In November, 2012, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as a non-member state, handing a major triumph to president Mahmud Abbas in the face of strong US and Israeli opposition. Of the total UN membership, 138 countries voted to lift the status of Palestine form an observer entity to a “non-member observer state.” Only 9 countries voted against this move. Australia was one of 41 countries that abstained from voting.
This victory is a hope filled moment, that this new world status may afford the Palestinian people some justice, given the years of uncertainty they have endured. But resolving the problem is not so simple. Indeed the problem is very complex, with a history of conflict leaving a legacy of no love lost between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
The roots of the conflict are literally biblical. The Jewish nation occupied the territory of Palestine from the tribal period of ‘The Judges’ until King David’s charismatic leadership forged a nation with the strength to defend its borders. In the time of Jesus, the Jewish state was occupied by the Romans until the Jewish revolt of 66 AD. Roman retaliation then, and again in the revolt of the 130’s AD led to the expulsion of the Jews from Palestine. The Jews lived in exile for the centuries that followed, keeping alive their traditions and hopes of returning to their homeland. In the meantime, other Muslim and Christian peoples filled the vacuum and made their home in Palestine.
In the late 19th Century, after years of colonial rule, Zionist and Arab national movements were born, and following the first World War seemed potentially friendly with both side’s aspirations coexisting. In 1920, however, the Palestinian Arab nationalist struggle, to establish a national home for Arabs of Palestine, marked the Jewish national movement and immigration to Palestine as the sole enemy to their cause initiating large-scale riots against Jews. In 1929, a series of violent anti-Jewish riots was initiated by the Arab leadership, resulting in massive Jewish casualties in Hebron and Safed, and the evacuation of Jews from Hebron and Gaza.
In 1936 tensions between the Palestinian Arabs and their British occupiers led to violence and a bloody revolt against the British and the Jews. This renewed violence, which had
sporadically lasted until the beginning of World War II, ended with around 5,000 casualties, this time mostly from the Arab side.
By the end of the Second World War, a crisis over the fate of the Jewish Holocaust survivors from Europe resulted in immigration quotas being established by the British, while on the other hand illegal immigration and Zionist insurgency against the British increased (this was the subject of Leon Uris’ novel, “Exodus”).
On the 29th of November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, which recommended the adoption and implementation of a plan to partition Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the City of Jerusalem. On the next day, Palestine was already swept by violence.
By the spring of 1948, it was already clear that the Arab forces were nearing totalcollapse, while Israeli forces gained more and more territory, creating a large scale refugee problem of Palestinian Arabs, which in turn led to sporadic violence against Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa.
Following the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, on 14 May 1948, the Arab League decided to intervene on behalf of Palestinian Arabs, marching their forces into former British Palestine, beginning the main phase of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Armistice agreements were reached in 1949, with Israel holding much of the former Mandate territory and occupying, and later annexing, the West Bank of Jordan. Egypt took over the Gaza Strip, where the All-Palestinian Government was declared by the Arab League on 22 September 1948.
The 1956 Suez Crisis resulted in short-term Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and exile of the All-Palestinian Government, which was later restored with Israeli withdrawal.
In 1964, a new organization – the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was established by Yasser Arafat, which won support from the Arab League. The 1967 Six Day War, however, was a major blow to Palestinian nationalism, as Israel took over the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, practically removing any ability of the PLO to establish any control on the ground. As a result, the PLO established its headquarters in Jordan. Conflict with Jordan, however, forced them to relocate to South Lebanon where insurgency against Israel followed, peaking in the 1970’s with attacks on northern Israel and airplane hijacking campaigns worldwide, which of course drew Israeli retaliation. This period culminated with the Coastal Road massacre of Israelis, in 1978, which led to the Israeli full-scale invasion of Lebanon known as Operation Litani.
In the late 1980’s Palestinian uprisings in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza strip also resulted in Israeli retaliations. The insurgency has continued to the present day with the most recent form manifesting itself in rocket attacks upon Israel.
All of this shows that there is much water under the bridge and much bad blood between the two peoples with no simple solutions to assuage the resentment and distrust built up over decades of violence. It is a frustrating situation, the worse for the plight of the Palestinian people who have lost their homeland. There are no bad guys and good guys in this conflict, but rather 2 peoples fighting for their right to have an independent homeland. Unfortunately it happens to be the same piece of land. Israel has undoubtedly committed atrocities against the Palestinian people, thanks to their military superiority. Air strikes against the Hamas leadership often result in collateral damage. The history of the conflict shows, however, that the reverse was once true, the Jews being very much the underdogs and victims in the early days of the conflict for a homeland.
Currently the meat in the sandwich are the Palestinian people, who have been deprived of the peace and security to live normal lives and raise families. Today they continue to suffer Israeli retaliatory strikes in response to rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel, with rockets supplied to them by Iran, whose government is fanatically anti-Israeli.
With the recent change UN status, the Palestinian leadership says it wants to use the ‘historic’ vote as a Launchpad for talks with Israel which have been frozen for more than two years. This move affords the Palestinian people hope that this UN recognition and status may better their negotiating position by elevating their position in the eyes of the world. I hope and pray this is so. The Palestinian people have certainly suffered enough.