The recent conflict between Israel and Palestine is only the latest chapter in what is the world’s most notable ongoing military and political struggle. There is a wealth of history behind the story, which isn’t fully understood by many, and this article will try to condense the timeline of events into a manageable summary on page 1, and discuss current events in a historical context on page 2.
The Jewish community originated in the area around where modern-day Israel is. The stories of the Bible take place entirely in the western Mediterranean and as such it is considered the homeland of the Jews and of Christians, often termed the Land of Canaan, Eretz Yisrael (from which the name Israel comes) or simply the Promised Land. However, the same region is also where the events of the Quran take place, so Muslims also believe the area to be their homeland as it was promised to Ishmael, a prophet of Islam.
Although the Jewish population had scattered across Europe in the centuries afterwards, the beginnings of Jewish re-settlement in Palestine began as early as 1492 when Jews were expelled from Spain. These waves, known as Aliyahs, steadily increased and the largest was before World War I, as 40,000 Jews moved to Palestine in the Second Aliyah.
World War I saw the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, and its territory was handed out via the “mandate” system. Britain was given the mandate to govern Palestine, a large tract of land bordering the Western Mediterranean, and as early as 1917 had plans, under Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, to create a Jewish state – in what was called the Balfour Declaration.
This promise and the growing persecution of Jews in Europe, primarily by the growing Nazi party in Germany, meant that there were more aliyahs, reaching as many as 250,000 in the 1930s. Between 1922, when the British mandate of Palestine was finalised, and the end of World War II – the Jewish percentage of the Palestinian population rose from 11% to 33%.
After the terrible events of World War II, where Jews were by far the most persecuted race as part of the ethnic cleansing programme of the Nazis, the Allied powers and the newly created United Nations believed the only available solution to anti-Semitism in Europe was to create a Jewish state. In 1947 a plan was accepted to divide the area of Palestine into two separate entities, for Israel and Palestine. This sparked outrage amongst native Palestinians, and created the first civil war between the Jewish and Arab populations over who owns the territory.
The state of Israel was formally created on the 14th of May 1948, as Israel unilaterally declared its independence from British mandatory rule. Israel began to rule over the area provided to it by the UN and Palestine the same. This sparked the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, as neighbouring countries threatened to invade the former mandate of Palestine to restore Arab rule for Palestine. Stop-start fighting ended in 1949 with an armistice agreement, but Israel were the victors and increased the size of its territory by 50%. This sparked another Aliyah, as Jews moved to the newly secure homeland with almost 700,000 arriving in the first three years and a similar number arriving from Arab states that began to expel Jewish communities. Israel’s transition to statehood was complete on the 11th of May 1949, when it was admitted to the United Nations.
From then until now, Israel’s history has been marred with clashes with Palestinians and some more substantive wars with neighbouring states. As Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and subsequently the Indian Ocean, Israel joined an alliance with Britain and France to capture Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1956. The UN ordered the Israelis to return the land, but tensions still remained between Israel and Egypt.
Israel eventually recaptured the Sinai Peninsula during the Six Day War of 1967, after Egypt attempted to blockade Israel’s access to the Red Sea and other Arab nations threatened to support them. During this short war, Israel also recaptured the Golan Heights district from Syria and attacked Jordan and Iraq pre-emptively. A coalition of Egypt and Syria attempted to regain the territory they had lost, in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 but Israel repelled them successfully.
Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to destroy PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) camps within the country that were held responsible for attacks on Israeli civilians. Israel only withdrew their troops from the country in 1986 and maintained a buffer zone of military observation until 2000.
More recently, Israel went to war with Lebanon again in 2006 over the militant group Hezbollah’s shelling of Israeli targets.
All the while, Palestine has attempted to disrupt Israel and gain their own sovereignty. The PLO has persisted throughout the decades as the de facto regime of Palestine, and used both violent attacks and peaceful negotiation to further their cause. Little has come from either method, apart from a brief period in the late 90s and early 2000s where Israel gave the Palestine National Authority, largely influenced by the PLO, powers to govern Gaza and the West Bank. In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered PLO leader Yasser Arafat terms to establish a Palestinian state, but he refused.
The situation has deteriorated since those days, and sporadic skirmishes like the ones we have seen this year have been the norm.