredited their regimes. The UN secured several cease-fires, each time
fighting resumed; finally an armistice between each Arab country and Israel was agreed upon separately,
after Israel had pushed Arab forces out of the Gaza area. The UN Conciliation Commission had assembled
a conference for both sides to settle their outstanding differences, but negotiations broke down before they
could even meet. Israel wanted a comprehensive settlement, while the Arabs demanded Israel to withdraw
from the lands not allotted to the Jewish state in the 1947 Partition Plan and no talks could take place until
the Palestinian refugees returned to their homes.
The refugees suffered the most. Some voluntarily left their homes before the conflict started, while others
had fled during the fighting. Israel claims that Arabs had broadcast orders to Palestinians to leave in order
for their armies could easier move against Israelis, but no evidence has been found to prove Israel’s
allegations; Arabs claim Jewish extremists terrorized Palestinians until May 1948 and the Israel Defense
Force drove out other Arabs during the later phases of the war. The Palestinians ended up in camps near
Israel’s borders with no state of their own. Arab countries could not absorb them; those who did, found it
economically difficult. Palestinians rejected assimilation [“resistance is futile”] because they wanted to
return home and Israel refused to re-admit all the refugees. The Palestine disaster uprooted more than half a
million Arabs and they would support any leader who returned their homes and dignity, particularly the
Ba’th party, which called for!
militant resistance against Israel.
The growing frequency of Arab fidaiyin (commando) raids caused Israel to take stronger military
measures. When Britain and France prepared to attack Egypt for nationalizing the Suez Canal, Israel
wanted to take an active role in the offensive, hoping to teach the Arabs a lesson. Israel wiped out the
fidaiyin bases in Gaza and broke Egypt’s blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba; but due to US pressure, Israel
withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip.
In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed, with the objective of regaining
the Palestinian homeland and the destruction of Israel. The PLO sabotaged part of Israel’s national water-
carrier system and engaged in guerrilla campaigns against Israel, causing serious casualties and property
damage. Israel retaliated by striking commando bases within the Jordanian West Bank.
Then in June 1967, Israel had a preemptive strike on the airfields of surrounding Arab nations,
causing the Six-Day War, breaking the blockade at the Gulf of Aqaba (Egypt), captured the West Bank and
the Old City (Jordan), and took the Golan Heights (Syria). The strike was initially for defensive purposes,
but Israel decided to keep the spoils of war as bargaining chips, fueling Arab fears of Israeli expansion.
The UN Security Council devised a plan – Resolution 242 – for all members to accept. The resolution
called for the withdraw of Israeli forces from territories recently occupied, in return for the recognition of
Israel’s right to exist, ignoring the rights and interests of the Palestinians. With the resolution so
ambiguous, the parties read into the resolution, seeing different viewpoints, it is amazing that they agreed to
abide to the resolution. But international rivalry continued as the US and the USSR secretly supplied arms
into the region.
In 1973, Egypt and Syria planned a surprise attack on Israel, known as the Yom Kippur War.
Egypt went into the Sinai and Syrians went down the Golan Heights. The first week of fighting, Israel
concentrated on the north, leaving Egypt to successfully take back parts of Sinai. Israeli forces eventually
drove out most of the Egyptian forces with the exception of the Third Army, which was still trapped in the
peninsula and could have been crushed. But the diplomatic virtuoso of Kissinger reasoned that the
Egyptians were more willing to talk peace if Egypt could keep some of its initial gains and peace talks
ensued between the two nation.
And without Egypt’s anti-Jew activities, many of the other Arab nations followed.
However, the debate over where the Palestinians should reside is still an important issue
concerning peace in the Middle East. Does Israel want to give up their claims to Jerusalem and will they
have security should they decide to share the historic city? It seems that distrust and suspicion are very
much alive in the world, particularly in the region. I am not an expert in such a delicate diplomatic
situation, but not even a expert could say what the formula for peace is when both sides are not willing to
trust one another. But I think the ingredient for peace requires some economic diplomacy?..well, a lot of
The Israeli government seems to be taking the hard-line stance in dealing with Palestinian demands of a
common capital city. And negotiations between the US and Israel does not seem to be anymore productive.
The US has to do a little economic arm-twisting, such as withholding foreign aid, to persuade Israel to
cease erecting housing projects in disputed areas. But how politically viable is withholding foreign aid
from Israel when there is a strong Jewish lobby in DC? Don’t think good ol’ Bubba will want to risk losing
anymore political support.
The most feasible plan for peace and stability in the Israeli-West Bank area is to give as much foreign aid
to the Palestinians as is given to the Israelis, so that Palestinians can build the economy in the West Bank,
giving them a future to look forward to, while waiting for a peace plan to be ironed out. Third party
military presence on the border area of the West Bank and Israel seems acceptable, too.