Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Broken Promise Land: A Glance at the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

The Old City. Photo by Andreas Duus Pape, used with permission Posted by Picasa

In 1967, Israel captured and occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights in the Six Days War. Before that time, the area was controlled by Jordan ever since 1948, when Israel had its War of Independence.

There were a group of Jewish villages known as Gush Etzion, which the Arabs had invaded and supposedly destroyed.[1] However, on June 13, 1967 a small group of Israelis who never lost hope of returning to their village searched it out and resettled there.

Settlers were motivated by various religious, political or strategic incentives for lebensraum. For some it was part of the dream of creating a greater Israel. For others, it was about reclaiming holy historic sites, at the centre of which is the controversial Temple of the Mount or Haram, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. The stones buried deep beneath the surface of the Western wall date back to the Roman Empire. The U.N. recognizes such places as the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and the Wailing Wall as sites of “common heritage of humankind”[2] with interest to Christians, Jews, Muslims, historians and archeologists. But whether these places are technically part of Israel or Palestine is the issue, especially if walls are to be erected separating the two states.

There were also settlers who had no ideological reasons for inhabiting the occupied territories other than that it provided affordable housing and was, in one way or another, part of Israel. Many, like future minister of defense, Moshe Dayan, were Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Bloc. Kinneret was a place where Jews immigrated to and where they were taught agriculture. His parents moved to one of the first “kibbutzim” or “collective farms”, Degania, established by Jews in 1909, on Palestinian land, which was then controlled by the Ottomon Empire until the British Mandate of Palestine after WWI.[3] Many famous Israelis occupied this area and spread out along the Sea of Galilee to form more kibbutzim. This is a place is also of special importance to many Christians, considering it is the historic spot where Jesus carried out much of his ministry.

The objective of the Six Days War was not occupation. Most Israelis would likely have settled for the 1949 armistice lines, however, many apparently had more expansionist hopes. There were Rabbis for example who aspired to recapture the Western wall which had fallen under Egyptian rule. It was also called the “Wailing Wall” because of its proximity to the destroyed Second Temple, and its association with Israel’s exile.

Another view of old city. Photo by Andreas Duus Pape, used with permission Posted by Picasa

Today, hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in officially recognized West Bank settlements. The West Bank is inhabited by an 84% Palestinian majority although there are many Israeli settlements, and some still prefer to regard it as “disputed” territory.[4] Another 196,000 Israelis live in annexed areas of Golan and East Jerusalem.

The problems now and stretching back into history, are whether strict lines can be drawn to separate the two cultures, whether a two-state solution is desirable, and if so, how it can be done peacefully. The other option is to integrate “mixed” areas where Palestinians and Israelis live in close proximity to one another into Israel and hope that regional decisions can still be made democratically for the common good.

Either way, Zionists feel that their ultimate Promise Land has been marred by non-Jewish inhabitants, saying that Palestine was never a country on its own. Many Palestinians are angry that their land, promised to them by the British, is now being taken away. Some argue that the Bible promises Israel to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not those following a specific religion. With this in mind, it could be promised to a mix of Christian, Jewish and Muslim descendents.

Other arguments for why Israel should be a strictly Jewish state are expressed by the Zionist movement founded by Theodore Hertzl[5] in the late 19th-early 20th century. His framed picture overlooked the parliament when the official declaration of the first and only Jewish state in the world was made. There was a lot of evidence to suggest that Jews needed a place of sanctuary, where they could truly be safe, considering the holocaust, post WWII (especially considering that geopolitically, they are surrounded by 22 Muslim states). Israel had a long history of violence including the Hebron Massacre in 1929 and the “Arab Revolt” from 1933-36.

It wasn’t until after the Six Days war that Arabs started referring to themselves as “Palestinians” –twenty years after modern Israeli statehood. Before that, the area now known as “Palestine” was referred to as “Eretz Yisrael” and Israel was an ancient Jewish state in 1312 BC. These days, Jewish claim to Israel is rejected by some Muslims, and they are threatened by Islamic Jihad even though many Jews argue that Muhammad never set foot in Israel, and Muslim’s religious capital is in Mecca, not Jerusalem.[6] We know very little about Muhammad’s actual life except that he had some interaction with Jews and respected them originally as a “People of the Book” but then turned away from them when he saw that they did not regard him as the Prophet.[7]

To connect politics and religion can be tricky business but considering all the Christian Fundamentalist arguments dominating political decisions under the George W. Bush administration in the U.S., you cannot argue it isn’t commonplace. There are all sorts of arguments over how the Torah should be interpreted regarding whether or not the Third Temple should reinstate animal sacrifices or not, were they ever regain complete control of Jerusalem.

The argument for a Jewish state is exemplified in Dennis Prager’s argument in the Jewish World Review. In Separate Anti-Zionism From Anti-Semitism? He states that: “Among the many lies that permeate the modern world, none is greater — or easier to refute — than the claim that Zionism is not an integral part of Judaism or the claim that anti-Zionism is unrelated to anti-Semitism.” He equates being a Zionist with being Jewish, and so to distinguish the two identities is to be anti-Semitic, contrary to the implied beliefs of protestors shouting “Yes to Judaism! No to Zionism!”

He is right that Jews are not only a religion but a people in that historically, Jews have always prayed and have been fervently committed to returning to Zion. However, perhaps he is conflating arguments by suggesting Jews inherently believe in a homeland geographically comprised of Israel and Palestine, or by suggesting that Palestine is not a legitimate state, whereas Israel is, because its name has biblical and historical roots. Is the word “Israel” a name for a constantly changing border or is there some other distinct meaning that it holds? As he explains in his own article, “Zion” is the biblical name for “Jerusalem” -not modern day Israel and its surrounding territory. So can Jews only accept a Zion that includes exclusive control of Jerusalem and if so, does the Jewish identity require the destruction of the holy mosque on the Temple Mount, or in other words: are Muslim and Jewish identities mutually exclusive in Jerusalem?[8]

It seems that for a sizeable amount of Israelis and Palestinians alike, their ultimate goal is unfortunately the complete destruction of the other and an all-encompassing Jewish or Arab state –which is dangerous in itself. Yassar Arafat came “bearing the olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter’s gun in the other.” He told others not to “let the olive branch fall from [his] hand.” Yet peace for him seemed more like a war tactic, a temporary pause in the endless string of PLO violence. Ultimately, he had only one form of peace in mind for his people: “Peace for us means the destruction of Israel. We are preparing for an all-out war, a war which will last for generations.”

The word “peace” doesn’t register in the dictionaries of Islamic Jihadists. In a video aired featuring Al-Qaida’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawarhi, he said that destruction of Israel is every “believer’s duty,” stating that the “Islamic nation knows that its path is jihad (holy war) and the bearing of arms.”[9] This is a perfect example of modern day propaganda. In the past there was always aggression from various nations but never has there been such a coordinated assault from terrorist networks. As one of their few choices of responses, Israeli defense led by Minister Shaul Mofaz has begun targeted rocket killings.

Shall we go over the historical events leading up to an unrealized Jewish state in Israel?

After the 1957 Suez War between Israel and Egypt, Israel bowed to diplomatic pressures to evacuate Sinai and West Bank. Egypt but not Israel agreed to have U.N. peacekeepers, or the UNEF, patrol the Sinai Peninsula. However, during the 60’s Syria led guerilla raids into Israel to try to quash dissent of its Baath party.

Disputes over the 1949 armistice border lines escalated until April 7, 1967, when the Israeli Air Force took out six of Syria’s MiG-21’s in an aerial battle over Golan Heights and flew over Damascus.

Egyptian President Gamar Abdel Nasser formally asked the UNEF to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and remilitarized the zone. This removed the international buffer and heightened tension between the two countries.

On May 22, he announced that the Straights of Tiran would be closed to all Israeli trade effective May 23. Israel asked for the UK and US to complete their promise of protection and reopen it for them but it didn’t receive much international support. Israel planned a preemptive attack on Egypt for its blockade of the Tiran Straight, but waited at the request of the U.S. Meanwhile, Jordan joined the military alliance of Syria and Egypt, and Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait and Sudan all supported them with troops. Still, despite all these Arab countries pitted against Israel, since Jordan was preoccupied fighting Yemen, the Israeli army overpowered all others put together with its 264,000 well trained troops.

On the evening of June 1, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan met with Yatzik Rabin and the Southern Commander, Yeshayahu Gavish to figure out what to do. It was Rabin’s plan to invade the West Bank, whereby they would siege the Gaza Strip, taking its residents hostage until Egypt reopened the Tiran Straight but he favoured Gavish’s plan to knock out the Egyptian forces on Sinai first. Dayan backed the plan because it had the advantage of avoiding a simultaneous Syrian battle.

On June 5, at 7:45am the Israelis led the most pivotal action of the Six Day war, taking out three quarters of the Egyptian Air Force before it could even take off. Utilizing all but four of their 197 planes of their own, they strafed, bombed and rendered runways useless, destroying over 300 planes and killing 100 combatants within a single day. They also returned and destroyed parts of Jordanian, Iraqi and Syrian airfields as well.

Led by General Ariel Sharon on the ground, the Israeli forced were outnumbered by about 30,000, however, the Arab forces were poorly coordinated and Israeli surprised them by attacking at the same time that the IDF was scheduled to attack the Egyptian airfields and from the opposite direction that they had attacked them during the 1956 war. Sharon sent paratroopers to block the forces north of Um-Katef and south on the road to Al-Arish so that the enemy at Abu-Ageila completely encircled from the East. The breakthrough battles lasted three days. Although many Egyptian units remained intact, when the Egyptian Minister of Defense, Abdel Hakim Amar heard that Abu-Ageila had fallen to the Israelis, he ordered an evacuation of all troops in the Sinai, which meant Egyptian defeat. This was such a wild success, establishing Israeli dominance in the air and on the ground, with such few Israeli casualties that their commanders must have been on an adrenaline high of elation.[10]

In the aftermath of the incredible victory of the Six Days War, the battle has continued for many generations, with bitter vengeance being carried out between both sides, children being recruited into terrorist organizations, and heavy ideological groups being formed based on the right to exist in one land or another. Occupation has been a liability for Israel, while serving as a roadblock to peace for Palestinians. There are disadvantages of Israeli (and Palestinian) occupation for both sides –resentment, racism, maltreatment, degradation of Israeli medical and educational systems, terrorist attacks, targeted killings and harassment at checkpoints. For Rachel Corrie, who was an American activist serving as member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the disadvantage was that a bulldozer that drove over her on its way to demolish a Palestinian home cut her life short on March 16, 2003.[11]

The "Wailing Wall". Photo by Andreas Duus Pape, used with permission Posted by Picasa

Certainly, there are no easy answers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All over the world, as in Canada, there are always aboriginal land protests such as the recent one in Caledonia, Ontario, which enraged residents and left Natives feeling like they hadn’t been listened to. We build super malls on top of ancient burial grounds sacred to natives and then we wonder why they may act violently at times. A similar syndrome whereby the RCMP was sent in to remove protestors during the Ipperwash protests is comparable to the situation in the Middle East. They shot and killed Dudley George on Sept 26, 1995 and a politician named Mike Harris was accused as the protagonist, though he denied stating that he wanted “the f&cking Indians out of the park.”[12]

Violence and misunderstanding is often sparked between the doves and hawks of every country’s policy-making machine. There are the Pinhas Sapir’s and the Moshe Dayans –those who work to nurture soft power, building institutions, engaging in diplomacy and building alliances and those who force hard power through military might.

Ariel Sharon seemed like one of Israel’s most powerful hawkish leaders to date, leading militants in assassinations and cutting towns in half with the construction of barbed-wire laden fence. How did he suddenly transform into such a hero in the eyes of Israelis and lovers of peace? By evacuating the Gaza Strip, certainly he melted hearts, yet it is more likely he made the decision out of U.S. pressure rather than his own will.[13]

Regardless, this last act is what will be remembered of him most since his stroke froze him in that moment, interrupting the process that some saw as a final solution: the roadmap to peace, while others were convinced it was their country’s doom. The pullout confronts the taboo for Israelis of giving land back to Palestinians when the Zionist dream is to occupy ALL of the territory. The state of Israel officially declared an end to its 38-year military occupation of the Gaza Strip on September 11, 2005.[14] On the other hand, perhaps the pullout is just a farce. In reality, the Israeli army is what drives Israeli politics and there never was a Palestinian partner to negotiate peace with anyway. What is there to convince us that both sides aren’t simply fighting a never-ending war?

Although Israel “officially” declared the end of occupation, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) still enforces who is kicked out of the West Bank, with frequent examples of harassment or shutoff of water supply. The West Bank is closed off by walls which have in some cases been built right through the centre of communities. The residents are terrorized by the army at every turn. An example is an article entitled “IDF razes toilets of Palestinian cave dwellers in West Bank” printed in Ha’aretz on May 31, 2006,[15] about a family whose cave dwelling was demolished near Hebron. They were staying in one of the 13 destroyed structures that were donated to them by a Christian organization. The Civil Administration justified the demolishing because the structures were built without permits although the High Court of Justice has prevented their expulsion.

While the South Hebron Hill coordinator for the community, Ezra Nawi, saw this as merely part of the government’s strategy to deal with illegal settlers, whether they be Israeli or Palestinian, another commenter voiced tired frustration, interpreting it as another act of Israeli colonialism:

“The arrogance and malice involved in this decision is almost beyond belief. To uproot families in an area that Israel should not be in anyway is emblematic of what is wrong with Israeli society today. A colonialist mentality which informs the Israeli consciousness is one of the reason[s] why Israel is such a pariah state today. Get the hell out of the West Bank, already, stop dehumanizing the Palestinians, and start the process of dealing with the difficulties in Israel proper.” –David, Royal Oak, Michighan.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, posted more demolition orders on other settlements in West Bank, including those in Gush Etzion and the Moan Farms, where Israelis were allegedly throwing rocks at Palestinian children on their way to school. These were the first real confrontations since the destruction of nine Amona settlements in February, 2006.[16]

Many Likud party members strongly opposed to Sharon’s decision to evacuate the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which was the cause for the new Kadima party’s formation –so that unilateral disengagement could take place. Peretz defeated Simon Peres in the 2005 election, who was most closely involved with the Oslo Accord[17] outlining the withdrawal. Yatzik Rabin,[18] twice Prime Minister of Israel, signed the Accords then was subsequently assassinated by right-wing Israeli activist Yigal Amir,[19] who strongly opposed it. Since then, there hasn’t been much progress, and it has left other important issues unsolved, such as what should happen to the refugees and how the security of borders will be maintained. However, a big development is certain to occur soon. Sharon may be dead, but his plans will live on, adopted by Ehud Olmert. Olmert basically marketed himself as the reincarnation of Sharon by using a picture of his face as part of his election campaign.

There are many arguable reasons why the peace process has failed. Robert Rothstein argues that both sides acted in a way that seems like they were intentionally causing the Oslo Accords to fail, reflecting the “Conflict Syndrome” which is a psychological result of enduring bitter conflict.[20] The fact that the militant Hamas group was elected into parliament signals Palestinian frustration with diplomacy, just as international sanctions against the “terrorist government” do the same.

The international community, for the most part, has refused to negotiate with Hamas. George W. Bush has always refused to negotiate with any “terrorists”. Even before the Hamas government however, the PA was never really acknowledged as an appropriate negotiating partner by Israel. Sharon blamed Abbas for not controlling the Palestinian terrorist network. Now that Hamas, a party Canada officially doesn’t like, has been elected democratically, Canadians followed the U.S. lead to withdraw aid, resulting in hundreds of thousands of starving women and children, never mind the lack of wages for government employees. The effect is that by isolating Palestine the way Israel has shunned them, we leave them little to do in the way of negotiation. At the point that they made an initial step towards democratization, we practically labeled their voice meaningless.[21]

To be fair, a first step would be for the Palestinian government to recognize Israel. Israel has done a lot of negotiating, yet it is a little discomforting to have a militant anti-Israeli government at your border. Palestinians residents are starting to wake up to the fact that slogans against Israel do not feed their children, if they hadn’t before. However, international sanctions against Palestine are targeting those who were helpless in the first place.

Of those 17 people who voted on my survey here on Writings of Faith, 11 people think that we should be sending some aid to Palestine so that they don’t starve to death. On the other hand, 4 of those people said it would be hypocritical to send aid to a country their country deems a “terrorist organization” and 2 people thought the money would be better spend on their own military. Cynics suggest that aid all gets hijacked and diverted by terrorists in Palestine anyway but then how do they explain the dramatic rise in poverty and the lack of hospital supplies in an already poor country? I believe there is at least some correlation.

To deal with the issue, on May 25, 2006, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas made the bold move of an ultimatum to the Hamas-led government giving them two choices: either agree to a two-state solution and make an implicit acknowledgement of Israel within 10 days or a referendum will be held within 40 that will most certainly pass that decision anyway. Truth: time is running out, which Abbas regards an unaffordable “luxury.” If they were to agree, they would imply Israel had a right to exist. The plan would include the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem which were capture in 1967 and the authorization of the PLO as the negotiating body. It seems that this deal has been offered hastily before it can be ensured however, it would be an attractive option if it led to peace. Uncertainty remains as to whether Israelis would be willing to give up land or negotiate with the PLO.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has threatened to draw borders with the possibility of absorbing the West Bank, whether or not the Palestinian like it. He told Ha’aretz on June 1, 2006 that “[m]ore and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution”[22] and accuses them of changing the subject of what the debate is about from an issue of occupation to one of democracy. Many have long feared that a two-state solution will lead to an apartheid-like situation where the Arab majority is ruled by the Jewish minority. Right now, the PA cannot control the settlements it does have, never mind an independent state. They would rather have one binational state where Jews and Arabs could live together, not that you’ll be hearing anyone singing Kumbaya. In the case of one state though, higher population increases in the Arab community would quickly start to close in on Jews and we would be left with the problem of continuing systemic violence that is ethnically motivated by both sides. This would kill the possibility of a Jewish state. Some questions we’re left to consider are whether assimilation works, whether it is desirable, and how distinct cultures can be maintained in the age of democracy, violence and extremism.

[6] Cited in a forward by Nathan Yacowar, editor of on June 1, 2006



Blogger Jason said...

Hi Barrett,

Sorry, I'm too drunk to deal with all that angst against the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Anyway... I have a new blog. Also, hate to say it, but I won't be able to make the BBQ at Glen's tomorrow. I have my second midterm on Tuesday and will need to study all day.


5:02 a.m.  
Blogger Internet Street Philosopher said...

I'm tired of them fighting. Can they work it out soon?

1:10 p.m.  
Anonymous Jess said...

I think the Golan heights was probably controlled by Syria, not Jordan, as the area borders Syria, also Syria is trying to claim that land.

I am also tired of fighting. I'm not so sure that Zionism and jewish settlments in disputed land are ever going to work. Maybe some Arab Isrealis should go settle out there too. Or anyone really. Yes we should all go live in the dry, rocky, hot, hot desert.


ps-missionaries came knocking on my door in the middle of writing this...can't we all just stop, please?

2:28 p.m.  

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