Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict in 5 Easy Points
1. A Brief History of the Land
The small sliver of “Holy Land” along the eastern Mediterranean coast was originally inhabited by Canaanites, before they were replaced by the ancient Israelites in the 13th century BCE. Most of the ancient Israelite tribes were eventually destroyed, leaving behind only the Kingdom of Judah, from which the terms “Judaism” and “Jew” (Yehudi) come from. In the 6th century BCE, Judah was also destroyed, by the Babylonians, who exiled most of the Jews back to Babylon. Some seventy years later, Jews returned to rebuild what was now only a province of Judah.
In the 2nd century BCE, the Maccabees were able to establish an independent Jewish kingdom in the Holy Land once more, the Hasmonean Kingdom of Judah. This kingdom fell to the Romans in the following century. The Romans struggled to keep their dominion over the Jews, who revolted three times. The first time resulted in the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The third time, the Bar-Kochva Revolt in the 2nd century CE, resulted in Rome renaming the province of Judea to “Palestine”, after the ancient enemies of the Israelites, the Philistines, who were themselves foreign conquerors of the land hailing from the Aegean across the sea. Muslims Arabs only conquered the area in the 7th century CE, thanks in part to the Jews who lived there:
2. Jews Have Had a Continuous Presence in Israel
There have always been large populations of Jews in the Holy Land. In the early 7th century CE, Nehemiah ben Hushiel led a revolt against the Byzantines to re-establish an independent Jewish state in Israel, and nearly succeeded. The revolt was officially put down by 628 CE. Yet, it is this event that actually weakened the Byzantine forces in the area, and paved the way for the Muslim Arabs to conquer the territory starting in 634 CE. The Dome of the Rock, opened in 692 CE, was built directly atop the ancient Jewish Holy Temple on the site.
Still, Jews continued to live and prosper in the Holy Land. In the 13th century, the renowned philosopher Nahmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270) settled in Jerusalem and rebuilt a Jewish community decimated by the Crusades. In the 16th century, Don Joseph Nasi (1524-1579) got approval from the Ottoman Empire to establish a semi-autonomous Jewish state with a capital in Tiberias. Don Joseph himself was granted the title “Lord of Tiberias”. By that point, Jewish life in Israel was flourishing thanks to a large influx of Jews following the Spanish Expulsion of 1492. The city of Tzfat in particular had a large Jewish presence and was the global centre of Jewish learning at the time, the place where the Shulchan Arukh, the central code of Jewish law to this day, was first published in 1563.
In short, Jews lived and prospered in their Promised Land for centuries, and long before the modern Zionist movement. Jews are the indigenous people of the land. Regardless of that fact, the Arab-Israel Conflict actually has nothing to do with land at all!
3. The Arab-Israeli Conflict is Not About Land
Jerusalem is mentioned countless times in Jewish holy books (nearly 700 times in the Tanakh alone). It is the direction to which Jews have prayed for millennia. Meanwhile, the Koran does not mention Jerusalem even once, and Muslims pray facing Mecca. Some Muslims claim that Jerusalem is the so-called “Al-Aqsa” where Muhammad visited. However, serious Muslim scholars admit that “Al-Aqsa” is not in Jerusalem and cannot be Jerusalem. Al-Aqsa is in Saudi Arabia, as is the original Al-Aqsa Mosque. See, for instance, the following video:
Maggie Khozam interviews a Muslim scholar discussing the true location of Al-Aqsa
(See the full video, in Arabic, here.)
Besides, the Koran admits that the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel. For instance, Sheikh Ahmad al-Adwan has pointed out:
Indeed, I recognize their sovereignty over their land. I believe in the Holy Koran, and this fact is stated many times in the book. For instance, “O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned unto you.” [Koran 5:21] “We made the Children of Israel inheritors of such things.” [Koran 26:59] And additional verses in the Holy Book.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Al-Husseini has said:
… the traditional commentators from the eighth and ninth century onwards have uniformly interpreted the Koran to say explicitly that Eretz Yisrael has been given by God to the Jewish people as a perpetual covenant. There is no Islamic counterclaim to the Land anywhere in the traditional corpus of commentary.
Truly, the conflict has nothing to do with the land, as Dr. Tawfik Hamid explains:
Hamid rightfully notes that giving away more land to the Arabs will only further embolden the jihadists.
4. There Already Exists a “Palestinian” State
Most of the world’s Arab states were formed following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. The victorious British and French divided up the Middle East into various “mandates”, which were eventually carved up into new Arab states and given independence. This is how countries like Iraq (granted independence in 1932) and Syria (independent from 1946) came into existence. Similarly, the British created the Mandate for Palestine to serve as a future homeland for the Jewish people. (For a deeper, eye-opening analysis of this, see here.)
The British Mandate for Palestine included the entire area of what is now Israel and Jordan. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 intended to set up a Jewish state here. Three years later, however, the British changed their mind, setting up yet another Arab state, within Mandatory Palestine, on the east side of the Jordan River. In 1921, the Emirate of Transjordan was born. This was, quite literally, a Palestinian state. The understanding was that the rest of the land of Mandatory Palestine—west of the Jordan River—was to be for the Jews. But even this the Arabs would not accept.
Today, the majority of Jordan’s 10 million people are actually Palestinian, including over 2 million still designated as Palestinian “refugees”. People don’t like hearing it said, but the truth is that Jordan is Palestine. It is the original Palestinian Arab state, carved out of Mandatory Palestine! And that’s why no one made a fuss when Jordan occupied the West Bank until 1967. Why didn’t Jordan create an independent Palestine state back then? It felt no need to do so, because Jordan is the independent Palestinian state, and considered the West Bank to be part of its own territory. In fact, it formally annexed the West Bank in 1950. At one point, Yasser Arafat’s PLO sought to take over Jordan entirely (remember Black September?), a conflict known as the Jordanian Civil War. There is no distinction between “Jordanians” and “Palestinians”. They are one and the same. Heck, even their flags are the same:
Today’s “Palestine” is nothing but a launching pad to attack the State of Israel and banish the Jewish people from their ancestral homeland. This was admitted by countless “Palestinian” leaders and activists, including Awni Abd al-Hadi, who said to the Peel Commission in 1937:
There is no such country as Palestine. ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented. There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria. ‘Palestine’ is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it.
More recently, Hamas minister Fathi Hammad said on TV (see here):
Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis. Who are the Palestinians? Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the North, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians. We are Arabs.
Hammad admitted that the “Palestinians” are simply a front for fighting Jews, on behalf of all Arabs. This was more clearly stated by Zuheir Muhsin, a PLO Executive Council member, in a 1977 interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw:
The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct Palestinian people to oppose Zionism…
5. Reframing the Conflict
With this in mind, we can properly frame the Arab-Israel Conflict. It is not the large and powerful Israel against the small and weak Palestinians. The conflict is a small Israel surrounded by hostile enemy states seeking its destruction. The Palestinians are only the front lines for a much larger regional conflict involving countries like Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran. Israel is the one that is outnumbered and on the defensive. It is surrounded by 22 Arab countries, and about 50 Muslim countries altogether. Israel, the only free democracy in the Middle East, is the one single state of the Jewish people, a tiny sliver of land—yet even this little bit, it seems, is too much for the world to accept.
Insightful Quotes to Further Understand the Conflict:
Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.
– Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, Ottoman politician and Muslim scholar (1899)
…the Qur’an specifies that the Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, that God Himself gave that Land to them as heritage and ordered them to live therein. It also announces that – before the end of the time – the Jewish people will come from many different countries to retake possession of that heritage of theirs. Whoever denies this actually denies the Qur’an itself. If he is not a scholar, and in good faith believes what other people say about this issue, he is an ignorant Muslim. If, on the contrary, he is informed about what the Qur’an and openly opposes it, he ceases to be a Muslim.
– Imam Abdul Hadi Palazzi
It’s in the Muslim consciousness that the land first belonged to the Jews. It doesn’t matter if the Jews were exiled 500 years or 2000 years, the Holy Land, as mentioned in Quran belongs to Moses and his people, the Jews.
– Professor Khaleel Mohammed
The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is that of a body of population…
– James Finn, British Consul in Palestine (1857)
There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent – not for thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride ten miles, hereabouts, and not see ten human beings… A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…We never saw a human being on the whole route… Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren… The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch…wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint… It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land… Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes…
– Mark Twain, describing his visit to the Holy Land in The Innocents Abroad (1869)
It is manifestly right that the Jews should have a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated?
– Winston Churchill
The Palestinians are always coming here and saying to me, ‘You expelled the French and the Americans. How do we expel the Jews?’ I tell them that the French went back to France and the Americans to America. But the Jews have nowhere to go. You will not expel them.
– Vo Nguyen Giap, infamous Vietnamese general
In their war against Israel’s existence, the Arab governments took advantage of the Cold War. They enlisted the military, economic, and political support of the communist world against Israel, and they turned a local, regional conflict into an international powder keg.
– Yitzhak Shamir
I fully understand that any minority would prefer to be a majority, it is quite understandable that the Arabs of Palestine would also prefer Palestine to be the Arab State No. 4, No. 5, No. 6 – that I quite understand; but when the Arab claim is confronted with our Jewish demand to be saved, it is like the claims of appetite versus the claims of starvation.
– Ze’ev Jabotinsky
Israel was extraordinary in being the one socially revolutionary people in the Near East to produce a literature and to survive as a distinctive cultural and religious entity.
– Norman Gottwald, renowned professor of Biblical studies and political activist
Zionism is one of the greatest movements of the present time. All lovers of Democracy cannot help but support whole-heartedly and welcome with enthusiasm the movement to restore your wonderful and historic nation, which has contributed so much to the civilization of the world and which rightfully deserve an honorable place in the family of nations.
– Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, “Father of the Chinese Nation”
I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Given the history of the attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicates a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than antisemitism.
– Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize-winning physicist
This is a fight for the homeland – it is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine will have to leave. We will facilitate their departure to their former homes. Any of the old Palestine Jewish population who survive may stay, but it is my impression that none of them will survive.
– Ahmed Shukairy, former PLO chairman
… Most of my people think as I do, but they’re afraid to say so… we suffer because of our Arab brothers, but we are also dependent on them. It’s a bizarre situation because the Arab countries don’t really care what happens to the Palestinian people. The only assistance that we have ever received from any country was from the ‘Zionist enemy.’
– Muhammad Zahrab, Palestinian Arab scholar
The story of modern Israel, as many have noted, is a miracle unlike any… It is a robust and inclusive democracy, and is at the leading edge of science and technology… What hypocrites demand of Israelis and the scrutiny Israel is subjected to by them, they would not dare make of any other nation.
– Salim Mansur
If the Arabs put down their guns there would be no more fighting. If the Israelis put down theirs there would be no more Israel.
– Golda Meir
I am convinced that it is true that God created this earth but it is also a fact that only an Israel can keep this earth from dying.
– Tashbih Sayyed, Pakistani-American scholar