7/8/09

A Brief Background to the Arab/Israeli Conflict

By: Jonathan Harris

Naturally, the beginning of tension between the Syrians (“Palestinians”) and Israelis dates back to ancient times, however the modern conflict can best be examined in a concise way by starting at the first Zionist congress in Basel in 1897. The conference was the result of a culmination of decades of awareness regarding Jewish persecution. Among the goals of the Zionists was the promotion the colonization of Palestine by Jewish farmers and industrial workers. The subsequent immigration (hastened by the Balfour Declaration) to Palestine from Jews in Europe is often attributed as the “problem” that kicked off the Arab-Israeli conflict. While this is partially true, in the sense that there was an orchestrated plan to return more Jews back to Israel, this reading of history is somewhat backwards. In truth, it was Islamic anti-Semitism and British apathy that caused most of the tension. Although the Arab standard of living increased between the World Wars as a result of Jewish development, little gratitude was extended. Such terrorists as Haj Amin el-Husseini organized fedayeen riots to intimidate Jewish settlers, and curtail Jewish immigration. His tactics worked. In 1920, Husseini started a riot in Jerusalem against the Jews, to which the British reaction was withdrawing its police force. Jewish shops were looted and destroyed. After Husseini’s arrest, he was subsequently pardoned by the British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel and appointed to the position of “Grand Mufti.” The Arab riots of 1921 and 1929 inspired the Passfield White Paper which blamed the Jews for their “immigration, land purchase, and settlement policies.” (Halpern: 201) Subsequently, the British placed even more restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchases. Even though over 90% of the land allotted to Jewish immigrants from 1880 to 1947 was purchased by the Jews themselves, and even though the restricted Jewish immigration dwarfed the unrestricted Arab immigration between 1915 and 1922, Muslims aggressively promoted the idea that Israel was “stealing their land.” In April of 1936, the Syrian commander of the Arab Liberation Army, Fawzi al-Qawukji, conducted a violent campaign against the Jews, killing and wounding over 300 people. In response, the British conducted the Peel Commission. The commission’s conclusion was that the food shortage (which was the supposed outbreak) was “due less to the amount of land acquired by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population.” (Palestine Royal Commission Report: 242) To solve the growing rift, plans such as the “The White Paper” in 1939 were issued for the creation of a Palestinian Arab state. The Arabs of course rejected any plan which also set up a Jewish state (even though the Arab minority living in Jewish areas was offered representation in the government).



The next development came in 1942 with the creation of the “Biltmore Program,” sponsored by American Zionists who openly demanded a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jewish resistance began to mount, culminating in the bombing of the King David Hotel (to destroy the documents) where the British Criminal Investigation was stationed. The anti-British (not anti-Arab) bombing was in retaliation for the seizure of secret documents from the Jewish Agency and the arrest of 2,500 Jews across Palestine. Though the Hotel was called multiple times by Irgun as an evacuation warning, the threat was not taken seriously and 91 people were killed, 15 Jews among them. The Arabs quickly added this incident to their repertoire of Israeli atrocities.

In 1947 the Palestinian Partition Plan was adopted by the United Nations, forming the nation of Israel in the areas dominated by Jews. Britain subsequently withdrew, and multiple Arab nations attacked the new country. Of course, Israel miraculously defeated Her enemies, expanded her border, and fights still today for Her survival among the Middle Eastern Islamic nations.

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