10 Facts about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Eleftheria Christou

6 mins

03 Jul 2019

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most complex, controversial and long-running conflicts in world history, characterised by intense violence and uncompromising nationalism.

Since the late 19th century, the disputed territory in the Middle East has been the scene of frequent clashes and desperate attempts by both sides to forge their own nation-state.

Rarely has a territorial dispute such as this impassioned politicians, activists and the public alike. Years later and despite numerous attempts at peace, the conflict continues 

1. The conflict is not a religious one, but rather more about land 

Despite being commonly portrayed as a divisive clash between Islam and Judaism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one rooted in competing nationalism and territorial claims.  

The 19th century saw increasing nationalism in Europe, where countless nations were calling for their own independent states.

Among the politicians and thinkers advocating nationalism was Theodore Herzl, a Jewish journalist who called for the creation of a state for Jews. Today, he is considered as the founding father of Zionism.

Theodore Herzl, the founding father of Zionism.

Palestinians, having been controlled first by the Ottomans and then colonised by the British, have long desired an independent and autonomous Palestinian state. 

Consequently, the conflict is one centred around colliding and fervent ideas of nationalism, with each side failing to recognise the legitimacy of the other’s claim 

2. Despite its violent recent history, Palestine was once characterised by multiculturalism and tolerance

During the Ottoman periodMuslims, Christians and Jews lived, for the most part, harmoniously together. 

Contemporary accounts tell of Muslims reciting prayers with their Jewish neighbours, allowing them to collect water before the Sabbath and even sending their children to Jewish schools so that they might learn to behave properly.  

Marriages and relations between Jews and Arabs were also not unheard of. 

Despite Muslims accounting for almost 87% of the population, a growing Palestinian shared identity was emerging during this time which transcended religious divisions. 

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3. Issues and divisions began during the British Mandatory period 

The British created different institutions for Muslims, Christian and Jews which stunted communication and encouraged the growth of division 

Additionally, as laid out in the Balfour Declaration, the British facilitated the immigration of European Jews to Palestine. This marked a significant change in relations between the two groups. 

In the period between 1920-1939, the Jewish population increased by over 320,000.  

Unlike Palestinian Jews, the European Jews did not share a common lived experience with their Muslim and Arab neighbours. Instead they spoke Yiddish and brought with them their own cultures and ideas, including that of nationalism.  

The growing tension is reflected in a statement by Palestinian activist Ghada Karmi:

“We knew they were different from ‘our Jews’… We saw them as foreigners who came from Europe more than as Jews.”

This in turn contributed to the rise of Palestinian nationalism, resulting in a failed revolt against the British in 1936. 

The arrival of Sir Herbert Samuel, H.B.M. High Commissioner with Col. Lawrence, Emir Abdullah, Air Marshal Salmond and Sir Wyndham Deedes, Palestine, 1920.

4. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War was a turning point in the conflict

In 1948, after years of increasing tensions and a failed attempt to partition Palestine into two states by the UN, war broke out between Israel on one side and a coalition of Arab nations on the other.  

It was during this time that Israel made their Declaration of Independence, formally establishing the state of Israel.  

The day after has been officially declared ‘Nabka Day’ by Palestinians, meaning ‘Day of Catastrophe’. After 9 months of heavy fighting, Israel emerged victorious, controlling more land than before.  

For Israelis this signified the beginning of their nation-state and the realisation of their long-held desire for a Jewish homeland.

For Palestinians though, it was the beginning of the end, leaving them stateless. Around 700,000 Palestinians were displaced during the war, fleeing to neighbouring Arab countries. 

Palestinian refugees, 1948. Image Credit mr hanini – hanini.org / Commons.

 5. The First Intifada was the first organised Palestinian uprising 

Beginning in 1987, the First Inifada saw the organisation of wide-spread Palestinian civil disobedience and active resistance.  The protest movement was a reaction to what Palestinians claim to be years of Israeli mistreatment and repression. 

This growing anger and frustration came to a head in 1987 when a civilian car collided with an IDF truck. Four Palestinians died, sparking a tidal wave of protests. 

The Palestinians employed several tactics, leveraging their economic and political power. This included the boycott of Israeli institutions, a refusal to pay Israeli taxes, or work on Israeli settlements.  

However, more violent methods such as the throwing of stones and Molotov Cocktails at the IDF and Israeli infrastructure were widespread.  

An IDF road block in Jabalya during the First Intifada. Image Credit יעקב / Commons.

The Israeli reaction was harsh. Curfews were enforced, Palestinian homes demolished, and water supplies limited. 1,962 Palestinians and 277 Israelis were killed during the troubles.  

The First Intifada has been heralded as a time when the Palestinian people were able to organise themselves, independent of their leadership. The Initfada gained widespread media coverage, with Israel facing condemnation for their disproportionate use of force. 

 A second and far more violent Intifada would follow in 2000.  

6. Palestine is governed by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas 

As set out by the Oslo Accords of 1993, the Palestinian National Authority was granted governing control over parts of Gaza and the West Bank. The PNA is led by President Mahmoud Abas. 

Today, Palestine is governed by two competing bodies. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) largely controls the West Bank, whilst Hamas has hold of Gaza.  

In 2006, Hamas won a majority in the Legislative Council Elections. Since then a fractured relationship between the two factions has led to violence, with Hamas seizing control of Gaza in 2007.  

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7. Over 400,000 Jewish settlers are living in West Bank settlements  

This number does not include those in East Jerusalem. Under international law these settlements are deemed illegal, a charge vigorously disputed and denied by Israel who claim that Palestine is not a state.  

Palestinians argue the settlements infringe on their human rights and freedom of movement. 

The issue of Jewish settlements is one of the main roadblocks to peace in the region. President Abas has previously said that peace talks will not be held unless the building of settlements halts. 

Israeli settlement Itamar, West Bank. Image Credit Cumulus / Commons.

 8. The Clinton talks were the closest both sides have come to forging peace — yet they failed 

Peace talks between the two conflicting states have been ongoing for years without success. 

In July 2000, President Bill Clinton invited Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to a summit meeting at Camp David, Maryland.  

After a promising start, the talks broke down.  

In December 2000, Clinton published his ‘Parameters’ — a guideline to resolving the conflict. Both sides agreed to the guidelines with some reservations and issued a statement saying that they had never been closer to an agreement.

However, perhaps unsurprisingly, both sides were unable to reach a compromise. 

Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shake hands at the White House in Washington.

9. The West Bank barrier was built in 2002 

The West Bank wall was built during the Second Intifada.  

The fence has been described as a security measure by Israel, preventing the movement of arms, terrorists and people from entering Israeli territory.  

Earlier in 1994, a similar construction was built separating Israel and Gaza for the same reasons. However, Palestinians claim the wall does not follow the borders set out after the 1967 war and is essentially a shameless land grab. 

Both Palestine and human rights organisations have also argued that the barriers violate human rights by restricting freedom of movement.  

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10. The Trump Administration is working on a new peace deal

Trump’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan was unveiled this year, outlining a huge $50bn investment in the Palestinian territories.  

However, despite its ambitious promises, the plan ignores the central issue of Palestinian statehood and avoids other contentious points such as settlements, the return of refugees and future security measures.  

Despite being dubbed the deal of century, it is clear that more work must be done before peace is forged.  

Featured image credit: A Palestinian boy and Israeli soldier in front of the Israeli West Bank Barrier. Justin McIntosh / Commons.