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History of Palestine
Historic Palestine is located in the Middle East, in a region bordering Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. Part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire until 1918, it was then occupied by Britain until 1948 (1st map below). In 1917 the British government helped sow the seeds of future injustice and conflict by promising the Jewish people outside Europe a ‘homeland’ in Palestine, through the Balfour Declaration (at the same time promising the Palestinians an independent state under the Sykes-Picault Agreement).
The Palestinians refused the UN plan to partition their homeland into a Jewish and a Palestinian state at the end of the British Mandate (2nd map), on principle and because it would give a totally disproportionate share of land (56%) to the Jewish population who then were only 33% of the population — and owned only 8% of the land. But in 1948 the founding of the state of Israel was unilaterally declared and this was followed by fighting between Israeli armed gangs and Arab forces attempting to defend the Palestinian Arab population.
By the ceasefire of 1949, what is now called the ‘Nakba’(catastrophe) had seen the driving out of two thirds of the Palestinian Arab population – an act of ethnic cleansing by the new state of Israel – and the occupation by Israel of 78% of the land, with the destruction of at least 418 Palestinian villages on this land. The Palestinians who were driven out (750,000 people) became refugees, most in the surrounding countries where they have remained in destitution with the long-cherished hope of returning to their homes (many still have the keys to their houses).
The Palestinian state was never declared by the UN or anyone else. The West Bank (initially administered by Jordan) and the Gaza Strip (by Egypt) were under an illegal Israeli military rule after they were occupied in the 1967 war between Israel and Egypt, and East Jerusalem was also annexed illegally by Israel in 1967 (4th map). For more than 60 years the Palestinians have been denied the right to self-determination and statehood as well as the whole range of political and human rights. By the present day, the percentage of historic Palestine occupied by Israel has risen to 83% and the idea of a Palestinian state has disappeared in face of the brutal ‘facts on the ground’ Israel has created. Today the West Bank and East Jerusalem are referred to as the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’(OPT), and Gaza, under a brutal siege and recurring attack, is effectively occupied.
This is taken from a factsheet ‘The Basic Facts’ published by national PSC (see palestinecampaign.org)
- 1967 Israel occupies the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip (the ‘Occupied Territories’) during the 6-day war with Egypt, bringing all of historical Palestine under Israeli rule. UN resolution 242 calls on Israel to withdraw from the territories. It fails to do so, and initiates a system of increasingly brutal military control over the territories.
- 1987 The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories rise up in the first non-violent Intifada (‘uprising’), calling for self-determination and an independent Palestinian state.
Palestine and occupation
- 1993–5 The US brokers a series of agreements between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. The ‘Oslo Accords’ are intended as a first step towards Palestinian self-rule, with a staged withdrawal from the Occupied Territories by Israeli troops. However, illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories double in number during the ‘peace process’. By the year 2000 there are about 350,000 Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories.
- 2000 Israel’s increasingly brutal military rule and its widespread seizure of Palestinian land for settlement building ignites a second Intifada. Thousands of Palestinians are killed as they resist Israel’s huge army.
- 2002 The Arab governments declare they are prepared to recognise Israel within the pre-1967 borders at the Beirut Conference. Israel ignores this offer, violently invades every Palestinian city except Jericho and starts building a separation wall, largely on Palestinian land.
- 2005 Israel pulls out its 8000 illegal settlers from the Gaza Strip (which has a population of 1.4 million Palestinians), and settles another 30,000 in the West Bank. It then seals off the Gaza Strip, making access virtually impossible.
- 2006 Democratic general elections in the Occupied Territories bring Hamas to power. The US, supported by the EU, immediately imposes severe sanctions on the Palestinians.
- 2008-9 The Israeli army inflicts a massive attack on Gaza, which they called ‘Cast Lead’, killing 1440 Palestinians, including many women and children. Judge Richard Goldstone says of his UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict: “The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Force (IDF).”
More Detail on the Issues
About 800,000 Palestinians were forced into exile in 1948-9 and during the June 1967 war a further 325,000 Palestinians became refugees. Under UN Resolution 194, the Palestinians have the right to return to their homes, but Israel has always refused to implement the Resolution. Today over 6 million Palestinians live as refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom still live in overcrowded refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. At the same time, Israeli law states that any Jew living anywhere in the world can live in israel and become an Israeli citizen.
The past 40 years have seen the establishment of over 200 illegal Israeli colonies – usually referred to as ‘settlements’, housing nearly 500,000 settlers, within the Occupied Territories.
There are currently 121 Israeli settlements, and approximately 102 Israeli outposts built illegally on Palestinian land occupied militarily by Israel since 1967 (West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights). All of these settlements and outposts are illegal under international law (Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention) and have been condemned by numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions. Israeli outposts are considered illegal even under Israeli law.
These settlements and outposts are inhabited by a population of some 462,000 Israeli settlers. 191,000 Israelis are living in settlements around Jerusalem and a further 271,400 are further spread throughout the West Bank. The settler population has grown consistently between 4-6% per year over the last two decades, a much higher rate of growth than Israeli society as a whole (1.5%).
Settlements are built on less than 3 percent of the area of the West Bank. However, due to the extensive network of settler roads and restrictions on Palestinians accessing their own land, Israeli settlements dominate more than 40 percent of the West Bank.
(click image to enlarge)
Palestinians are continually under attack from the Israeli occupying forces and are increasingly harassed by settlers, who attack farmers and steal their land. Collective punishments, such as prolonged curfews and house demolitions are frequently imposed. Since 1967 12,000 Palestinian houses have been demolished . Israel’s policy of house demolitions seeks to confine Palestinians to small enclaves, leaving most of the land free for Israeli settlements.
The Wall will run over 650 km (400 miles) inside the West Bank. It is being built deep within the West Bank as it zigzags throughout 10 out of the 11 West Bank districts. The Wall, on this path, de facto annexes nearly 50% of the West Bank and completely destroys all continuity of life in the region.
The Wall is devastating every aspect of Palestinian life—already tens of communities have experienced the loss of land, water, and resources which provide their sustenance as well as the destruction of community and personal property. Palestinian villages and towns near the Wall have become isolated ghettos where movement in and out is limited, if not impossible, thus severing travel for work, health, education, and visits to friends and family. For instance, in the 18 communities surrounded into an enclave in the Tulkarem district the inability to travel due to the Wall and Israeli military “closures” has brought the unemployment rate up from 18% in 2000 to an estimated 78% in the spring of 2003. In Qalqiliya, where the Wall hermitically seals the city with one Israeli military controlled checkpoint, nearly 10% of the 42,000 residents have been forced to leave their homes due to the city’s imprisonment, closure of the market, and inability to find work.
Before and during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Palestinians suffered many attacks from the Jewish terrorist Irgun and Lehi groups, who siezed land and drove Palestinians from their homes. One of the most brutal events was the massacre at the village of Deir Yassin in April 1948when 107 people including many women and children were killed. This was part of the process of flight and expulsion suffered by the 750,000 refugees who left, hoping they could return in months but who have never been allowed to return.
The 1967 occupation
From 1949 to 1967, the much-reduced areas of land remaining from what had potentially been allocated to the Palestinians under the UN partition plan, formed 2 units. These were defensively occupied: Gaza by Egypt, and the West Bank including East Jerusalem by Jordan. This period ended with the total military occupation by Israel following the 1967 war. These areas then became known as the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
The Palestinians since that point have lived under a brutal military occupation. This has seen a series of devastating military attacks and ‘incursions’, particularly on the towns, but the background is the constant suffering caused by almost total denial of freedom of movement (bureaucratic control, road blocks and checkpoints, the building of settler-only roads which often means that Palestinians have to travel great distances to circumvent these, and – supremely – the building of the apartheid wall), physical insecurity (shootings by soldiers and settlers), arrests (almost every family has a member who is or has been imprisoned often without charge or access to lawyers), land loss and house demolition, and increased poverty through the throttling of livelihoods and the economy – both in agriculture and manufacturing.
The attacks are always justified by Israel as ‘defensive’ but in fact they are part of a long-term process which denies any progress towards Palestinian self-determination and punishes the Palestinians for any attempted resistance they make, given that they have no military forces to mount against a state which is the largest military power in the Middle East (even excluding its nuclear capacity). The most devastating attacks, and their background, are as follows.
Sabra and Shatila 1982
The Israeli army launched a massive military incursion into Lebanon in the summer of 1982. Operation ‘Peace for Galilee’ was intended to wipe out Palestinian guerrilla bases near Israel’s northern border, although Defence Minister Ariel Sharon pushed all the way to Beirut. From 16 to 18 September, the Phalangists – who were allied to Israel and acting under its control, killed hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps as they were encircled by Israeli troops, in one of the worst atrocities of nearly a century of conflict in the Middle East. The Palestinian Red Crescent put the number killed at over 2000.
Palestinian intifada 1987-93
A mass uprising – or intifada – against the Israeli occupation began in Gaza and quickly spread to the West Bank. Protest took the form of civil disobedience, general strikes, boycotts on Israeli products, graffiti, and barricades, but it was the stone-throwing demonstrations against the heavily-armed occupation troops that captured international attention.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) responded brutally and there was heavy loss of life among Palestinian civilians. More than 1,000 died in clashes which continued until 1993.
Oslo Process 1993-99
After abortive peace talks in Washington stalled, the secret ‘Oslo track’ – opened on 20 January 1993 in the Norwegian town of Sarpsborg. The Palestinians consented to recognise Israel in return for the beginning of phased dismantling of Israel’s occupation. In 1994 Yassar Arafat was allowed to return from exile to Gaza. In 1995 the Oslo II agreement divided the West Bank into three zones:
· Zone A comprised 7% of the territory (the main Palestinian towns excluding Hebron and East Jerusalem) and was supposed to go to full Palestinian control;
· Zone B comprised 21% of the territory under joint Israeli-Palestinian control;
· Zone C stayed completely in Israeli hands.
During this period, conflict was rumbling and continuous. In 1995, Israel blocked the supposedy autonomous areas of Gaza and and assassinated many Palestinian militants. Settlement activity and violence from the settlers grew. The Palestinian Authority, established nder the Oslo process, quelled unrest by mass detentions. Opposition to the peace process increased among right-wingers and religious nationalists in Israel. The five-year interim period defined by Oslo for a final resolution passed on 4 May 1999 with no agreement in sight.
Second Intifada 2000
Anger mounted among the Palestinians; there was nothing to show for five years of the peace process. More talks under President Clinton at Camp David in 2000 also failed. In September, Ariel Sharon, the veteran right-wing politician who succeeded Binyamin Netanyahu as leader of israel’s Likud party, provocatively toured the site of the al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. Palestinian demonstrations followed, quickly developing into what became known as the ‘al-Aqsa (or second) intifada’, or uprising.
Palestinian militants carried out an intense campaign of attacks in the first three months of the year, including a hotel bombing which killed 29 on the eve of the Jewish Passover holiday.
In response, Israel besieged Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound for five weeks and sent tanks and thousands of troops to re-occupy almost all of the West Bank.
Months of curfews and closures followed as Israel carried out operations it said were aimed at destroying the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.
Controversy raged as Israeli forces entered and captured the West Bank city of Jenin in April. A UN report later refuted Palestinian claims of a massacre, but Amnesty International concluded that the Israeli army had committed war crimes in Jenin and also Nablus.
May saw a five-week stand-off between the Israeli army and a large group of militants and civilians sheltering inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.
In June, US President George Bush called for Palestinians to replace their leader with one not “compromised by terror”, and outlined a timetable for negotiations which would later become the plan known as the “roadmap”.
Israel began building a barrier in the West Bank, which it said was to prevent attacks inside Israel, although Palestinians feared an attempt to annex land.
Mr Arafat faced heavy pressure to reform the Palestinian Authority and rein in the militants.
Palestinian attacks continued, met with periodic Israeli incursions and a ten-day siege which reduced much of Mr Arafat’s compound to rubble.
2002 Massacre of Jenin; siege of Bethlehem
In 2002 israel launched ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ – a large-scale military operation by the Israel Defense Forces, during the course of, and in reaction to, the Second Intifada. It was the largest military operation in the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War. It was officially justified as a response to a suicide bombing at a hotel in the Israeli resort city of Netanya.
The attacks began with an invasion of Ramallah, placing Yasser Arafat under siege in his compound, followed by attacks and invasions of the six largest cities in the West Bank, and their surrounding localities. The Israel Defense Forces invaded Tulkarm and Qalqilya on April 1, Bethlehem the next day, Jenin and Nablus the next. From April 3–21, the period was characterized by strict curfews on civilian populations and restrictions of movement of international personnel, including at times prohibition of entry to humanitarian and medical personnel as well as human rights monitors and journalists.
According to The Guardian, during the three weeks of Operation Defensive Shield at least 500 Palestinians were killed and 1500 were wounded. According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society over 4,258 people were detained by the Israeli military. In addition to loss of life, massive economic losses due to destruction of property and the inability to reach workplaces were a major characteristic of this period. The World Bank estimated that over $360 million worth of damage was caused to Palestinian infrastructure and institutions, $158 million of which came from the aerial bombardment and destruction of houses in Nablus and Jenin.
Large sectors of the Palestinian population were left homeless by the operation. Long after Operation Defensive Shield was over, Palestinians spoke about the intensity of the closures during that period. Amnesty International concluded that the Israeli army had committed war crimes in Jenin and also Nablus. Amnesty International concluded that the Israeli army had committed war crimes in Jenin and also Nablus. Amnesty International concluded that the Israeli army had committed war crimes in Jenin and also Nablus.
2005 Attack on Gaza
In 2005 the oppression of the Palestinian people deepened yet further. The building of the apartheid wall (‘separation barrier’) continued. In July, the International Court of Justice in The Hague pronounced the wall illegal, but Israel dismissed the ruling out of hand.
In September Israel dramatically escalated its offensive against the Palestinians, with war planes mounting attacks on the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon. Both attacks were carried out on the pretext of responding to rockets fired by Palestinian militant groups. The attack on Gaza aimed to create a ‘buffer zone’ of 2.5 kms and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian houses and businesses in the process, as well as lives.
In late October President Arafat was taken ill and flown to France for emergency treatment. He died of a mysterious blood disorder on 11 November. Many believe he was in fact poisoned by the Israelis whilst under siege in Ramallah.
2008-9 Gaza attack (‘Operation Cast Lead’)
On 19 December 2008 a six-month Israel-Hamas ceasefire was set to expire (Hamas took over the government of Gaza after tension between it and President Abbas’s Fatah party; Hamas had won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006) . Following Israel’s violation of the ceasefire on November 4, there were sporadic violent clashes along the Israeli-Gaza border for the following two months until on 27 December Israel launched a wave of airstrikes against targets within Gaza with the stated aim of stopping rocket fire[ from and arms import into the territory. Israeli forces attacked military targets, police stations and government buildings. The conflict left at leat 1,417 Palestinians (the majority civilians, and many women and children) and 13 Israelis killed.
In September 2009, a UN special mission, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, produced a report accusing the Israeli Defense Forces of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Palestinian militants were also said to have committed a possible war crime in targeting areas with civilian populations. The report recommended bringing those responsible to justice. The UN Human Rights Council later passed a resolution endorsing the report.
In January 2010, the Israeli government released a response criticizing the Goldstone Report and disputing its findings.Very many people around the world are reaching their own conclusions about who bears guilt for the excruciatingly inhumane and unjust situation in Gaza, and are being moved to take action to protest. See section on Gaza on the Campaigns page.
The 2010 Washington Peace Talks
Here is a clear-eyed view from an American commentator about why the current Washington talks will not bring a just solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict and why we must continue all our activist campaigns with maximum commitment.
by Josh Ruebner, August 2010
On August 20, the Obama Administration announced that it will reconvene under its auspices direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations beginning on September 2.
While a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace is in everyone’s interest, there are profound reasons to be skeptical about the likelihood of success for the following reasons (not necessarily listed in order of importance):
1. No more photo-ops, please. There is a desperate need for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East. Negotiations can be a key to that. But the last thing needed is phony negotiations. They only breed disillusionment, resentment, and cynicism about the possibility of Israeli-Palestinian peace based on human rights and justice. So rather than enter into negotiations for the sake of negotiations, the Obama Administration should exert real political pressure on Israel by cutting off military aid to once and for all get it to commit to dismantling its regime of occupation and apartheid against Palestinians, and make clear that the framework for all negotiations will be based on international law, human rights, and UN resolutions. As long as it fails to do so, U.S. civil society must keep up the pressure through campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) to change these dynamics and by joining up with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
2. The United States is not even-handed. For decades, the United States has arrogated the role of convening Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. To convince the world that it is suitable to play this role, the United States declares that it is evenhanded, when it in fact arms Israel to the teeth and is aware that Israel will employ these U.S. weapons to conduct its human rights abuses of and apartheid policies toward Palestinians. Under international law, an outside party that provides weapons to a party in an armed conflict violates laws of neutrality. The United States is scheduled to provide Israel with $30 billion in weapons from 2009-2018 (part and parcel of a broader strategy to further militarize the region with an additional $60 billion in weapons sales to Gulf States). The United States cannot credibly broker Israeli-Palestinian peace while bankrolling Israel’s military machine and simultaneously ignoring Israel’s human rights violations.
3. Israeli colonization of Palestinian land continues. In one of its most abject policy failures, the Obama Administration has contented itself with resuming direct negotiations without securing an Israeli freeze on the colonization of Palestinian land, despite spending an initial nine months trying to do so. Israeli colonization of Palestinian land, including the expansion of settlements, the eviction of Palestinians from their homes, the building of the Apartheid Wall, continues apace. Previous failed rounds of negotiations have demonstrated that Israel utilizes negotiations as a fig leaf to actually increase its pace of colonization of Palestinian land, and there is every reason to believe that it will continue to do so. Meanwhile, Israel’s ongoing colonization of Palestinian land creates difficult-to-reverse “facts on the ground” that only make a two-state solution–purportedly the end game of the negotiations–less achievable.
4. Negotiations supersede accountability. The Obama Administration, building on decades of previous U.S. efforts to shield Israel from accountability, has worked actively to scuttle international attempts to hold Israel accountable for its previous violations of international law and human rights, and its commission of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Both after the Goldstone Report and Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, the United States used its leverage at the United Nations to prevent Israel from being held accountable, arguing that accountability undermines prospects for peace negotiations. On the contrary, for peace negotiations to be successful, Israel must be held accountable for its actions and shown that it will pay a price for its illegal policies. Otherwise, it has no reason to alter its behavior.
5. No terms of reference. In his August 20 press briefing, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell confirmed that the United States is not insisting on any guiding principles for the negotiations, or “terms of references” in diplomatic parlance, and that these terms will be worked out by the parties themselves. In other words, Israel will be free to marshal its overwhelming power to refuse to negotiate on the basis of human rights, international law, and UN resolutions, the only viable basis for a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Instead, Israel–backed by the United States–will negotiate based on its own exclusive terms of reference, namely what is in Israel’s “security interests.” As in previous failed rounds of negotiations, Palestinian rights will not enter into the conversation.
6. No timeline. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believes that negotiations “could” be concluded within a year. Of course, successful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could be wrapped up within in a year. In contrast to “peace process industry” pundits, there is nothing intrinsically complex or complicated about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if Israel were to negotiate in good faith by declaring an end to its policies of occupation and apartheid against Palestinians. After all, South Africa concluded negotiations to end apartheid within a few months once the decision had been made to transition to democracy. However, Israel has given no indication whatsoever that it is prepared to alter its policies toward Palestinians, setting the stage for prolonged and fruitless negotiations.
7. Can a leopard change its spots? A recently-leaked video from 2001 shows current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrogantly bragging that “I actually stopped the Oslo Accord [shorthand for the failed 1993-2000 Israeli-Palestinian “peace process’].” His current Foreign Minister, Avigdor Leiberman, lives in an illegal Israeli colony built on stolen Palestinian land and has openly declared his support for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. With this negotiating team in place, how can Palestinians expect even a bare modicum of fairness and justice to emerge from these negotiations?
8. Increased U.S. military aid to and cooperation with Israel make it less likely to negotiate in good faith. In July, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro told the Brookings Institution that “I’m proud to say that as a result of this commitment [to Israel’s security], our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before.” Indeed, it is. President Obama has requested record-breaking levels of military aid to Israel, and stepped up joint U.S.-Israeli military projects, such as the missile defense system “Iron Dome.” This increased level of military aid only makes Israel more reliant on military might in its attempt to subdue Palestinians into submission, and less likely to negotiate with them fairly as equals.
9. All the parties are not at the negotiating table. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell, who previously brokered a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, when discussing its success often referred to the necessity of having all the parties to the conflict around the negotiating table. What held true though for negotiations in Northern Ireland, apparently doesn’t apply to Israel/Palestine since Hamas, which currently governs the Israeli-occupied and -besieged Gaza Strip and legitimately won the 2006 legislative elections held at the behest of the United States, was not invited to participate in the negotiations. If, by some long-shot, an agreement were to emerge from these negotiations, it is difficult to see how it would be implemented without having Hamas as part of the discussions.
10. Negotiations help Israel mitigate its growing international isolation. Last, but certainly not least, images of Israeli and Palestinian political leaders negotiating presents the world with a false sense of normalcy and allows Israel the opportunity to state that it is making a legitimate effort to achieve peace. With Israel as the party pressing for direct negotiations, it is quite transparent that its desire for these talks has more to do with easing its growing international isolation and defusing the energy from the international movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), rather than with genuinely negotiating a just and lasting peace. This point brings the analysis full circle: advocates for changing U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality should not be lulled into complacency by the resumption of negotiations, but need to keep up the pressure with campaigns of BDS to change the dynamics that will eventually lead to the possibility of a just and lasting peace.
Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 325 organizations working to change U.S. policy to support human rights, international law, and equality.