Gaza and Israel: What’s It All About?


The news again reported that Israeli aircraft and tanks pounded the Gaza Strip in response to a Palestinian rocket attack on an Israeli bus. Although we have heard this kind of news for the past 63 years, many still have no idea why the Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting each other for so long.

The Gaza Strip and Israel both occupy an area in the Mideast that was previously known as Palestine. It was ruled for 400 years by the Turkish Ottoman Empire (1518-1918). In WWI, as the Turks were about to surrender, former British Prime Minister Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration, in which he promised to give the Jewish people a national homeland in Palestine, even though the overwhelming majority of people living there were Arabs (1917).

After Turkey surrendered, the League of Nations gave Britain a mandate to govern Palestine (1920). The English in turn gave the Jews of Europe permission to settle among the Arabs of Palestine. As the percentage of Jews in Palestine rose from 11% in 1922 to 29% in 1939, opposition from the Arab Muslims grew.

After WWII, upon the disclosure of the atrocities against the Jews in Europe, momentum developed for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The UN partitioned the British mandate in Palestine into two areas, one Jewish, and one Arab (1947). The Palestinians however rejected it, and a civil war began (1947-48).

As the British were about to leave Palestine, Israel declared independence, and triggered the 1st Arab-Israeli War (1948-49). The Arab countries around Palestine tried to stop the creation of Israel, but failed. Israel seized land that had been assigned to the Arabs and made refugees out of 700,000 Palestinians. Following the 1949 Armistice, the UN recognized Israel as a nation-state, but many Arabs refused to acknowledge the new country. After another Arab-Israeli War (1967), Israel built settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, in violation of several UN Resolutions.

Progress was made later as self-rule was granted in Gaza (1993) and Israel transferred some control to the Palestinian National Authority (1994). Although Israel later re-entered Gaza during an Intifada (1999-00), they withdrew again when Mahmud Abbas was elected Palestinian Authority president (2005).

Israel however continued to confine the Palestinians of Gaza by maintaining strict controls over their maritime, air, and land borders. One major complaint today is that the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza are effectively prisoners in their own land. The border controls have made their economy desperate at times, which explains why the Palestinians continue to lash out at Israel.

Another complaint is the refusal of Israel to let the Palestinians choose their own leaders, without consequence. When elections were held in 2006, Hamas won, but Israel refused to accept the outcome, even though the process was free, fair and democratic.

Over the last 40 years, the UN Security Council has not acted to correct the situation, because the Israeli lobby controls the U.S. Congress, through campaign contributions supplied by special interest groups. The U.S. vetoed 42 UN Resolutions critical of Israel since 1972, and there is little hope the U.S.-Israeli arrangement will change any time soon. Even the 911 attacks, which were the direct result of the unconditional U.S. support for Israel, did not wake up the American public.

So the violence in the Middle East continues. Disproportionate air and ground attacks are made in response to occasional rocket fire from Gaza, and nothing ever changes. Hopefully, someday, the people in the Mideast themselves will see that the tactics of the past have not worked, and that they need a new approach.

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