Home History Israel – Palestine and the refugee crisis

Israel – Palestine and the refugee crisis

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The only Jewish state in the world is located to the east of the Mediterranean Sea and is called Israel. The Arabs who are called Palestinians and control a part of Israel want a state for themselves called Palestine. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is over who controls the land and how it will be controlled. The Jews and the Arabs claim over this land dates back to many centuries before.  Jesus was born a Jew and the Hebrew Bible speaks of Israel as the land of Jews. Records show that Israel was conquered in 640 CE. One of the oldest mosques in the world, the Dome of the Rock, is found in the old city of Jerusalem. There is enough evidence to show that the conflict is an age old one.  The present conflict started in the early 20th Century and got stronger after the World War II.

The British had a role to play in this conflict because they had promised both the same land. British in the 19th and early 20th century ruled the world as they had colonies all over the world. Theirs was a ‘land where the sun never sets’. So whatever British promised then was considered the final word. The Ottoman Empire was a powerful state in the Middle East controlled by the Turks and British wanted control over it. In 1915 in a set of letters called ‘McMahon –Hussein Correspondence’ promised the Arabs that they would get their own state if they rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. Unknown to the Arabs British had a clandestine agreement with France and Russia to share the Ottoman Empire amongst themselves. This was called the Sykes-Picot Agreement which was signed on May16th 1916. The land promised to the Arabs did not figure in that treaty and the Arabs felt they given the raw deal.

In the next year the ‘Balfour Declaration was signed in November 1917 where the Jews were promised a state inside Palestine. The Jews all over Europe were tortured and suffered a lot. The political and social changes in Europe convinced the Jews that they wanted a land of their own. They were also sure that Israel was their land and got the sympathy of the world for this. Giving a land to them was the promise in the Balfour Declaration. Now there were three different agreements with different promises. It was clear that someone was going to be cheated and that happened to be the Arabs. They lost their place in Ottoman Empire and they did not get the promised land. The Sykes-Picot agreement carved the present day Middle East. The Arabs carry the grouse to this day. A lot of the present day terrorism can be traced to this in-built anger amongst the Muslims for being cheated.

After the World War I nothing much was done by the League of Nations. Between the years 1896 and 1948 came from Europe to the British controlled Palestine. The Holocaust only made matters worse and all escaped Hitler and took refuge in Palestine. The Arabs of Palestine saw this movement as a European colonial movement and started the fight with them.  The British were incapable of controlling this violence. The issue of Palestine was tabled at the UN and in 1947, UN decided to split the land into two. The land was not split with clear cut boundaries. Some parts on the West side were given to the Arabs while the Jews were all around them. In the same way in the East the Arabs were surrounded by the Jews. The division was made according to the settlements of the two nationalities.  The Jews accepted the division but the Arabs did not and continued to fight as they were twice more than the Jews in populations. They were now supported by other Arab states Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt. However the Israeli forces defeated the militia of the Palestine Arabs and took more than 70 lakh people as refugees. 57% of the British Palestine was allotted to the Jews but at the end of the war Israel had 77% of the land. West Bank, Eastern part of Jerusalem and Gaza Strip was with the Arabs, the rest of the area was the Israeli state. In all ways Israeli’s got their state but not the Palestinians. So the war still goes on in spite of cease fires and UN intervention.

Influence of the resultant refugee crisis

The 1948 war left 700,000 Arabs Palestinians homeless. Till date this has been a major issue and is not resolved yet. The mass eviction is known as ‘Nakba’ which means ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic. The peace negotiations between these two states have been the most difficult for the UN as both the sides are stubborn.  The peace negotiations were for the justice of the refugees; it was to give them the right to return home to join the families who were abandoned in 1948. Today it is over three or four generations who have been suffering this refugee status. Palestinians and Israeli’s remember the crisis differently. Palestinians think that Jews want to cleanse their state of the Arabs while the Jews think that Arab fleeing and the wartime accidents for the crisis. There population of the Arabs in the state of Israel is large and if the refugees are given their freedom they will outnumber the Israelis in Israel and then they will become minority. To avoid this refugee’s status is one aspect that Israel never compromises during the peace talks. The UN has failed time and again in its negotiations because both the sides are stubborn.  Limited resettlement and financial compensations are the ideas put forth but both the countries are not willing to accept it.

Effects of relocation

During and after World War II, Nazis deported many millions to Germany and they were mostly Europeans. The Jews who had survived the concentration camps or those who went into hiding did not want to go back to Eastern Europe after the war. They realised that there were anti-Semitism and they would be hunted down. They feared for their lives. In Kielce in 1946, 42 Jews were killed and they were holocaust survivors. Many of them wanted to move to America where they knew that they would be safer. The Allies had established camps in the Allied-occupied Germany for the displaced people.  In 1947, the population of the displaced people was at its peak with around 250,000 in many camps. Many Jewish agencies were active in these camps providing food and clothing and even vocational skills. The people here became so organised that they started their work for a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jew in the American and British occupied camp zones pressed for immigration to Palestine and the voice asking for a homeland grew louder.

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Though US supported the Jews, they put a restriction on their entry into the US. The British had a mandate from the League of Nations to administer Palestine. So British also, who did not want to go against Arab sentiments put heavy restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine.  Despite all the problems, Jews attempted to leave Europe. A unit called the Jewish Brigade Group was formed which organised Brihah, meaning escape. A great escape of 250,000 of Jews was planned. Ships were arranged but the plans were thwarted by the British. Many ships were intercepted and more than 50,000 people were returned to Germany and many were sent to Cyprus Island. These interceptions and detentions fuelled the struggle for freedom and the number of people leaving Europe kept swelling. The act of stopping the Jews was not well received and the world turned against the British policy regarding Palestine. As the problem escalated British submitted the issue with the UN. The UN decided to form two new states.

Economic conditions that amplified the situation

In mid May 1948 Israel was formed by the mandate passed in UN. But this was amidst the unrest and war with the Arabs, who were their neighbours. The economic problems were enormous. Their freedom came with a war and that had to be financed. The immigrants were coming in large numbers and the new government had to accommodate and meet the demands of these people. Basic needs of the old and the new population had to be met.  The economic challenges were huge. However the formation of the Israel was fairly smooth as the semi-governmental Jewish institutions that were formed were ready to govern the new state. Cease fire agreement between the two newly formed nations was signed in 1949. By that time there was a huge increase in the immigrants in Israel.

Austerity programs were imposed on the people. Prices were controlled and basic commodities were rationed. Though there was some solution to basic commodities, housing and employment took a long time. A new economic policy was enforced in 1952. There was devaluation in rate exchange. It was followed by relaxation of price controls and rationing. It also cubed monetary expansion through budgetary restraint. To consolidate the people who had already immigrated active immigration was not supported and encouraged. The fiscal policies and the steps taken to improve the economy saw a high economic growth in Israel during the years 1950 to 1965. Gross National Product was over 11% and per capita GNP was more than 6%. Large capital inflow from US was one of the main reasons for this growth which were in the forms of loans and unilateral transfers.  Some of the German reparations were diverted to Israel. State of Israel bonds was another way of generating income. Through these different ways there was enough money for domestic use and for investment as well.  The needs of Israel are huge because till date there are war damages and huge amount has to be kept away for battles and arms. Yet this state has managed and has changed and grown.

Territorial implications that sparked animosity

The division of Palestine into two states will look very strange to a common man. It seems to have been done without any planning. But this is not true. In 1947 when the General Assembly of the UN voted to divide the region between the Jews and the Arabs, it was done in almost equal measure. Then the 1948 Arab-Israeli war happened and things changed. Only 22% remained with Palestine.  The Arabs were divided between Gaza Strip and West Bank which were two separate areas with Israel in between them thereby curtailing any movement between the two areas. . "The aim has always been to create different atmospheres and cultures; here and there," says Dr. Nashat al-Aqtash, a political analyst and academic.

West Bank is a big piece of land east of Israel. West Bank has many holy places of the Jews like the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. In 1967 Israel took control of the West Bank and allowed the Jews to settle there.  It was called a Six Day war and Arabs had the support of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and since then Israel took control of the West Bank. Jerusalem is the holiest site for the Jews and Arabs.  Things are not made easy for the UN because Jerusalem is near the border between Israel and the West Bank. How to split the city is the fundamental problem. For the first 20 years after the Israel state was formed Jerusalem was divided. Jerusalem and its suburbs were controlled by Israel while all the other places were controlled by Jordan. Jordan controlled a hill called Temple Mount which has an ancient Jewish Temple, Western Wall, and Islam’s Al Aqsa Mosque. Israelis were not allowed to pray in the temple while it was under the control of Jordan. After the 1967 war Israel took control of East Jerusalem. Now Israel claims that Jerusalem is its undivided capital. But no other nations accept this claim, not even the US. Gaza is densely populated with Palestinians but surrounded by Israelis. For many years there was Israeli military presence in the Gaza Strip but it was withdrawn in 2005. However the Jews think that Palestinians will attack Israel from the Gaza Strip and this was strengthened after a rocket fire that hit Israel. Gaza is now governed by the Hamas which is a resistance group which came to political power in 2006. Over the years, the Arabs and the Israelis have created settlements to expand their territory.

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Social implications  around ethnicities

The ethnic canvas of Israel is vast. This can be due to the fact that immigrants came from many countries. Same is the case with Arabs; there are many ethnic groups in Israel and Palestine. The majority is Jews and the non Jews are Arabs. The majority of the Jews are European/American born, followed by Israeli born, African born and a small minority of Asian born. The conventional division of the Jews are Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Ashkenazim are the Jews from Central and Eastern Europe and Sephardim are the Iberian Jews and the descendants of the Iberian Jews. But the more popular division is the Orientals and Occidentals. The Orientals considered themselves socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged when compared to the Occidentals. There are Arabs in Israel and they are the ones who remained in the Israeli border. Subsequently the Arabs born within the state and even the ones who re-entered agreeing to follow the rules of the land form the Arab population of Israel.

Most of the Arabs in Israel belong are Sunni Muslims. There is a small minority of Ahmadiyya. Ahmadiyya was a group that was formed in 1920s. The Sunnis and he Shias do not recognise this group. However Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Ahmadi Muslims can practise their faith openly. There is a small minority of Alwaites who are affiliated to the Shias. Bedouins are another sect in the Muslims and they are divided into two. The ones in North Israel live in villages and towns and there are those who are nomads. A significant number of Arab Christians are seen in Israel.  Coptic community has its origin in Egypt and around 1000 people belong to this community in Israel.  A fairly large number of Arabs belong to the Druze group. This group immigrated from the British Mandate in Palestine and all of them became Israeli citizens. Though they came from British Palestine they preferred to be with Israel and many of them serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

However Druze are the only group of Arabs who are completely identified with Israel. Other Arab groups still yearn to belong to Palestine and some take the path of protest within the state. Hamas in the Gaza Strip keep the fire of protest going.  There is a wide gap between the progress between the two communities. While the Jews in Israel is developing fast the Arabs especially under the Hamas is far behind. Israel is leading in technology and many of the innovations have originated from Israel.

Influence of the US

After the end of World War II US has been in the forefront trying to bring peace in the area by encouraging and arbitrating cease fire accords between Palestine and Israel. US has been supporting Egypt and Israel with huge financial assistance and this is cited as its commitment for peace in Israel. Egypt has been the key supporter of the Arabs in Palestine and was the key player in the matters of Arab Palestinians. After the war in 1973 under the guidance of President Carter there were cease –fire talks between the two countries. Since then all the Presidents of the United States have spent considerable time trying to bring peace in that area.

Religious implication

In 1922 Churchill divided Palestine. He gave three-fourths of the land that lay east of Jordan River to the Arabs. The rest was retained by the British and was proposed for a Jewish state. This was not well received by the Arabs even then and in 1929 the Arab riots broke out. Following this the British tried further divisions but every effort only saw a bloodbath. But nobody wondered what was rubbing the Arabs the wrong way. Some opine it was a case of mistaken diagnosis. Many believe the conflict was not so much over than land but it was a war of religion and a conflict of ideologies. For the Muslims Israel is Waqf land, meaning a land that belonged to the Muslim religious Trust. At the time Jews quoted the Bible and said that Jews had complete right over the land.

The Six Day War in 1967 changed the political picture in Israel as the Jews got a massive victory. For the Arab who had been in the country from 1922 (officially) this was blow to their reputation and self esteem. On one side the Israeli Judaism strengthened and on the other political Islamism of the Arab world was being forged. It was not that Judaism was restricted to Israel but the American Jews also came out in support Israel and they tried to garner support from the evangelical Christians. It was this empathy that saw America supporting Israel over the years.

Arabs in Palestine before 1967 were quite liberal. One could see Muslim girls in short skirts. But the war changed all this. It is said that after the mosque al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and few other places of worships came under the siege of Jews the religious enthusiasm strengthened. Though the Arabs struggle for their existence, Ramadan celebration is getting more religious and grander. This is a clear indication that the religious sentiments are hurt and they will do anything to come back in full strength; it can be terrorism, wars, and revolts. For this they have the rest of the Arab world in support.

Though Israel occupied the Gaza Strip after the 1967 war, they handed the control to the Palestinians in 1993. The soldiers and the settlers were removed in 2005. In 2006 there was an election and the Hamas came to power. Now Hamas was a theocratic party. It is said that they came to power because the people were fed up with the corrupt Fatah party. When Hamas came to power they imposed laws which were akin to Saudi Arabia. The people have not welcomed these moves and there has been frequent bloodshed. In some areas these laws have not affected the people. One can still see women going around in tank tops and men drinking beer. Within the family itself there are different approaches to religion and this is accepted. But it remains a fact that Muslim women in Palestine are forced to cover but there are many who are doing so willingly.

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Backing of the US

After the UN decided to create the new State called Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who was the head of the Jewish Agency announced the establishment of Israel on May 14th 1948. On the same day U.S . President Harry .S. Truman accepted Israel as an independent nation. The US –Israel relationship started right then.  This was the first public acceptance for the world to see. But talks to create the state had been going on for some time and it was the US who was pushing it the most. British wanted to maintain its good relationship with the Arabs and was not willing to speak about a nation for the Jews. Once Truman became the president, he formed a commission in 1946 to study the situation. All through 1947 the formation of Israel was studied and on November 29th 1947 the UN through Resolution 181 which was also known as Partition Resolution decided to create a new state Israel.

US support of Israel was always looked upon by the Arabs with trepidation. However when Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt after the Suez Canal was opened, Eisenhower, the president of US was furious and stopped the war.  During Kennedy’s administration (1961-1963) economic aids were increased and the US tried to form a special relationship with Israel which did not go down well with the Arabs. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1968) was busy with Great Society programmes and the Vietnam war. But the Six Day War brought his focus on Israel again. Johnson did put the navy on alert but forced Israel to cease fire on June 10th 1967. Jimmy Carter administration (1977-1981) saw huge aid being sent to both Israel and Egypt. But there were many untoward incidents which brought down the popularity of Carter’s administration. Ronald Reagan’s (1981-1989) administration supported the expansion of the Jewish settlements. George. W. Bush administration was not very effective in Israel. During Bill Clinton’s administration (1993-2001) a summit between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak was arranged at Camp David in 2000 but it failed. George W. H. Bush supported the cause of the Arabs more than the Jews.

Current Situation

All through America has been involved in the affairs of Israel in one way or the other. US institute of Peace (USIP) was established in the 1990’s to work on peaceful relationship between Israel, Palestine and the Arab world. They have not only reduced the risk of violence but have given grants for innovations and progress in all fields. The current situation in Israel is one that is mixed. Positive talks are happening on one-side while strong control over the Arabs is happening on the other. Gza Strip and West Bank was sealed for 11 days for the Jewish festival Sukkot. Only emergency cases were allowed. Many workers who moved outside these areas were affected. Recently homes of Arabs in Silwan, East Jerusalem, were razed to the ground leaving many homeless. This the people believe was a retaliation for their protests in summer against the installation of metal detectors in al-Aqsa mosque.

The Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first foreign leaders to visit Donald Trump after his victory. Many believe it is not to strengthen the ties or improve the lobbies but it was for ideological unity and intelligence sharing. Israel’s insights and intelligence of the affairs of the Middle East is the best in the world. There is continuous pressure from the UN to treat the Palestinians properly and not extend their settlements. The US has given military aid to Israel and clearly right now their support is strongly favoured for Israel. While many of the Arab countries have come to terms with America supporting Israel, Iran is still a sworn enemy of the US.

 

Israel is one of the most stable countries in the Middle East now. Though the divided political scene calls for coalition governments there is a deep commitment to democracy in the parliament. From left =leaning views Israel has move to more liberal views over these years after it s formation. Economy has prospered but the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. Young Israel’s are finding it difficult to find jobs and the price of basic items are on the rise. Amongst the Arab countries only Egypt and Jordan have accepted the State of Israel. The relationship with Egypt now is to be seen because pro-Israel President Hosini Mubarak has been replaced with an Islamist government.

The future of the Israeli-Palestine conflict does not look any better. Both the sides do talk about negotiations but it seems to be more lip-service than any real step being taken towards this. Amongst the Palestinians there are divisions. They are divided between the secular Fatah movement who are powerful in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas of the Gaza Strip. There is an in-built mistrust towards the Arab in Israel. They also fear the growth of Iran in Palestine if the Jewish settlements in the Palestine areas of Gaza and West Bank are given up. With so many issues finding a lasting peaceful solution seems a faraway reality. Yet the world over knows that this problem has to be solved and are working towards it and maybe it will soon become a reality.

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Hi. My name is Gaynor and I have been an academic facilitator since 1992. I have successfully developed and imparted the ICSE, IGCSE and IBDP English and History syllabi. My endeavour is to make support material available to students, who find the prescribed content, analysis and collation of information particularly challenging.

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