A look at the history surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it persists today.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is among the world’s most pressing and controversial foreign policy issues. The world is divided between the two sides, with the majority of the world’s diplomatic powers and media coverage supporting the Israeli narrative. In 1948, Israel, the first Jewish state, was established in the land of Palestine. Today, as Israel continues to build settlements out of Palestinian territory, Palestinians continue to be driven out of their homeland and denied basic human rights.
Palestine has a rich history that stretches far beyond the creation of Israel in 1948, but the limited scope of this article will focus on the creation of Israel and how this contributed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nineteenth and twentieth century Jewish migrations saw the rise and spread of Jewish persecution and the accompanying increase in anti-Semitism across Europe. This prompted the development of Zionism, the political movement and ideology supporting the establishment of an exclusively Jewish homeland in what is now Israel. However, it is important to distinguish the religion of Judaism from the Zionist political movement— not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews.
“It’s important to note that Jews are people who believe in God or religion,” Aziz Mogannam, a John Muir College sophomore originally from Palestine, explained. “Zionists have a different definition— they support a movement. They’re people who believe in it, who want a political game, a political outcome. It has nothing to do with religion.”
Zionists have inhabited Palestine since 1948, when over 750,000 indigenous Palestinians were expelled from their land during the Nakba (or “The Great Catastrophe,” as it is known by Palestinians), the deliberate mass expulsion, ethnic cleansing, and genocide intended to facilitate the creation of the new state of Israel. The Nakba didn’t start and end in 1948— it still continues today, as Palestinians are displaced and killed while Israel works to build more settlements.
The creation of Israel is a case of settler colonialism because a separate group of Zionist settlers took over an already-inhabited indigenous territory, aiming to replace the indigenous Palestinians with new Jewish settlers. The settler colonialists imposed an Israeli system of apartheid against Palestinians through ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, and prohibition from accessing basic necessities such as food and water. The Israeli government also built a wall on Palestinian land, around the West Bank, presumably to provide a “security barrier” against terrorism, but more likely for the purpose of restricting Palestinian movement. The case of the West Bank Apartheid Wall possesses often overlooked similarities to President Trump’s proposed US-Mexico border wall.
“[The West Bank Apartheid Wall] is illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ),” Mogannam said, because the wall violates the UN Charter. “However, the UN isn’t doing much, though. The UN only talks, but they don’t actually have the power to really remove it.”
The UN has received substantial criticism for its lack of action. UN Resolution 3236 recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determinination, as well as the right of refugees to return to land they were forcibly forced to flee. In denying Palestinians this right, Israel has blatantly violated international law. Neither the UN nor the broader international community has done anything to resolve this.
For Palestinians, the West Bank Apartheid Wall has restricted their movement, denied them access to water and utilities such as electricity, and isolated their towns and communities. Constant military presence restricts Palestinian access to water in a system of water apartheid, one of the most overlooked aspects of the conflict. Israel controls all West Bank water sources and Palestinians are required to obtain special permits if they wish to build alternative water infrastructure. Palestinians are allocated a limited quantity of (typically contaminated) water on a specified daily or weekly basis, depending on the area, whereas the Israelis receive greater quantities of water with less difficulty.
“Everyone who lives [in Palestine] is affected by the wall,” Mogannam said. “Where I live, water comes twice a week or three times a week. When the water comes, people fill up their water tanks so that when the water is out they have enough water to survive. Electricity’s out too — all that is controlled by Israel.”
The wall has also contributed to additional violence committed by the Israeli soldiers stationed to monitor border crossings and otherwise maintain stability.
“Some people live right next to the wall, which means they wake up everyday to an Israeli just standing on the wall, pointing guns at them. I’ve had friends of friends being shot and killed. I’ve seen people die. I’ve seen people getting shot in front of me.”
The constant presence of Israeli soldiers is something that Palestinians are expected to live with. Occupying Israeli military troops frequently use violence against the Palestinians, regardless of if they are protestors or bystanders. There are multiple media accounts attempting to portray the unjust realities of Israeli military occupation. Instagram user @robert_martin_palestine_, for example, has posted videos of Israeli soldiers shooting, arresting, and otherwise brutally mistreating the Palestinian people.
Mogannam launched into a personal recollection of a man throwing stones at Israeli tanks, a common demonstration of Palestinian resistance.
“Once I was on the roof of my house and I saw a guy who was running away from the military,” he recalled. “When the Israelis come in, people usually throw stones at their tanks, which doesn’t do anything, but it’s just a sign that we’re fighting back. This guy was throwing stones and then he gets shot. You could tell they didn’t want to get near him. They let him die, bleed out on the ground and die.”
Settlers and soldiers often attack Palestinians, who experience this type of violence so frequently that it’s become normalized.
“I think that they just hate everyone who lives there,” Mogannam said, referring to the Israeli soldiers stationed in Palestine to uphold Israeli interests. “They believe that Palestinians are the enemy and they cannot seem to understand that because they’re soldiers. They’re definitely brainwashed. They don’t understand that we are trying to defend ourselves and not attack them. They’re the ones who are attacking us. There’s no means of defense in to going into other person’s country for no reason. There’s no way, there’s no logical explanation that shows creating settlements is a means of defense for the Israelis. There’s no way.”
There are two mainstream proposals to resolve the conflict. The first, the two-state solution, proposes the creation of an independent Israel and of an independent Palestine. Simply put, neither side is able to agree on a fair or equal recognition of borders. The second, the one-state solution, proposes a unified Israeli-Palestinian state. Due to the complex and ideologically divisive nature of the conflict, this is the less popular option.
Negotiations have failed because Israel has no reason to work toward an agreement. Israel is the stronger side with power over the weaker side; it has settlements, a strong military presence, a wall, and effective control over Palestine. It is unlikely that Israel would voluntarily make concessions to weaken its power.
The peace process has further delayed as the world’s major international figures have become more and more complicit in watching Israel violate international law and ignore basic principles of human rights. Trump’s 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite Palestinian consideration of Jerusalem as their own capital, demonstrates continued US support of Israeli sovereignty. This refusal to stand up for Palestine, or hold the Israeli government accountable, is worsening the conflict and is contributing to an already-delayed peace process.
“What’s scaring me is not America’s influence in the Middle East,” he said, “which is a whole different topic, but it’s Israel’s influence of the US. No one’s going to stop Israel. They have the support of the world. They are getting funded from everyone, Zionists and governments and everything. Why would they sit at the table and make a deal and do it when they can just do whatever they want?”
Ultimately, Mogannam believes, the path to most realistic resolution starts by forcing the Israelis to the negotiation table. Otherwise, he says, on a more grassroots level, students can generally boycott Israeli companies that are directly related to violence.
Various actors in the political, legal, and business spheres have taken their own form of action by participating in a formal global campaign called the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which, according to their website, “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.” By encouraging divestment from companies supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the movement non-violently puts pressure on Israel to meet three particular demands:
- Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194
Versions of a bill for divestment were presented to the UCSD Associated Students in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. The 2013 bill passed, but these funds have yet to be divested. Every university in the University of California system has passed an Israeli divestment proposal, with the exception of UC Santa Barbara, which, on Thursday, rejected their BDS proposal for the sixth time in seven years.
Palestinians are still fighting for freedom and basic human rights. Hopefully students at UCSD can become more aware of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and of the injustice Palestinian people have to live with.
“Well, when you lived there, it seems normal until you move out and you see what freedom is — then you know that you weren’t living in freedom. [Coming to San Diego] was very different. It’s nice to have the feeling of being able to go wherever you want and being free to be able to say whatever you want. However, sometimes, I feel like even in the US we’re oppressed. Sometimes it’s wrong to fight for certain people— or to raise awareness about the Palestinian issue.”
Photo from economist.com.