The Israel-Palestine Conflict Explained
A struggle for power, freedom and peace
The near century-long dispute between Israel and Palestine has witnessed rapid escalation over the past few weeks. People from around the world are taking to social media to express their concerns, encouraging world leaders and organisations to collectively work towards resolving the crisis. With the involvement of the United Nations and representatives from various countries, the crisis has fluctuated between days of bloodshed and moments of peace. The ongoing ceasefire aims to end the violence and push both parties to resort to diplomatic negotiations. The future of both states, however, remains uncertain.
A History of Conflict
With a history of unrest and violence, the region has witnessed decades of conflict. Jews lived a relatively peaceful and prosperous life under Islamic rule known as the Golden Age (622 AD - 1258 AD), signifying when different religions lived in harmony. For hundreds of years, Jews and Arabs lived together in peace and with mutual respect. After the conclusion of the Second World War, the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were in dire need of a new and separate Jewish state following the principles of Zionism. The Jewish nationalist movement stresses the need for independence, determination, and the creation of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine – believed to be the ancient homeland of the Jews.
Thousands of Jews began migrating from Europe, to what was formerly a British-controlled Palestine between 1896 and 1948. Arabs opposed this Jewish exodus to Palestine as they considered it a form of European colonialialism and wanted them to be expelled from what they considered to be Muslim lands. Several prominent Arab nationalists voiced their antisemitism, like Haj Amin al-Husseini who was responsible for initiating large-scale riots against Jews in Jerusalem as early as 1920 and Jaffa in 1921. The Arab Revolt of 1936, a general strike and boycott in Palestine, was aimed primarily at the British and the Jews, eventually turning into a violent affair. Repressed by the British, most Arabs were sent to exile. Having later formed an alliance with Nazi Germany, the establishment of pro-Nazi propaganda spread across the Arab world, and further worsened relations between them and the Jews.
Unable to balance the rising friction between both groups, the British withdrew from Palestine without settling the dispute. The matter thus went to the United Nations in 1947, resulting in the land being split into two countries – Israel and Palestine. The Soviet Union and countries including the United States, France, Poland and New Zealand voted in favour of this motion and supported the division. Viewed by Palestinians as a Jewish attempt to annex the land, this plan was rejected and faced criticism. Aspiring to maintain Arab control over Palestine, powerful Islamic states like Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria, declared war on Israel. Eventually, Israel’s power and western support propelled them towards victory, enabling them to expand the 56% land granted by the UN, and forcefully took over 77% of British Palestine. Israel has since been viewed as an illegitimate state by Hamas, and has displaced more than 700,000 Palestinians.
Annexation: The Root Cause for the Crisis
The term annexation, although broad, is feared by many. In May 2021, Israel was seen encroaching into the West Bank, followed by Israel's new prime minister Naftali Bennett seeking a formal annexation. Sheikh Jarrah is one of the largest settlements of Palestinian Arabs, and has been since the 1950s. Palestinians, who were initially forced to settle in the area, now face the threat of eviction as Israel regains control of the region and disperses settlers away from the territory through the use of extreme military force.
As massive protests against the annexation of the West Bank erupted, the crisis escalated exponentially while gaining global attention. Israel continually utilises their military strength to clear the region resulting in deadly clashes between Israeli police and civilians, including the exchange of missiles. Additionally, rubber bullets and stun grenades have been used frequently to injure many, as protesters were removed from the Al Aqsa Mosque in Haram esh-Shafir, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Israel has stated that they are determined to defend themselves against Islamists and extremists, while Palestinians accuse them of occupying their native land and committing genocide. Being the crux of the conflict, these differing approaches towards one another has led to decades of conflict.
As similar protests by Palestinians in neighbouring areas increased, violent confrontations between armed forces and civilians also escalated, leading to the conflict gaining global attention. With the world taking to various platforms to express their concern over the misuse of power by Israel, Palestine received unified support from the public, calling for the end of such inhumane behaviour. The entire region bore the brunt of such clashes as casualties increased. Leaders from across the world, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, condemned Israel’s actions and greatly supported the implementation of the ongoing ceasefire.
International bodies, such as the European Union and the United Nations, have also voiced their concerns, indicating possibilities of an array of war crimes being committed against Palestine. UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet has further insisted on an ‘Inclusive Peace Process’ to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The plan was not only condemning but also calling for an immediate halt on air strikes conducted by both Israel and Hamas, claiming the lives of a combined total of over 250 civilians. The international community, however, was left baffled as the United States extended their full support to Israel, one of their oldest and strongest allies in the region.
With both recognising Hamas as a terrorist organisation, news reports of the US aiding Israel with an annual commitment of $3.8bn, sanctioned under the Obama administration, were leaked and shared. With no limitations or consequences in place, the majority of this funding has been used for military expansion, leading to an international uproar.
Hamas vs. Israel
Hamas, a militant organisation controlling the Gaza strip, has repeatedly disregarded the legitimacy of Israel as a state. With the aim to liberate Palestine, they resort to the use of military power to destroy and subsequently eradicate Israel as a whole. Having won the battle of Gaza against Fatah in 2007, another political party in Palestine at the time, Hamas gained complete control over the region. Israel and Hamas have been fighting since June 2006 following the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit. This led to Israel declaring Gaza a ‘hostile territory’ and immediately stopped the supply of electricity, fuel, food, and other supplies, triggered by the Qassam rocket attacks in September 2006. This blockade is active as of 28th June 2006.
The storming and mass protests in the Al Aqsa mosque initially ignited the violence between Israel and Hamas, leading to airstrikes from both Israel and Palestine. Israel’s power and superiority due to its renowned defense systems, such as its Iron Dome air defense system, resulted in Gaza witnessing disproportionate amounts of casualties. Along with providing the latest defense technology and a recently approved arms sale worth $753 million dollar, the US has further increased Israel's military capabilities and ability to exert power through force. With foreign intervention increasing on both sides, the conflict is ever changing.
A distinct imbalance of power makes Gaza more susceptible to attacks, similar to the recent airstrikes due to the lack of similar defense equipment. Additionally, Hamas has made extensive use of civilian infrastructure and population as a cover for its operations. This is where Israel, in its attempt to destroy Hamas' ability to wage war, targeted areas such as tunnels and buildings housing ammunition, and more recently Gaza’s only Covid testing centre. Israel also bombed several civilian buildings, notably the buildings that house international media agencies, in order to eradicate all suspected terrorist activity. Attempting to reduce civilian casualties, efforts to evacuate targeted areas were also made. The use of leaflets and telephone warnings in Arabic have been repeatedly used to ensure minimal civilian bloodshed.
Urging citizens to stay away from border zones and avoid interacting or cooperating with Hamas has been Israel’s main tactic in isolating the militant organisation. These efforts, however, have been criticised by various rights groups and international organisations including Amnesty International, as they view these bombings as severe war crimes. So far, an estimated 232 people have been killed in Gaza, including 65 children. Over 1,900 Palestinians have been injured and more than 72,000 remain displaced. On the other side, 12 Israelis have been killed, including 2 children.
“I had pain in my stomach from the fear and my parents were trying to comfort me and tell me that the bombing was far away but I could feel that it was close”, an 11-year-old survivor of the violence said.
Apart from physical injury, the mental and emotional trauma caused by the conflict is yet to be accounted for.
In an interview conducted by the BBC, Arab and Jewish citizens from the city of Lod, described the current situation. Lod, one of the few intercommunal cities in Israel, faced extreme violence and division. Two women, Mahi and Tali, state that “the city was on fire” as Lod faced some of the worst violence during the conflict. Having said that, “people were having rocks thrown through their car”, they underscore the severe division between both communities as synagogues and mosques were burnt down.
On 13th June, 2021, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was removed from office following a 15-year rule. Naftali Bennett, a Jewish nationalist and former tech billionaire, led the opposition coalition working to change Israeli leadership. Although the “more right wing” prime minister (as he chooses to call himself) had previously rejected the idea of the creation of a Palestinian state. His stance in the escalating violence remains unclear and uncertain. “The form the Israeli government takes doesn’t change the nature of our relationship,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesperson. As the conflict between Israel and Palestine continues to fluctuate on a regular basis, Israeli power has been internationally criticised. All eyes rest on the new leadership, waiting for action to be taken.
The Temporary Ceasefire
Israel's security cabinet voted for a cease-fire after 11 days of airstrikes between Israel and Hamas, on 21st May, 2021. As a consequence of global pressure to end the ongoing violence, this ceasefire “to accept the Egyptian initiative for a bilateral ceasefire without any conditions” was unanimously voted upon. Hamas reportedly agreed to the Egyptian proposal to end the fighting at 2AM on Friday, 22nd May. People gathered on the streets of Gaza City and Israel, celebrating the end of the gruesome violence.
Unfortunately, the peaceful truce came to a sudden halt when arson balloons launched by Hamas into southern Israel led to a new series of airstrikes and renewed violence by the Isreali armed forces. Rockets and fighter jets launched attacks on locations used by Hamas. These attacks, as claimed by Israel, were a response to the inappropriate use of arson balloons intended to destroy Israeli farmlands. Despite the re-implementation of the cease fire, both states continued to exert and display their power through force and violence, while initial response teams dealt with the damage caused. Israel’s army chief Aviv Kohavi and the new government under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have called for increased readiness and preparedness of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
The strained relations between Israel and Palestine continue to worsen, and the future and potential resolutions to the conflict remain uncertain.
On 9th July, Israeli forces opened fire on hundreds of protesters who were protesting against an illegal outpost in the occupied West Bank. Demonstrators burned tires and threw stones at Israeli forces who retaliated with firearms, after the Friday prayers in Beita. According to the Palestine Red Crescent, 379 have been injured. Similar clashes have been observed in Kafr Qaddum, Beit Dajan and Hebron, as dozens underwent treatment for exposure to tear gas.
Rising Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia
The Israel-Palestinian conflict has, although not completely, polarized the involved communities based on their religious beliefs. The division and the increasing hate between Israelis and Palestinians has gradually made it more challenging to come to a peaceful resolution. Far-right extremists on each side continue aggravating anger among their populations and polarised international media further intensifies the conflict.
As the whole world takes on a side to support, division becomes a global phenomenon. Palestine has received generous support from the Arab World, as well as civilians across the world. On the other hand, numerous communities and powerful countries supporting Israel, including the pro-Hindutva community in India, further fuel a great sense of Islamophobia. The international divide brought about by the conflict, has resulted in various statements and accusations being passed on. While leaders have expressed their support for the Palestinian people, countries including China have also called out the US for blocking the UN Security Council’s resolution, calling for a ceasefire. International relations remained strained as tensions and divisions continue to rise.
The Road Ahead
At present, solutions to the conflict seem like a challenge to develop and negotiate among all parties. The possible resolutions, often favouring one population over the other, still provide hope for peace within the region. A ‘One State Solution’ suggesting one democratic secular state would encourage both Jewish and Arab residents to live in harmony and equality. The idea, however, faced backlash as the intertwined populations currently disagree on border security, refugee crises, and the dispute over Jerusalem, leaving little room for such a solution to come into effect.
The alternative solution entails a ‘Two State Solution’ wherein Israel and Palestine would be divided into two separate, legitimate, and sovereign states. More favourable with the general public, this solution allows for the separation of conflicting religious, political and territorial beliefs. The challenge presented by the significance of Jerusalem, though, would still persist, complicating matters even more. Diplomatic negotiations, although the prefered method of resolving the conflict, have proven to be ineffective as the ceasefire ended with more bombings and bloodshed, and both parties being unable to reach common consensus. In a desperate attempt to rely on peaceful processes however, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has intervened and not only expressed their support for the ‘Two State Solution’ but has also offered aid in the implementation of the ‘Four Point Plan’. Introduced in 2013, the plan remains largely the same and pushes for the creation of a seperate and sovereign Palestinian state.
As Jewish settlers in the West Bank face the threat of eviction should both states formally separate, the solution risks the emergence of a mass migration crisis. Though challenging, hope to end the escalating tension and violence between Israel and Palestine remains. As Israeli leadership and its dynamic with the Palestinians oscillates, the world's eyes rest on the future and end of the long lasting conflict.
Written by Veda Rodewald & Ashirvad Mohanty
Edited by Adi Roy, Thenthamizh SS and Srijaa Chatterjee
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