Events in Context – The Arab-Israeli Conflict

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of short, instructive looks at events and situations around the world from a historical perspective, to add depth of understanding.  I have only a few paragraphs to sort out an issue that has filled books and conferences.  Tough, but I’ll do my best and allow you to fill in the details.  I expect lively discussion.  Let’s start with the background on the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

I once heard an American Consul General tell a group of Israel-loving evangelical Christians from America that “the Bible is a poor deed to property.”  And therein lies the conflict.  Two people(s) share one land.  If you look back 60 years, you could say that the Israelis more or less “invaded” an Arab place and took over.  This would make the Palestinians the aggrieved party, however sympathetic one might also be to the poor, persecuted Jews.  After all, the Arab Palestinians had lived as the majority in the area for hundreds of years, and nearly thousands of years.

If you look back 1,400-3,000 years or so, you could say that the Jews had been repeatedly ripped from their land–a land promised them by their God–and finally crushed as a nationa and scattered by outside forces.  In that frame, clearly they should have the right to return to that place and resume controlling it, if there is to be justice.

But if you look back slightly more than 3,000 years, you find (as the Bible tells) that the Israelites (Jews) wiped out the native peoples of the area by force, installed themselves as a regional power, and began chipping away at the last major stubborn resistance–the Palestinians, then known as the Philistines.  This view favors the Palestinians.

So your depth of historical focus decides who you empathize with, and it shifts as the clock ticks on.  When you consider all eras, you can only toss history aside and look at events as they are now.  Again, two peoples inhabit the same area and have competing strong claims to ownership.  Israel is stronger, but the Palestinians have many outside supporters.  I see two possible routes to peace–no holds barred.  The first is the entire extinction or subjugation of one party.  (I don’t like this one.)  The second is the mutual acceptance by both parties of the legitimate human needs of the other, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to defuse and diffuse tensions to the maximum extent possible, and to install mechanisms to deal with future, inevitable chafing as it surfaces.  This I like.

There is no “p” in the Arabic alphabet.  Palestine and Philistine are the same word.  But the Palestinians of today aren’t the same people as the Philistines that put Goliath on the battle field.  The difference is Islam, and time.  The ancient Philistines were polytheistic Canaanites, and not Arabs.  (Arabs are traditionally thought of as those descendants of Abraham who aren’t Jews.  The are centered in the Arabian Peninsula.) 

Between biblical times and the advent of Islam, Arab peoples from the south had mixed with the Philistine/Palestinian population, giving a slightly Arab character to the resulting populace.  Still, Arabs then (and now) did not see the Palestinians as purely Arab.  With the rise and spread of Islam in the 600s, the Palestinian population was largely converted to that faith.  (Many were Christians, and many Palestinians are Christians today.)  This made them partly Arab, brothers in the faith with the Arabs, and turned their focus to Mecca and Medina, Arab centers.  Still, they weren’t purely Arabs by blood. 

In the intervening centuries, the Palestinians became increasingly Arab in look, in faith, in culture, and in blood.  And they ruled the roost (what we call the Holy Land) because the Jews had been removed.  Or, they ruled it when other nations didn’t.  The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire set up the condition of external Arab support for the Palestinians by occupying the area and making them miserable, but nothing could shake the Ottoman grip until modern times.  The Allied Forces (principally the French and British) defeated the Turks and removed their hold on the region.  Palestinians hoped for autonomy.  Arabs elsewhere also hoped for Palestinian autonomy.  It didn’t happen.  The European powers held the area in reserve, trying to figure out what to do with it in an imperial way, as they were used to doing with conquered/liberated lands, until World War II brought the huge influx of weary Jews and laid the foundations of the modern conflict.

The Palestinians went from oppression to hope to confusion to betrayal (as they saw it) to defeat and subjugation.  Their fellow Arabs (step-brothers, if you will) had hoped that the Palestinian issue wouldn’t continue to vex them.  But it does.  They care about the Palestinians as Muslims and as part-Arabs, but they want the issue to remain in Palestine.  This is in part why no Arab state has offered the Palestinians a home.  (The other part is that Palestine is the home of the Palestinians, no?  Palestinians have been harbored in Lebanon and Jordan, but in semi-temporary settlements that display a hope that they will eventually leave and go home.

Well, I tried to cover the issue in a few paragraphs, and I failed.  It took nine, and still there is much unsaid.  My aim was to give a background for the current conflict, and I think I’ve done that.  If you don’t agree with my view, I offer space for your comments.

Similar Posts