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The Arab-Israeli Conflict

The age-old Israel-Palestine crisis dates back to the end of 1800s. However, the root causes of the conflict were born long way back in the ancient period. The fight over the land rights by both the Jews and Arabs has been carried out through different phases, movements, uprisings, full-fledged wars, diplomatic confrontations, and so on. As of now, these two countries are still struggling to find a solution which would be acceptable to both the sides, and would provide justice to the Israelis and the Palestinians. 

Ancient History of Israel: from 'Israel' to 'Palaestina'

The ancient history of Israel is primarily based around the tribes, kingdoms, and dynasties formed by Jewish people in the Levant. The land, modern-day Israel, is claimed by both the Jews and the Arabs. However, the conflict of claiming the same stretch of land has a history of its own; And to get a better understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, we have to look at the ancient history of the place. 

According to the Hebrew Bible, a man named David rose to be Israel's king after slaying a giant named Goliath in a battle that led to the rout of a Philistine army. King David led a series of military campaigns that made Israel a powerful kingdom, and Jerusalem was made its capital. After the death of King David, his son Solomon took over the kingdom and constructed what is now called the First Temple, a place where god was worshipped in the city of Jerusalem. Later on, after the death of King Solomon, around 930 B.C., the kingdom split into two parts, a northern kingdom, which was named Israel, and a southern kingdom called Judah. The reason behind the split was the grievances over taxes and corvee labour. Israel and Judah co-existed for about two centuries, often fighting against each other. The last war that they engaged in destroyed Israel but left Judah intact.

Then around 735 B.C., the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III launched a military campaign during the rule of Israel's King Pekah that led to the loss of several cities that Israel controlled. After several years of constant battling, the kingdom of Israel then came to an end, and its remaining territory was incorporated into the Assyrian Empire. Many Israelites were deported to Assyria. And according to the Hebrew Bible, Judah was the last Jewish kingdom standing, although it was forced to pay tribute to Assyria. Afterwards, around 587 B.C., a Babylonian king named Nebuchadnezzar II conquered much of Assyria's former empire, laid siege to Jerusalem, and destroyed the First Temple. This forced the deportation of many of Judah's inhabitants to Babylonia. However, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persian Empire, and the Persian king Cyrus the Great permitted the Jews for their return to Jerusalem.

The Seleucid family line eventually controlled the Persian empire. However, around the 2nd century B.C., the Seleucid Empire began to weaken, and a line of Jewish rulers descended from a priest named Simon Maccabeus was able to gain semi-autonomy and eventually complete independence from the Seleucids (this line of rulers is known as the Hasmonean Dynasty). However, the Romans soon conquered the Hasmonean empire, as they took advantage of a Hasmonean civil war to launch a military expedition. Jerusalem fell to the Roman general Pompey in 63 B.C., and from that point on, the territories that the Hasmoneans controlled were effectively under Roman rule.

Even after struggling and constantly trying to establish control over their 'promise land' for so many years with several failures, Jews always retained their separate identity of being monotheistic, mainly because of their distinctive religious beliefs. However, around 66 A.D., these distinctive beliefs were the reasons for the rising tensions between the Jewish inhabitants of the region and the Roman rulers. These tensions led to a series of rebellions over the decades. The final rebellion was crushed in A.D. 136. The Roman forces killed about 580,000 Jewish men and expelled the Jewish population from Israel. In the millennia afterwards, the Jewish diaspora spread throughout the world (mainly in Europe and the Middle East). Meanwhile, small groups of Jews gradually returned to the land, which the Romans now named 'Palaestina'. The Jews lived as a minority in Palaestina along with other local peoples and some colonists brought in by the Romans. 

Arabs of Palestine

In the 7th century AD, Palestine came under the control of Arabs. However, Arabs have a connection to this land a long way back to the existence of the patriarchal age. The Arabs are the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham's son by the bond-woman Hagar. If Ishmael's stepbrother, Issac (the traditional progenitor of the Jews) would have never been born then, Ishmael would have been the natural heir of Abraham in the land of Canaan. However, Issac becomes the heir. Ever since, Arabs had disputed claims over the rights to Canaan and later on Palestine, but earlier, they were defeated by the Jewish dialectic. It was not until the coming of Mohammed that Arab power and culture, integrated with the new faith, came decisively to dominate the whole of the Semitic world, from Arabia to the Mediterranean. 

In Palestine, the Arab conquest meant the supremacy of Islam in the Holy City of Jerusalem, which was a significant victory. The Arabs introduced the Arabic language in the region after establishing their rule. The prime bond of Arab citizenship had always been the acceptance of Islam and the adaptation of the Arabic tongue. However, Palestine absorbed members of various faiths like Muslims (in the majority), Christians and Jews (in the minority) and nationalities like Hittites, Israelites, Samaritans and Philistines. After years of invasions and battles, many Greeks, Crusades, Lebanese and Egyptians by the nineteenth century had become Palestinian Arabs.

Ottoman Rule over Palestine

Palestine became part of the Ottoman Empire in early 1517. Following the Ottoman conquest in 1517, the land was divided into four districts and attached administratively to the province of Damascus and ruled from Istanbul. At the outset of the Ottoman era, around one thousand Jewish families lived in the country, mainly in Jerusalem, Nablus (Shechem), Hebron, Gaza, Safed (Tzfat), and Galilee's villages. The community comprised descendants of Jews who had never left the land and immigrants from North Africa and Europe. The government under this empire brought changes and improvements that stimulated Jewish immigration. Some newcomers settled in Jerusalem, but the majority went to Safed. And by the mid-16th century, the Jewish population had risen to about ten thousand, and the town had become a thriving textile centre as well as the focus of intense intellectual activity.

Although the quality of the Ottoman rule started to decline gradually, the country was in a state of widespread neglect. By the end of the 18th century, much of the land was owned by absentee landlords and leased to impoverished tenant farmers, and taxation was as crippling as it was capricious. Then in the 19th century, the signs of progress were once again visible as various western powers were jockeying for positions through few missionary activities. Soon, Britain, France, Russia, Austria and the United States opened consulates in Jerusalem. Steamships began to ply regular routes between the Land and Europe; postal and telegraphic connections were installed; the first road was built connecting Jerusalem and Jaffa. The land's rebirth as a crossroads for the commerce of three continents was accelerated by the opening of the Suez Canal. 

With such progress, the condition of the Jewish population in the country improved and increased substantially. By the mid of 19th century, Jews built the first neighbourhood outside the walled city of Jerusalem, and in the next quarter-century, they increased the number of settlements by adding seven more neighbourhoods. And by 1880, Jerusalem had an overall Jewish majority. 

Rise of Nationalism and Zionism

This period tolerated the rapidly increasing tension between the Jews who wanted a homeland and the Palestinians who held the land. The growing tension was further flamed with the rise of nationalism, which had spread throughout Europe and the Middle East in the 19th century. This nationalist awakening was rooted in strong cultural ties, the strong bond of religion, common historical traditions, and the feeling of oneness. And this inevitably instilled the desire for political unity and independence in the nationalists. The rise of nationalism had significant repercussions for the Jewish Diasporas of Europe. On one side, Jews had an opportunity to grasp the situation and become members of the newly emerging nations in which they lived, requiring them to give up their separate identities. Moreover, on the other side, nationalism boosted the soar of anti-Semitism, which is hostility toward the Jews. This prejudice which was earlier based on religious feelings only now had become more intensely political as Jews were seen as 'foreigners', hindering the development of national unity. 

This surge of hostility gave birth to an ideology called Zionism. As the number of assaults on Jews increased and the Jewish population grew, the Jews formed the Zionist movement. The ideology of Zionism was based on the belief that Jews were not a religious group but rather a separate nation, characterised by a unique religion whose universal significance should be recognised. And then, the Jewish national movement appeared on the stage of history in the 1870s with the emergence of associations for the promotion of immigration of Jews to Palestine. However, the idea that Palestine to be returned to Jews as Israel is an essential element for Zionism to take shape was not shared by all the jews. Few did argue that the Jewish people do not necessarily need Israel but instead need a large enough piece of land to include Jews who are deprived of their political, economic, and social rights. Only later did practical Zionists who believed that Jews ought to be able to go back to Palestine and have what they called a 'national homeland' shift their stance and begin stressing settlement in Palestine. Then, in the year 1897, the 'World Zionist Organization' was founded at Basle in Switzerland to promote Zionism.

Creation of Israel: Role of Britain

Jews had recently suffered persecution in Russia, France and Germany, and a Jewish state would provide a safe refuge for Jews from all over the world. The problem was that Palestine was inhabited by Arabs who were under­standably alarmed at the prospect of losing their land to the Jews. Then after the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, Britain became involved in the Palestinian land conflict in 1917, and it took control of the region. To tackle the situation in hand, on November 2, 1917, Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote an important letter to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing the British government's support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This letter eventually was known as the Balfour Declaration. Soon after 1919, Palestine became a British mandate, and a large number of the Jewish population began to arrive in Palestine. Evidently, the Arabs protested bitterly to the British that they wanted an independent Palestine for the Arabs and an end to the immigration of Jews.

The British government stated in 1922 that there was no intention of the Jews occupying the whole of Palestine and that there would be no interference with the rights of the Palestinian Arabs. Balfour himself said in his declaration: 'nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non­ Jewish communities in Palestine'. However, this idea did not work out well for both communities.  

Moreover, the Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany after 1933 caused a flood of refugees, and by 1940 about half the population of Palestine was Jewish. From 1936 onwards, there were violent protests by Arabs and an uprising, which the British suppressed brutally, killing over 3000 Arabs. In 1937 the British Peel Commission proposed dividing Palestine into two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish, but the Arabs rejected the idea. The British tried again in 1939, offering an independent Arab state within ten years, and Jewish immigration limited to ten thousand a year; this time, the Jews rejected the proposal. 

After the Second World War, this situation further deteriorated as hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees (survivors of the Holocaust) from Hitler's area of control were searching for a place to go. This shot up the Jewish immigrants to Palestine. And in 1945, the U.S.A. pressed Britain to allow one hundred thousand Jews into Palestine; this demand was echoed by David Ben Gurion, one of the Jewish leaders, but the British, not wanting to offend the Arabs, refused. The Jews, after all that their race had suffered at the hands of the Nazis, were deter­mined to fight for their 'national home'. They began a terrorist campaign against both Arabs and British; one of the most spectacular incidents was the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which the British were using as their head­ quarters.

As Britain was not capable of handling this situation any further, it withdrew its forces from Palestine and decided to drop the matter in the hands of the United Nations. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, which would divide Great Britain's former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states. And in November 1947, the U.N. decided to divide Palestine into two countries, allocating 55% of the land to the Jews and 45% to the Palestinians. The city of Jerusalem was a much-disputed region claimed by various communities, so the city was put under an independent international authority. The Jewish population accepted this proposal, and on May 14 1948, the creation of Israel was proclaimed. However, the Palestinian population turned down the divide and with the support of the Arabs, they attacked Israel immediately.

The Arab-Israeli War, 1948

The Arab-Israeli War of 1948 broke out when in support of the Palestinians, five Arab nations, namely, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, invaded the territory in the former Palestinian mandate immediately following the announcement of the independence of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. The war broke out, starting with attacks by irregular groups of Palestinian Arabs attached to local units of the Arab Liberation Army composed of volunteers from Palestine and neighbouring Arab countries. These groups launched their attacks against the settlements, cities of Jews, and also the armed forces. The Jewish forces were composed of the 'Haganah', the underground militia of the Jewish community in Palestine, and two small irregular groups, the 'Irgun' and 'L.E.H.I.'. Both the Arabs and the Jews had their individual goals and motives to achieve out of this war. The Arabs wanted to block the Partition Resolution to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state. However, the Jews wanted to gain control over the territory allotted to them under the Partition Plan. 

On the eve of May 14, the Arabs launched an air attack on Tel Aviv, which the Israelis resisted. Saudi Arabia sent a formation that fought under Egyptian command. The British finally intervened in the conflict with its trained forces from Transjordan. However, it intervened only in the area designated as part of the Arab state. On the other hand, Israel tried to withstand the sudden war, which was difficult. 

As the fighting continued into 1949, the United Nations-brokered two ceasefires. However, neither side was ready to accept the terms, so Israel and the Arab states did not reach a formal armistice agreement until February. Under separate agreements between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq and Syria, these bordering nations agreed to formal armistice lines. Israel gained some territory formerly granted to Palestinian Arabs under the United Nations resolution in 1947. Egypt and Jordan retained control over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, respectively. Moreover, the involvement of the U.S.A. in the armistice negotiations was not direct. However, the U.N. was still worried about the instability in the Middle East and its effects on the international balance of power between the Soviet Union and the United States. 

The Suez War of 1956: Role of U.S.A. Through U.N.

After ten years of construction, the Egyptian government opened a man-made waterway called the Suez Canal in 1869. The 120 miles long Suez Canal separates a large part of Egypt from the Sinai peninsula, and it connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean by way of the Red Sea. This waterway is very valuable because it cuts short the time of shipping goods between Europe and Asia. And this value of the Suez Canal in international trade becomes the reason behind the conflict among Egypt and the neighbouring countries. Moreover, the global superpowers also wanted to establish dominance over the region. 

Supported by Soviet arms and money and furious with the United States for reneging on a promise to provide funds for constructing the Aswan Dam on the Nile River, Nasser ordered the Suez Canal seized, arguing tolls from the ships passing through the canal would pay for the dam. However, the conflict became a full-fledged war only after the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the canal. Therefore, the neighbouring countries and western powers decided to attack Egypt. So, on October 29, 1956, Israeli armed forces pushed into Egypt toward the Suez Canal. Later the Israelis were soon joined by French and British forces because this valuable waterway controlled transportation of two-thirds of the oil used by Europe. Therefore, on November 1, the Israeli forces were joined in by the British and French troops. They landed at Port Said and Port Fuad and took control of the area around the Suez Canal. 

The Soviet Union wanted to extend help to Egypt with direct intervention; however, they were already occupied by the growing crisis in Hungary. On the other hand, the U.S.A. had also warned the Soviets that reckless talk of nuclear conflict would only make matters worse and cautioned Khrushchev to refrain from direct intervention in the conflict. Moreover, America also issued stern warnings to the French, British and Israelis to give up their campaign and withdraw from Egyptian soil. To make these countries back down, the United States threatened all three nations through U.N. with economic sanctions if they persisted in their attack. Appalled that military operations had begun without his knowledge, U.S. President Eisenhower pressured the International Monetary Fund to deny Britain any financial assistance. These threats worked out, and the British and French forces withdrew by December; Israel finally bowed to U.S. pressure in March 1957, relinquishing control over the canal to Egypt. 

The Suez Crisis marked the first use of a United Nations peacekeeping force, namely the United Nations Emergency Force (U.N.E.F.). It was an armed group dispatched to the area to supervise the end of hostilities and the withdrawal of the three occupying forces. Therefore, Under Resolution 1001 on November 7 1956, the United Nations deployed the emergency force U.N.E.F. of peacekeepers into Egypt to halt the conflict. 

Palestine Liberation Organisation

With growing issues of the Palestine entity, the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.) initiated discussions in the Arab League Council (A.L.C.) on March 29 1959. The Arab League Council then decided on a high-level Arab Conference to deal with the stages of development of the Palestinian problem. Other issues like reorganising the Palestinian people and highlighting its entity as a unified people and not mere refugees were also discussed. The importance of acknowledging the voice of Palestinians in the Arab arena and international arena through representatives whom the Palestinian people would elect was also stressed. 

After many debates and discussions, the Palestine Liberation Organisation was established in 1964 during the Arab League Summit in Cairo. The original goal of P.L.O. was the "liberation of Palestine" through armed struggle while seeking to destroy the existence of Zionism in the Middle East. It was not long before the group splintered into various factions, all of whom believed they knew the best way to achieve liberation for the Palestinians. The most notable of these groups was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), and the Fatah. While each of these factions was independently controlled, they all remained more-or-less under the umbrella of the P.L.O. By 1967, the P.L.O. had decided that their primary goal was the destruction of the State of Israel. Over the next ten years, this goal was the primary focus of the massive terrorist campaign by which their reputation was formed.

The Six-Day War of 1967: Role of the Soviet Union and the U.S.A.

Israel has fought one battle after another, clinging to survival in the decades after its people were systematically murdered during the Holocaust. Israel was not just a site of regional disputes but also was a Cold War satellite, wrapped up in the interests of the Soviets and the Americans. The U.S.S.R. started exerting regional influence in a meaningful way in 1955 when it began supplying Egypt with military equipment. The following year, Britain and the U.S. withdrew financing for Egypt's Aswan High Dam project over the country's ties with the U.S.S.R. After early delays at the Suez War in 1956, work on the dam eventually got underway, and the project was completed in 1971.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union continued its close relationship with Egypt after the Suez Crisis, working to establish itself as a power in the region. However, it was not the only superpower that had an eye on the region to establish dominance. Even the U.S.A. hoped to shore up Arab support by developing a strong relationship with Egypt. Moreover, the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s committed to providing $170 million worth of surplus wheat to Egypt. That policy was eventually overturned, and the Soviet Union exploited it to grow closer to Nasser. However, Kennedy was trying to win over Egypt and was maintaining the superiority influence on Israel. In August 1962, Kennedy overturned the previous decade of U.S. policy toward Israel, which stated the U.S. and European powers would support it but not instigate an arms race. He became the first president to sell a major weapon system to Israel; the Hawk anti-aircraft missile was the first in a long line of military supplies Israel received from the U.S.

Later on, with all going well at home, Egypt decided that the time was ripe for another attack on Israel. Egypt began to move troops up to the frontier in Sinai and closed the Gulf of Aqaba. The Russians encouraged Egypt and Syria and kept up a flow of anti-Israeli propa­ganda because America supported Israel. Furthermore, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon also massed troops along their frontiers with Israel, while contingents from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Algeria joined them. 

Israel was facing a terrible situation, and so it decided that the best policy was to attack first rather than wait to be defeated. Early on the morning of June 5, 1967, the Israel Air Force launched a surprise attack and destroyed Nasser's grounded air force, then turned their sights to the troops massed on the borders of Syria and Jordan. Israeli troops moved with remarkable speed, capturing the Gaza Strip and the whole of Sinai from Egypt, the rest of Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Within six days, the entire fight was over, with Israel dramatically overpowering their neighbours. In the process, Egypt lost 15,000 men and Israel around 800. 

The Arabs had no choice but to accept a U.N. ceasefire order on June 10 1967, and it was all over in less than a week. Reasons for the spectacular Israeli success were: the slow and ponderous Arab troop build-up which gave the Israelis plenty of warning, Israeli superiority in the air, and inadequate Arab preparations and communications. In the aftermath of the war, Jordan was ready to negotiate peace with Israel, and he also expelled all P.L.O. members based in Jordan by September 1970. On the other hand, the Egyptians being confi­dent because they now had modern Russian weapons and their army had been trained by Russian experts, once again launched an attack along with the Syrian forces against Israel.

The war began on October 6 1973, with the Egyptian and Syrian forces attacking early on the feast of Yorn Kippur, a Jewish reli­gious festival, hoping to catch the Israelis off guard. After some early Arab successes, the Israelis, using mainly American weapons, were able to turn the tables. Israeli forces succeeded in hanging on to all the territory they had captured in 1967 and even crossed the Suez Canal into Egypt. However, this time both the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. decided it was time to intervene to bring about a peace-settle­ment. Acting with U.N. co-operation, they organised a ceasefire, which both sides accepted.

The Arab-Israeli conflict did not end here, and in fact, the conflict persists after so many years. There have been various peace talks like the Oslo Accords (a set of agreements between Israeli and P.L.O.). However, these agreements have failed. The fight between the Israelis and the Arabs (specifically Palestinians) has continued, nor have they solved the disputed claim over Jerusalem, nor the legit issues of security for both communities (safety from terrorism). Still today, the rights of the Palestinian refugees are violated, and the constant attacks from the Palestinian Sunni-Islamic Fundamentalist Organisation of Hamas against the state of Israel widely continue.

During the Cold War, the superpowers have invested much involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East region, and their motive was to establish their influence on the region. However, over the years, United Nations, along with one or the other superpower, has tried to solve the conflicts from the Middle East region, and few solutions like the 'two states solution' has been put forward. Except, the nationalist extremists do not accept these solutions on both sides. As of May 2021, Israel and Hamas (which claims to represent Palestine) are willing to come to the terms of a ceasefire, and this agreement is being processed through negotiations.

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Tags: #Israel #Palestine #Conflict History #Arab-Israeli


7 months, 4 weeks ago by aqibmulla2002

This article a very well source of information of the on going and one of the most brutal war in the history The war of Israel and Phalestine…! However towards the end I was expecting some analysis on the future of this conflict and the possible disruptions in the International arena! Overall I liked this article alot hoping to read more from @Ishika Desale

7 months, 4 weeks ago by Coco

Really informative stuff, waiting for more Keep up the work👍

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