Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Genesis of terrorism The Nation

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Genesis of terrorism Featured

THE last few days, Ukraine was relegated to the back burner, eclipsed by another war. By now, the world is familiar with the circumstances surrounding this war.

After breaking through Israel's security barrier last October 7, Hamas militants gunned down entire families, including women and children, in border communities around the Gaza Strip. Israel's health service said it extricated the bodies of over a hundred community members from Kibbutz Be'eri. Militants attacked the Tribe of Nova music festival, gunning down people as they desperately sought refuge. The attacks killed more than 1,300 people in Israel, including 247 soldiers, a toll unseen in Israel for decades." (AP, Oct. 14, 2023)

Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist political and military organization that operates and is headquartered in the Gaza Strip, attacked Israel. The Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) late response was no less than devastating, killing thousands of Palestinians — both Hamas and non-combatants, including women and children.

Deadly retaliation

Israel admits intelligence failure in predicting Hamas' surprise attack and was caught with its pants down, resulting in Israel's greatest one-day loss. But Prime Minister Netanyahu made it very clear. "Hamas started a cruel and evil war. We will win this war, but the price is too heavy to bear ... the IDF will immediately use all its strength to destroy Hamas' capabilities. We will destroy and take mighty vengeance for this black day." And then proceeded to exact its pounds of flesh on Hamas by targeting their lair, headquarters and suspected sanctuaries. Palestinian civilians are collateral casualties. An "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," the old book says. And if drawn to its logical conclusion, we will find a land of the toothless blind!

With 2.3 million souls packed in a 365 square kilometer area, Gaza is densely populated. Blockaded by Israel, access by sea and air to and from the strip is restricted to three crossings. All traffic through these crossings has been halted, and no humanitarian aid can get through to Gaza.

The entire population depends on Israel for water, electricity and telecom. All have been cut off. The enclave risks starvation. Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) has been administering medical programs in Gaza and manning hospitals and several outpatient clinics for more than 20 years. They are running out of medical supplies and personnel. This is a looming humanitarian disaster.

As we write, the IDF is starting their counterattack for a "complete siege" of Gaza, warning the populace to move south — to keep themselves safe. There is no way a million Palestinians can evacuate their homes out of harm's way on time. There is nowhere to go. Gaza is turning into a mass grave.

Roots of the conflict

Last week's was merely a culmination of the Palestine-Israel conflict. But where to begin? Conflicts are as ancient as the narratives in the land of the Bible. For our purposes, we start with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, establishing a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. This was the impetus for Zionism, a nationalist movement affirming the Jewish right to self-determination in its ancient homeland. This became the core concept for the founding document — Mandate for Palestine, based on the 1919 Covenant of the League of Nations. First, a trickle, then a flood of displaced Jews escaping the European pogroms gave flesh to Israel, exacerbated by the Palestine partition of 1947 into Arab and Jewish land, their ancient occupants.

Upon the declaration of Israel's independence in 1948, the neighboring Arab countries — Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Transjordan — invaded the incipient nation. With American and British support, the Arab armies were defeated; Israel expanded its borders de facto from the territories awarded to the Jews by the UN partition plan. Some 700,000 Palestinians and Arabs were expelled, their land expropriated, and they were never allowed to return. Those Palestinians and Arabs that remained within the territories now occupied by Israel were relegated to second-class citizens with barely any rights – a Jewish version of apartheid. The seeds of the conflict were planted with their determination to annihilate Israel and drive the Jews to the sea.

Israeli occupation and intifadas

In 1967, Israel launched the heralded six-day preemptive war that decimated the numerically superior Arab armies, resulting in the occupation of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, Syria's Golan Heights in the north, and Jordan's West Bank and East Jerusalem. These territories were all placed under Israeli military rule until the present day. The Arab and Palestinian humiliation was total.

Prior to the castration of Arab governments and their armies, militant organizations like the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 under Yasser Arafat rose, pursuing an armed struggle to establish an Arab/Palestinian state in place of Israel. In the convoluted politics of the era, Israel sought to undermine the PLO, which it considered a radical guerrilla band, by encouraging more moderate groups, like the Mujama al-Islamiya, as a charity and allowing the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza. All these backfired, precipitating the birth of the radicals, now branded as terrorists by Israel and its allies — America and Western Europe. And Hamas, the rival of Arafat's Fatah, appeared in the scene.

To establish their fait acompli, Israel continued expropriating Arab and Palestinian lands in Gaza and in the West Bank, building and expanding Jewish settlements and establishing permanency. This policy resulted in the Arab/Palestinian youth uprising — the 1987-1993 Intifada compelling Israel to the negotiating table, with the help of America, where in the Oslo peace process, Israel's prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed a document recognizing the "right of the Palestinian people to self-determination."

The paradox was that the Israeli prime minister himself and the Knesset never did accept the principle of an independent Palestinian state. But it recognized and granted the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) some sort of limited self-governance over Gaza and the West Bank. But the issue of the status of Jerusalem, the Jewish settlements, and the right to return millions of refugees to their homes were unresolved.

The series of negotiations under the auspices of America were simply an exercise of fruitless talks resulting in the outbreak of the 2nd Intifada of 2000-2005, launched this time by Hamas and allied guerrilla groups. This intifada caused the construction of the West Bank barrier, separating physically the occupied territories while also realizing that Israel couldn't occupy these territories permanently. As a consequence, the expansion of some Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank was curtailed. The status of Gaza and the West Bank remained in limbo when Israel in 2005 began to disengage from the occupied territories.

Today, Israel avers it no longer occupies Gaza and part of the West Bank, yet it controls the airspace, the territorial waters and access. The blockade continues. Israel still refuses to recognize a Palestinian state. What is needed is perhaps a Palestinian version of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

All of these funneled into what transpired last week. A massacre of soldiers, civilians, non-combatants, women and children — on both sides. A clear state of terrorism. But who are the terrorists?

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