Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Wednesday 22nd November 2017 | Manchester, UK

Israel-Palestine: A region in conflict

The region occupied by the people of Israel and Palestine has seen more than a thousand years of bloodshed. Modern conflict follows a long line of violent history.

Historically the state now known as Israel was located along the lucrative Silk Road from China, what Samuel P. Huntington would describe as the ‘cultural edge’ or ‘fault line’ of Europe, Africa and Asia. For geographical reasons alone, it could be said that conflict was more than likely to ensue in this region, and indeed it did.

Starting from ‘biblical’ sources onward, conflict is documented throughout Assyrian and Persian rule B.C.E and revolts under Roman rule into the Common Era. The trend continued in the ‘Middle Ages’, with conflict between the various Muslim dynasty’s originating in the ‘Levant’ and the European Crusaders, before the Mamluks eliminated European presence in 1291. In 1516, the Ottoman Turks wrested control of the region and ruled for around 500 years until their fall at the end of the First World War at the hands of the British.

This brings us to the origins of the modern source of strife in the region. Even before the conclusion of war, Britain and France began dividing up the fallen Ottoman Empire along the infamous Sykes-Picot line in 1916. The territory that had been known as Southern Syria under Ottoman rule was designated Palestine by the British. The British were later affirmed in their role of ‘caretaker’ by the League of Nations in 1922 “until such a time as they were able to stand alone”.

With their authority over ‘Mandatory Palestine’ now secure, the promises that Britain had made before and during the war now came into play. The British had promised various Arab tribes that they would be able to establish their own nation in exchange for assistance against the Turks.

However, the total area of Palestine was not only claimed by the Arab Nationalists but by the international Zionist movement, who had a longer standing agreement with Britain. Having rejected the British proposal of part of Uganda being their new homeland in 1903, the Zionist Organisation received the Balfour Agreement in 1917, confirming Britain’s willingness to establish a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine. Thereafter thousands of Jews emigrated between the wars, particularly during times of persecution.

Although initially supportive of Zionism and its goals, support soon waned as British officials realised that the it was incompatible with Arab Nationalism. In 1947 Britain indicated to the newly formed United Nations than it would let its mandate expire the following year. Before the expiration date the U.N then moved to bring about a partition of the region between the Jewish and Arab Palestinian people.

Though Resolution 181 was adopted, the plan to partition the country was never implemented. Instead there was Civil war from 1947-48 War. On the expiration of the British Mandate on 14th May 1948, Israel declared its statehood and independence. Within the next few days, armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq entered Israel.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued unabated within the larger Arab-Israeli War, with the Palestinian people working with the members of the Arab League to try and overthrow the new state at its inception. The League failed in its goal, and Israel survived as a state with all parties signing an armistice in 1949. Israel now encompassed around three quarters of what had been Mandatory Palestine. The Gaza Strip and West Bank were occupied by Egypt and Jordan respectively. No agreement was secured by the Arab League for the 700,000 Palestinian refugees displaced by the war.

The Israel-Palestine conflict forms the epicentre of conflict in the region and is the crux of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, with only Egypt and Jordan formally recognising the State of Israel after peace talks in 1979 and 1994 respectively. More broadly, the region became embroiled in the politics of the Cold War as ‘East’ and ‘West’ competed for power in the ‘Third World’.

Palestinians have continued to be forced to flee with every conflict, often unable to return since their territory has been captured by Israel. The Palestinians continue to advocate politically, and sometimes violently, for recognition as a state. Most nations in the modern era recognise Palestine as a state, except those in the West. Violence and conflict from various terrorist and state organisations continue on both sides. There appears to be no end in sight for this region in conflict, or the stream of refugees continuing to be displaced.

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