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Palestine/ Israel: A History of Interaction and Confrontation Essay

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Fact File On Israel: nationsencyclopaedia.com, (2008).

The Nations Encyclopaedia describes Israel as follows. The nation of Israel is situated in southwestern Asia. It lies along the eastern border of the Mediterranean sea.  The nation claims a total area of 20,770 square kilometers including the Golan Heights (1,176 sq km) captured from Syria during the six day war in 1967, the West Bank (5,878 sq km) and the Gaza Strip (362 sq km) captured from Palestine during the same war. However, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and Jericho were later transferred back to Palestinian administration. Israel is bordered by Lebanon to the North, Syria and Jordan to the East, The Gulf of Aqaba (Elat) to the South, Egypt to the South West and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. The capital city is Jerusalem located near the center of the country,

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Palestine: palestinecenter.org, (2008).

Palestine on the other hand is located in the same South-West Asia, in the heart of the area known as the Middle East. To its north is Syria and Lebanon, with the Gulf of Aqaba and the Sinai Peninsula to its south, and Jordan on its east. It was once a land stretching from the Mediterranean coast, across the Jordan River, and from the Gulf of Aqaba north beyond the Sea of Galilee. This area is the modern day state of Israel (established in May 1948), and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

From the very onset, one feels the reverberations of the Israeli-Palestine conflict from the two definitions above, one by the Jewish sympathetic Nations Encyclopedia and the other by the Palestinian aligned Palestine Center. The description of Israel ignores the existence of Palestine and vice versa. The conflict between these two states runs deep over a lengthy historical period, along religious lines and deep rooted conflicts of identity and land.

Gelvin, James L. (2005), The Israel-Palestine Conflict: 100 Years of War. New York & Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge UP

In this book Gelvin delves into the middle east conflict, by giving it a well developed historical perspective. The history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine dates back several centuries. It mainly revolves around the anthropological concepts of nativism, religion, ethnocentrism, acculturation and functionalism.

The land of Canaan or Eretz Israel was, according to the Jews, promised to the children of Israel by God. Groups such as Hamas on the Palestine side and the Likud party in Israel take very hardline positions on land in the middle east, claiming it to be theirs, based on religious grounds. Even the early Jewish leader Theodor Herzl extensively referred to the biblical Promised Land in his 1896 manifesto The Jewish State, Chapman CG, (2002).

The presence of three major world religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism have played its part in straining relations between the different players in the region. There are Palestinian Muslims and Christians, mainly Jewish Judaists and Jewish Christians. The mainly Muslim Palestinians lay claim to the region based on the presence of such religious edifices like the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and The Cave of the Patriarchs.

Indeed the area in which the modern day Israel and Palestine states are situated has had various names over the Years. In the Christian bible it is referred to as Canaan the land of milk and honey, (Gen. 13 RSV). The Christians therefore lay claim to the area as their Promised Land.

The region was referred to as Retjenu by the ancient Egyptian, Gardiner, Sir Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (1961), Clarendon Press, Oxford.  Texts of the temple at Medinet Habu referred to a certain group of people, who invaded them from across the Red sea as the Peleset; Pheleshet in Hebrew and Philistines in English; Browning, W R F (1997), “Philistines” A Dictionary of the Bible. Oxford University Press.

 These are the people who over the years came to be known as the Palestinians. Endless battles are fought between these people and the Israelites in the biblical times. The biblical land of Canaan is a vast area covering even Lebanon. It is described as the land of the Canaanites, Hebrews, Hittites, Amorrhites, Pherezites, Hevites and Jebusites, (Numbers 34:1, Joshua 13:5). In Hebrew tradition, this land was given to the descendants of Abraham, from the Nile to the Euphrates River (Genesis 15:18). It is this land that is still referred to by Christians, to date as the holy land. In the Qur’an, the term Al-Ard Al-Muqaddasah (Holy Land) is mentioned at least seven times. Moses proclaims the same land to have been given to the people by Allah. (Surah 5:21)

Since both sides believe that they are the rightful natives of the land and they have religious writs to support this, neither side is willing to give even an inch of the land to the other side as this would go against their inalienable right to own the area as decreed by God and Allah, Chapman Colin Gilbert (2002), Whose Promised Land?, Baker Books, .

Bannister Robert C (1992), William Graham Sumner, Folkways, On Liberty, Society, and Politics: The Essential Essays of William Graham Sumner, ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

In his book Folkways, Sunmer provides this earliest definition of ethnocentrism, . In the Israel/Palestinian conflict, ethnocentrism plays a central role. It forms an in integral part in any attempt to understand the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Jews have had a turbulent history in which several civilizations have tried to erase their very existence from the face of the earth. The Palestinians have themselves not fared any better. As early as 772 BCE the Assyrian empire under Sorgon had conquered the Palestinians. The effect of this conquest was felt greatly by the Jews who were scattered all over and their twelve tribes were from then on referred to as the lost tribes of Israel Emperor Sorgon referred to the area in his memoirs as Palashtu. The aim of the Assyrians was to forcefully acculturate the people in Palashtu into the Assyrian culture. Naturally, the militarily superior Assyrians faced endless revolts from the natives who happened to be Palestinians and Jews. However, by 603 BCE the Assyrian forces under the command of the then mighty Babylon Empire carried of most of the inhabitants of Palashtu into slavery effectively bringing to an end the fierce ancient tribe of Philistines. But the individual philistines neither died out nor forgot their origins. Ehrlich, Carl S. (2001), “Philistines” The Oxford Guide to People and Places of the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press.

After the Assyrians, came the Romans who took over many parts of the world. Fed up by the constant rebellions in the volatile region, the Roman emperor Hadrian merged the entire region including Iudaea, Galilee, Samaria and Idumaea under one province known as Syria-Palaestina. This was in a vain attempt to suppress Jewish nationalist feelings following the nasty Jewish Bar Kokhba led revolt of 132-135 CE, Schäfer Peter (2001), The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered The Jewish Virtual Library.

Silberman Neil Asher, Thomas E. Levy, Bonnie L. Wisthoff, Ron E. Tappy, John

L. Meloy (1996), “Near East” The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Brian M. Fagan, ed., Oxford University Press

In this book archeological evidence that has been garthered exposes ancient writs and artefacts of the period of Roman Rule in the Middle east region. These give a further insight into the development of the ancient conflict in the region. The roman Emperor  attempted to expel Jews from Judea but this was unsuccessful. As it were, the Jews struggled on to re-establish their identity and nationality; this is demonstrated by the persistent existence of the rabbinical academy of Lydda in Judea, and the large swathes of Jewish population that remained in Samaria and the Galilee. Tiberias then became headquarters of exiled Jewish patriarchs. After a long struggle, certain religious freedoms were gradually restored to the Jews such as exemption from the imperial cult and internal self-administration. However, to the Samaritans the Romans made no such concessions, religious liberties continued to be denied them. Their sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim was also defiled by being replaced with a pagan temple. All these measures were taken to suppress the resurgence their nationalism. The name of Jerusalem was also changed to  Aelia Capitolina, Casper, Lionel L. (2003), Rape of Palestine and the Struggle for Jerusalem.

New York ; Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House.

Temples were constructed there to honor the Greek-Roman God Jupiter. Christianity went underground as the Roman pagan practices took precedence. During the subsequent period under  Septimius Severus (193–211 CE) new cities were founded in Judea at Eleutheropolis (Beit Jibrin), Diopolis (Lydd), and Nicopolis (Emmaus) under the

Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) rule (330–640 CE)

 In the 5th Century, things changed drastically when Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity. From then on, the entire region was converted to Christianity either willingly or through coercion. The church of the Holy Sepulcher and the church of Ascension were built in Jerusalem, along with the church of Nativity in Bethlehem. During this period, there were great advancements in the infrastructural, social and economic organization of the region. Nevertheless, the feeling of cultural alienation never left the Jews or Samaritans. There was yet another violent Jewish revolt in 352 CE that was brutally suppressed by the Romans, Lehmann, Clayton Miles (1998), Palestine: History: 135–337: Syria Palaestina and the Tetrarchy. The On-line Encyclopedia of the Roman Provinces. University of South Dakota.  For a people who have faced so much oppression and discrimination, the feeling of self-identity and determination is so strong among the Israelites and Palestinians. This goes to strengthen their resolve to work harder to ensure their existence as a race. They therefore inadvertently have strong ethnocentrism which manifests itself in the will of the individual to make the ultimate sacrifice, giving one’s life, for the sake of the survival larger Jewish or Palestinian community.

Mauss, Marcel (1938) “A category of the human mind: the notion of person; the notion of self.,” in M. Carrithers, S. Collins, and S. Lukes, eds. The Category of the Person: anthropology, philosophy, history. Pp. 1-25. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.

In this book Mauss et al analize the notion of self identity as a strong determinant of relations between individuals. They develop the concept of social anthropoly. The self is detemined by the enthnic group into which one is born, the history of that ethnic group and its interaction with others. Of course ethnic group here refers to tribe, race or community.  Morris, Benny (1999), Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. New York Knopf;  develops a history of the Middle East Conflict by putting it in a historical perspective.

The movement of Zionism was born in the late 1800s among Jews mainly residing in Europe at the time, to purchase land in the Middle East as a way of resettling in “The Promised land” in the middle east, Citron, Sabina (2006), The Indictment: The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Historical

Perspective. New York ; Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House.  These followed a series of conquests in the Middle East different civilizations including the Romans in Jesuit times, Assyrians and Babylonians in 603 BCE and the Ottoman Turks in the early 1900s, which led to the scattering of the Jews all over the world. The Jews had therefore established this movement, which was supported by Britain and the United States among other NATO states to help reestablish their nation. They purchased swamps and swathes of the desert, which were readily available as the Arab inhabitants didn’t have much use for them. The movement was led by Theodor Herzl who appealed to the Ottoman authorities that this was a way of raising tax revenue, by converting barren land, through draining and irrigation, into fertile agricultural land, Schoenberg, Shira (2005), The Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132-135 C.E.), The Jewish Virtual Library.

 In this way collective Zionist farms known as kibbutzim were established. Gradually, the Zionists established cities such as Tel Aviv and reclaimed Jerusalem, which at the time had only a few tens of thousands of inhabitants, Barzilai, Gad (1996), Wars, Internal Conflicts and Political Order: A Jewish Democracy in the Middle East, Albany: State University of New York Press.  At first the Arab natives welcomed the functionalist Zionist movement because of the improvement in education, the influx of capital, jobs and general improvement in standards of living that they brought with them. However, increasing discrimination by the Ottoman rulers who started imposing and asserting their own culture on their subjects resulted in increased restlessness among both the Arabs and Jewish settlers, Jacobson, David M. (1999), Palestine and Israel, Bulletin of the American Schools of  Oriental Research, No. 313. This led to the both subjects supporting allied forces against the Ottomans and Germans in World War I. The defeat of the Ottomans and their allies led to a new era of British rule over the area that was now named The British Mandate of Palestine. This area included present day Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.

In 1917, the British issued the Balfour declaration stating that they favored “the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people. British Prime Minister Lloyd and other key British leaders believed that Jewish support of was essential for winning the World War I. This caused disquiet among the Arabs. By 1931, 17% of the population of Palestine were Jews, an increase of 6% since 1922. This population doubled with the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany after the world war. Palestinian Arabs saw the influx as a threat to their identity and homeland.    In addition, Jewish policies of buying land and prohibiting employment of Arabs in Jewish industries and farms, as well as what the Arabs viewed as British preferential treatment of Jewish immigrants, further escalated tensions, Segev, Tom (1999), One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs Under British Mandate, New York: Henry Holt ; Co. The resultant reaction was a series of demonstrations by the Arabs beginning as early as 1920. In August 1929, Arabs murdered 67 Jews in what came to be known as the Hebron Massacre, Bard, Mitchell (1999), Middle East Conflic, Indianapolis: Alpha Books.  1936-39 saw the Arab revolt in Palestine. To make matters worse, there are photographs and other documents linking the German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler to Palestinian Arab leaders like the Grand Mufti, which underlines the support of the Nazis to further escalation of tensions in the region, Carter, Jimmy (2006), Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Facts in the book not entirely objective). The last straw for the Arabs came in 1948, when the state of Israel declared its official existence and independence, Gold, Dore (2004), Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos. New York: Crown Forum.Arab leaders formed functional militant groups such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad driven by hatred of the Jews and a central theme of doing away with the Israeli State in “their land.” This marked the heightening of a vicious circle violence that continues in the Middle East to date.

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