Syed Asif Salahuddin
On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched an unprovoked attack on Israel, marking a significant escalation in the ongoing conflict. This event has garnered international attention, and its analysis largely depends on the historical perspective from which it is analysed. To comprehensively grasp the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is imperative to delve into its historical context. While rational individuals do not condone acts of terrorism, it’s essential to examine each aspect within its specific context.
In this conflict, there seems to be a clear distinction between the oppressor, represented by Israel, and the oppressed, represented by Palestine. Human Rights Watch’s 2021 report characterizes Israel’s actions as apartheid. On one side, we have a nuclear-armed state with significant military power, and on the other, we find two million people, approximately one million of whom are under the age of 18, living in what could be described as an open-air prison. This issue is clouded by a multitude of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and myths. The complexity of this problem often discourages a comprehensive examination by the world.
In this article, I will break down the issue into phases to help everyone gain a better understanding. It’s important to emphasize that comprehending the situation in context is challenging without taking the historical aspect into account.
To comprehend, it is essential to grasp the initial two concepts that I will maintain throughout this text. The first concept revolves around British colonization, a tangible occurrence where the British established colonies worldwide with the primary aim of resource extraction for their homeland. This was underpinned by the notion of the “White Man’s Burden,” where white individuals assumed the responsibility of civilizing the uncivilized inhabitants of third-world countries, viewing themselves as superior to the rest of the world.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu reports the systematic humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children by Israeli security forces, a form of mistreatment reminiscent of the experiences endured by black South Africans, who were corralled, harassed, insulted, and assaulted by the Apartheid government’s security forces. This narrative underscores how certain rights in the US Constitution only applied to white individuals, excluding non-white populations from full humanity.
When white individuals from various parts of the world, including Israel or Ireland, proclaim “give me liberty or give me death,” they receive widespread applause. In stark contrast, when black individuals or Palestinians echo these same words verbatim, they are labelled as criminals, subjected to harsh treatment, and made examples of, much like colonial masters handled their slaves. This process of subjugation results in a loss of identity among the masses, as artificially constructed identities are imposed, causing people to forget their centuries-old cultural histories.
The second perspective for comprehending the Palestine-Israel conflict involves understanding the Holocaust during World War-II when Nazi Germany carried out genocide against Jews. Anti-Semitism was not limited to Nazi Germany; even the United States refused entry to thousands of Jewish refugees. In response, many Jewish refugees in the United States identified as Christians to gain entry. Anti-Semitism was widespread throughout Europe.
Although religion is often used to fuel tensions, the Palestine-Israel conflict is not fundamentally a religious war. Both sides leverage religion to advance their agendas. Geopolitical interests play a crucial role in the conflict, with Egypt situated on one side of Gaza.
The historical context, particularly the McMahon-Hussein correspondence of 1915-16, reveals that the British promised the Arabs liberation from Ottoman Empire rule if they supported the British cause against the Ottomans, a promise that was ultimately broken. Jewish individuals sought refuge from persecution in Europe by settling in Palestine, and despite the British pledge to liberate the Arabs from Ottoman rule, they retained control of Palestine, distributing land in a manner that effectively asserted ownership.
Theodor Herzl introduced the idea of an independent Jewish state in his book “JUDENSTAAT,” and with British support, Jewish settlers began to establish themselves in Palestine. In 1936, Palestinian protests and hunger strikes met with British repression, leading to land and property destruction, mass incarceration, and executions.
In 1942, Zionism shifted its allegiance from the British to the United States. The United Nations became involved, allocating land to Jews where the majority of the existing inhabitants were native Palestinians. British authorities prevented Palestinians from acquiring weapons, while Jewish settlers possessed a well-trained army. This led to Israel’s military crossing UN-drawn boundaries to displace villagers and seize land, resulting in a massacre.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of Israel and became its first Prime Minister, backed by a well-trained army of 40,000. Arab nations rejected the plan, leading to a war with the newly-formed state. Israel used its military might to occupy more land in the region. Ben-Gurion later acknowledged that the attacks on “Jaffa” and “Jerusalem” were intended to annex land, leading to the displacement of 250,000 people from their homes.
The 2022 documentary “Tantura Massacre” sheds further light on the ethnic cleansing, with Israeli soldiers describing how it led to 75% of the population becoming refugees. This marks the second phase in understanding the Palestine-Israel issue.
To grasp the conflict, it’s essential to delve into the “NAGBA or the Catastrophe.” NAGBA signifies a massive displacement where approximately 750,000 people were forcibly uprooted from their homes, and many could not return. This occurred because Israel propagated the myth that Palestine was a land without people and a people without land, justifying its settlement there. However, this is a distortion of reality; people were indeed living there but were forcefully evicted from their homes.
In the 1970s, Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) gained recognition as representatives of Palestine.
In 1993 and 1995, the PLO signed two significant agreements with Israel, known as the Oslo Accord. These treaties, while not resulting in substantial gains for Palestine, did include Israel’s recognition and a step toward peace. Israel conceded to the establishment of a representative Palestinian organization and limited regional control, which came about due to persistent resistance efforts.
In 1984, the first Intifada, or resistance, occurred. Subsequent discreet peace talks, with Norway playing a behind-the-scenes role, took place. However, a tragic incident unfolded in November 1995 when an Israeli right-wing extremist assassinated the Israeli Prime Minister during a peace march due to his pro-peace stance with Palestine.
Unfortunately, peace remained elusive, leading to the eruption of the second Intifada. Israel continued expanding its settlements, and in 2004, Yasir Arafat’s death under mysterious circumstances gave rise to numerous theories, though none have been definitively confirmed.
(To be Continued)
The writer is President of Independent Policy and Research Centre (IPRC), an Islamabad-based think tank.