There are two entities on the land that before 1948 was named Palestine.
One is Israel, a country that was created by the 1947-49 war in which Zionists forcibly expelled at least 750,000 non-Jews in order to create a "Jewish State." Its population is approximately 80 percent Jewish. It has never declared its borders nor written a Constitution. [See the History of Israel-Palestine]
The other is Palestine. It consists presently of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and its population consists largely of Muslims and Christians. Israel has steadily confiscated more and more of this area to create what are known as "Israeli settlements," Jewish-only colonies. These are widely regarded as illegal.
Palestine's current status is currently in dispute; close to 130 nations (approximately 2/3 of the UN General Assembly member countries) recognize it as a nation-state. In 2011 it became a member state of UNICEF.
The United States and some other countries, however, do not accord it status as a nation-state and officially call this land the "Palestinian Occupied Territories." Israel calls it a "disputed territory."
A third entity in the region is the Golan Heights. In 1967 Israel acquired this land after it attacked Syria in what is known as the "Six Day War" and later officially annexed it. Israel now considers it part of Israel.
Acquisition of land by warfare is illegal under international law, however, so legally this land is occupied Syrian Territory and remains a source of in conflict.
Issues of Contention
[Visit current news from Israel-Palestine to see recent events.]
There are three core issues:
1. Palestinian refugees
First, there is the inevitable conflict over Israel's actions to maintain an ethnically preferential state, particularly when it is largely of foreign origin. The original population of what is now Israel was 96 percent Muslim and Christian. Yet, Israel prevents families forced out in 1947-49 (and after) from returning to their homes.
This is a violation of international law and a cause of continual conflict.
While Israel wishes to ignore this factor, it remains significant.
Few populations, including Americans, would abdicate their moral and internationally recognized right to return to cherished homes.
As author Donald Neff writes: “Confusion about the origins of the conflict all too often has obscured Americans’ understanding of its true dimension. It began as a conflict resulting from immigrants struggling to displace the local majority population. All else is derivative from this basic reality.”>
– Donald Neff, former Senior Editor, Time Magazine. Quotation from Fallen Pillars: U.S. Policy towards Palestine and Israel since 1945
For more details on the history and legal rights of these refugees see this examination of the topic.
2. Christian and Muslim citizens of Israel
Christian and Muslims living in Israel are second-class citizens.
The remnants of the original population – both Christian and Muslim – that were able to stay within what is now Israel suffer from systemic discrimination because they are not Jewish, a fact that is often reported by the US State Department.
They live in a state with a religious symbol on the flag, religious law inherent in its judicial system, immigration predicated on one's ethnic-religious status with Christians and Muslims frequently excluded, and can only run for office in parties that agree to a religious-ethnic identity of the state that is not their own and that until Israel's 1947-49 war of ethnic cleansing did not represent the majority of the inhabitants.
Their schools are under-funded, they are excluded from living on approximately 93 % of the land, and they are prevented from returning to homes that were confiscated for Jewish-only use beginning in 1948.
Many live in "unrecognized villages," villages that long predated the creation of Israel, and live with minimal if any public services, their homes under demolition orders by the Israeli government.
Other non-Jewish Israeli citizens are termed "present absentees," people who fled their homes during Israel's founding war but who remained within the newly created Israel.
Many of these areas have still not been re-inhabited by Jewish Israelis, and sit vacant, ruins of churches and mosques indicating their previous inhabitants.
3. Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan Heights
Since 1967 Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza, known officially as the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and the Golan Heights, which is occupied Syrian land. These were taken in the Six-Day War, initiated by Israel.
Since international laws and conventions make it illegal to acquire land through conquest, these are not part of Israel and are, by law, occupied territories. Even Israel admitted this early in its statehood.
In the West Bank Israel has steadily confiscated public and privately owned land for Jewish-only colonies known as settlements.
East Jerusalem, an extremely important religious, historic, and cultural center – and which is part of the Palestinian Occupied Territories – is being increasingly annexed by Israel in a process known as "Judaization" - expelling non-Jews and confiscating land for "Jewish-only" habitation. Such expulsions and annexation is illegal under international law.
This confiscation violates numerous international laws and conventions.
Although various presidents have failed to emphasize this, it is also contrary to U.S. State Department policies concerning the region.
Conditions in the Palestinian Territories
Israel's occupation is extremely oppressive and, again, violates international laws regarding military occupations.
Palestinians have minimal control over their lives. Israeli forces control who may or may not enter and leave these territories and controls movement within these territories themselves, frequently placing entire towns under military curfews.
Palestinians are regularly prevented from going to neighboring towns and villages to work, attend school, go to a hospital, worship, visit relatives, etc. Israeli forces invade these areas frequently, injure many, occasionally kill some, and regularly imprison men, women, and children with minimal, if any, legal procedures.
This situation has led to Palestinian resistance activities over the decades by diverse groups – some armed, most unarmed – and periodic widespead popular uprisings.
Confiscation of land
There are Jewish-only Israeli colonies throughout these territories (another violation of international law), and they are broken up by numerous largely Jewish-only roads, and a wall/electrified fence is being built on land confiscated from Palestinians.
According to the Oslo peace accords of 1993, these territories were supposed to finally become a Palestinian state. However, after years of Israel continuing to confiscate land and conditions steadily worsening, the Palestinian population rebelled. (The Barak offer, widely reputed to be generous, in reality offered only noncontiguous bantustans). This uprising, called the Second "Intifadah" (Arabic for "shaking off") began at the end of September 2000.
Israeli forces have continued to invade the Palestinian Territories – both Gaza and the West Bank – almost daily, injuring, kidnapping, and sometimes killing inhabitants. In recent years approximately 10 Palestinians have been abducted by Israeli forces every day. The Israeli navy and air force shell Gaza weekly.
Over 5,000 Palestinian men, women, and children are currently held in Israeli prisons (approximately 40 % of all Palestinian males have reportedly been imprisoned by Israel at some point in their lives).
Palestinian borders (even internal ones) are controlled by Israeli forces. Periodically men, women, and children are strip searched; people are beaten; women in labor are prevented from reaching hospitals (at times resulting in death); food and medicine have been blocked from entering Gaza, which produced a humanitarian crisis. While the regime change in Egypt has begun to mitigate the southern closure, Israel still dominates Gaza.
Palestinian resistance efforts have increased in relation to Israeli violence.
Most have been nonviolent. There are weekly nonviolent marches and demonstrations in towns and villages throughout the West Bank and a growing number in Gaza, as well. Often international nonviolence activists join these, including Israelis.
These demonstrations are inevitably met by Israeli military violence, and numerous participants have been injured, imprisoned, and killed. Some have been Americans.
There has also been armed resistance by diverse groups. Some have attempted to deliver bombs through the use of suicide bombers (Palestinians possess no aircraft or tanks); the average number killed by these has been approximately three per bombing.
Some Gaza groups began launching rockets at the end of 2001, long after some Gazan neighborhoods were in ruins from Israeli invasions and shelling. These are largely small, home-made projectiles, though some groups now possess more advanced Grad-type rockets. They have killed a total of approximately 20 Israelis.
Deaths Among Both Populations
While US media depict Israeli violence as retaliatory, in reality, Israel has almost always initiated the violence, as documented in a statistical study by MIT professors.
Below are charts of those killed since the 2000 uprising began. Click on each chart for additional information.
Largely due to special-interest lobbying, U.S. taxpayers give Israel more than $8 million per day, and since its creation have given more U.S. funds to Israel than to any other nation. In addition, the US has consistently vetoed international efforts to end the violence.
Because of these actions, Americans are closely tied to this conflict. Most Americans are unaware of these significant connections, however, because they are so infrequently covered accurately by American news organizations.
[This article will continue to be updated. Please check back often for additional information and more embedded links.]b
To understand current events, it is essential to have an accurate understanding of the history of this conflict:
History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The following is a short synopsis of this conflict. We recommend that you also read the much more detailed account, "The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict."
For centuries there was no such conflict. In the 19th century the land of Palestine was inhabited by a multicultural population – approximately 86 percent Muslim, 10 percent Christian, and 4 percent Jewish – living in peace.
In the late 1800s a group in Europe decided to colonize this land. Known as Zionists, they represented an extremist minority of the Jewish population. Their goal was to create a Jewish homeland, and they considered locations in Africa and the Americas, before settling on Palestine.
At first, this immigration created no problems. However, as more and more Zionists immigrated to Palestine – many with the express wish of taking over the land for a Jewish state – the indigenous population became increasingly alarmed. Eventually, fighting broke out, with escalating waves of violence. Hitler's rise to power, combined with Zionist activities to sabotage efforts to place Jewish refugees in western countries, led to increased Jewish immigration to Palestine, and conflict grew.
UN Partition Plan
Finally, in 1947 the United Nations decided to intervene. However, rather than adhering to the principle of “self-determination of peoples,” in which the people themselves create their own state and system of government, the UN chose to revert to the medieval strategy whereby an outside power divides up other people’s land.
Under considerable Zionist pressure, the UN recommended giving away 55% of Palestine to a Jewish state – despite the fact that this group represented only about 30% of the total population, and owned under 7% of the land.
While it is widely reported that the resulting war eventually included five Arab armies, less well known is the fact that throughout this war Zionist forces outnumbered all Arab and Palestinian combatants combined – often by a factor of two to three. Moreover, Arab armies did not invade Israel – virtually all battles were fought on land that was to have been the Palestinian state.
Finally, it is significant to note that Arab armies entered the conflict only after Zionist forces had committed 16 massacres, including the grisly massacre of over 100 men, women, and children at Deir Yassin. Future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, head of one of the Jewish terrorist groups, described this as “splendid,” and stated: “As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, Thou has chosen us for conquest.” Zionist forces committed 33 massacres altogether.
By the end of the war, Israel had conquered 78 percent of Palestine; three-quarters of a million Palestinians had been made refugees; over 500 towns and villages had been obliterated; and a new map was drawn up, in which every city, river and hillock received a new, Hebrew name, as all vestiges of the Palestinian culture were to be erased. For decades Israel denied the existence of this population, former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once saying: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian.”
1967 War & USS Liberty
In 1967, Israel conquered still more land. Following the Six Day War, in which Israeli forces launched a highly successful surprise attack on Egypt, Israel occupied the final 22% of Palestine that had eluded it in 1948 – the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since, according to international law it is inadmissible to acquire territory by war, these are occupied territories and do not belong to Israel. It also occupied parts of Egypt (since returned) and Syria (which remain under occupation).
Also during the Six Day War, Israel attacked a US Navy ship, the USS Liberty, killing and injuring over 200 American servicemen. President Lyndon Johnson recalled rescue flights, saying that he did not want to "embarrass an ally." (In 2004 a high-level commission chaired by Admiral Thomas Moorer, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, found this attack to be “an act of war against the United States,” a fact few news media have reported.)
1973 War (Known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War)*
[The following is excerpted from Fallen Pillars, by Donald Neff.]
Egypt and Syria continued to demand the return of the land taken by Israel in 1967. However, attempts at diplomacy failed, and eventually Egyptian President Anwar Sadat warned that war would come if Israel did not return Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Syria's Golan Heights. But Kissinger and the Israelis dismissed him, as did the US media.
These were strategic errors and they contributed directly to the war that broke out on 6 October 1973 with coordinated attacks by Egypt and Syria against Israeli troops stationed on occupied territory. No fighting actually took place on Israeli territory, but the shock of the attacks often made it seem in the US media that Israel itself was under siege.
Israel had considered its position unassailable, but a brilliant strategy known as "Operation Badr" resulted in a stunning success. Egyptian planners had feared that the attack might cost as many as 30,000 casualties, but at the end of October 6, Egyptian losses were only 208 dead. As military historian Trevor N. Dupuy summed up: "The combination of thorough and efficient planning, careful security, the achievement of complete surprise, and the highly efficient execution of carefully prepared plans, resulted in one of the most memorable water crossings in the annals of warfare. As with the planning, no other army could have done better."
Demands instantly arose for a massive supply effort by the United States to Israel. President Nixon at the time already was deeply involved in the spreading watergate scandal and much of the pressure from the Israeli lobby focused on Kissinger.
By 12 October, Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz bluntly warned Kissinger that "if a massive American airlift to Israel does not start immediately then I'll know that the United States is reneging on its promises and its policy, and we will have to draw very serious conclusions from all this." Kissinger's biographers, Bernard and Marvin Kalb, observed of this remark: "Dinitz did not have to translate his message. Kissinger quickly understood that the Israelis would soon 'go public' and that an upsurge of pro-Israeli sentiment could have a disastrous impact upon an already weakened administration.
That same day, US oilmen sent a joint memorandum to Prresident Nixon expressing their alarm at the dangerous possibility of steep oil production cuts and price rises if the US continued its protective policies toward Israel. Nonetheless, Nixon and Kissinger ignored the warning and openly launched a huge air operation to supply Israel on 13 October.
When on 18 October Nixon attempted to appease Israel's clamoring supporters even further by requesting from Congress $2.2 billion in emergency aid for Israel, Saudi Arabia and other oil producing states finally imposed a total oil boycott agasint the United States in retaliation for its unlimited support of Israel. Kissinger estimated that the direct costs to the United States were $3 billion and the indirect costs, mainly from higher prices of oil, $10 billion to $15 billion. He added: "It increased our unemployment and conributed to the deepest recession we have had in the post war period."
This was a high price to pay for a country that was supposed to enhance US interests.
* From FALLEN PILLARS: U.S. Policy towards Palestine and Israel since 1945 and WARRIORS AGAINST ISRAEL: How Israel Won the Battle to Become America's Ally 1973, both by Donald Neff.
Donald Neff, author of five books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was a Middle East correspondent for the Los Angeles Times before becoming Jerusalem Bureau Chief and Senior Editor for Time magazine. His book Warriors at Suez, the first of his Warriors trilogy on America's relations with the Middle East and Israel, was nominated for the American Book Award in 1981 in the history category and was an alternate selection of both the Book of the Month Club and the History Book Club. He is a member of CNI"s Advisory Board.