One of the world’s most enduring and disastrous conflicts is that between Israel (consistently supported by the USA) and Palestinians displaced after the state of Israel was established, or subsequently placed under Israeli control by force of arms. Palestinians are seen as oppressed victims by Middle Eastern nations and extreme regimes still promote the destruction of Israel.
To support their cause in World War I, Britain promised Palestinian territory to both Arabs and – in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 – Jews. The postwar British mandate over Palestine saw a sharp rise in Jewish immigration and serious friction between Arab and Jew. The argument was eventually settled when the United Nations voted for the partition of Palestine and establishment of a Jewish state in 1948.
This led to war, with neighboring Arab states immediately attacking when Israeli independence was declared. The new Jewish state survived, was boosted by mass immigration and became a prosperous modern democracy. But along the way it fought further wars, in the process seizing the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. The indigenous Palestinian population of occupied territories was horrified as Jewish colonization threatened to overwhelm their ancestral lands, while Israel actively encouraged invasive settlement.
The United Nations declared Israel’s land-grab illegal, but UN Security Council Resolution 242 suggests a ‘land for peace’ deal might be negotiated to create a Palestinian state in the occupied territories that would also provide a homeland for displaced Palestinians, allowing normalization of Arab- lsraeli relations. But the long history of passionate competition for this small patch of land on the eastern Mediterranean ensures that enduring bitterness and mutual mistrust make a settlement almost impossible. Sadly, though it is in the interest of neither Arabs nor Jews, the intractable conflict seems likely to run and run.
When: From 1948
Where: Middle East
Death toll: The number of casualties of war, insurrection and Israeli retaliatory strikes in Lebanon and the occupied territories has never been calculated, but runs into many tens of thousands.
You should know: The defeat of Arab states in the Six-Day War of 1967 spawned the formation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which was dedicated to freeing the homeland through armed struggle. But when the PLO eventually decided to participate in the peace process, its radical role was taken over by the freedom fighters (Arab view) or terrorists (Israeli view) of Hamas – whose militant activities (supported by external players like Iran) have been used by Israel as continuing justification for its hard-line tactics towards the Palestinians.