Palestine: A Short History
The area known as Palestine was originally set up by the British as the "British Mandate of Palestine" around 1920, and consisted of an area of land that once belonged to the now-defunct Ottoman Empire. The area bordered Egypy, Arabia (which no longer exists as a cohesive entity), Iraq, and Syria. It was basically an area setup for both Arabs and Jews to co-exist, since both of them had historical and religious ties to the area. The Mandate was organized by the now-defunct League of Nations. Immediately, there was opposition to the organization by the Jews, Arabs, and the United States.
Through the 20s and 30s, a number of Jews and Palestinian Arabs immigrated to the area. Initially, both groups co-existed more or less peacefully, but due to the growing rise of anti-Semitism in Europe (particularly from Germany), Jewish immigration rose markedly. This sparked occasional violence, mostly by Arabs against the Jewish population. By the time of World War II, there were revolts in the region by both the Arabs and the Jews.
The Mandate expired around the end of World War II, and Britain drew up plans for both an Arab and Jewish state (Jerusalem, an important city to both groups, would be under international control). This plan was met by resistance, particularly from the Arab League, a group of Arab states. However, in 1948, Israel declared itself an independent state; it was recognized by both the US and the USSR, but naturally the surrounding Arab countries did not recognize its independence. I'm going to summarize here, but basically, Israel was attacked by a number of Arab states seeking to take control of the land they would have received as part of the partitioning plan. Israel won the conflict, and in doing so, occupied not only the territory assigned to it, but the territory assigned to the Arabs as well. Since then there have been a number of related wars that have resulted in the acquisition of land for the Israelis, some of which has since been ceded back to various Arab states.
The conflict in this region is complicated, and I'm giving just a brief history. If you want more in-depth info, start with the Wikipedia articles on Palestine
, the British Mandate on Palestine
, and the Arab-Israeli conflict
.The Recent Conflict
The recent fighting was sparked by rocket attacks by Hamas on Israeli settlements. This situation is a bit complicated, but I'll try to summarize.
Basically, in order to assert its territorial claims, Israeli encourages the building of Jewish settlements in occupied and disputed regions, often displacing Arab populations in the process. Naturally this results in a lot of violence. In 2002, the Arab militant group Hamas began building homemade rockets (unguided missiles) and launching them at these settlements. Very few Israelis are actually killed in these rocket attacks
, but they're more a psychological weapon than anything -- even if the chances of dying are slim, no one wants to live under the constant threat of rocket attacks.
After most rocket attacks, Israeli responds with military force. Israeli is much better at killing Arabs than vice-versa, particularly because Israeli is not against, e.g, bombing an entire apartment complex in order to kill one Arab leader. This often results in civilian deaths, but the exact numbers are a bit hazy, because Israeli doesn't allow reporters into conflict zones (particularly the Gaza Strip, which is the site of the most recent violence).
Until around 2006, the major Palestinian political party was Fatah, which also operates a paramilitary arm, but is a much more moderate party. Hamas, however, won representation in a landslide around 2006, and has been the dominant party ever since. Hamas is particularly brutal and violent. Naturally Israel was not happy with this result, and stepped up attacks against the Palestinians.
Furthermore, lately Hamas has gotten brazen and has launched rockets deeper into Israeli territory.Why Do We Support Israel?
Because the Jews control everything. No, seriously. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee
(AIPAC) is a major lobbying group in the US, and practically dictates foreign policy in regards to Israel. AIPAC is so powerful that no US politician has the balls to stand up to them. There are a lot more Jews in the US than Arabs, too.
Plus there's that whole Holocaust "thing". Since World War II, the Jewish leaders of Israeli have used the Holocaust to justify a number of actions, including the continuing conflict with the Palestinians. The Holocaust was terrible, no doubt, but isn't it ironic that the Israelis basically use it to justify the persecution of Palestinians?So Who is Really the Bad Guy?
In my opinion, both sides are to blame.
Hamas is designated as a terror organization by the US, but this is largely because Hamas disagrees with US policy, and if you disagree with US policy, you're a terrorist. There is no doubt that Hamas does engage in terror, though; they regularly kill and maim Israeli civilians. Hamas even terrorizes its own citizens: it's known for kidnapping, torturing, and murdering members of other Palestinian political parties, particularly Fatah.
Israel, however, is no less a terrorist. They have no problem targeting Palestinian civilians, either. They've also done pretty terrible things: for example, Israeli often bulldozes the homes of families of Palestinian suicide bombers as retribution for their actions, and as noted above, Israeli routinely levels entire apartment complexes in order to kill one person. Israeli is also known for human rights abuses: they occasionally seal off entire Palestinian regions and prevent food, medicine, and other aid from reaching the citizens, all in the name of "fighting terror" (sound familiar?).
The real victims here are the average citizen. Israeli's military activities are unpopular to many Israelis, just as most Americans disagree with the war in Iraq. Likewise, most Palestinian Arabs are decent people who deplore the violence caused by their own people.
Hamas and the Israeli government have both taken advantage of their citizens, using them as pawns in a political game, as most governments do.
Anyway, that's the gist of the situation. There are a lot of nuances and details which I have chosen to skip over, but I'll happily supply more information as the discussion progresses.