The History Behind Israel and Palestine’s Conflict

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26 November 2023

By Amy

In light of the recent, ongoing Hamas-Israel war, which began on October 7th, I am writing this article to educate myself and others on the horrifying situation that is unfolding in the Gaza Strip. The war started with an attack from Hamas, an extremist militant group, which killed over 1,200 people (mostly civilians) and took 240 hostages. Israel’s aggressive military response has resulted in the deaths of more than 14,500 Palestinians in Gaza. This is significantly higher than Israel’s death toll of around 1,400, especially considering that almost half of them were children. In situations like these, where we are observing tragic bloodshed from afar, we may feel powerless to help, but I believe that educating ourselves about why they are happening is sometimes the best thing we can do, as this prevents potentially insensitive or incorrect beliefs that undermine the suffering of those involved.

Israel and Palestine have had many conflicts over the years, but this one is referred to as the Israel-Hamas war. Palestine is a State, or a group of people, rather than a country,  which has two main political groups, one of which governs Gaza (Hamas) and the other is the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). The PLO seeks Arab statehood only in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian territories that have been militarily occupied by Israel since 1967, whereas Hamas is an extremist militant group, formed in 1987, that seeks the destruction of Israel. Because of how different their views are, we cannot say that this conflict is between the Palestinian people as a whole. This article will explain the reason behind Israel and Palestine’s long-standing animosity towards each other, which is what triggered the Israel-Hamas conflict that is happening today.

Buildings in Gaza destroyed by Israeli airstrikes

Where did it all start?

This historic disagreement began in the early 1900s, put simply, because of a dispute over land. It is important to note that this conflict is not caused by religion, despite the fact that the two parties are of different religions. The two peoples used to be one, Israel-Palestine, which the Ottoman Empire controlled for four centuries. The main religions were Islam and Christianity, but there were also some Jews.

However, the separation of the two began when many distinct national identities began to develop. This meant that many had the sense of being not just Arabs, but Palestinians. At the same time, more Jews were joining a movement called Zionism. This is the idea that Judaism is not a religion, but a nationality that deserves a nation of its own. After centuries of persecution, many Jews thought that their own state would be the only way of ensuring safety. They saw their historic homeland in the Middle East as their best hope of establishing it.

The division

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, the British and French empires divided up the Middle East. Britain took control of the area they called the British Mandate for Palestine and tensions between Arabs and Jews continued. In 1948, the UN split British Palestine into two separate states to reduce conflict. Israel was created for Jews and Palestine for Arabs, giving Jews their own state and Palestinians independence from Britain. However, the Arabs declared war on Israel because they felt that they had lost an unfair amount of land.

A map which demonstrates how Israel’s occupation of Palestine has almost completely erased their territory

The unfairness lies in the fact that land that was initially mostly inhabited by Arabs was given to the Jews. Israel won the war, but in the process, pushed well past the borders that the UN had agreed on and took a lot of land that belonged to Palestine, which is where the root of today’s problem really began. Israel’s invasion of Palestinian territory expelled an estimated 7 million Palestinians from their homes and meant that Israel’s military was occupying many Palestinian territories.

Rising tensions

Israeli settlers (and the soldiers who followed them) further escalated tensions by moving into the West Bank and Gaza. Some moved for religious reasons, some to claim the land for Israel and some because the housing was cheap. This is because the Israeli government subsidised these houses for their people. These settlements forced Palestinians off their land and divided their communities, reducing the likelihood of an independent Palestinian state. Understandably, by the late 1980s, Palestinian frustration exploded into the First Intifada (Arabic for uprising). This involved six years of protests and boycotts that quickly turned violent. Israel responded with heavy force and over a thousand Palestinians died, compared to a couple of hundred Israelis. With every new conflict, Palestinians lost hope that they would ever be freed from the ever-growing occupation.

This simplified account of events has not covered every single conflict from the early 1900s but has hopefully given you an understanding of why tension exists between Israel and Palestine. It should also, contrary to some beliefs, show why Hamas was created in the first place. To keep up to date with the situation, click here for the BBC’s live feed on the war.

Recommended Reading: Mastering Politics – Israeli Air Strikes 

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