Online Learning Portal
Learn more about the main subjects and issues discussed in a Geopolitical IMPACT Seminar.
This is not an advocacy oriented learning platform, nor is it meant to be exhaustive of every historical moment of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The goal here of this platform is education. With authenticity and transparency, with the hopes of providing a foundation for every individual to explore further on their own and be open to evolving in their opinions, this platform will serve as a tool to help learners come to their own conclusions.
We're not scared of biases and do not see them as something to shy away from; you will see that in the content here. Nonetheless we have a value of sharing all the stories, facts, opinions, emotions and thoughts as a means to facilitating an authentic educational journey.
This platform is not all inclusive regarding what is discussed, nor is it exhaustive of all subjects that need to be examined. Take this as a starting point to further your educational journey and reach your own conclusions regarding Israel, its neighbors, the tension over a shared homeland, and where you fit in this puzzle.
The Zionist Narrative
What is Zionism? A political movement that believes the Jewish people, the people of Israel, are a nation, like any other nation, with a right to self-determination – a sovereign state of their own – in their historic homeland, the land of Israel. Below is a review of the Zionist narrative, for those that identify with the Zionist idea, that a Jew belongs to a nation that has a shared land, language and culture, and as a result, has the rights to national sovereignty in the only land they’ve ever known.
The Jewish people, according to the Zionist Narrative, are a nation like any other nation, with the rights to self-determination in their historic homeland. The story of the Jewish people begins with the stories of the Bible where eventually Joshua, taking over for Moses, leads the people of Israel to the promised land. If you don’t necessarily believe in the stores of the bible, there is extensive archeological to the indigenous roots of the Jews to the land of Israel that corresponds to the time of the stories of the Bible over 3000 years ago. It was then that the first Jewish commonwealth is established with its capital Jerusalem. The kingdoms were divided, conquered, the people were exiled, returned, established a new kingdom and new temple, but the story of conquest and exile happens again in 70 CE with the destruction of the 2nd Temple by the Roman Empire. And the Jews revolted one last time in their fight for sovereignty, the Bar Kochba Revolt, which was squashed by the Romans. The Romans subsequently rename the area from Judea to Palestine, named after the Philistines who had lived on the coast during biblical times.
Sustaining National Identity Through Diaspora
Thus solidifies a 2000 year story of diaspora. The Jewish people have been dispersed in all four corners of the globe. Rabbinic Judaism replaces the Temple based religion, which Zionists understand to be the vehicle to sustain the national identity of the Jewish people in these last two thousand years of Diaspora. The connection to the land stayed alive during all this time that by the 19th century, with the rise of modern anti-Semitism and modern nationalism, you have a catalyst which brings about the political organization of a Zionist movement which believes in the return of the Jewish Nation to its historic homeland, the land of Israel. According to Zionists, the Jews are like any other nation with a right to self-determination because we share similar characteristics to any other nation on earth.
A Nation like Others - Shared Land, Language and Culture
Zionists have a shared land – Israel -- a land in which our people have always lived in even when we have not been the majority and lacked sovereignty. There’s has always been a Jewish population throughout the years of exile in Jerusalem, Tsfat, Tiberias and Hebron, and eve with many massacres and for expulsions throughout the years, there has always been a Jewish presence in the land of Israel through the period of exile. But the Jewish people’s connection to the land is not just about sovereignty or being the demographic majority in the area. As a nation, we have always had a desire for a physical or spiritual return to the land. In the 3rd century the Haggadah is developed – the book we use at the Passover Seder – where we always in with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Every time a religious Jew eats a piece of bread he/she says, “May we rebuild Jerusalem speedily in our days.” Jews that pray three times a day meditate about the return of the exiles to Israel and a rebuilding of the capital. When a Jew gets married, before they stomp on the glass and recited, “If I forget Jerusalem let my right hand wither.” For Zionists, even if a political organization dedicated to the return of Jewish sovereignty was established at the end of the 19th century, you cannot deny the deep intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual connection of the Jewish people to their homeland and constant desire to return.
The Jews have a shared language, Hebrew, which they have shared since their emergence to human civilization over three thousand years ago. Even though Jews have constantly been displaced throughout history, thus picking up additional native spoken languages or developed their own dialects (Yiddish & Ladino for example), Jews wrote these languages in Hebrew script, studied traditional texts in Hebrew, and corresponded in Hebrew, whether for business, pleasure or religious inquiry. Even when Hebrew was not a modern spoken language or spoken language, Hebrew has always been the shared language of the Jewish people, just like any other people. Therefore when the Zionist movement restores a spoken Jewish language for the Jews to speak as a national group in its homeland, it could have only been Hebrew.
Besides having a shared land and language, the Jewish people have had a shared culture since their emergence. It is a culture rooted in a religious experience, but has transformed for many Jews to be ethnic, tribal, cultural and a multifaceted experience where they would simply identify a belief, behavior or ritual as simply, “Jewish.” As the Jews were spread throughout the diaspora. Gefilte fish became Jewish food for Ashkenazim and Moroccan fish has always been thought of as Jewish food for Sephardim. Today in the 21st century, most Israeli Jews have a Passover Seder even though most are not religious. Most Jews around the world mark the High Holidays in some way, but do not do it because they feel commanded by God through a religious imperative, but because they feel a part of a Jewish culture. There are various Jewish cultures around the world that have evolved as the Jews spread around the world, and with their diversity are rooted in a foundational connection which are identify by their practitioners as “Jewish.”
Returning to a land without a people?
When the Zionist movement is solidified and organized Aliyot (Zionist migrations) begin in mass in the 1880’s, there was a belief that the Jews were returning home, to a land without a people. According to Zionist understanding of history, the only people to have ever had sovereignty in the land of Israel has been the Jewish nation; otherwise it’s been a colonial backwater to another Empire. If you look at a chart of who the sovereigns were in the land of Israel, the only time it's been a national state for one nation has been when it was a Jewish Commonwealth - and the other times it has always been a colony of a foreign entity. For Zionists, the name Palestine emerges not because a local Arab people identified it as Palestine and called themselves Palestinian, but rather it is the Roman Empire which gives it a new name in 135 BCE to distance Jews from their homeland. Nevertheless, when Zionism returns to the land of Israel, it still encounters another people living there with a completely different story, a completely different narrative and a completely different identity which sees itself as the only indigenous inhabitants of the land.
The Palestinian Narrative
The Only Indigenous People
The Palestinians see themselves as indigenous to what they call the land of Palestine. Their story begins with the rise of Islam, which occurs in the 7th Century CE, and this is when Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula, what is today Saudi Arabia, recently converted to a new religion called Islam. They migrate from the Arabian Peninsula beginning in the 7th century with the rise and spread of Islam, conquering the greater Middle East, North Africa and even parts of Europe. It’s at this point in history where the Arab world is formed in what it is known today – the Middle East. And for the interest of those studying the Arab-Israeli Conflict, includes for Zionists the land of Israel and for Palestinians the land of Palestine. In the last 1400 years, from the rise of Islam in the 7th Century until the establishment of the state of Israel, the Arabs had been the majority in Palestine. While the conquest and migration leads to the formation of the Arab world, it occurred in the name of spreading Islam, leading to the formation of the what is also the Islamic world, where according to Islam the world is divided into essentially two areas -- what is in Arabic called the Dar-al-Islam (House of Islam) and the Dar-al-Harb (House of War). The areas of the House of Islam – the original lands of the Islamic Conquest of the 7th century -- is holy Islamic land and can only be ruled over by Muslims. This area, House of Islam lands, areas which according to Islam can only be ruled over by Muslims, includes the land of Palestine. Therefore for the last millennia plus, this area has had only one indigenous people according to Palestinians today, and except for a brief intermission with the Crusaders until the British, has always been inhabited by Arabs and ruled over by Muslims.
Modern Palestinian Nationalism
So when does the rise of modern Palestinian nationalism occur? Depending on which Scholars you follow, it takes place anywhere between the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th centuries, either as a protest against Ottoman rule in the mid-nineteenth century, against Zionist migration to the area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, or against British imperialism with the establishment of their mandate. During the time of the British in the 20s, the 30’s and the 40’s, there is conflict between the two peoples who see themselves as indigenous to the land, the Arabs to what they call Palestine and the Jews, who call it the land of Israel. When the British decide to abdicate of their responsibility to turn over authority to the Jews (or the Arabs) after deciding to leave the area, they ask the United Nations to decide who will rule over what will become the former British Mandate of Palestine. The UN sees two peoples that want this land so it should be divided into two states. The Arabs say no because they see the Partition Plan as unjust and illegitimate since an inferior religious group as the Jews cannot rule over Arab-Muslim lands, and cannot rule over Muslims in Holy Islamic territory (the Jewish state according to the Partition Plan would have a 45% Arab, mostly Muslim minority).
Nakba (Catastrophe) – 1947-1949
As a result of rejecting Partition, the Arabs start a war, which begins as a local civil war and expands into an inter-state war when the British leave and the Jews declare an independent state of Israel on May 14th, 1948. The Israelis call this war the War of Independence, where the Arabs call it the Nakba, the catastrophe, as a catastrophe happens to them, the establishment of the state of Israel on historic Palestine. During the Nakba (1947-1949), three-quarters of a million Palestinians are displaced from their homes – and they are kicked out of their homes as a result of this war because their leaders told them to, because they were scared because it's war so they left, or because the IDF expelled them due to the War. The Nakba is a pivotal moment in Palestinian national identity and history as it is an injustice which they experience everyday with the State of Israel, a Jewish country accepted as a sovereign entity by the international community in 78% of land of what they believe to entirely belong to them. The Jews, an illegitimate foreign religious group forces the indigenous people away from their land, and in creating a state on Palestinian land, has brought upon the Palestinians the greatest injustice which they can only undo with the return of all the Palestinian refugees (and their decedents which are also considered refugees by the UN) to historic Palestine, which is now Israel.
Naksa (Setback) – Occupation of 1967
Following the Nakba is the Naksa, the setback, which is the military occupation by the IDF of the remaining Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank (also the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula but those aren't relevant for the Palestinian narrative). Since 1967, the Palestinians have experienced an unjust Occupation where they've been ruled over by Jews, by the IDF, by Israelis with limited access to basic rights and to really control their own destiny and rule themselves. Even with Oslo Peace Process which began in the early 1990’s, the creation the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian autonomy (full or partial) in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank (Areas A & B), the Palestinians feel the injustice of Occupation when the Israelis can determine their levels of power, electricity, water, freedom of movement, and establish checkpoints and barriers whenever they want. The Palestinians experience the injustice of the Nakba through the indignities of living under Israeli Occupation, whether through the blockade of Gaza, the illegitimate rule over East Jerusalem, and military Occupation of parts of the West Bank.
Harim-al-Sharif (The Temple Mount)
Lastly, the most important symbol of Palestinian national identity is the Harim-al-Sharif, what the Jews call the Temple Mount, the site of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Palestinians see themselves as the custodians of holy Islamic land through their guardianship of the third holiest site of Islam, where Muhammad had his dream of the sky journey, from where he ascended to heaven. Being the caretakers of the third holiest site of Islam gives them the nationalistic legitimacy to claim Jerusalem as their capital and for them to be the sole indigenous people of the land with the only rights to sovereignty. Even though the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and Jerusalem has only been the national capital of one people – the Jewish people – for the Palestinians, that is irrelevant, and they question its truth, because Judaism (and Christianity) existed to prepare for the truest and legitimate religion Islam. So any perceived threat to the Harim al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, whether its rumors (which have led to terror attacks against Jews), Israel putting up metal detectors to protect worshippers and which they were subsequently pressured to take down, or when the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, is met with uproar across Palestinian society and the Arab and Muslim worlds because even though Israel has existed a sovereign state with Jerusalem as its declared capital since 1948, the Arabs still see themselves as the only legitimate indigenous people in the land.
How the Conflict Ends for Palestinians - Justice
For the Palestinians today, the Conflict ends when they get justice to the historical injustice that has occurred to them with the Nakba of 1948 and the Naksa of 1967. This means writing the wrongs that occurred to the Palestinian refugees with their displacement from the landscape with the establishment of the State of Israel by facilitating the return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their original homes in all historic Palestine, and additionally, the end of the immoral, illegitimate and unjust Occupation of the remainder of Palestinian lands since 1967. Since the beginning of the Peace Process in the early 1990’s, the Palestinians have been entertaining peace agreements which will see them establishing a state on 22% of what they claim to be their historic homeland – the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Is less than a quarter of their historic homeland justice to the century of injustice they have endured with the catastrophe and displacement from their land of 1948 (Nakba) – which led to the establishment of an illegitimate Jewish state on 78% of Palestine -- and the Occupation of the remainder of their land in 1967?
For Palestinians, the end of the Conflict is not necessarily peace and security, but rather justice for this incredible injustice. While a slim majority of Palestinians support a Two State Solution, more than three quarters of Palestinians do not see a peace agreement in the form of a Two State Solution as the end of the Conflict, even if it ends the Occupation of 1967, because it will not bring about a return of Palestinian refugees (over 5 million, mostly descendants) to their historic homeland, which is today the internationally recognized sovereign state of Israel, a UN member since 1949. For most Palestinians, the only way to bring about justice for a people that only knows injustice is to right the original wrong of Nakba.
Can Justice for Palestinians include Justice for Zionists?
The question for those who are observers of the Palestinian narrative, and especially for many Israelis and Zionists, is there a way for Palestinians to attain justice while at the same time maintaining the historical justice the Jews see in the establishment of their own sovereign state in their historic homeland after two millennia of Diaspora and despair? Because the state of Israel is not going anywhere in what the Palestinians believe to be 78% of their historic homeland, which was a result of Arab refusal of Partition, starting a war to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state on their historic homeland, which tragically led to Palestinian displacement. The question is whether the Palestinian narrative will accept the consequences of their rejection of Zionism and the Partition Plan of 1947, which resulted in a war they lost and the establishment of Israel on over three quarters of what they believe to be exclusively theirs. Today, the consensus within the Palestinian narrative, based on what we’ve discussed earlier, Zionism is not a legitimate political entity with a right to claim indigenous rights in the land and the establishment of their own sovereign state. For many observers of the Conflict, especially those that see Zionism as legitimate and the greatest form of historical justice for the Jewish people, see that the Conflict between the Jews and the Arabs in the Holy Land ending when Palestinian Justice also includes the right for Jews to self-determination in their historic homeland.
How the Conflict Started
Why were the results of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war miraculous for the local Jews, but catastrophic for the local Arabs? How can one people’s ultimate joy involve another’s greatest pain? The answer to this question will help us understand why Israel emerges as a sovereign state upon British withdrawal from the region, while the Palestinian Arabs are stateless. And the answer to this question helps us understand why this conflict between the local Jews and Arabs of the former British Mandate of Palestine begins, and why it continues today.
British takeover from the Ottomans
Let’s begin this story a century ago with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled for a few centuries over the majority of what we today call the Middle East, but loses the majority of its territories to the British and French during World War I. While interested in expanding their empires, these two European powers desired the approval of their colonization from the international community, which came in the form of the League of Nations Mandate System. The point of the mandate system was that the colonial power was going to be the decider on who was going to be the sovereign in their mandate territory when they deemed it the right moment to hand off power.
In 1922, the British Mandate of Palestine is ratified by all members state of the League of Nations at the San Remo Conference, where in the land between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, Palestine would be controlled by the British. The British made promises to different political groups that helped its fight during World War I, which influenced how they determined who they would empower following their colonial rule. Anticipating the Mandate, the Balfour Declaration pronounces British support for a “Jewish national home” in Palestine on November 2, 1917. The Balfour Declaration is adopted as international law by the League of Nations British Mandate of Palestine, committing the British Empire to eventually handing over their new mandate of Palestine to a Jewish autonomous entity. Additionally, the British promise various Arab groups power throughout the Middle East, like the Saudi family in what today is Saudi Arabia, and the Hashemites of what is today Jordan.
Beginnings of Conflict
But during the years of the British Mandate of Palestine, a conflict emerges between the local Jews and Arabs of the territory. While the pioneering Zionists, the nationalistic identifying Jews that had mostly immigrated to the territory in the previous half century, identified as an indigenous people returning to restore their inherent rights to sovereignty in a desolate land that had been unjustly taken away from them nearly two millennia ago and their people had miraculously survived in exile living as strangers among many nations and empires, the local Arabs saw themselves as the exclusive indigenous people of the land they had been a demographic majority in since the rise of Islam and the Arab conquest of the entire Middle East in the 7th and 8th centuries.
The British take over, and their promise that the land will eventually be given to the Jews coupled with increased Jewish immigration, sparks outrage among local Arabs who understood Zionist pioneering and British colonialism as a threat to their exclusivity over the territory.
So the Conflict begins in the early years of the British Mandate and ensues through the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. By the end of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, the British are no longer committed to handing over their Mandate of Palestine over to the Jews. This is seen on the eve of World War II in 1939, as the British pass the White Paper, which limits Jewish immigration to just 15,000 individuals yearly to Palestine.
After the British - Who's Next?
At the end of World War II, the British find themselves in control of a territory that two peoples are vying for complete control. They are an empire in retreat, hurting economically from World War II, and there’s no desire to have their soldiers shot at and killed by locals in Palestine revolting against British imperial rule. Therefore, the British turn to the United Nations to be “the decider” on who would be the next sovereign in Palestine. The UN forms a committee and comes up with a proposal that is passed on November 29th, 1947 by the United Nations General Assembly. This is called the Partition Plan (UN Res. 181), which proposes to split the British Mandate of Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and an international protectorate over Jerusalem.
It’s important to mention that the point of the British Mandate was to eventually decide who was going to be the sovereign following British rule. But since they abdicate themselves of this responsibility in asking the United Nations to figure out the next ruler, the international community would supposedly -- whether this was right or wrong is a different conversation -- decide what the British Mandate of Palestine was going to look like. However, the only way for this to work out was if both sides agreed to the UN Partition Plan. If there was not an agreement on the compromise proposal, then the two sides - the Arabs and Jews - would most likely decide who would rule over the land they both want through war.
So what happened with the Partition Plan?
It’s important to mention that both the Arabs and the Jews were exclusivists. They wanted all of the land to themselves. The question is whether their leaderships understood compromise with the other side as beneficial for their goals. While the Jews compromised and accepted the terms of the Partition Plan, the local Arabs, represented by the Arab League, rejected the Partition Plan, seeing compromise as hurting, rather than aiding their cause.
Why were the Jews interested in compromise but the Arab League was not?
When the British were going to leave their mandate in Palestine, there was going to be a power vacuum left by the greatest empire known to mankind. The Arab League was composed of new states bordering this territory the British were going to leave, and they were ruled by dictators interested in solidifying power and territorial expansion on behalf of their own interests. So when introduced with a proposal to have Palestine divided into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, the neighboring Arab States simply saw a major power leaving an area and an opportunity to take it.
Additionally, the leaders of these Arab states subscribed to Pan-Arabism, a nationalism identifying one Arab nation that should rule over Arab territory, and Palestine was apart of this story, and therefore, it was not acceptable for a Jewish state to exist on Arab territory. Moreover, Palestine was apart of the original Islamic conquest - the Dar al-Islam - and was considered holy Islamic land that could only be ruled over by Muslims, which it had since the rise of Islam, except with a brief intermission with the Crusades. The Jews, a religious minority protected by Islamic law (dhimi), could live in holy Islamic territory, but they definitely could not rule over it, and not over Muslims in that territory.
So while the Arab states were ideologically opposed to partition because it would lead to Jewish sovereignty over Arab territory, they simply did not see it beneficial to their geopolitical interests to agree to partition.
On the other hand, the Jewish leadership headed by David Ben Gurion saw compromise as beneficial for the Zionist cause and lobbied hard for various countries to accept the Partition Plan because it would solidify what the Zionist movement had been preparing for more than half a century, an autonomous Jewish state in their historic homeland.
The Zionists were exclusivists just like the Arabs, seeing themselves as the sole natives of the land. However, Ben Gurion was an incrementalist and a democrat. He knew that it would be a step-by-step process to receiving sovereignty in the entirety of the land, but he also believed a Jewish state should be a democracy with a Jewish demographic majority. Since the Partition Plan didn’t include Jerusalem, a Jewish majority city where about 20% of the Jewish population of British Palestine lived, about half of the territory was the most they could get. With nearly 2,000 years of history behind him where sometimes it was good for the Jews to live as strangers among other peoples, but many times, it was tragic, and most recently, with the destruction of a third of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, there was an impetus for a Jewish state to be a refuge for Jews all over the world immediately.
Unlike the Arabs, the Jews of British Palestine, headed by David Ben Gurion, see compromise as beneficial to their interests, and therefore accept the parameters of the Partition Plan passed on November, 29th, 1947.
War is the ultimate decider
So what happened next? War. The reason why is simple. The British were supposed to decide who was going to rule next. But since they ask the UN to do this instead, and the Partition Plan is rejected by the Arabs, the two local groups will decide who rules next by military means.
Initially, it’s a civil war, as the British are still around and nominally ruling. The local Arabs start attacking the local Jews on November 30th, 1947, the day after Partition fails. From this point until May 14th, 1948, it’s a civil war between the two local groups of British Palestine. This conflict transforms from a local civil war to an interstate war on May 15th, 1948. The reason is because this is the day after the British leave, without giving over the keys of the land to anyone.
A few hours before the British leave, David Ben Gurion declared an independent Jewish state named Israel at 4PM, Friday, May 14th. The neighboring Arab states invade the following day on May 15th, supposedly on behalf of the local Arabs, but in reality, mostly for themselves.
Independence for one side, Catastrophe for the other
This war ends in early 1949, and the two sides have two very different names for this war.
The Jews call it the Independence War, because this very event births the State of Israel, whose borders are established based on where its army, the IDF, was at the end of the War. The IDF controlled 78% of the former British Mandate of Palestine when the last ceasefire is declared. Armistice agreements are signed between the IDF and various Arab armies. The Syrians maintain control over the Golan Heights, the Jordanians had conquered East Jerusalem (including the Old City) and an area which became known as the West Bank, and the Egyptians took over what became the Gaza Strip. The IDF controls the rest of the territory that once belonged to the British, and the newly declared state of Israel becomes an internationally recognized sovereign state admitted to the United Nations as legally controlling 78% of the former British Mandate of Palestine.
The Arabs on the other hand call this war the Nakba, meaning “the catastrophe,” in Arabic. As this war leads to their side losing over three quarters of what they say to be their historic homeland, an event which leads to the displacement of three quarters of a million local Arabs, the results of this war were simply tragic, and they claim to still be experiencing injustices due to the Nakba of 1948.
The Arabs absolutely had a right to reject compromise in the form of the Partition Plan of 1947. The question is whether there would could be an acceptance of the consequences of rejecting compromise if the war was lost. As in, would they accept the results of a losing war that a Jewish state would exist on three quarters of what the Arabs believe to be exclusively theirs?
Because unfortunately for the Arab states, and most specifically for the local arabs of the area, the results of this war were absolutely tragic. A Jewish state emerges on 78% of their historic homeland, and about 750,000 Arabs are displaced from their homes, with no opportunity to return as a new state, a Jewish one, is established where they used to live. The results could have been different. The Arabs could have won the war and prevented the Zionist dream of a Jewish state on their historic homeland; but the results were flipped, and instead of getting about half if they accepted compromise in the form of the Partition Plan, Arabs (and not Palestinian Arabs, but Jordanian and Egyptian dictators) would only rule over 22% of the former British Mandate of Palestine due to the means they chose to decide the fate of the territory - the result of war.
So who decided the original borders of the new state of Israel?
Many people say it was the United Nations or the British - which is both not true. Rather, it was the results of a civil and then interstate war in which the Jews and Arabs fought over who was going to be the sovereign over a territory they both claimed to be exclusively theirs, a territory that was ruled by an imperial power that retreated from the region. The results of this war decided the original borders of the state of Israel, which as written earlier, was 78% of the territory that IDF had fought to hold on to at the end of the War. And it was an Israel that held onto this territory that became the internationally recognized sovereign state admitted to the United Nations.
If the Partition Plan was accepted by both sides, the Conflict, which had been brewing for a few decades during British rule, would not have continued, as there would be two states existing side by side one another. But with a rejection of compromise, for seemingly legitimate geopolitical and ideological interests, the results of the war determined the sovereign borders of the former British mandate of Palestine.
Since 1948, have the Arabs of the region accepted the results of the war they unfortunately started? Will they accept that a sovereign state, whether they accept the philosophical justification for its existence, was established on 78% of what they believe to be their homeland? Will there ever be a recognition that the Nakba is rooted in an Arab unwillingness to share the land as proposed by the Partition Plan? On the other hand, is there an acknowledgement by most Israelis that the moment of their greatest joy is the greatest pain for the Palestinians? Can two peoples reconcile their different narratives of the same event - where one people experiences the greatest historical justice to two thousand years of exile and instability, while another people suffers the great injustice birthing the pain that the Palestinian nations still feels it is living every day?
Israel's Presence in the West Bank Explained
This piece examines the mainstream Israeli perspective on the country’s presence in the West Bank and its establishment of settlements in the area since 1967. It delves specifically into the hearts and minds of Jewish Israeli voters on the issue. It’s biased in a sense that this piece attempts to provide how Israelis understand why the Palestinians may be occupied, but this piece of land is something else altogether, which may explain the contradiction of settling the land while offering to leave it at the same time.
Let’s dive right in.
How Israel comes to control the West Bank
As a result of Israel being triumphant in the 1948 War, it establishes itself as a sovereign state in 78% of the former British Mandate of Palestine. Israel is not in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or the Gaza Strip from 1948-1967 because its sovereign borders are established wherever the IDF was at the end of the first Arab-Israeli war. Jordan conquers the West Bank and East Jerusalem and Egypt conquers the Gaza Strip. While not relevant to the settlement conversation with regards to the contemporary conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Golan Heights is in Syrian hands when they sign an armistice agreement with Israel.
In 1967, Israel triples in size and acquires new territories during The Six Day War; the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. As a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the remaining 22% of the former British Mandate of Palestine,, and then some, are now in Israel’s hands.
While the 1948 Arab-Israeli War determined “the sovereign” in the lands of the former British Mandate of Palestine, would the results of the 1967 War also be a moment determining sovereignty? Or would Israel be required to retreat because its sovereignty was determined in 1948, and any other territorial expansion would be deemed illegal?
The International Community has mostly agreed that Israel needs to leave these territories. UN Resolution 242 passed in November 1967 encouraged Israel to “leave territories occupied” when it gets an end to belligerency from the Arab sides. But Israelis on the other hand still disagree on what the moment of 1967 means to them today, and this is what we will now explore.
So what has Israel done with these territories since 1967?
Has it annexed all of these territories? No. Has it annexed some? Yes. Has it helped its citizens move to all of the territories? You bet. Has Israel forcibly withdrew citizen from many of these territories it had originally helped them to set up communities and towns, otherwise known as settlements? 100%.
How does all that above even make sense? Let’s try and understand Israel’s relationship with the various territories it took over in 1967 during The Six Day War.
Israel has actually returned 90% of the territories it took over in 1967, but that’s because the Sinai is huge; Israel returns the Sinai in a “Land for Peace” deal with Egypt signed in 1979.
The other territory Israel no longer controls is Gaza. It withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and handed over the territory to the Palestinian Authority (which loses it to Hamas in June 2007 in a military coup-d'etat).
These two territories -- the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula -- were never annexed by Israel. While 5,000 Israelis lived in the Sinai and nearly 10,000 Israelis lived in the Gaza Strip at their peaks, these lands were never technically part of sovereign Israel and were always under Israel’s military occupation, ruled by Israel’s ministry of defence.
In 1981, Israel actually annexed the Golan Heights, bringing it into the fold of sovereign Israeli territory. However, the language passed by the Knesset did not use the technical word for annexation, leaving open the potential possibility of a “land for peace” deal with Syria with regards to the Golan like it had with Egypt when returning the Sinai.
With regards to East Jerusalem, pretty soon after taking over the territory, Israel annexes it. The city is united and declared Israel’s eternal and undivided capital. It has built several Jewish neighborhoods in the post 1967 area of the city, such as reinhabiting the Jewish quarter of the Old City and establishing Jewish neighborhoods like Ramot, Pisgat Ze’ev and Gilot. But unlike the international community, Israel does not consider these areas settlements, but rather rightful residential expansions of its united and undivided capital city.
What is the West Bank for Israelis?
Unlike East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Israel has never annexed the West Bank. However, it has helped facilitate the establishment of many settlements all over the area, with over 400,000 Israeli citizens live in what Israelis call Judea and Samaria over fifty years later.
Why has Israel built infrastructure and encouraged its citizens to live an area it has never annexed and has never considered part of its sovereign territory?
For many Israelis, it was simple. The country had a nine mile border from 1948-1967. Israel’s former foreign minister Abba Eban called these “Auschwitz borders.” Did Israelis feel secure in those early years of the state neighboring a mountainous territory where terrorist incursions upon Israeli population centers were common, and a more existential threat of a potential Arab army invasion from the East? The heart of Israel’s economy and population existed on the narrow coastal plain bordering what was, from 1948-1967, the Jordanian West Bank. So when the IDF takes over the territory, it provides the beating demographic and economic heart of the state valuable strategic depth.
This territory being seen as a strategic asset evolved from a buffer from an Arab military invasion to protect the heart of the Israeli home-front from terror. The idea was, if the country establishes “security” settlements in peripheral areas in the West Bank neighboring Palestinian population areas, then the violence and conflict would occur in those peripheral areas as opposed to major demographic and economic centers in Israel.
Additionally, as terror groups gained strength in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, especially with the precedent of what happened when Israel left the Gaza Strip (2005), and Hamas has taken over Gaza less than two years later from the Palestinian Authority (2007), and used it, from Israelis perspective, as a base to terrorize Israelis with terror tunnels, rockets and wars, Israelis do not want that to happen in the West Bank. Unlike the Gaza Strip, the West Bank is simply too close to the center of the country where 70% of the Israeli population lives. It is two miles from the country’s main international airport and without an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank, it would be susceptible to arms smuggling from the East like what has occurred for years in Gaza from smuggling tunnels to its South.
Since 1967, Israelis have seen the West Bank as a security asset, and most Israelis simply see holding onto the territory as vital to their security today based on their failed experiment with unilateralism in 2005 with leaving Gaza without a peace agreement in hand. In the typical Israeli voter’s experience, if Israel leaves the West Bank, it will get Hamas there just as it got the terror group on its southern border. And Israelis simply will not tolerate such a future.
The West Bank is also a Liberated Territory for many Israelis
Besides seeing the West Bank as strategically important, many Israelis identify the territory not as the “west bank” of the Jordan River, but rather as the biblical heartland of the Jewish people. They do not call it the West Bank, but rather by its traditional biblical name - Judea and Samaria.
For many Zionists, this territory is part of the liberated land of Israel. It’s where the original Jewish kingdoms were, with Jerusalem the seat of the capital. Returning to control this territory in 1967 was a completion of the Zionist mission and the liberation of the entirety of the land of Israel, and therefore it was a Zionist imperative to pioneer and the settle the territory, just as the original Zionists from Europe did during the Ottoman and British periods before the establishment of the State. Just as the IDF held onto certain territories after the Independence War of 1948, the same story was being written again in 1967.
For many Israelis, returning to the heartland of the homeland was the greatest moment of Jewish redemption. The hopes and prayers of thousands of years of actually returning home rang true. It was truly redeeming and miraculous, and that’s why many Israelis see the West Bank, or once again as they call it Judea and Samaria, a liberated territory.
Occupied People on a Disputed Territory
So if the West Bank is a strategic and liberated territory for most Israelis, why then has it never been annexed by Israel? Why are the areas under Israeli civilian and security control not technically sovereign Israeli territory, but are under the jurisdiction of the IDF?
The reason is actually simple. Most Israeli voters simply look at the demographic numbers and understand the threat an annexation of the West Bank poses, as the move would mean that Israel, as a democracy, would have to give citizenship to over 2.5 Million Arab Palestinians living in the territory (this is assuming Israel annexes all of the West Bank, including Areas A & B, which are semi-autonomous areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority).
So if Israel annexed the West Bank, can it still remain a Jewish and democratic state? According to the majority of Israelis, that answer is no. Israel cannot be a Jewish and democratic state if it fully incorporates the West Bank into its sovereign territory.
Currently Israel has a population of around 8.5 million people, with 75% being Jewish. If it added another 2.5 million Arab citizens, it would significantly decrease the Jewish majority, and therefore threaten the Jewish character of the state if Zionist parties can no longer control political power. Even though Israel does not have a constitution and does not have any legal definition of what it means to be a Jewish state, there’s an underlying understanding that the basic definition of Israel as a Jewish state is one as a democratic state with an ethnic Jewish majority. If that majority is threatened, then it’s Jewish character is threatened.
As most Israeli voters understand the demographic threat the Arab Palestinian population poses in the West Bank, even if they see the West Bank as strategically vital and liberating to the Zionist story, they see annexation as an existential threat to the Zionist experiment.
Why isn’t the West Bank an Occupied Territory for most Israelis?
So if most Israelis look at the West Bank, and see that there is an Arab Palestinian majority, why do most Israelis not see the territory being occupied? If for the first half of Israel’s rule, the Palestinians lived under Israeli military occupation, and in the second half, they’ve mostly lived under the Palestinian Authority -- although Palestinian autonomous areas (Area’s A & B) sit next to Israeli controlled areas (Area C) in the West Bank. This means Palestinians in the West Bank have to encounter the Israeli military and authorities in many forms on a macro and micro scale; this comes in the form of tax collection, infrastructure development, telecommunications, travelling between cities, and engagements with soldiers such as midnight raids, arrests, curfews, checkpoints and barriers.
While a population may live under military occupation, Israelis distinguish between the people and the land. Many say the West Bank is a disputed territory with a people - the Palestinians - living under a belligerent military occupation as understood by the Israeli Supreme Court. While some may protest this portrayal as the majority of West Bank Palestinians live under Palestinian Authority rule, the Palestinians still must encounter the IDF for many basic human services and rights. This is why the Israeli Supreme Court explains that the Palestinian population in the West Bank lives under a belligerent military occupation. So while the laws of occupation according to International Law are applied in the West Bank, the territory itself, according to the Israeli position, is not occupied but disputed.
To understand this justification of the people but not the land being occupied, many Israelis ask from which country is Israel occupying the territory?
Jordanian occupation of the West Bank was not recognized by the International Community as legal. Only the United Kingdom and Pakistan recognized Jordan’s presence in the West Bank as legitimate. According to International Law, the last legal sovereign of the West Bank was the British Mandate. And according to its League of Nations Charter, the British were supposed to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in and encourage Jewish immigration to the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean sea, which today includes sovereign Israel and the West Bank.
So from the Israeli perspective, the territory is not illegally occupied as there’s a legal justification for it to rule over it based on international law. But with that being said, most Israelis understand that it cannot rule over another people forever. Besides it not being fair or just, this occupation threatens the very reason for Israel’s existence - to be a Jewish state. Therefore, by the early 1990’s, after a quarter century of its military occupation, Israelis voted in Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party to change the situation and remove the IDF and most of its settlers from the West Bank in return for an end of conflict deal with the Palestinians.
With attempts to leave the West Bank during the Oslo Process, offering up end of Conflict deals in 2000 and 2008, experimenting with unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, most Israelis would say their country has shown a commitment to ending what some would characterize its occupation of the West Bank. The problem for Israelis is the deep fear and mistrust they have of the Palestinians if they were to leave the West Bank. Most Israelis believe Israel’s military and population presence protects the heartland of the country. And for those that protest that Israel’s Occupation actually encourages hatred, violence and terrorism, and is a moral disaster and a human nightmare experienced by the Palestinians who endure it, even these skeptics argue Israel cannot leave the West Bank without a responsible withdrawal which would occur in an end of conflict bilateral agreement with the Palestinians.
While Israelis are convinced -- at about a two to one ratio -- of the existential imperative to leave the West Bank in order to preserve their Jewish and democratic state, a greater ratio of Israelis feel an irresponsible withdrawal from the territory without a peace agreement would make their security situation more unstable and untenable.
So while Israelis see the strategic importance of the West Bank, the liberating qualities of the territory to the Zionist story, and understand where the Palestinian population experiences life under Israeli occupation, the territory is in fact a disputed one between the sides. While Israel has a serious political, ideological and legal justification to hold onto the territory, it cannot extend complete sovereignty over it without threatening Israel’s Jewish and democratic characterization.
What are the settlements to most Israelis?
Israeli law treats the West Bank much differently than East Jerusalem, even though both areas are taken by the IDF during the 1967 War. Israel has never annexed the West Bank since taking over the area. From the Israeli government’s perspective, whether a left or right wing coalition, there are legal and illegal settlements in the territory. But the settlements, philosophically, from the Israeli perspective, can be characterized as being understood by most Israelis as one of the five following characterizations.
Economic settlers: For many Israelis, the settlements are like suburbs. They are small towns and villages very close to the major cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - these are the settlements like Efrat, Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Edumim, Ariel, etc. Many Israeli see the settlements as economic solutions to a high cost of living in Israel. Simply put, you can get more bang for your buck as they are cheaper places to live.
“Family” settlers: Besides the economic element, there are generations of Israelis that grew up and have now returned to live in a settlement to be close to their families. After college, while many go live in the big cities, as young people get married and start families, there are plenty of people that simply want to be where they grew up, and that is now different with Israeli returning to live in the settlement communities of their youth.
Ultra Orthodox settlers: Additionally, one third of the Israeli settlement population are Ultra-Orthodox Israelis, who mostly live in the two biggest settlements of Beitar Illit and Modi’in Ilit (over 100,000 people). They live in these settlements not from a Zionist ideological justification, but rather because they are towns zoned for their constituency by the Israeli government. It is no different than living in Jerusalem, B’nai Brak, or Elad, cities with significant Ultra-Orthodox populations. As most Ultra-Orthodox Israelis are not ideologically committed to Zionism, for them living over the “Green Line” is not something that affirms or contradicts their Zionist ideals, as they do not have a Zionist starting point
Security settlers: Additionally, many of the original settlements were established by the Israeli government in the late 1960’s through the 1970’s as security establishments to protect the heartland of the Israeli population. The goal followed Ben-Gurion’s notion of settling the periphery in the emerging years of the state as a means to create facts on the ground, but also to have the “conflict” stay in peripheral areas. Some settlements established in this vain still act as a security buffer to the main Israeli population centers today.
Ideological settlers: Lastly, and what is perceived to be the most important characterization of the settlements, and absolutely plays a considerable part in why the settlements exist and why they continue to be supported politically, is the ideological reason. Although a minority, a strong and loud one with their own party in the Knesset called today Bayit Yehudi, these settlers are ideologically committed to the liberation of the entire land of greater Israel, and understand Israel’s complete victory in 1967 as an opportunity to continue the Zionist pioneering spirit of the early years before the state’s founding. For these settlers, and the Israelis who support their cause, the redemption of the Jewish people in the land of Israel is tied to the settlement enterprise in liberated Judea and Samaria (West Bank).
As seen with these five characterizations, the settlements are understood in very different ways for Israelis. You’ll find Israelis that will explain why the settlements are or are not an obstacle to peace as they understand why the settlements exist in the diverse ways as described above.
Some Israelis would say that the settlements are an obstacle to peace because they prevent the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state. There’s definitely a viewpoint, although a minority one amongst Zionist Israelis, that the settlements are illegitimate and provide no utility to Israel, whether ideologically or practically.
Many Israeli opinions but one Israeli consensus about the West Bank
What’s important to emphasize in this discussion is the there is not a homogenous Israel position when it comes to the issue of the West Bank and Settlements. Israeli society has debated for half a century about what to do with this complicated territory, and the question is still up in the air. While most of the international community and the Arab world simply see the settlements and Israel’s presence there as the main obstacle to peace, Israelis have a deeply layered relationship with the area. But with this diverse relationship, at the end of the day, if you look at polling of Israeli voters, about two-thirds support a two state solution, meaning they support the withdrawal of the majority of Israel’s settlements and its soldiers in the West Bank, but only if that means an end of conflict peace agreement with the Palestinians. But since most Israeli voters do not sincerely believe there to be a partner for peace on the other side, they are adamant about Israel continuing to “manage the conflict” to ensure their collective security, even if this means sacrificing the individual and basic rights of many Palestinians having to live under, around and be affected by Israel’s military occupation.
How the Conflict Ends
For this territorial dispute between Jews and Arab in their shared imagined homelands, each collective needs to achieve their end goals. But how can the Conflict end when the Israelis and Palestinians today have different ideas of what it means for the Conflict to be over?
The Palestinians want justice and the Israelis want peace & security. Let’s figure out why.
Palestinian Narrative of Injustice
If the emerging story of the modern nationalist Palestinian movement is one of tragedy, injustice and catastrophe, then the liberation of this movement must mean justice in the way that Palestinians define justice. As the Arabs of Palestine before the 1948 war were concentrated in coastal cities or villages in the highlands, their modern nationalist identity was pan-Arab at the time. But the 1948 war brought the Arabs of the same homeland to experience something together - an event which still permeates through the lives of millions of Palestinians today. The Nakba of 1948. The displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, being put in refugee camps by the Arab states that supposedly fought the war in their interest, and not being able to return to their homes as the newly formed state of Israel closed its borders. For those Arabs that ended up in the modern state of Israel, they were given citizenship, but put under military law until 1966.
No matter if one was rich or poor, urban or farmer, living under Israel or the Arab states, the Arabs of Palestine all experienced the injustice of 1948, losing the war that would determine who would control their homeland, and experiencing the establishment of a sovereign, internationally recognized, United Nations recognized state of Israel, a national home for the Jewish people on 78% of what the Palestinians believe to be their exclusive homeland.
The narrative of injustice that began in 1948, has continued until today for the Palestinians. Nineteen years after the Nakba, the Naksa occurs, the setback, where Israel occupies the remainder of historic Palestine, the 22% that had been ruled by Jordan in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and by Egypt in Gaza up until the 1967 War.
If the original injustice for the Palestinians was being displaced and losing over three quarters of their homeland in 1948, then losing the rest of their homeland to Israel made that injustice so much worse. And now, instead of living under Arab rule, they lived under Israeli occupation, with all the humiliation, shame and injustice that entails. Even if Thomas Friedman in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, characterized the first two decades of Israeli control of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as a “Golden Occupation,” with increasing literacy rates, a developing economy and the establishment of Palestinian universities, it was still an occupation, and even if one could call it benevolent, Palestinians saw Israelis build more and more communities on what they believe to be their historic homeland. This, coupled with the shame of losing what little land that was still ruled by Arabs up until 1967 and having to live under the rule of “the Jews,” eventually led the Palestinian street to rise up against their Israeli rulers twenty years later in 1987 with the First Intifada. Even if one wants to label the Israelis as “better” occupiers than the Egyptians or the Jordanians, the Palestinian nationalist sentiment was tired of living under occupation by a people it did not recognize to have the legitimacy to rule over Palestinian people on Palestinian land.
As the First Intifada ends, and Israelis elect Yitzhack Rabin in 1992, backchannel negotiations transform into an official peace process, with that famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat on the White House lawn on September 13th, 1993. The foundational understanding of this handshake is that the two sides will negotiate to seek out their ends goals of the Conflict.
But for the Palestinians, would peace bring them the justice they seek and deserve? During the on-again off-again peace negotiations, what have the Palestinians been offered by the Israelis and the International Community? Israeli Prime Ministers have offered up, at the most, almost 22% of historic Palestine for the Palestinians to establish their own state. While there are Israeli maps for the end of the Conflict, there are no maps in the public space offered by a Palestinian leader to the Israelis of their vision for what the end of the Conflict looks like.
While classic Pro-Israel activists can criticize the Palestinians’ unwillingness to acquiesce to Israeli peace proposals and their absolute rejection of the Zionist story and legitimacy of the Jewish people to have their own state in their historic homeland, we have to understand that at the very root of the Palestinian story is the injustice they all experienced in 1948 (which many call the foundational movement of the Palestinian National Movement), and the continued injustice that has been the central organizing factor of their story until today. The original tragedy was the loss of 78% of their homeland; the nightmare continued with losing the rest of it in 1967; then complete Israeli occupation for nearly three decades; followed by partial autonomy beginning in the mid 1990’s; and then international support for a two state solution as the way to end the Conflict, with Israel being a state in 78% of historic Palestine and the Palestinians being offered a state, at the very most, in just 22% of what they believe to be exclusively theirs - cementing the results of the 1948 Nakba forever.
Is that the version of justice the Palestinians have been seeking since the original injustice of their displacement over seventy years ago?
Polling of Palestinians over the last few decades shows that about half of the society supports a Two-State Solution. However, for most Palestinians, this doesn’t mean the end of the Conflict, as most Palestinians today, according to polling, see the conflict ending only once all of the Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their original homes, which would be over 5.5 million people flooding what today is the State of Israel. For the Palestinians, the Conflict ends when they get justice for the injustice that began in 1948, and has continued to this very day. And today, the Palestinian version of justice does not mean a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
So how can the Palestinian version of justice equal the Israel conclusion to the Conflict, which is peace and security for a Jewish and Democratic state?.
First, let’s understand the Israeli version for the end of the Conflict.
Israelis want peace and security
The emblem of the IDF is a Star of David, with an olive branch wrapped around a sword. This symbolizes Israel’s desire for peace and security, and how it will use all the tools it has at its disposal to achieve its collective aims. When the olive branch is available, Israel will accept international proposals for partition - such as the Peel Commision of 1937 and the UN Partition Plan of 1947 -- or will offer up “land for peace” deals with its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians since 1967 and the beginning of the Olslo Process in the early 1990’s -- and additionally will attempt unilateral withdrawal, such as its 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, as another effort of implementing the vision of the olive branch, solving the conflict through non-military and diplomatic means.
However, when the olive branch seems to be unavailable, Israel will utilize the sword to defend the Zionist vision of a Jewish and Democratic state for the Jewish nation in the Jewish homeland. And it will be unapologetic for defending itself and its desire for Jewish national sef determination. This is first seen during the pre-state years of the Yishuv (Jewish community in the land of Israel before the State of Israel) and with Israel’s emergence as an independent state in 1948. From the Zionist perspective, Israel does not owe its newfound statehood to the international recognition given with the UN’s Partition Plan of 1947, but because the Jewish militias, eventually joining together to form the IDF in 1948, were able to defend themselves and win a civil war against the local Arab Palestinians and an interstate war with neighboring Arab States from 1947-1949 following Arab rejection of Partition.
And since the 1948 War, the sword has been relied upon and heavily invested in as a vital tool to ensure the survival of the State. Why Israel is viewed as one of the most powerful countries in the World is because of its investment in the military, anti-missile systems, the Air Force, “not having nuclear weapons” and being an OECD member, one of the top 30 economies in the world. Since day one of the Zionist project power has been essential to the survival of Jewish statehood.
When Israelis are polled about the Two State Solution, they support the notion of two states for two peoples at about a 55-70% range typically, depending on political circumstances. Israelis view the Two State Solution as a vehicle to end the territorial dispute with the Palestinian Arabs over their shared homeland. But most Israelis today, even if they philosophically support the notion of partition, are not interested in a Two State Solution because they see this potential diplomatic achievement as a threat to their very existence. For Israelis, a Two State Solution must result in an end to the Conflict. But if Israeli voters feel there is no partner for peace, then the olive branch is simply not an available tool to use to ensure peace and security and they unfortunately rely on the sword.
Can one people’s justice equal another people’s peace?
In the dynamic where Israel is the power and the Palestinians are far behind, can such a dynamic facilitate an end to their territorial dispute? Furthermore, the two sides have two completely different end goals and their political environments have absolutely different understandings of the past and what it means for the present.
For the Palestinians, the 1948 Nakba has not ended. The civil war is still happening, and the majority of Palestinian society does not recognize the sovereignty of the state that emerged at the end of that civil war in 1948. The fact that Israel’s sovereignty is internationally recognized in 78% of its historic homeland, and that state is one of the most powerful countries in the world, does not dissuade the majority of Palestinians to believe in the sacrosanctity of their just right to return to their imagined homeland and to right the wrongs of the last century. Can statehood in just 22% of their homeland and a denial of their right of return equal the justice they have been told by everyone, from their communities, schools, leaders, Arab states and the United Nations, that they are destined to receive?
But for Israelis, the 1948 Independence War ended with its independence. It was miraculous, redemptive, liberating -- 1948 is the epitome of historical justice for a people that experienced so much tragedy for centuries. It’s not just that Israel does not think it is still fighting a civil war over a shared territory anymore - it’s also that its current situation is a continued embodiment of the results of the 1948 War - justice. Jewish self determination, the very existence of a modern nation state for the Jewish people, Jewish universities, a Jewish culture, a Jewish language, a Jewish army, Jewish civil society, all on the Jewish homeland, is the vision of Jewish justice, even with all the challenges of statehood and governance that accompany modern nationhood.
In 1948, one people experiences injustice and catastrophe, and the other experiences national liberation and redemption. The many injustices and tragedies for the Jewish people in diaspora, a thousands year struggle, finally ends with justice. The Arabs of Palestine, who had been home for well over a millenia in their towns and villages, experiences its first collective injustice in 1948. And since that moment of 1948, justice for one and injustice for another, the reality of the two collectives has been one where Israelis live out their justice everyday simply by existing and relish this redemptive moment in their history, while Palestinians continue to live out the injustice of 1948 and do not see a way out unless it means a return to where they were before the Nakba happened to them.
Palestinians didn’t know collective injustice before Israel so why shouldn’t they expect to return to that state of being?
For the Israelis, it’s the first time in 2000 years the Jewish people have collectively experience justice and together righted the wrong of the injustice of national destruction that happened in the First Century of the Common Era, and continued to be experience by them in the Muslim Middle East or Christian Europe, with modern Anti-Semitism catalyzing the political beginnings of the Zionist movement in Europe in the 19th century and emphasizing the existential need for Jewish statehood with the genocide of a third of world Jewry with the Nazi Holocaust.
So how do the Israelis get peace and the Palestinians receive justice?
Palestinians need to understand their version of justice will never include the erasure of the Jewish state from their landscape, from their desired homeland. Only when Palestinian society can reconcile with and accept the results of the Nakba, that they lost the Civil War of 1948 and Israel will always exist at the very minimum, in 78% of its historic homeland, that they can begin to get justice. Palestinian justice must not erase Jewish justice. The challenge though is Jewish justice, in the Palestinian eye, is what caused the great tragedy of the Palestinian people; but there is no alternative unfortunately for the Palestinians. They must accept that they will receive justice only once they accept the legitimacy of Jewish justice.
On the other hand, Israelis must understand that they will only get peace and security once they understand that their most redemptive and liberating moment caused the greatest pain and tragedy for the Palestinians. Israeli must somehow gain a level of empathy for the Palestinian desire to upend the Nakba and return to a homeland that now only exists in their imaginations. But how can Israelis be expected to do this when they see massive societal support for payments to terrorists, the demand for a release of murderous Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails just to earn the right to negotiate, tens of thousands protesting the Gaza Border in a March of Return, and constant terror threats emanating from their neighbors? Can a people be expected to reconcile that their greatest joy legitimately caused another people their greatest pain, and that they still live out this pain every day by simply existing?
That is the challenge of how the Conflict ends, when Palestinian justice can make space for Israel’s version of peace and security, and when Israel’s version for the conclusion of the conflict can somehow make room to right the wrong of Palestinian injustice.