The British Mandate expired in 1948 and the UN proposed Resolution 181. That proposed that Palestine be divided into two states: an Independent Arab one and a Jewish one. The latter would encompass 56% of the best fertile coastal land area despite the Jewish population being only 33% of the total. Jerusalem was a separate special region.
The Jews did not accept Resolution 181 and proposed the Israeli Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948. This was rapidly recognised by the USA and USSR.
In April 1948, Haganah (Israel’s military) authorised a campaign called Plan D with the aim of “the destruction, expulsion or occupation” of Arab villages to secure the interior of the new Jewish State. One attack killed over a hundred Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin. That led to the Civil War in which Jews and Arabs clashed but were still under British rule.
In May 1948 Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq and Syria invaded and the conflict became the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Israel won the war and retained the area that Resolution 181 had proposed plus 60% of the area proposed for the Arab state including the Jaffa, Lydda, Ramle, Galilee and parts of Megev. About 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled and were not allowed to return. Roughly the same number of Jews immigrated. Jordan had captured Judea and Samaria and renamed it the West Bank. Egypt had captured the Gaza Strip. By 1949, Israel had 78% of the land of mandate Palestine. 200,000 refugees were housed in camps in the tiny Gaza Strip alongside the 88,000 inhabitants. They are still there and the population has grown. This was the first Palestinian Diaspora mentioned earlier. The second happened after the 1967 Six Day War. In the decade following the 1967 war, on average 21,000 Palestinians were forced out of Israeli-controlled areas every year.
By the end of that war in mid 1949, the population of Israel excluding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank was 800,000 of which 20% were Palestinian Arabs. The latter were given Israeli citizenship but were placed under military control. They still suffer budgetary inequality and are not permitted to purchase or lease land.
In 1950 Israel passed the Law of Return that guarantees Israeli citizenship to Jews worldwide. By 1951, the population had almost doubled to 1,300,000 with Jews from Europe and Asia.
In 1956 there came the Suez Crisis. The Suez Canal in Egypt was vital to Western Trade as the alternative route was a huge trip round the south of Africa. President Nasser nationalised the canal and threatened not to extend the 20-year lease on the Suez base given to Britain in 1936. Israel, Britain and France invaded Egypt to regain control of the canal and remove Nasser. The USA and the USSR forced Britain and France to withdraw. Israel captured Sinai but withdrew retaining control of its southern border and attaining freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran (narrow sea passages between the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea). The consequences were: the Suez Canal was closed from October 1956 for 6 months; the UK’s Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned, humiliated; a United Nations Emergency Force was put in strategic places in the Sinai Peninsula; President Nasser of Egypt was strengthened.
In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was created. There had been a number of resistance groups including Fatah, led by Yasir Arafat. Arafat became chairman of the PLO in 1969 and remained so until 2004. It has diplomatic relations with 100s of nations and is recognised as the sole representative of the Palestinian people at the UN since 1974. The USA considered it a terrorist organisation until 1991. In 1993, the PLO recognised Israel’s right to exist in peace and rejected violence and terrorism.
Since the Second World War Israel has been supported by donations from world Jewry, the Holocaust reparations and defence aid from the USA. The Palestinians had put their hopes in support from nearby Arab nations especially President Nasser of Egypt.
Tensions between Israel and its neighbours mounted. Syria signed a mutual defence agreement with Egypt in November 1966. The Palestinians were finding life unbearable under military rule and in refugee camps, so the PLO was involved in guerilla activities. The USSR gave Nasser false reports about Israelis massing along the Syrian border so Nasser had been mounting Egyptian forces along the Israeli border in the Sinai Peninsula. The Israelis launched airstrikes and virtually wiped out the Egyptian Air Force. Simultaneously, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and Sinai. This triggered the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in June 1967. Egypt was no match for Israel who, catching the Egyptians by surprise, captured the rest of Mandate Palestine from Egypt and Jordan and began establishing Jewish settlements there. More than 20,000 Arabs were killed compared to less than 1,000 Israelis. Palestinian Arabs’ faith in Egypt was seriously undermined.
Relations between Israel and Egypt steadily worsened over the years following 1967. Israel occupied the West Bank and Sinai and Zionists suggested that these lands could be incorporated into the new Israel. Israel had always referred to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria. The USSR was supporting Egypt whilst the USA supported Israel. The stalemate broke when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in October 1973. At the same time Saudi Arabia announced an oil embargo on any country that supported the Israeli military. The result was inconclusive but made Israel think again about occupying Sinai. They returned it to Egypt in 1978 after the Camp David Accords. They occupied the Gaza Strip until 2005 but still retain control of seaports, airports and border crossings. They still enter it frequently for military operations.
A major consequence of the Six Day War was a change in attitude from the Israelis towards Jerusalem. Before the war, it was conceivable that a state of Israel could exist without Jerusalem. After the war, this became inconceivable. Within the old city the medieval Mughrabi quarter was demolished to create an open space before the Western Wall; the municipal boundaries were extended to give Israeli jurisdiction over Arab villages and a policy of Jewish settlement was initiated in a ring of suburbs surrounding Jerusalem.
Another consequence of the war in 1967 was that Israel has ever since pursued a policy of encouraging Jewish civilian settlements within Palestinian territories in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and in the Golan Heights. The international community considers these settlements to be illegal and the UN considers them a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In the 1977 election, Menachem Begin and the Likud Party were victorious. Begin was committed to settlement building within Palestinian territories and he introduced subsidies and provided military cover to facilitate this. Agricultural land was expropriated for Israeli use and the Palestinian economy was severely subordinated to the Israeli one.
In 1978 and 1979 Egypt and Israel signed peace treaties brokered by President Jimmy Carter at Camp David in the USA. The Palestinian Arabs were not included in the talks and Israel refused to commit to any recognition of self-determination in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
In 1982, Israel invaded southern Lebanon following attacks by Palestinian guerillas. The PLO was expelled from Lebanon and the Israelis created a security zone there. The Lebanese government persuaded the PLO to leave and they went to Syria, Tunisia and elsewhere. A month later, Christian Lebanese militiamen entered the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and slaughtered thousands of men, women and children. Far from stabilizing relations between Israel and Lebanon this inflamed the Shi’ite Muslim community and caused the rise of Shi’ite militias such as Hizballah (Party of God). It even caused reverberations within the Israeli government with calls for the resignation of the Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Menachim Begin. Within a year, Begin had resigned.
There were two Intifadas (uprisings), the First in 1987-1991 and the second in 2000-2005. They were Palestinian revolts against the Israeli occupation. The Palestinians were still living in appalling circumstances with 20 years of military occupation in refugee camps inside and outside of Palestine proving intolerable. A road accident on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip which led to four Palestinian deaths sparked demonstrations all over Palestine. This resulted in the first Intifada (which means “shaking off” in Arabic). Television images were seen all over the world of Palestinian youths with slingshots facing Israeli tanks. For the first time they showed the world the depth of nationalist feeling among Palestinians.
Following the intifadas, a religious movement called Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) arose from the Muslim Brotherhood that had been involved in providing social services.
Hamas was founded in 1987 with the aim of liberating Palestine, including modern-day Israel, from occupation and to establish an Islamic state. The group has stated that it may accept a 10 year truce if Israel agrees to withdraw to the 1967 borders.
Hamas opposed the PLO’s stance of compromise on the partition argument and called for the destruction of Israel. This pushed Israel to increase its iron fist. Arafat had sided with Saddam Hussain and obtained financial support from Iraq. The Gulf War then cut off that aid.
In 1988 the Palestinian National Council (part of the PLO) proclaimed the establishment of the State of Palestine as an independent state.
In 1991 relations between the USA and Israel had started to change. President George HW Bush refused an $11 million loan guarantee to Israel as the previous $400 million one had been used for settlement expansion not “humanitarian immigration”. The Madrid Conference was held in November 1991, hosted by Spain and co-sponsored by the USA and the USSR. Israel, Syria and Lebanon attended. There was a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation but Israel had refused to attend if there were PLO members present. Arafat had sided with Saddam Hussein and that was clearly a mistake. The Conference stalled on the Israeli settlements but led to Israel and Jordan signing a peace treaty in 1994.
In 1993 small teams representing Israel and the PLO met in secret in Oslo, Norway in the presence of President Clinton of the USA. The Oslo Accords recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, and created the Palestinian Authority (PA) to have limited governance over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PA was to reach self-governance after no more than five years. The PLO renounced violence.
The main points of dispute were the borders of Israel and Palestine, the Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, and Israeli military presence in Palestinian areas. Jews living in the settlements increased from 250,000 in 1993 to 400,000 in 2003 and land was taken to build roads. Hamas became disenchanted with Arafat and fearful that Oslo was a trap. Israel had seen Oslo as a way of curbing attacks so both sides considered Oslo a failure.
In 1994 Israel built fences and 8m high barriers of barbed wire and concrete around the Gaza strip. These went well beyond the boundaries agreed in 1967 so Palestine complained to the International Court of Justice who agreed they were illegal. The wall however remains and surrounds the entire border of the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did remove 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip though.
A second wall was built in 2000 during the second Intifada to separate Israel from the West Bank. It goes well beyond the Green Line (demarcation line set in 1949) and cuts at times 18 km into Palestinian territory.
In 2000 President Clinton met Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak (Prime Minister of Israel) in the Camp David Two talks. These ended in failure so Clinton proposed that Israel and Palestine do a land swap: the Palestinians would have 94% of the occupied territories in return for Israel annexing 6%; Palestine would have 3% next to the Gaza Strip. This proposal came close to agreement but failed, partly as a result of the second Intifada.
The Second Intifada was a result of 30 years of life under military occupation and failed negotiations. Young Palestinians reacted to what they saw as the provocative visit by Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and his assertion that any Jew has the right to visit it (but not any Palestinian). The Palestinians threw stones and the Israeli security forces killed eighteen of them. By the end of 2003, 2,400 Palestinians and 800 Israelis had been killed. Arafat did little to control the violence, his control weakened, and Israel strengthened its responses.
Arafat died and was replaced by Mahmoud Abbas who organised elections. In 2006, the Fatah party was replaced by Hamas who had claimed responsibility for the removal of the settlers. Hamas and Fatah squabbled and enabled Israel to claim that Palestine was in disarray. In 2006, Hamas was democratically elected to the Palestine Parliament and thus the military wing cannot be deemed a terrorist group but the official government military.
In 2006 two Israeli soldiers were abducted by the Hezbollah (a Shia Islamist military and political party in Lebanon). The Israelis retaliated and it escalated into the Second Lebanese War. 1,191 Lebanese were killed, and 4,409 wounded.
In 2008 the Israelis mounted Operation Cast Lead to stop rocket fire. Israeli forces attacked police stations, military targets, political and administrative institutions in densely populated cities in Gaza, Khan Yunis and Rafah. The death toll was over 1,200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis (four from friendly fire).
In November 2012 the Palestinians, heavily provoked by Israeli aggression, were still firing rockets from southern Gaza. The Israelis mounted Operation Pillar of Cloud with the aim of restoring peace. It started with the assassination of the Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari and at the end 174 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded. During the operation Palestinian rockets killed six Israelis and wounded 240.
In November 2012 the United Nations upgraded the State of Palestine to non-member observer status. By February 2013, 68% of the 193 member states of the United Nations had recognised the State of Palestine.
A note from the author – From 1987 until 2014 deaths in the Palestinian Israeli conflict have been:
Palestinians 8441 (1620 aged under18)
Israelis 1512 (142 aged under 18).
People have been dying for this small piece of land for thousands of years. What a waste of human lives.