The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the early 1900s. Around that time, what is now known as Israel-Palestine had been under the Ottoman rule for centuries. It was religiously diverse, including mostly Muslims and Christians, but also a small number of Jews who lived generally in peace.
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However, this was changing in two important ways. First of all, people in the region started developing a sense of being not just ethnic Arabs but Palestinians, a distinct national identity. During that same period of time, Jews in Europe were joining Zionism, a movement that was based on the belief that Judaism, in addition to being a religion, was also a nationality; and so, needed a nation of its own.
After many years of persecution, many believed that the only way Jews could be safe was through the creation of a Jewish state. Zionist leaders claimed to have a “historical right” to Palestine and decided to establish a Jewish state on its land. In the first decades of the 20th century, tens of thousands of European Jews moved there. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the British and French Empires carved up the Middle East, the British taking control of Palestine. As more Jews arrived in Palestine, tensions between them and the Arabs grew. Palestinians felt this was a violation of their rights. By 1947, the Jewish population reached 33% and occupied 6% of the land. The United Nations approved a plan to divide British Palestine into two separate states: one for Jews, Israel and one for Arabs, Palestine. Jerusalem was to become an international zone.
1948 sees the establishment of the Jewish state, Israel. Many of the Arab states declared war on Israel in an effort to establish a unified Arab Palestine. However, they were badly defeated by Israel, who took much of the land that was part of Palestine.
In addition to that, they banished Palestinians from their homes, creating a massive refugee population whose descendants today total about 7 million. At the end of the war, Israel controlled all of the territory except for Gaza, controlled by Egypt and the West Bank, which Jordan controlled.In 1967, tensions grew between Israel and its neighbors. Israel attacked Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, taking the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Gaza strip from Egypt. Israel occupied all of the Palestinian territories including all of Jerusalem and its holy sites. It more than doubled its size in this Six Day War (5-10 June 1967). Since then, negotiations about returning lands to its state before 1967 took place, as required by international law and UN resolutions.
In 1978, Israel and Egypt signed the US-brokered Camp David Accords and shortly after that, Israel returned the Sanai Peninsula back to Egypt as part of a peace treaty. At the time, this was very controversial in the Arab World. In fact, Egypt president Anwar Sadat was assassinated partly because of an outrage against it. But this marked the beginning of the end of a wider Arab-Israeli conflict.
After the next few decades, the other Arab states gradually made peace with Israel, even if they never signed formal peace treaties. But Israel was still occupying the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and this was when the conflict became and Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which had formed in the 1960s to seek a Palestinian state, fought against Israel, including through acts of terrorism. Initially, the PLO claimed all of what had been British Palestine, wanting to end the state of Israel entirely. Conflict between Israel and the PLO continued for years, including a 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon in order to be rid of the group. The PLO later agreed to divide land between Israel and Palestine, but the conflict continued.
As all of this was happening, something dramatic was changing in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories: Israelis were moving in. These settlers made their homes in the West Bank and Gaza. Some moved for religious reasons, some for political reasons, wanting to claim the land for Israel and others because of cheap housing. The settlers are followed by soldiers to gauard them and the growing settlements force Palestinians off of their land and divide communities, making the occupation much more painful for the Palestinians. Long-term, by dividing in Palestinian land, they make it much more difficult for the Palestinians to ever have an independent state.
Today, there are several thousand settlers in an occupied territory even if the international community considers them illegal.
By the late 1980s, Palestinian frustration exploded into the Intifada. It began with mostly protests and boycotts but soon became violent, and Israel responded with heavy force. Over a thousand Palestinians were killed along with a couple hundred Israelis. Around the same time, a group of Palestinians in Gaza, who consider the PLO too secular created Hamas, a violent extremist group dedicated to the destruction of Israel. By the early 1990s, it was clear that Israelis and Palestinians have to make peace, and leaders from both sides signed the Oslo Accords (1993). This was the big first step toward Israeli maybe someday withdrawing from the Palestinian territories and allowing an independent Palestine. The Oslo Accords established the Palestinian Authority, allowing Palestinians a little bit of freedom to govern themselves in certain areas. Hard-liners on both sides opposed toe Oslo Accords.
Members of Hamas launched suicide bombings to try to sabotage the process. The Israeli right protests peace talks, claiming the Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a traitor and a Nazi. Not long after he signs the second round of the Oslo Accords, he was assassinated by a far-right Israeli in Tel Aviv. This violence showed how the extremists on both sides can use violence to derail peace, and keep a permanent conflict going as they seek the other side’s total destruction. Negotiations meant to hammer out the final details on peace drag on for years, and a big Camp David Summit in 2000 comes out empty. Palestinians come to believe that peace isn’t coming and rise up in a Second Intifada (2000), this one much more violent than the first one. About 1,000 Israelis and 3,200 Palestinians had died. The Second Intifada really changed the conflict. Israelis become much more skeptical that Palestinians will ever accept peace. Israeli politics shift right, and the country builds walls and checkpoints to control Palestinian movements. They are not really trying to solve the conflict anymore, just manage it. The Palestinians are left feeling like negotiations didn’t work and violence didn’t work, that they are stuck under an ever-growing occupation with no future as a people.
In 2005, Israel withdraws from Gaza. Hamas gains power but splits from the Palestinian Authority in a short civil war, dividing Gaza from the West Bank. Israel puts Gaza under a suffocating blockage, unemployment rising to 40%. This is the state of the conflict as we know it today. Its relatively new and unbearable for Palestinians. In the west bank, more and more settlements are smothering Palestinians, who often respond with protests and sometimes with violence, though most just want normal lives. In Gaza, Hamas and other violent groups have periodic wars with Israel. The fighting overwhelmingly kills Palestinians, including lots of civilians. In Israel itself, most people have become apathetic, and for the most part, the occupation keeps the conflict relatively removed from their daily lives, with moments of brief but horrible violence. There is little political will for peace. No one really know where the conflict will go from here. Many believe in a Third Intifada or a collapse of the Palestinian authority. But everyone agrees that things as they are right now cannot last. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinians is too unstable to last, and that, unless something dramatic changes whatever comes next will be much worse
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