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Arab-Israeli conflict
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Arab-Israeli conflict

The neutrality of this article is disputed.

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.

This conflict is largely unique in that, despite the small land area, casualties, and populations involved, it has managed to grab worldwide attention -- media and diplomatic -- for decades. Some consider that it is a part (or precursor) of a wider clash of civilizations between the Western World and the Arab or Muslim world. Animosity related to this conflict has been the cause of various attacks of supporters (or perceived supporters) of one side by supporters of the other side in many other countries.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Reasons for the conflict
3 Arab views
4 Related articles
5 Additional Reading
6 External links


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:

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.

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 enterprise in 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, 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 and Christians and other non-muslims must accept the status of dhimmis 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 that are taken out of context. (See ).

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 to return the Golan to Syria and the Sinai (but not Gaza) to Egypt in exchange for peace treaties, but according to Israel, Syria and Egypt refused the offer. This offer was very soon withdrawn when they realized that it was far too generous, considering the defeat the Arabs had suffered, and had not been approved by the Knesset. Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian President at the time, proposed negotiations towards peace to Israel in the early 1970s but Israel refused the offer on the claim that it held unreasonable pre-conditions.

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 partially implemented 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 Israeli definition, Zionism is not racism as it does not imply any superiority of Jews over any other nationality or ethnicity. However, during the 1930's, ideas of a 'population exchange' of Palestinian Arabs and Jews between Arab states and Israel, were popular among Zionists.

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. In response to the objection that the Palestinians were exploited by 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. This view is regarded as patronizing by most Palestinians.

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 of 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 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 and Arab-controlled areas of Palestine that were forced from their homes between 1947 and 1967, totaling over 1,200,000, who were not 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, believing 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. This view is regarded as a farce by Palestinians as Israel's leadership continues to reject recent offers of peace and continues to build settlements on Palestinian land.

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 Defense 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. However, this can deny them job opportunities as the requirements for some jobs in Israel is previous military service. And, Israelis point out, no Arab state gives similar freedom to Jews.

Arab views

Palestinian views

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

Palestinians feel that the Jewish state of Israel was established under conditions that were deeply unfair to them. Some Palestinians do not oppose a Jewish state as such, but all Palestinians feel that it should not have been established at their expense. They argue that after World War II - and, indeed, after World War I - the world allowed a state for Jewish people in Palestine to be made without much concern for the existing Arab population. Many Palestinians were forcibly expelled from Jewish-controlled areas before and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war (see Palestinian exodus.) Those who remained in Israel face some discrimination. Palestinians claim that they are denied many job opportunities, as many jobs require previous military service, and only Jews and some other groups, such as Druze and Bedouins, can serve in the IDF.

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 refugees wishing to live in peace with their neighbors to be allowed to return to their homes, or to receive compensation if the don't wish to return. UN Security Council Resolution 242 calls for Israel to withdraw from territories occupied during the Six-Day War. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from settling an occupied territory with its own population. 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 continued 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, claiming 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.

In 2002, Saudi Arabia offered a peace plan in the New York Times, as if it were an original idea. The UN's resolutions call for withdrawal from occupied territories in addition to full recognition of Israel by the whole Arab world. This proposal was backed by some in the Arab World, but the Israeli government rejected this proposal. The same proposal also got criticsm from other Arabs. Therefore, it fell to the wayside.

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 violation of international law. Thus they claim, because of its expansion of settlements, Israel has the majority of responsibility for the failure of the peace process.

Moderate Palestinians realize that their cause may be thwarted by extremists within their own ranks; an issue that is mirrored in the Israeli camp. Many view the conflict as essentially extremist vs. moderate, as opposed to Israeli vs. Palestinian. Pro-Israeli advocates often assert that two sets of views exist from the same speaker, with a tolerant view usually expressed in English, and an anti-peace view usually expressed in Arabic, with pro-Arab advocates making similar charges. Palestinians do not deny that they would have preferred that modern 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 the Palestine Liberation Organization (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.

Some Palestinian voices reject terrorism as a solution. They hold that terrorist killings of Israeli civilians are counterproductive, and some even consider it morally wrong. Unfortunately they seldom occupy a position of importance in the Palestinian Authority (PA). Arafat, under massive pressure from the Israeli government and their occupation of Palestinian territories, has recently fired moderates when they have spoken out against suicide 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 al-Aqsa Intifada. The ongoing standoff has hardened views on both sides.

In accordance with their peoples' opinions, some Palestinian and Arab leaders from around the world, have stated they believe the Palestinians are justified in carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Some 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. The relationship between the 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 groups in opposition to PLO have declared that the only long term solution to the Middle East conflict is the elimination of the state of Israel. Jews currently living in Israel might be allowed to remain there unmolested as free and equal citizens of a future state of Palestine (in the secular Arab view) or would be forced to live as dhimmis along with Druze and Christians, in the Islamist Arab view. All laws perceived as anti-Palestinian, should be abolished, while further Jewish immigration would be controlled by a Palestinian government.

Many Arab publications claim Zionism to be 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 colonialism. Israelis reply that this claim is hypocritical, since Arabs have created twenty two Arab states, in some of which the remaining Jews are discriminated against. Palestinians hold that the existence of other Arab nations is irrelevant; they want to have the land they owned back, rather than being forced to throw themselves on others' charity in foreign countries. Probably 50%-60% of Jordanian population is ethnically Palestinian (former refugees and their descendants; estimates vary widely) but the country is ruled by the native Hashemite Bedouin family. In the 1970s, the PLO attempted to launch a coup against the Jordanian monarchy, which led to death of some 20,000 Palestinians and the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan.

The USSR traditionally used Arabs as a proxy in the Cold War against the West (and the West's bastion in the Middle East, Israel). Some of today's anti-Zionist rhetoric still reflects the position of Soviet Zionology.

Many Palestinian school textbooks, including those distributed and sponsored by the Palestinian Authority since 1994, have historically minimized or ignored 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 similar criticism of the Israeli textbooks, which according to them, neglect and minimize the Arab Palestinian past and, according to CMIP, stereotype Arabs negatively[1]; however the Israeli history program does include the history of the Arab Caliphate, as well as history of both Arab and Jewish elements of Palestine. The Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) regularly issues reports on the contents of Arab and Israeli school textbooks.

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.

Currently active List of peace proposals include:

See also: Israeli Defense Force, peace process, Middle East conflict, Islamist movement

Related articles

Additional Reading

External links