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Arab-Israeli Conflict

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to divide the Middle Eastern land called Palestine into two independent nations, one Arab and one Jewish. On May 14, 1948, a new nation was born: Israel. The Jews of Israel and the world celebrated with joy and gladness, because for over two thousand years, they had hoped to return to the land of their heritage. (Silverman, 1) However with Jews from all around the world returning to Israel, the Arabs residing in this land were forced into exile. The rebirth of Israel marked the beginning of conflict, violence, and peace treaties between the Arabs and the Jews of the Middle East.

Tensions between Jews and Arabs have been present since biblical times in the Middle East. In 132 AD, when Israel was under Roman rule, the Jews revolted and fought for independence. In 135 AD the Romans crushed the Jewish revolt and expelled nearly all of the Jews of Israel. The Romans then renamed Israel-Palestine, so as to remove any connection between the land and the Jewish people. (Tessler, 12) The Jews never forgot their homeland, and prayed three times a day to return to Israel and to the holy city of Jerusalem.

In the 7th century, a new religion, Islam, arose in the Middle East. The Muslim Arabs conquered Palestine from the Byzantines and began to settle the land. They built the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem, where they believed Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven to receive parts of the Quran. (Goldschmidt, 46) During the early 1500s, Palestine was captured and put under Turkish rule. During the First World War, the Turkish government placed severe restrictions on Jewish daily life, because the Turks believed that the Jews were plotting with their enemies.

In December of 1917, the British army under the command of General Edmund Allenby defeated the Turks and captured Palestine. Four hundred years of Turkish rule had ended. Just six weeks before the annex of Turkey and Palestine, the Jews had learned of a British document called the Balfour Declaration. It was one of the most important documents ever written concerning the Holy Land. It announced that the British government favored the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and would do all it could to make it happen.

Meanwhile throughout the world, but especially in Europe, Jews were persecuted and murdered. In the 1800s thousands of Jews fled persecution and returned to their native land. Many Arabs whom had already been living in Palestine were angered by what they saw as a Jewish invasion. They attacked Jewish farm settlements, villages and cities. The British troops occupying Palestine did not intervene between the Arabs and the Jews. Instead the British supported the Arabs against the Jews, and the Jews against the Arabs. (Silverman, 61-67) As more Jews arrived, the economy grew and attracted Arabs to immigrate to Palestine.

However, while the Jews were returning to their homeland, Arab nationalism was growing. Palestines Arabs rejected the Balfour Declaration, even though they themselves had little interest in a state of their own at the time. Before long, the Arabs opposed the establishment of any Jewish State in the Middle East. (Goldschmidt, 158) After 1945 and the Holocaust, which left 6 million Jewish men, women and children dead, the cause for a Jewish homeland, where Jews could be free of persecution gained momentum. In 1947, the United Nations voted to divide the Middle East between Jews and Arabs.

The Jews agreed to this plan, while the Arabs rejected it. The Arabs would not recognize a Jewish State. Jordan and Syria also wanted Palestine to belong to them, and the Arabs of Palestine didn’t see themselves as Palestinian, but instead as Arabs and wanted to be part of another Arab country. (Hiro, 65) The basic cause for conflict between the new state of Israel and its Arab neighbors was that both the Jews and the Arabs claimed that Israel/Palestine was their homeland. (Cozic, 32-42) Nationalism was another cause for conflict.

Zionism was an ideology and national movement that grew in Europe during the 1800s, proclaiming that all the Jewish people had the right to exist in a safe homeland of their own. (Cozic, 51) Zionism initiated the centuries-old desire of the Jewish people to return to the land of their ancestors. And once the Jews began to settle in the ancient Kingdom of Israel, they were no longer willing to leave. (Silverman, 51-56) The Jews also believed that Israel was their homeland, because Jerusalem had never been the independent home and capital of any other people but the Jews.

On May 14, 1948 the state of Israel was established. Less then twenty-four hours later, Israel was invaded by its Arab neighbors: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Now Israel had to fight for its very survival. (Silverman, 87) The War of Independence had begun. For more than fifteen months Israel fought a fierce battle. Israel was poorly equipped and its defense forces were not professional soldiers. However the Israeli forces finally pushed back the invading armies. The price for victory was very high. More than six thousand Israeli men and women died defending their country.

On July 18, 1948, a truce was accepted by the Israelis and Arabs. Nonetheless, this truce was often broken. (Hiro, 127) Arab forces often attacked Israel again and again. Finally the United Nations appointed a mediator to arrange an end to the hostilities. Dr. Ralph Bunch of the United States succeeded in bringing the fighting to an official end in January 1949. (Goldschmidt, 252) By July 1949, the War of Independence was over. Many Arabs living in Palestine became refugees. About 1. 3 million Jews living in Arab countries were also kicked out of their homes by the Arabs. Nearly all of these Jews went to Israel.

In 1953, Israel passed the Land Acquisition Law, offering payment for property taken from Arab citizens of Israel who lived there between May 4, 1949 and April 1, 1952. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was created. (Silverman, 88-89) In 1967, the Six-Day War between Israel and the Egyptian and Syrian armies occurred. In six days, Israel defeated Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian forces, gaining Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. After the Six-Day War, the Arab states refused to recognize Israels existence, negotiate with Israel, or make peace with Israel.

In 1969, the War of Attrition between Egypt and Israel occurred, when Egypts president Gamal Abdel Nasser broke the cease-fire agreement, and began military attacks on Israeli territory. (Tessler, 445) In 1972, PLO terrorists murdered eleven Israeli athletes at the Olympic games in Munich, Germany. (Silverman, 90) Once again, issues between the Israelis and Arabs were unresolved, and when a new Egyptian President was elected, he attacked Israel, in 1973, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kipper. The Yom Kippur War took the Israelis by surprise.

It took the Israelis three weeks to organize, counterattack, and halt the enemy advance. Two thousand Israeli soldiers died in battle. (Goldschmidt, 282-283) In 1976, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered an invasion of several Arabic nations, which resulted in the rescue of over a hundred Israeli hostages, who had been hijacked and held by Palestinian terrorists at the airport at Entebbe, Uganda. In 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadar arrived in Jerusalem. He was the first Arab leader to visit Israel.

This was the beginning of peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel. In 1978, Egypt and Israel signed the Framework for Peace in the Middle East. In 1979, the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty was signed in Washington D. C. , ending thirty years of hostility between the two nations. It was also the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state. (Silverman, 91) In spite of this, during a military parade in Cario, Islamic militants opposed to the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

In 1980, tensions were increased by the formal proclamation of the entire city of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon in an effort to destroy PLO strongholds and halt terrorist attacks on northern Israel. As a result, the PLO agreed to withdraw its guerrillas from Beirut, Lebanon. Israel also welcomed Jews from all over the world, although it concentrated on Jews from other Middle Eastern countries. In 1985, Operation Moses, a secret emergency rescue mission, brought over eight thousand Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Silverman, 92) Peace proposals were often created in order to stop the violence between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In 1988, PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat renounced terrorism and recognized the existence of the State of Israel at a special United Nations session in Geneva, Switzerland. (Tessler, 485) At a peace conference in Madrid, Spain in 1991, Arabs and Israelis sat at the same table for direct discussions for the first time. In 1992, Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, Oslo I, was signed.

The treaty stated that Israel and PLO recognized each others political and lawful rights, agreed to end the years of conflict, and pledge to work for coexistence, peace, and security. (Benvevisti, 217) However in 1994, an Israeli extremist fired on Muslims worshiping at a Mosque in Hebron. Twenty-nine people were killed, and many more wounded. Although Israeli leaders condemned the attack, the PLO temporarily stopped talks with Israel. (Goldschmidt, 356) In 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan.

In 1994, terrorist suicide bombings began, launched by extremist members of the Muslim organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad protesting the peace process. In 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated by a young Israeli extremist opposed to the peace process. Several times Israel withdrew its forces from some Palestinian cities, trying to make peace with the Arabs. In 1996, sixty-eight Israelis were killed by terrorist suicide bus bombings. From 1993-1996, 316 Jews were killed by Arab terrorists even as the Jews were giving away Holy Land for the sake of peace. (Benvenisti, 97)

The history of the Middle East after May 1948 has been dominated by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both sides feel that Israel/Palestine belongs to them. Since the United Nations partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948, there have been four major Arab-Israeli wars (1947-49, 1956, 1967, and 1973) and numerous intermittent battles. (Goldschmidt, 280) The Arabs still thirst for revenge, which is denied as the Israelis prevail once again. These issues still rage today and have fueled many armed conflicts between the two developing nations.

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