Why are Israel and Palestine Fighting– Again?
The Israel-Palestine dispute has been a high-profile political issue since the early 20th century, originating with the sequestering of Palestinian land for Jewish occupation following the Holocaust. Jews argued that the Holocaust’s destabalization of Jewish communities damaged their cultural integrity, claiming that the allocation of Palestinian territory would both allow Jews to reconnect with their intrinsic religious origins and escape widespread European anti-Semitism. Palestine’s territory coincided with that of Jerusalem, the “Holy Land” of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. European Jews believed that Jerusalem’s function as the spiritual center of Judaism and the biblical location of Israel and Judea indicated a religious right to the territory, therefore justifying the relocation of Palestinian residents.
Palestinian advocates countered that evidence of biblical ownership did not warrant modern territory allocation, citing their earlier occupation as a precedent for future land rights. Furthermore, Palestinians viewed Jerusalem as a center of Muslim faith; the Prophet Muhammad was reputed to have ascended from Jerusalem to heaven.
Following a 1948 war between the two claimants, Palestine was divided into three subregions; West Bank, Gaza, and the State of Israel. West Bank and Gaza were prominently Palestinian while Israel was allocated to the Jews. In 1967, Israel contested Palestine’s right to Gaza and the West Bank, eventually recapturing both territories. Heated opposition to Israel’s occupation resulted in Israel’s eventual withdrawal in 2005, allowing Palestine to regain control. Following the rise of the Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni organization convinced of Palestine’s inherent ownership and intent on forcibly reclaiming Israel, Israel implemented a blockade on the Gaza Strip to stave off imminent military attack. Restricted access to imports has stunted Gaza’s economy and stifled Palestinian leadership, further inciting violent relations. Recently, a resurgence of the emnity between the territories has garnered widespread media attention, notably due to the July 14th death of four young Palestinians by Israeli military strike. The four boys, aged 9 through 11, were cousins that had taken to Gaza Beach to play when the shelling began. All four boys were killed. Israeli officials insisted that the military strike had been intended for Hamas conspirators, but the scathing media response indicated a widespread outcry to end the conflict that had claimed over 10,000 civilians, 34% of which were children. Despite Israeli attempts to assuage public discontent following the death of the 4 Palestinian children, the Israel-Palestine dispute renewed in vigor– and violence.
On July 20, Israel’s offensive against the Hamas reached a peak in intensity, with over 100 Palestinian civilians killed in the fray in Gaza’s streets. The Israel military claimed that their target was a civilian neighborhood purported to contain explosives and an underground network of tunnels harboring Hamas members. Regardless of motive, July 20th marked the height of Palestinian fatalities, moving President Obama to remark on the United States’ “serious concern[s] about the growing number of casualties”. Current Secretary of State John Kerry announced an immediate flight to Cairo in hopes of negotiating a cease-fire on behalf of Israel and Palestine. Numerous other organizations, including the U.N. Security Council, expressed concerns for the growing civilian death toll and convened in an attempt to draft a resolution. Despite media backlash, Israel reiterated their objective; not, as some Palestinians feared, to reoccupy Gaza, but to take the precautions necessary to defend itself from the imminent threat posed by the Hamas terrorist group. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, put the recent conflict into perspective of Israel’s right to defense; “We feel your pain. We bow our head to your sons who fell so that we can continue living here,” the prime minister said. “We are not deterred, and we will continue to act as necessary. The current operation is necessary for the security of Israel’s citizens.” The White House, despite disagreeing with Israel’s method of self-defense, agrees with Israel’s right to protect their citizens.
Tension between Israel and Palestine has heightened despite attempts to ease the rancor, and predictors of political rest remain dubious or nonexistent. The Palestine-Israel dispute has long been touted as the “world’s most intractable conflict”, and whether such claims remain unshaken can only be known in the future. Earlier in 2014, Obama stated that he believed that a peaceful conclusion to the negotations had less than a 50% chance of occurring. However, in context of the recent Gaza conflict, the odds may be, unfortunately, much lower.
Update 9/5/14: Tuesday, August 26th, Palestine and Israel agreed to an indefinite ceasefire, brokered by the Egyptian government, after more than 7 weeks of brutal fighting. No reports of violence have occurred since August 26th.