For all of the coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it’s come to my attention that very few people actually understand what’s going on there.
This is by no means a complete history- it’s “the quickest possible explanation”. So if you think I’m missing an important piece of information, please don’t attack me, just add it to the comments section at the bottom!
It all started after World War II.
With millions of Jews being displaced during the Holocaust, the United Nations was looking for a good place to establish a Jewish state.
At the time, Palestine was actually a British colony, and the UN figured that Palestine (which included Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith) was the best place to establish the new Jewish state of Israel.
So, in late November, 1947, the UN passed Resolution 181, which divided the Palestinian territory into Jewish and Arab states.
The Palestinian Arabs who were living there at the time refused to recognize the agreement. They had been told (by the United States) that no decisions would be made without consulting them. They also felt that the agreement was too favorable to the Jews, at the expense of the local Palestinians.
So, as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.
The fighting intensified when Israel declared independence a year later. The Arab-Israeli of 1948 ultimately displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs.
The fighting has pretty much been on and off since then. Israel, better funded and better equipped, has slowly been shrinking the Palestinian territory through settlement programs, which urge Israeli citizens to go settle in Palestinian territory, making it harder for Palestine to legitimize a claim on those areas.
In John Kerry’s first year as Secretary of State, he took a total of 14 trips to the region in an effort to broker a peace settlement. While he was unable to broker a deal, the talks did succeed in stopping the violence for a while.
But recently it started back up, as tensions over three Israeli teens kidnapped and murdered in Gaza sparked a heavy-handed response from Israel, who sent in military troops to scour Gaza for the perpetrators (killing five Palestinians in the process).
It’s important at this point to understand the Palestinian political scene.
The remaining Palestinian territory is made up of the West Bank and the Gaza strip.
The Palestinians in the West Bank (which make up the bulk of the Palestinian population) are led by Mahmoud Abbas, who is actually quite moderate and has been very much in favor of trying to broker peace deals with Israel in recent times. Just this past Monday he wrote this op-ed piece explaining his vision of a peaceful relationship between Palestine and Israel.
The problem is Hamas, a militant Islamist group founded in 1988 with the sole purpose of destroying Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian state.
Militant groups like Hamas know that their power is rooted in the fear and anger of the people, so they do everything they can to keep Palestinians scared and mad. How? Launch a few missiles at Israel to provoke a response.
Hamas doesn’t want a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine because it will mean the loss of most (if not all) of Hamas’s power.
Hamas needs people to hate Israel, so they launch just enough rockets to get Israel to start air-raids which are disproportionately more deadly than the rockets fired from Gaza. There are even reports of Hamas encouraging people to go out onto their rooftops during Israeli strikes so as to increase the civilian death toll.
However, many media outlets are misrepresenting the conflict, making it seem like Palestine is raining down rockets on Israeli civilians while Israel is responding by carrying out precise and strategic targeted air raids.
Israel has an extremely advanced missile dome system to shoot down rockets, and almost all of the buildings there were built to withstand these kinds of attacks. Since the conflict ramped back up, there hasn’t been a single casualty on the Israeli side.
Palestine, on the other hand, is ill-equipped to do anything about Israeli air-raids. To make matters worse, Palestinian territories are extremely densely populated, meaning lots of collateral damage when Israel bombs a target. Air raids have killed 89 Palestinians and injured another 600+ so far since the fighting resumed.
Let’s be real here: both Israel and Hamas want conflict. For Israel, the ultimate goal is to eventually take over all of the remaining Palestinian territory and make it part of Israel.
Hamas rockets allow Israel to justify air strikes which inflict serious damage to the remaining Palestinian territories. They also allow Israel to justify their refusal to stop creating new settlements in Palestine.
On the other hand, Hamas would cease to be relevant if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ended, so they do everything they can to provoke harsh military responses from Israel. The more innocent Palestinians get killed during Israel’s air strikes, the easier it is for Hamas to recruit angry young men to their cause and garner support from Arabs in the region.
The only people really losing are the average, moderate Palestinians who are simply trying to make it in one of the world’s poorest and most violent regions.
History courtesy of the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian.
Most other un-cited information came from interviews from a recent episode of NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook about the resurgence in the conflict. You can listen to that interview in its entirety here.
EDIT: Many people have rightfully noted in the comments that this piece does a poor job of explaining the origins of Hamas. I attempt to tell this history more fully in a later article, entitled, “Liberators or Terrorists? The Origins and History of Israel and Hamas”.