By Sophie Reaville
In the late 19th Century, Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. In 1878, Muslims made up about 87% of the population, Christians 10% and Jews just 3%. The late 19th Century and early 20th Century saw the rise of Zionism, a concept with the belief that Jews deserve their own national identity and therefore, their own state. In 1917, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration which promised the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine; a bold move seeing as Britain hadn’t actually won the war yet, and Palestine was still technically under the control of the Ottomans. In 1915, Britain had also promised Palestine to the Meccans who wanted their own Arab state in the territory. In short, it was a mess.
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At the end of the First World War, Britain took on Palestine as a colony “until they could rule themselves”. The British established separate institutions for Muslims, Christians and Jews making it easier for them to divide and rule. Meanwhile, they also attempted to honour the Balfour Declaration “to facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions” and between 1920 and 1939, the Jewish population of Palestine grew by over 320,000 people, as Jews, mostly from Europe, immigrated.
Discord between Jews and Palestinians started to creep up, when Jews began buying land from non-Palestinian land owners and evicting the Palestinians who’d been living and working there. In 1936, the Palestinian people revolted against the British, angry that their state had been taken away from them and concerned about high levels of Jewish immigration. The British managed to suppress the revolt by publishing a white paper limiting Jewish immigration and promising the establishment of a joint Arab and Jewish state within 10 years. This wasn’t particularly beneficial to either party; the Jews who badly needed somewhere to take refuge seeing what was happening in Europe at the time; nor the Palestinians who still didn’t have their rightly deserved state.
By the end of World War II, Britain decided to hand the ‘problem’ of Palestine to the newly created United Nations. In 1947, the UN drew up the Partition Plan which recommended separating Palestine into two roughly equal states – Israel and Palestine. In 1948, the Arab-Israeli civil war broke out after the Arab states refused the UN proposal, arguing it violated the principles of self-determination. Israel won the war and by 1949 they occupied a third more land than they would have done under the UN proposal.
Meanwhile, Jordan controlled and annexed the West Bank and the old city of Jerusalem while Egypt controlled the Gaza strip. The war meant over 700,000 Palestinian refugees fled their homes to surrounding Arab countries.
For Israelis, this was the beginning of their state, but for Palestinians it was the catastrophe of becoming stateless.
Things continued much the same until the 1967 six-day war between Israel, Jordan, Syria and Egypt. The war came after growing tensions between Israel and Egypt in particular. In 1956, Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula hoping to reopen the Straits of Tiran which Egypt had closed off to Israeli shipping since 1950. Israel was forced to withdraw but they brought the problem up again in the months leading up to the ‘67 war. On the 5th June, Israel launched its first airstrikes into Egypt and so began the six-day war. By the end of the war, Israel had gained control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and Golan heights and they have illegally occupied these areas for the last 54 years.
The Israeli government then began establishing Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory, there are now over 350,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and over 200,000 in East Jerusalem. This is ruled as illegal under International Law, but Israel argues that Palestine isn’t technically a state and therefore justifies its actions.
In the early 1980s, Palestinians launched the first intifada (Arabic for revolt or uprising) against the Israeli government. They began with the boycotting of Israeli goods and services and refusing to pay Israeli taxes. When Israeli forces decided to crack down on the uprising, violence ensued. However, the Intifada did lead to peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians and led more specifically to the 1993-95 Oslo Accords.
The first Intifada was also the moment Hamas militant group was founded, and is now the de-facto government of Gaza. Hamas gained support not only because of its militancy, but mostly because of its social welfare projects in Gaza – building and staffing mosques, schools and clinics.
In September 2000, violence erupted again, after former Israeli Prime Minister, though only a candidate at the time, Ariel Sharon, led a group of 1,000 armed guards to the Temple Mount in the city of Jerusalem, the site of the Al Aqsa Mosque, a religiously sensitive and symbolic site for both Jews and Muslims. The events sparked a protest which eventually led to a second much more violent Intifada, where 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed.
In 2002, Israel, claiming to be acting in self defence, began the illegal construction of a wall around the West Bank, but they included Israeli settlements belonging to the Israeli side, effectively taking land away from Palestinians.
In 2005, Hamas gained control of Palestinian territories, and still governs Palestine alongside Palestinian authorities today. Over the past ten years, Hamas has frequently fired rockets into Israel and Israel has responded with extremely violent invasions of Palestinian territory, killing thousands of Palestinians each time.
Palestinians have been denied a state not just since the formation of Israel, but for decades before that. For the last 54 years Palestine has been victim to settler colonialism and illegal military occupation of the Gaza Strip and 165 ‘islands’ across the West bank.
What’s happening now?
Since the beginning of Ramadan, tensions have been particularly high in Jerusalem once more. This comes after Muslims were limited in their Ramadan celebrations due to Covid restrictions. Palestinian protests against this were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, skunk canons and grenades from Israeli police forces. These grenades and canons were fired directly into the Al Aqsa Mosque itself, the third holiest site in Islam and equally symbolic in Judaism. Not only that, but for a number of years now, and increasingly at the moment, Palestinian families face unlawful evictions from their homes in East Jerusalem. The damage to the Al Aqsa Mosque led to threats from Hamas Militant group and the night of Monday 10th May, rockets were fired into Israel, to which Israel promptly responded with their own airstrikes.
The night of Wednesday the 12th saw some of the worst violence among the community with several racist mob attacks taking place in Jerusalem’s centre. As this was happening, Israel continued with relentless airstrikes into Gaza and they were drawing up plans for a ground operation too. Israel has defied international humanitarian law by targeting civilian areas over the last few days, killing scores of innocent families and many children and displacing over 52,000 Gazans. They have also targeted important electricity and water infrastructure as well as medical facilities.
The reality is, the military tactics used by Israel are unlawful according to International Humanitarian Law, and governments all over the world, the UN and other organisations have failed to do much to deal with this. The US has just supplied Israel with $735 million worth of arms over the last few days, not to mention that they blocked a UN Security Council resolution to end fighting, for the third time this week. Of the 219 Palestinians killed in Gaza, 63 of those are children, far too many innocent lives have been lost in the last week, how many more need that be?
Palestine should have a right to its own state, as ultimately it was their country to begin with, and Israel should end its unlawful military occupation of Palestinian territories. Equally, the ethnic cleansing going on in Jerusalem by the Israeli government must cease. Peace talks should be vehemently encouraged between the two sides and the violence must end, with a two state solution encouraged.
What can you do to help Palestine and its people?
Another way you can get involved is to actively boycott companies that are complicit in Israel’s military occupation of Palestine and the violation of Palestinian rights, by refusing to buy from certain companies and spreading the word.
You can also write to your MP to plead that the British government condemn the violent actions of the Israeli government and demand a ceasefire and subsequent peace talks.
Or you can simply educate yourselves and those around you through reading and sharing information over social media platforms.
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