Council for the National Interest

History of the 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.

Zionism

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.
Map of historic Palestine. Click here for larger map.

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. (More maps)

UN Partition Plan

Map of UN-proposed partition of Palestine. Click here for larger map.

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.

1947-1949 War

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

Map of Palestinian, Egyptian, and Syrian lands occupied by Israel in 1967. The Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights are all still under occupation. Click here for larger map.

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 at 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.

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The section on the 1973 war is taken 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, 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..

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