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Complete guide to the Israel-Palestine conflict: what is false and what is true

• "The Israeli people found refuge in Palestine after the exodus from Egypt"

Mostly false. There is no conclusive historical evidence that the Jewish people settled in Palestine with the exodus of Moses from Egypt to Palestine (1440 BC). The view that the biblical narrative is essentially correct unless it can be explicitly proven wrong (biblical maximalism) is today supported by extremely few historians. Likewise, there is no evidence that the biblical patriarch Jacob/Israel (19th century BC according to religious texts) existed, and the overwhelming majority of scholars consider the figure of the prophet Moses to be legendary.

On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that the Jewish religion emerged in the territory of Canaanite (Palestine) in the 6th century BC as a monotheistic religion derived from the polytheist Yahwism, which was practiced in the kingdoms of Judea and Israel (12th century BC to 7th BC).

•"Jews have always inhabited the Land of Israel from its founding to date"

Correct. In the 7th century BC, the lands of Judea and Israel (their inhabitants called also Israelites) were conquered by the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires. These Israelites who practiced Yahwism were expelled to Babylon (now Iraq) in 586 BC (destruction of the first temple of Jerusalem or of Solomon). But in 537 BC, the Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem and build the second temple. It is at that time that Judaism, already very monotheistic, settled in the area.

•"This conflict is mostly because of religious reasons. Jews and Muslims have always hated each other."

False. Anti-Semitism, or persecution of Jews, originated as a Christian and non-Muslim phenomenon. Certainly, Jews were expelled from Palestine by the pagan Roman Empire, but this was mainly for political rather than religious reasons, as Jews of Palestine refused to accept Roman rule and wanted to remain independent.

Instead, it was after Rome converted to Christianity, and particularly after the Eastern Roman Empire became Byzantium and developed its own form of Orthodox Christianity, that the Jews came under intense persecution. This caused that almost no Jews (around 1000) lived in Palestine when the Ottoman Turks conquered the area in 1516.

Indeed, it was the Muslim Turks who gave refuge to the Jews in the Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries, when Catholic kingdoms of Western Europe and Russia expelled Jews constantly after massacres, blood libels, and persecutions of all kinds. Furthermore, when European Christian kingdoms attacked the Ottoman Empire, Jewish populations were targeted and anti-Semitic messages were left by the invaders in Ottoman towns.

In summary, Jews in the Ottoman Empire enjoyed almost the same rights as Muslims, and were less attacked than in Western and Eastern Europe.

•"The Zionist movement of the 19th century was uncompromising in its quest to create a Jewish state in Palestine"

Partially true. Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Jewish nationalist movement in Europe, called Zionism, sought to create a state for the Jews. It first explored the possibility of doing this in Uganda, Madagascar, Russia and Japan. However, the Zionist leaders who succeeded Herzl made it clear that Jerusalem had to be the capital of this new Jewish state.

•"The Balfour Declaration of 1917, and British imperialism are largely responsible for the current conflict in Palestine"

Correct. At the beginning of the 19th century, the world powers sought to increase their influence in Palestine: The Russian Empire expanded its presence with the excuse of protecting the local population of Orthodox Christians. France did the same regarding the Roman Catholics. And Muslim separatists, opposed to the Ottoman central government, made the area highly unstable. In this situation, Great Britain was out of the geopolitical game, as it had no clear reason to be present there. 

The British government saw the opportunity to support the migration of Jews to Palestine as a way of ensuring its sphere of influence in the area. When World War I started in 1914, the British government began to consider the future of Palestine as a protectorate populated by a large colony of Jews, where London would be their main guardian. This plan was finally enacted in 1916 with the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided spheres of influence in the Middle East between France and Great Britain; Palestine would be British and Syria/Lebanon for France.

It was in this context that the British government declared in 1917, through a letter from Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to the Jewish banker Lord Rothschild, that Britain supported the creation of "a national home for the Jews in Palestine". The declaration also called for respecting the civil rights of Muslim Arabs in Palestine, but failed to mention political rights.

Arab/Muslim nationalism opposed this project, asserting Arab rights over formerly Ottoman territories and sought to prevent Jewish migration to Palestine in the 20s and 30s. As a result, tensions between Arabs and Jews increased in the following decades during the British administration of Palestine (1920-1948).

•"Demographic changes made possible the founding of the State of Israel in 1948"

Correct. Until the 4th century AC, Jews were the majority in Palestine. With the Byzantine Empire, the Christians remained in this position until the 12th century, when the Islamic caliphates invaded the area. In 1690, there were only 2000 Jews in Palestine, 11'000 Christians, and 209'000 Muslims. By 1947, there were 630'000 Jews, 143'000 Christians and 1.1 million Muslims.

Following the Holocaust in World War II, the newly created United Nations presented a plan to divide Palestine into two independent Arab and Jewish states and create a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem. This plan had to come into effect in May 1948, the deadline for the British occupation forces to leave Palestine. With this UN partition, the Jewish State obtained 56% of the land area of ​​the British Palestinian Mandate, covering 82% of the Jewish population. The conflict started when the plan was accepted by most of the Jewish population and world powers, but rejected by a large part of the Arab population. This, because they considered themselves the legitimate heirs of Ottoman Palestine, and were twice the population of the Jews.

The Jewish leaders in British Palestine anticipated that the Muslim Arabs were going to start a revolt/war before the May 1948 deadline, as in previous decades. Indeed, neighboring Arab states and the Arab League opposed the vote and had stated that they would intervene to prevent its implementation, which they did the day after the declaration of independence of Israel, on 14 May 1948. 

•"The founding of the state of Israel after the war was illegitimate"

Mostly true from a legal point of view. The UN agreed with a majority vote to create a state for the Jews, but the Arabs did not accept it. The civil war between Muslims and Jews finally broke out after the UN resolution at the end of 1947, the Jews were winning the war and tens of thousands of Muslim Arabs were evicted from their villages. However, Ben Gurion (the name of Israel's main international airport), who was one of the Jewish leaders in Palestine, stated in 1947: "We accept the UN resolution, but the Arabs do not. Why should we be forced to accept borders that the Arabs do not accept in any case?"

It was under these circumstances that the State of Israel was founded, with the borders agreed by the UN, but without respecting the civil rights of Muslim Arabs since many were expelled from their localities even before the 1948 war against Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Hostilities ended in July 1949 with victory for the Jews: Israel managed to retain its independence and increased its land area by almost 50% compared to the UN Partition Plan of 1947, which Israel considered as valid after winning this war that Arab countries started.

But the controversial part came when some 700,000 Muslim Arabs (Palestinians), 80% of the initial population, were expelled from the new territory of Israel and became refugees in neighboring Arab countries. It is this part that Palestinians claim is illegitimate in the process of creating the state of Israel.

"Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian territories"

Partially true. Arab countries and Israel have fought eight wars since 1947, of which Israel has clearly won 7 (Egypt and Syria were the main belligerents in the first 5). In the Six-Day War of 1967, the 4th of these wars, started due to Egypt's threat to block the Suez Canal to Israeli ships, Israel emerged tremendously victorious by taking the Arab territories of Gaza, West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Sinai, and the Golan Heights. Israel claims that this is legitimate as these territories had been annexed by Jordan in the 1948 war, so they should belong to Israel as a consequence of having defeated Jordan in multiple wars.

However, numerous resolutions of the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly, and the UN Security Council consider Israel's occupation of these territories as "illegal" under international law. For its part, Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that Israel maintains the West Bank under "belligerent occupation," meaning that, according to Israel, hostilities have not ended.

•"After the end of the British Mandate in Palestine, Israel has been more restrictive than the Arabs in managing access to religious sites in Jerusalem"

False. Under Jordanian rule, from 1950 to 1967, Jews were expelled from Jerusalem and prohibited from visiting the Western Wall even though the 1949 Armistice required Israeli Jews to access that site. The sacred places of the Jews were not preserved and their cemeteries had been desecrated. After Jerusalem was annexed by Israel, each religious group was granted administration of their holy sites in the city, and for the first time since 1948, Jews were able to visit the Old City of Jerusalem and pray at the Western Wall.

Although the Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa Muslim complex is located, is the most important holy site in Jewish tradition, Israel has left it under the administration of Jordanian Muslim organizations, and Jews are forbidden to pray there, but they are allowed to visit it.

•"In recent years, the Palestinian and Israeli governments have made efforts to normalize relations but extremist elements have stood in the way"

True. Under international law, the occupying power has the obligation of maintaining the status quo until the signing of a peace treaty, and allow the formation of a new civilian local government.

Israel is more willing to recognize a Palestinian state than the Palestinians are willing to do for a Jewish one (from the beginning, in 1947, the Arabs opposed its existence). Also, Israel has let Gaza and the West Bank form their own governments: Hamas (radical Islamists since 2007 who broke peace agreements by denying Israel its right to exist) for the first, and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA, moderate Islamists, they do recognize Israel), for the second. In Hamas-controlled Gaza, there have been no elections since they took power in a civil war against the PNA in 2007, homosexuals are sentenced to death and their bodies dragged through the streets to expose them in public, and Hamas calls to "exterminate all Jews in the world and eradicate Israel". The UN has concluded that Hamas and the PNA systematically practice torture against their detainees and Palestinian citizens enjoy almost no democratic freedoms under their rule.

Since Hamas doesn't recognize the Jewish state and launches constant attacks into its territory, Israel has imposed a harsh economic and humane blockade on Gaza; the import of construction materials is practically prohibited, energy supply is limited, and all import/export permits must be approved by Israel.

Hamas and Israel have fought two large-scale wars (in 2009 and 2014). Hamas systematically fires rockets at Israel following incidents against Palestinians in the West Bank and those authorized to visit Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem. It is also true that Israel breaks several international norms in occupied Palestine: it has expanded the settlements of Israeli Jewish settlers (some 600,000 since 1967) in the West Bank, its soldiers often do not allow Palestinians to display their flag and other nationalist symbols, and it disproportionately punishes peaceful civilians in both Gaza and the West Bank.

•"Israel imposes an apartheid regime in Palestine"

Partially true, although comparisons with South Africa are wrong since these are disputed territories due to several unsettled wars. 

The discord began with the 1948 war, because since then some 5 million Palestinians, descendants of the 700,000 expelled directly by Israel, have claimed that "their right to return to their original lands" is blocked by Israel. The UN has passed multiple resolutions validating this right, as long as Palestinians who return "do so in peace." Palestinians living in the occupied territories (Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights), suffer severe restrictions on their movements and access to public services, their houses are demolished because Israel expropriate land in occupied territories to give them to Jewish families, and most of Palestinians cannot access at all Israeli nationality.

Despite having withdrawn its occupation forces from Gaza in 2005, Israel continues to control its airspace (it closed the Gaza City airport), maritime space, and Gaza's land borders, including with Egypt. This allows Israel to exercise a tight economic blockade on Gaza. Only a few people have the right to leave Gaza with special permits, and almost no one can travel from Gaza to the West Bank, even though the UN legally considers it a single territory. In the West Bank, the construction of a wall surrounding the territory and roadblocks prevent Palestinians from having full access to civil liberties.

Israel excuses itself in this part by arguing that "as long as neighboring Arab countries do not recognize the right of the Jewish state to exist, Palestinians in disputed territories are a threat to national security." Which in some cases it turns out to be true, when Palestians attack without direct provocation citizens of Israel.

At the same time, more than 1.7 million Arab Muslims with Israeli citizenship (acquired before 1967 and transmitted to descendants) live in Israel (9 million inhabitants). In Arab countries, there are almost no Jews left as they have been expelled and are discriminated against by law. On the other hand, in Israel 20% of the population is Arab and Muslim, and there is an Islamist party in parliament (Knesset) that has even governed the country for some years in coalition with left-wing parties.

Arabs and Muslims in Israel enjoy practically the same rights as Jews, except for the fact that any Jew can move to Israel immediately, while for the families of Israeli Arabs this is not the case. Another difference is that Arabs in Israel are not forced to serve in the army and their socioeconomic level is lower than that of Jews.

•"International aid to Gaza is used to finance Hamas terrorism."

Partially false. The EU, the United States, the UN and many individual countries, as well as the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank, have blocked aid going to the government in Gaza when Hamas won the civil war in 2007. At the same time, 80% of the 2 million inhabitants in Gaza receive some form of direct aid from the international community. But the main concern is that these funds are not diverted towards terrorist activities, which of course sometimes can happen.

"Hamas does not represent the views of the Palestine people"

Partially false. Most Palestinians express in surveys that the only way to end this conflict is by force, and that sometimes terrorist attacks are needed. Many of these Palestinians have celebrated in the streets of Europe and around the world the massacre of Israelis made by Hamas.

With the attacks of this week-end, more than 800 Israelies have been killed and around 100 have been taken as hostages. These have been the deadliest days for the Jewish community since WW2. Also, around 500 Palestinans have been killed, including children, in bombings from Israel into Gaza as a response. 

Hamas most probably launched this operation as a reaction to the normalization of diplomatic relationships between Israel and Arab countries and the fact that the current government in Israel is the most right-wing extremist and expansionist in its history, which has made the Palestians worry that they might be defeated in this conflict. How this attack was possible is still unknown. Egypt says that it warned Israel about it but the information was dismissed.


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