Whereas Palestinians and Jews had periodic conflicts in the late 19th and early 20th century, with the presence of new Jewish immigrants in the traditional Holy Land, an “official” beginning of the conflict between Palestine and Israel begins with the establishment of the Israeli State according to the document “The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel”, announced on May 14, 1958, by the World Zionist Organization. (Brenner, 2011, 84). It was this document which then led to the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, where the Arab League engaged in armed conflict with the new Israeli state. The Israeli victory in this conflict led to massive demographic changes, which establish many of the fault lines of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, 700,000 Palestinians became refugees because of the conflict, as Israeli forces essentially attempted to secure as much as possible a Jewish dominated state. (Brenner & Frisch, 2003, 1984) Clearly, at this early stage of Palestinian and Israeli hostilities, the Israeli victory in this conflict was key, as a defeat of the new Israeli independent state would likely have crushed the Zionist ambition to create an independent Jewish state on the grounds of historic Israel.
Subsequent attempts by Arab forces to defeat Israel also failed, such as the six-day war in 1967. (Smith, 2009) The result of this conflict was a subsequent increase in lands occupied by Israel, such as the Gaza Strip, which had been taken from Egypt, as well as the West Bank, of which East Jerusalem was a part from Jordan. (Smith, 2009) Crucially, these new borders, which are part of the State of Israel, have never been recognized by the international community and thus from the perspective of international law, Israeli control over this land is considered to be an illegal occupation. (Smith, 2009)
The results of these two main incidents yield the geopolitical map of tensions between Palestine and Israel as the world knows them today. The establishment of an Israeli state meant that there would be a Jewish political entity existing primarily among Muslim nation-states. Furthermore, the first war created a refugee crisis, which radically changed the demographics of the area, as displaced Palestinians now had been removed from their traditional homes. The 1967 war is also a crucial moment, since it meant that Israel now had control over significant areas where Palestinians lived, such as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The refugees which had fled from the Israelis in the war in the 1940s were now part of an Israeli state, which was nevertheless not recognized according to these borders by international law. Whereas the Gaza Strip, for example, does have the autonomy to elect government, and Israel officially “disengaged” from the area in 2005, organizations such as the United Nations still recognize Gaza as being occupied by Israel, since Israel guards all borders, controls all entry points into Gaza expect one border with Egypt, all maritime access, air space, and has declared that is has the right militarily to enter the area whenever Israel wishes. (Sanger, 2011, p. 429)
Certainly, it can also be argued that a deep religious element is crucial to understanding the conflict, the opposition between Jewish Israel and Muslim Palestine. However, the conflict is also one that can be grasped from the perspective of international law, the sovereignty of nation-states and the concept of occupation. However, it can also be argued that it is these religious elements which above all inhibit a resolution of the conflict. Israel namely according to the Zionist ideology wishes to maintain control over the historical territories stated in Jewish holy books. This religious tension thus makes a peaceful end to the conflict unlikely.
- Brenner, M. (2011). Zionism: A Brief History. New York: Markus Wiener.
- Sanger, A. (2011). The Contemporary Law of Blockade and the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law. 13: 420-431.
- Smith, C.D. (2009). Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.