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The Catalyst of Israel and Palestine Conflict

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Israel and Palestine have been locked in a conflict since before Israel became a state in 1948. There is no possible end in sight to the conflict, as neither side will offer many concessions in order to get a peace deal done. The question remains, however, of which aggressor is more at fault for starting the conflict?

A Clash of Destinies: The Arab-Jewish War and the Founding of the State of Israel by Jon and David Kimche tells the story of how the original war that ultimately made Israel a free nation came to be. The book quotes generals, diplomats, and even government officials in an attempt to get an idea of the origins of the war. The source directly relates to the topic at hand, as its main goal is to examine the beginnings of the war, which will help give an idea of where to place blame.

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The book is written by two Swiss Jews who are brothers. One was a journalist, one became an Israeli diplomat, and both were at least partially involved with the war. The main purpose of the book is to examine the ultimate beginnings of the war. The book was written in 1960, only twelve years after the conflict, meaning that most of the evidence gathered was from people that had been involved with the war directly, making the book more factual. The book itself is extremely thorough in its investigation recounting of the facts of the war, giving a large amount of value in regards to the topic. The source is limited by the fact that it is written by two Jews, one being a government official, meaning that they may be biased towards the Jewish cause, however, the authors took great pains to make the book as impartial as possible.

The Founding Myths of Israel by Zeev Sternhell is mainly an examination of the reasons behind the founding of Israel. The book contends that the establishment of a free Jewish-socialist state was not the real reason behind the establishment of the state. The book states instead that leaders used socialism as a means of attaining a free Jewish state, backing up this contention by examining writings of generals and government officials during the war. The book directly relates to the topic, as it seeks to unearth the real reasons behind the establishment of Israel, and thus the first war.

The book is written by a famous Jewish historian who immigrated to Israel when he was young. The purpose of the book is to subvert the original ideas of what the reasons behind the establishment of the Jewish state were, and does so with a lengthy examination of evidence. The source was written not long after the first war, meaning it is more likely to be accurate. Sternhell is a self-proclaimed Zionist, which would suggest bias towards the Israeli cause in regards to the topic of this paper; however, he has been one of the sternest critics of Israeli policy towards Palestinians, meaning there is likely less bias in the book. The source may also be limited by the fact that it is only discussing the founding of Israel and misconceptions about it, rather than also discussing the Arab point of view and how it impacted those countries.

Investigation

Palestinians and Israelis have been at in conflict with one another since before World War II. The conflict has included several wars, interspersed with unrest. The main matter debated by historians today is how to assign blame for the decades of conflict. In order to do so, one must go back to the beginnings of the unrest.

In the late nineteenth century, a movement of Jews to reclaim their holy land in the middle east arose, mainly as answer to widespread antisemitism in Europe, by the name of Zionism. This was aided not only by the Holocaust, but also by the continued aggressions towards Jews all over the world throughout most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This Zionist movement was countered by an Arab nationalist movement which sought to keep the land in Arab hands and to keep the Jews away. The movement was not as concerned with the Jewishness of the people that were beginning to move to the continent, but more with the loyalties of these Jews, believing they would be loyal to their home countries. In addition, the Arabs also laid religious claim to the same land that the Jews did, and did not want the Jews to just come in and take land they saw as theirs. These movements planted the seeds for a much larger conflict to come.

After World War I, Britain took over the region, as it had been formerly part of the Ottoman Empire which had been defeated and taken by Britain in the war. In taking over the region, they gave Palestine a mandate of autonomy thereby eliminating the hopes of a Jewish state in the region for the time being. At the same time, many Jewish immigrants began to migrate into the region during the 1920’s and 30’s mainly from Europe due to fear of the rising extreme right-wing parties such as the fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany. These new immigrants pushed harder and harder for an autonomous Jewish state, angering the Arabs that lived there. This new large-scale immigration led to several anti-Jewish revolts by Arab nationalists, including the Jafa Riot, 1929 Palestine Riot, and the late-30’s Arab revolt. 

The Peel Commission of 1937 was a commission appointed by Britain tasked with finding a solution to the growing unrest in Palestine. It was the first to propose a two-state solution to the conflict, whereby Palestine would be divided into two states: one Arab state and one Jewish state. This agreement was rejected by Arab leaders, and hostilities continued to increase. During WWII, Arab leaders worked with the Axis powers, even fighting for them, with the promise that their Jewish problem would be extinguished after victory. After the War, the newly formed UN formed a committee to research a solution for Palestine. The committee proposed a two-state solution which would have established a Jewish state, an Arab state, and the city of Jerusalem as neutral territory. Jewish leaders accepted the plan, but Arab leaders once again rejected the two-state solution, and with tensions near a boiling point, conflict became inevitable. 

Conflict had already been occurring when this plan was rejected in 1947. The British were involved, as they still controlled the region, and were fighting against Zionist insurgents. The British had revoked the mandate of autonomy given to Transjordan after WWI, and eventually decided to pull away from the region. Several months after the UN plan, the Deir Yassin massacre took place, when around 120 fighters from Zionist paramilitary groups attacked Deir Yassin near Jerusalem, a Palestinian Arab village of roughly 600 people. Shortly after, on May 14th, 1948, Israel was declared an independent state, and real military conflict began. This declaration led to intervention from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Transjordan, and Lebanon, giving reasons for their intervention being that with the British Mandate gone, there was no legitimate authority in the region, and that they were going to restore it. The fighting eventually ended in armistice in early 1949 with the Arab forces nearing a collapse. With the Zionists having the upper hand when fighting was ended, they were able to take all Palestinian territory excluding the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem. 

Following this first war, Israel expelled roughly 700,000 Palestinians from the region, with these refugees also being unable to receive citizenship in neighboring Arab countries. Violence, mainly coming from the Jordanian army and Egyptian attacks out of the Gaza Strip, continued after the war, and was encouraged by the entire Arab League. This led to Israel eventually taking preemptive measures against Egypt and Jordan in 1967. The conflict that followed those operations came to be known as the Six Days War, and resulted in Israel taking Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem, giving permanent resident status to all Palestinians living in those territories. This led Arab leaders to meet and discuss what to do about Israel, coming up with the Three-No Solution: no peace, no recognition, and no negotiation, leading to more decades of violence and unrest.

It is impossible to place full blame for the unrest in the Israeli region on the shoulders of either Arab or Jewish leaders. The blame instead should be divided into two separate portions: blame for the initial conflict, and blame for the continued conflict. The Kimche brothers, author of Clash of Destinies, contend that Jews should not be blamed for the conflict, as they had a historical and a religious right to the land. Hasan El-Hasan, however, contends that as Jews began to move into the region, Arabs tried to push back against Jewish leadership as they also had religious claims to the land, and had been living on it for centuries, but were unable to stop them from becoming a state. The majority of the blame for the initial conflict thus lies on the Jewish leaders in the region, as they invaded a space that had been uninhabited by Jews for centuries, and started the conflict of 1948 by declaring Israel a state. This does not, however, mean that the Arab leaders do not share at least partial blame, as they carried out continued attacks against the Jewish immigrants in the region leading up to 1947. 

Arab leaders take more of the blame for conflict occurring after 1948 for being unwilling to negotiate with Israel at all, and instead simply carrying out random attacks against Israel. Egypt and Jordan refused to recognize Israel as an autonomous state, and even refused to come to the negotiating table afterwards. Instead, Egypt started attacking from Gaza, and Jordan started attacking from the West Bank. These attacks gained nothing for either country, and simply led to increased instability in the region as a whole. This is the stance that Zeev Sternhell, a prominent Israeli historian, takes. He contends that Arab leaders post-1948 unnecessarily and illegally carried out these attacks, as they had been beaten and signed an armistice in 1948. El-Hasan, however, contends that the Arab leaders were justified in carrying out these attacks, as Israel still did not have a right to the land. This contention is wrong, as Arab leaders simply caused the Six-Day War in 1967 by not ceasing attacks once the 1948 armistice had been signed. Thus, Arab leaders take most of the blame for the continued conflict leading to the Six-Day War.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has a long and complicated history which makes assigning blame extremely difficult. Jewish leaders should take most of the blame for the beginning of the conflict, as they began moving into a land that they had not inhabited for centuries. After the initial war, however, most of the blame lies on the shoulders of the Arab nations backing the Palestinian effort, as they continued to carry out attacks after they signed an armistice in 1948, leading to another war in 1967.

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