Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Brief History of the Middle East Conflict - A problem with no solution?

Before i launch into my own experiences and reflections on Israel, I feel it is useful to give a brief lesson on Israel and the middle east conflict. You may prefer to skip it. This is my lay-mans take on the situation. Please keep in mind that I am not a historian, and alot of this stuff is open to interpretation. Please feel free to correct me or shut me down in a comment.

The land called Israel and Palestine is a small (much smaller even than the north Island) area of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Its ownership has changed hands many times over the last few thousands years.

Photo: A photo of Jerusalem. THe old city in the foreground, temple mountain, the dome of the rock, the new city in the background. THis photo is taken from Mount Zion. Jesus was here 0 BC.
According to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites, or a portion of them, out of Egypt. The leader of the israelites (King David) then conquered Jerusalem about 1000 B.C. and established an Israelite kingdom. Ever since then, Jerusalem has remained the center of Jewish sovereignty and worship. However, it has not always been good times for the Jews. The region was subsequently conquered so many times by different hegemons (i won't go into detail).

At the time of Jesus life, Israel (along with the inhabiting jews) was ruled by the Roman empire. Around 60 years after Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, the Israelis revolted against the Romans. They were defeated, and were booted out of Israel.

With the onset of christianity, in the centuries following the writing of the new testament, Jerusalem also became a place of huge significance for christians. This is of course where Jesus was crucified, and ascended to heaven from his tomb.

During the seventh century (A.D. 600's), Muslim Arab armies moved north from Arabia to conquer most of the Middle East, including Palestine. Muslim powers then controlled the region for a large part of the time up until the early 1900's (broken by the crusaders for a while etc...). The Muslims allowed Jewish and CHristian people to live in Israel. Many Israelis (or Jews) never returned to Israel after being exiled by the Romans - however, many others did return (slowly, over hundreds of years).

The rulers allowed Christians and Jews to keep their religions. However, most of the local population gradually accepted Islam and the Arab-Islamic culture of their rulers. Jerusalem also became holy to Muslims as the site where, according to tradition, Muhammed ascended to heaven after a miraculous overnight ride from Mecca on his horse Al-Buraq.

THe muslim leaders built a mosque on the site generally regarded as the area of the Jewish temples. This was a slap in the face for the Israeli Jews.
In 1880, about 24,000 Jews were living in Palestine, out of a population of about 400,000 (mostly muslim). Most of them lived in Jerusalem. Jews formed a majority of the population of Jerusalem, but not in the whole of Palestine).

Around this time Jews from all over the world started returning to Israel (this mass migration movement is called zionism), which according to the Old testament was gifted to the Jews by God (through the messenger, Moses). There were a number of reasons for this. One of them was because the jews were having a rough time fitting in throughout europe etc. They were a population with no real home (since israel was occupied by the Ottoman empire, or turkey).

The nervous Ottoman government responded by imposing severe restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchase, and also began actively soliciting inviting Muslims from other parts of the Ottoman empire to settle in Palestine.

In WW1 the Ottoman empire (muslims), which ruled Palestine, was defeated by the British. The British supported the idea of setting up an Israeli (Jewish) state in Palestine. Due to ongoing conflict and tension between the arabs and the jews, the British governed the state of Palestine for the next 30 years.

In the meantime, the zionist movement gained momentum. THe mass genocide of Jews that occured in German occupied Europe during WW2 lead to a radical increase in the amount of Jews migrating to Israel in the decades following Hitlers extermination campaign.

The British came under pressure, particularly zionist political groups, to hand over governance of Palestine. The UN (the British) proposed to cut palestine into two, the Israeli (Jewish) side and the Arab side (Palestinian). The Palestinian Arabs strongly disagreed with the proposal, which would leave them with less land than they started with. This lead to the War of independence between the Israelis and the Arabs, which was won by Israel in 1948. As a result, Israel got even more land than they would have got under the UN 'resolution'. The only land retained by the arabs was the west bank (which became part of Jordan), and the Gaza strip (which became part of egypt).

Photo: The sun rising over the mountains of Jordan, reflecting on the dead sea. Taken from the Masada fortress on the Isreali side of the Dead Sea. The jewish lead their revolt against the Romans from this fortress in 60 AD. I ran up this hill at 4am on 15 September 2007 to see the sun rise. The dead sea is 400m below sea level. I am at Sea level where this photo is taken. wierd.

The Israelis see this as getting back what was rightfully theirs. After all, GOd gifts Palestine to the Israelites in the old testament right? INdependence day is celebrated by the Israelis every year, but is know by arabs as 'the disaster'. Arabs see it as colonialism, the Israelis stealing land by virtue of their past corraboration with the hegemonic Western powers of Britain (and now the US). Israel is also considered by some to be a pocket of the West in the middle east. A base from which the West can attempt to assert some form of control over the middle eastern arab states.

On May 16, 1967, a Radio Cairo broadcast from the Egyption ruler stated:

"The existence of Israel has continued too long. We welcome the Israeli aggression. We welcome the battle we have long awaited. The peak hour has come. The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived".

THe goal of the arab states was quite clearly, 'to wipe israel off the map'. Later that year the arab states surrounding Israel planned an attack on Israel. Israel received intelligence about the planned attack and bombed the crp out of the arab forces before they even had a chance to breach the border. THe Israelis easily defeated the Arab forces. THey took not only the West bank and the Gaza strip off their arab neighbours, but also the entire SInai Peninsula (a massive desert/mountain scape that is now part of Egypt), and the southern part of Lebanon. Israel used this newly captured territory as a buffer between itself and its hostile neighbours.
As a result of Israels occupation of southern lebanon, a islamic fundamentalist group called hezbollah was formed in Lebanon to fight Israel. Hezbollah are still an active political and milatary group in Lebanon. Last year Hezbollah fought a 1 month war against Israel. THe northern israeli city of Haifa was bombed extensively by Hezbollah mortar fire from across the border.
What followed this defeat in 1967 was the rise of islamic fundamentalism. Since 1967 there have been several military campaigns from within Israel (arabs living in the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza strip), and coming from Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt (which retook the SInai peninsula from Israel in 1973). Even this week Israeli has been under fire from Palestinian militants in Southern Israel.
As a result of this ongoing conflict, millions of Palestinian arabs are living in poverty ridden cramped conditions in the gazy strip and the west bank, which are two small pockets of palestinian land occupied and controlled by Israel. Most Arabs think that the Palestinians get shafted under Israeli occupation. IN particular, that they do not have the resources and the infrastructure necessary to create a life for themselves within the West bank and the gaza. Many palestinians have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon. These conditions act as a breeding ground for fundamentalism, anger, and ultimately war.

This conflinct underpins many of the issues that exist today between the islamic fundamentalists and the West, which is seen as propping up Israel - 'an illegal state'. THe tension between arabs and Jews can be observed first hand when walking through the streets of Jerusalem, and every day in the World section of the Dom Post. Arabs are still fighting in any way they can, not only in Israel but throughout the entire middle east, and even as far away as New York, London and Indonesia.

Many arab countries still do not recognise Israel as a state. Unfortunately the fight for Israel is far from over. THe situation poses too many questions and not enough answers. Infact, i'm not even sure that there is an answer.
I hope that at least one person has found this interesting. My next post will be about my experiences in Israel.


Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

great stuff jase really fascinating.. that should be a wikipedia entry

Mum and Dad said...

Hi J
I read it but I'm not sure I understood it. It seems very complicated and unsolvable. I was wowed by the photos of Jerusalem and the sun rise over the Dead Sea. I remember now that you were always interested in this particular political situation.
Love Mum

Adam said...

Hey bro,

Thanks for the post card. My PC failed, and I lost your blog site address - got it now.

Am very jealous of the hijinks you're getting up to.