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Arab-Israeli conflict

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The Arab-Israeli conflict is a long-running conflict in the Middle East in regards to the existence of the State of Israel and its relations with Arab peoples and nations. Though the term is often used synonymously with Middle East conflict, the region has been host to other disputes and wars not directly involving Israel.

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History

In its current form, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a modern phenomenon, which dates back to the end of the 19th Century. The conflict became a major international issue after the Ottoman Empire in 1917 lost power in the Middle East, and in various forms it goes on until this very day. The Arab-Israeli conflict was the source of at least five wars and a large number of "minor conflicts". It has also been the source of two Palestinian intifadas. The wars and intifadas are:

  • 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Began after the declaration of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. According to Israel, the war resulted from Arab rejection of the United Nations Partition Plan of November 1947 (in which Israel was formed out of part of Palestine). Arabs maintain they fought a defensive war, as Israel intended to expand its territory beyond that mandated by U.N. Palestinians fled from their country; some sorrounding Arab countries expelled their Jewish populations or they were compelled to flee due to anti-Jewish sentiment. 600,000 Palestinians and 600,000 Jews became refugees. In a few cases local Arab governments strongly encouraged Jews to stay (especially in Morocco). Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel; Palestinians are neglected by most Arab nations which by some are blamed for the poverty and hatred prevailing in some Palestinian camps.

  • 1956 Suez War. Began as a joint Israeli-British-French operation, which they justify as an attempt to stop attacks (see the Fedayeen) upon Israeli civilians, to abolish the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran[?] and recapture the Suez Canal. Ended in a truce in which Israel reached its objective, but the Suez Canal was left in Egyptian (rather than British) hands. Israel agrees to withdraw from Sinai under U.S. pressure, in return for the installation of U.N. separation forces and guarantees of Israeli freedom of shipment.

  • Six-Day War, 1967. Began as a strike by Israel, often considered preemptive, against Egypt following the Egyptian closure of the Straits of Tiran[?], and withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai. Israeli strikes were followed by a ground invasion into Egyptian territory leading to the capture of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. In spite of Israel's request to Jordan to desist from attacking it, both Jordan and Syria began to shell Israeli civilian targets. As a response, Israel captured the West Bank on June the 7th, and on June the 9th - the Golan Heights.

  • Yom Kippur War, 1973. Began as a simultaneous coordinated attack of Egypt and Syria in Sinai and Golan Heights, respectively. They justified it as an attempt to regain the territory lost in 1967 after Israel's attack. Although the initial attack was very heavy, Israel was not defeated, and after several days of fighting it was able to recover all the lands lost in the attack and to defeat the invading armies. The war resulted in a ceasefire at the same borders where it began.

  • Lebanon War, 1982. Began when Israel attacked Lebanon, justified by Israel as an attempt to remove the Fatah militants led by Yasser Arafat from Southern Lebanon (where they had established during the country's civil war a semi-independent enclave used to launch terrorist attacks upon Israel). The invasion was widely criticized both in and outside Israel, especially after the Sabra and Shatila massacre and ultimately led to the death of 20,000 Lebanese. Although initially the attack succeeded and Arafat was exiled to Tunisia, Israel became entangled with various local Muslim militias (particularly the Hizballah). By 1985, Israel retreated from all Lebanese territory but a narrow stretch of land called the Israeli Security Zone[?]. In 2000, Israeli forces left that as well; however, the Hizballah still periodically launch attacks and keep Israeli prisoners as hostages, some of whom are civilians. The two retreats have been result of political campaigns by groups such as Peace Now.

Reasons for the conflict

The opinions stated here are only some of the many existing in this region; they strive to represent majority viewpoints.

Israeli views

There isn't any single Israeli view; rather, there are many different Israeli views, which differ widely in their content.

Israelis name various reasons for aggression toward Israel. One of the primary reasons cited is anti-Semitism (compare to Philo-Semitism). Another reason is that Islamic law requires that Muslims forever retain control over all land that was ever in Muslim control. Since the British mandate of Palestine once was primarily Muslim, the majority of Islamic clerics believe that it is unlawful and unacceptable for a portion of it to be in the hands of non-Muslims. Palestinians usually point out that they lived peacefully in their own country and their resentment of Israeli Jews emerged only as a result of the Zionist conquest of Palestine.

Many experts in Islamic society, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, hold that one of the primary religious reasons for continued Muslim Arab hostility towards Israel is that Islamic law forbids Jews or Christians from being considered equal to Muslims. Although the countries surrounding Israel have secular governments (including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon), Israelis claim that these ideas still prosper on the basis of nationalism, much like the anti-Semitism in 19th century Europe.

According to Islam, Jews must accept the status of dhimmis (second class citizens) if they want to live with Muslims. Islamic law allows Muslims to kill Jews and Christians in Arab lands who refuse to accept this status. Moreover, this status was upheld numerous times by Islamic scholars and implemented by Islamic rulers. Some Muslims declare, however, that this image is created falsely by passages are taken out of context. (See Talk page).

Israelis generally claim that, while they are cast in the role of the attacked rather than the aggressors, the conflict is not entirely one-sided: when nations declare war against Israel, Israel by definition is then at war with them. Israelis point out that they have always preferred peace to war: for example, immediately after the Six-Day war, Israel offered all the occupied territories to the Arab nations in exchange for mere recognition of Israel's existence an offer which all Arab nations mutually refused. The gratious offer was very soon withdrawn when they realised that it was way to generous, considering the horrendeous defeat the Arabs had suffered, and had not been approved by the knesset. It certainly isn't eliglible today.

Moreover, Israel claims that it demonstrated flexibility and understanding, as they managed to bring about the initiation of the peace process, agreed to painful concessions, and were able to partially implement them. As opposed to this, most Israelis see the predominant Palestinian views of the peace process that do not recognize Israel's right to exist, and indicate, in their opinion, that the only real long-term Arab goal is the complete destruction of the Jewish state.

A majority of Israelis sees Zionism as merely the desire of Jewish people to live as a free people in the land of Israel. Zionism does not prohibit Arabs, Druze, Bedouin and other non-Jews from living in Israel as well. People of all races, colors and ethnic backgrounds have always been welcome in Israel; therefore, by definition, Zionism is not racism as it does not imply any superiority of Jews over any other nationality or ethnicity.

Jews hold that Zionism is not colonialism, since it does not wish to enslave any other peoples or lands, nor to exploit them. Zionism is limited solely to allowing Jewish people to have a state in one small area. To the objection that the Palestinians were being exploited simply by the Israelis living on what used to be their land, Israelis reply that the Palestinians were, up until recently, on a path to their independence from Israel, a path from which, as most Israelis now feel, the Palestinians diverted by starting a war against them.

At stake is the very existence of the state of Israel. Israelis regard many of the Arab criticisms against the state of Israel as threats to the state's existence, and point out that against the multitude and power of the Arab states, there is only one Jewish state, which, as they feel, should behave vigilantly, and in particular never give up if bullied.

When dealing with the question of the right of millions Palestinians to return to their historic homes, most Israelis feel that the introduction of such an enormous number of people into the limited geographical resources of Palestine would create a demographic shock that would bring about the destruction of the State of Israel. They believe furthermore that this destruction is too high a price to pay to find a solution to the Palestinian refugees, and in addition to creating millions of Jewish refugees, it would not necessarily even solve the problems of the Palestinians.

Israel is, however, willing to discuss alternative solutions, such as granting right of return to a limited number of people on a humanitarian basis (such as the unification of families) and compensating the rest.

Israelis point out that this proposal is an act of good will, as there was also a huge number of Jewish refugees from Arab nations that were forced from their homes between 1947 to 1967 , totaling over 1,200,000, who were not, and will not be compensated. The reason that all these Jews and their descendants are not in refugee camps is that the State of Israel absorbed 800,000 of them; other nations absorbed the rest. In contrast, Palestinian Arab refugees were confined by other Arabs in refugee camps for many decades, artificially creating a refugee crisis as a way to create an army to one day fight against Israel. While Arab nations have a combined area of over 200 times the area of Israel, some claim that they were unable to absorb a smaller number of refugees than Israel accepted.

Liberal Israelis oppose settlements, realizing that they thwart peace efforts. However, most Israelis do not view the building of house and stores in Israeli settlements as an act of war, and believe that disputes over land do not justify terrorism and mass-murder, but rather need to have politically negotiated solutions.

Some Israelis fear the consequences if they decide, or are eventually forced to, dismantle settlements. Some settlers may resist by force, creating a risk even of civil war. When Israel withdrew from settlements in the Sinai Peninsula in the early 1980s, moderate clashes between the Israeli Defence Forces and settlers occurred. Those settlers amounted to but a tiny fraction of the settler population in the West Bank. A recent survey by Peace Now indicated about two thirds of the settlers would comply with an order to evacuate, if issued democratically by the government.

Although there is room for improvement, Israelis believe they treat their minorities in a just way. They are given freedom of religion, culture and political organization. They are not forced into the Israeli military, so that they will never have to fight their peoples. And, Israelis point out, no Arab state gives similar freedom to Jews.

Palestinan views

There isn't any single Palestinian view; rather, there are many different Palestinian views, which differ widely in their content.

Palestinians feel that the Jewish state of Israel was established under conditions that were deeply unfair to them. Some do not oppose a Jewish state as such, and all Palestinians feel that it is should not be established at the expense of another people. They argue that after World War II, the world allowed a state for Jewish people in Palestine to be made without much concern for the existing Arab population.

They further support the statement made by Count Bernadotte concerning the right of return of refugees: "It would be an offense against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine" (UN Doc Al 648, 1948). Count Folke Bernadotte was subsequently assassinated by the Stern gang, widely considered to be a terrorist organization.

Palestinians cite many reasons for the lack of support of their cause in the Western world. One such reason is racism; while stereotyping of many other groups is no longer rampant, Muslims and in particular Arabs continue to be victimized by crude attacks.

Palestinians claim that they have International law on their side. To take a few examples, UN General Assembly Resolution 194 calls for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return. UN Security Council Resolution 242 calls for Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories. The Fourth Geneva convention forbids an occupying power to settle seized territory. General Assembly Resolution 446 has declared that the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal. However, there are doubts as to whether the return of refugees is compatible with the continuous existence of the state of Israel, and the preservation of a "just and lasting peace" in the region.

Palestinians point out that Israel continued to expand the settlement community in the occupied Palestinian territories throughout the Oslo peace process -- Palestinians claim this was done to make any meaningful Palestinian state impossible. The settlements are off limits to Palestinians, while any Jew in the whole world can at any time choose to settle there. In 2000 at Camp David the Palestinians were offered an independent state composed of most of Gaza and the West Bank. Led by Arafat, the Palestinians rejected this offer, claimed that this state would be a "Bantustan" (a state divided in many pieces) and walked out of the negotiations. The Israeli proposal was rejected. President Clinton and the Israelis asked the Palestinians to offer a counter-proposal, but Arafat refused and went back to the West Bank. Later, further negotiations did take place, but they were terminated by the Israeli side as Israeli government policy held that it was futile to negotiate while actually under fire.

In 2002 Saudi Arabia offered a peace plan in the New York Times, as if it were its own original idea, the UN's resolutions which call for withdrawal from the territories in addition for full recognition of Israel by the whole Arab world. This proposal was backed by the entire Arab world. The Israeli government was not prepared to discuss this proposal.

Many Arabs deny that historical grounds can justify the existence of a Jewish nation today. They hold that events that happened thousands of years ago do not justify evicting the Palestinians from what they see as their homeland.

Some Arabs maintain that there is nothing wrong with Jewish immigration into Palestine, in itself, any more than there is with Jewish immigration into any other part of the world. But most of the Jews arriving in Palestine did so with the intention of taking it over and establishing a Jewish majority state. Most Arabs maintain that Israel's settlement policy is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitutes a crime against international law. On their view, Israel, because of its expansion of settlements, has the lion's share[?] of responsibility for the failure of the peace process.

Moderate Palestinians realize that their cause is thwarted by extremists within their own ranks. Pro-Israeli advocates often assert that two sets of view exist from the same speaker, with a tolerant view usually expressed in English, and an anti-peace view usually expressed in Arabic. Palestinian views of the peace process are discussed in detail in a separate entry. Palestinians do not deny that they would have preferred that Israel had never been created. However, they accept its existence today and call merely for a state of their own.

Today, many Palestinians realize that an equitable arrangement for all involved parties requires dialogue with both the Israeli side and the international community. Some in PLO have accepted the right of Israel to exist within the borders prevailing prior to the Six-Day War. However, representatives of the PLO (and in particular Yasser Arafat himself), have also declared at times that they intended these statements as purely political steps, and that ultimately the peace process with Israel is only a temporary measure; they say that their ultimate goal is still the destruction of the state of Israel. In support of their claims, the PLO never updated its formal statement of policy, the Palestinian National Covenant to reflect their recognition of the State of Israel; it still calls for the destruction of Israel; although Arab representatives often deny these declarations, they cause great concern among the Israeli public.

Most Palestinian leaders reject terrorism as a solution. They hold that terrorist killings of Israeli civilians are both counterproductive, and more importantly, wrong. Unfortunately they seldom occupy a position of importance in the PA. Arafat has recently fired moderates when they have spoken out against suidice bombings. Thus, their voices are unheard over the Palestinian street's overwhelming support for suicide bombings - at 60%, according to recent polls. However, support for Hamas was consistently below 10% prior to the renewed Israeli invasion of the Palestinian administrated areas of the West Bank. The ongoing standoff has hardened views on both sides.

In accordance with their peoples' opinions, most Palestinian and Arab leaders from around the world, have stated they believe the Palestinians are justified in carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Many Arab and Muslim countries, as well as groups like Hamas, Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad disagree with any form of peace process, and hold that terrorism against Israel is right and just. Relationship between PLO and Hamas seems to signify that the PLO itself does not oppose this attitude.

Many Arabs declare the Israeli government is not automatically responsible for the crimes of individual Israelis (ironically, the militant Palestinian organizations fail to make this distinction when it comes to Israelis.) They claim that the same standard should be applied to the Palestinian authority. Palestinians further feel that the world should also react against the silent violence of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the daily humiliation this leads to for the Palestinian population. Israel, however, claims that this does little to explain why the Palestinian Authority has not arrested a single Hamas official of importance since 2000, although they did arrest many prior to that.

Most Palestinian opposition groups to PLO have declared that the only long term solution to the Middle East problem is the elimination of the state of Israel. Jews currently living in Palestine might be allowed to remain there unmolested as free and equal citizens of a state of Palestine (in the secular Arab view) or would be forced to live as dhimmis (second class citizens) along with Druze and Christians, in the Islamist Arab view. All anti-Palestinian laws, or laws perceived as anti-Palestinian, should be abolished, while further Jewish immigration would be controlled by a Palestinian government.

According to many Arab publications, Zionism is worse than German Nazism. Many Arabs believe Israel practices a form of apartheid against the Palestinian people, worse than that practiced by South Africa, and that Zionism is a form of racist colonialism. Israelis reply that this claim is hypocritical, since Arabs have created nearly twenty Arab states, and in most of them Jews are forbidden to have the same rights as Arabs. Palestinians hold that the existence of other Arab nations is irrelevent; they hold that there must now be a another independent Arab Palestinian state. The nation of Jordan is already an ethnically Palestinian state, but it is ruled by Hashemite Arab family. Up until the 1970s the PLO explicitly stated that their goal was not the destruction of Israel alone, but also the conquest of Jordan. However, due to the fialing military stregth of the PLO, and lack of support from other Arab states, most Palestinian nationalists no longer consider the conquest of Jordan by them to be a feasible goal.

Many Arab schools and universities teach that Jews never lived in the land of Israel, and that all archaeological proof to the contrary is part of an international western anti-Arab conspiracy. In this view, no Jews ever lived in Israel, and the Bible's claims are deliberate fictions, and the ancient Jews actually came from Yemen. While Western scholars and moderate Arabs consider such claims to be conspiracy theories, this view is now wide-spread among some Palestinians, Lebanese and Saudi Arabians.

Many Palestinian school textbooks, including those distributed and sponsored by the Palestinian authority since 1994, have historically denied any Jewish history of the land, prior to the 20th century. Similar statements are made in the Palestinian media. The Palestinians claim the newer batch of the textbooks, released in 2000, are more truthful. Palestinians have at times expressed criticism of the Israeli textbooks, which according to them, neglect the Arab Palestinian past; however the Israeli history program does include the history of the Arab Califate, as well as history of both Arab and Jewish elements of Palestine.

Peace and reconciliation

Despite the long history of conflict between Israelis and Arabs, there are many people working on peaceful solutions that respect the rights of peoples on all sides. See projects working for peace among Israelis and Palestinians.

See also: Israeli Defence Force, Palestinian views of the peace process, peace process, Middle East conflict, Islamist movement

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