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9 things to know about Israel/Palestine

9 things to know about Israel/Palestine

Vox answers 9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict that may help you know what is going on:

Everyone has heard of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Everyone knows it’s bad, that it’s been going on for a long time, and that there is a lot of hatred on both sides.

But you may find yourself less clear on the hows and the whys of the conflict. Why, for example, did Israel begin invading the Palestinian territory of Gaza on Thursday, after 10 days of air strikes that killed at least 235 Palestinians, many of them civilians? Why is the militant Palestinian group Hamas firing rockets into civilian neighborhoods in Israel? How did this latest round of violence start in the first place — and why do they hate one another at all?

What follows are the most basic answers to your most basic questions. Giant, neon-lit disclaimer: these issues are complicated and contentious, and this is not an exhaustive or definitive account of Israel-Palestine’s history or the conflict today. But it’s a place to start.

Every Friday at 1 PM PST A Meditating Muslim is asking everyone in the world to pray for peace.


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Addison Bross

I’m grateful to Paul Powers for his response to my post. I want to offer two points from sources that clarify some details I did not include earlier.


If the resulting partition [of Palestine] was lopsided (and it probably was), that may be due in part to the fact that the Arab High Committee (unlike the Jewish Agency) chose to boycott it, an example of what Abba Eban once described as “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

But — notwithstanding Eban’s famous quote (a highly questionable remark, given his use of the word “never”) one may ask just how much of an opportunity the Arab High Committee had lost in its boycott, which seems not to have been an unjustified or at least unprovoked response.


Jeremy R. Hammon, “The U.N. Partition Plan and Arab ‘Catastrophe’”:

Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia requested [UNSCOP] that “The termination of the Mandate over Palestine and the declaration of its independence” be placed on the agenda, but this motion was rejected. The Arab Higher Committee thus announced it would not collaborate, although individual Arab states did agree to meet with representatives from UNSCOP. (Hammond cites an UNSCOP report.)


“[Addison Bross] is correct that UNSCOP’s membership included no representatives from any Arab nation. But it also included no representatives from any Jewish nation (there being none at the time) . . . . ”

Yet, David Ben-Gurion was not without influence upon UNSCOP:


RIchard R. Curtiss, “Truman Adviser Recalls May 14,1948 US Decision to Recognize Israel”:

David Ben-Gurion, soon to be Israel’s first prime minister, had ordered his representatives at the UN to accept the plan, but not to enter into any discussion or agreement defining the new Jewish state’s borders. To his followers, who, like the Arabs, laid claim to the entire land, Ben-Gurion promised that his acceptance was only tactical.

Paul Powers

Addison Bross’s comment is helpful in that it provides a useful counterweight to the pro-Israeli narrative, but it is far from being an even-handed assessment of the situation. He is correct that UNSCOP’s membership included no representatives from any Arab nation. But it also included no representatives from any Jewish nation (there being none at the time), and the deliberate decision to exclude any of the 5 permanent members of the Security Council had the effect (whether intentional or not) of excluding many of the nations with with the largest Jewish minorities. If the resulting partition was lopsided (and it probably was), that may be due in part to the fact that the Arab High Committee (unlike the Jewish Agency) chose to boycott it, an example of what Abba Eban once described as “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

It’s also important to remember that from 1948-1967, Gaza was occupied by Egypt,and the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem, by Jordan. No effort was made to establish an independent Palestinian state in either territory, but the moral outrage against the occupying powers then was comparatively mute. Also, during that period, Jews (not just Israelis) were barred from entering the West Bank and East Jerusalem, preventing them from having access to the Western Wall, the tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron,and other places of both religious and historical significance for the Jewish people. And there was no sign during the period from 1948-1967 that the Palestinian Arabs or any of the other Arab countries were willing to accept the existence of Israel within the pre-1967 boundaries.

Does this mean Israel has clean hands? Far from it.The expanding settlements in the West Bank, and the hardships faced by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza due to the occupation remain a huge obstacle to a peaceful resolution.

And of course there must be a just resolution to the refugee problem, which must take into account that there has been a substantial influx of Jews from Arab countries since 1948 (some voluntary, others not so much). It is interesting to note that the relocation of 800,000 Palestinians in 1947-1948 has caused much greater moral indignation than the expulsion and relocation of 10-12 million ethnic Germans from countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia,Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia after World War II.

Finally, Israel/Palestine is not a remote island. It is in a region with an incredible amount of political instability, as we are seeing in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Israel has already seen the effects of a regime change in Iran, which until 1979 was an ally. The Israelis have reason to be concerned that the countries that sign treaties with won’t be able to live up to their end of the bargain when there’s another regime change.Of course, the Palestinians and other Arab nations may have the same concern about a regime change in Israel. It’s a very complicated situation with no easy solution. Criticizing the mote in one eye while ignoring the beam in the other’s helps no one.

Rod Gillis

@ Addison Bross, thank you for your post with attached links. The 8 Things To know from Jewish Voice For Peace is really helpful. The support of the IDF by western nations, tangible by the U.S., more just loud mouth rhetoric by the Canadian Harper government, is worth noting.

Speaking of which Canadians can contribute to Gaza humanitarian relief through The Primate’s Fund, Oxfam and UNICEF, I believe both have a Gaza appeal, as do other charities as well. Charitable giving is a way we in the west can contribute something more than munitions and rhetoric.

Addison Bross

The information offered at the VOX website is seriously flawed. I won’t try to explain all its shortcomings, but one of its most crucial failures is its distortion of events in the period (1947-48) immediately following the end of the British Mandate and the UN’s actions to partition the area between Jews and Arabs.

This is a crucial failure, given that many people believe that when the UN attempted to settle the issue of territories peacefully with their proposal for partition, “the Arabs refused to share the land of Palestine with the Jews, and so they invaded, only to be defeated.” This account (which I have heard repeated publicly by a Rabbi) is a false and dangerously misleading explanation of how the trouble began.

About this important period, VOX offers this brief comment:

“The [UN partition] plan was never implemented. Arab leaders in the region saw it as European colonial theft and, in 1948, invaded to keep Palestine unified.”

> What motivated the Arab invasion in 1948 was not simply their objection to the UN partition plan as “European colonial theft.” First, they had not been consulted in the plan’s drafting. The authors of the plan were the UN’s Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). Oddly enough, no representatives from any Arab nations were included in UNSCOP.

> Secondly, an obvious reason for the Arab nations’ rejection of the partition plan was its basic injustice: 56 percent of Palestine was awarded to its 650,000 Jewish inhabitants, and 44 percent to its 1,300,000 Muslim and Christian Arab inhabitants.


> The statement from VOX also suggests that the Arab invasion of Palestine was the first act of belligerence between Arabs and Zionists. Actually, by 1947 (at least a year before the UN partition and before the Arab nations invaded) Jewish Zionist paramilitary units had begun terrorist activities (assassinations, bombings of Arab industrial sites, etc.) aimed at both Arabs and officials of the British Mandate government. These attacks were designed both to rid Palestine of British rule and to drive out the Arab population. Of course Arabs took up arms against the Zionists’ encroachments; intermittent clashes had also broken out between Jewish immigrants and the Arab population over several decades as the Zionist program to take as much land as possible continued. (Some leaders of Zionist paramilitary units would later become Prime Ministers of Israel — e.g., Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, who significantly stated: “Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can be used to disallow terror as a means of war. . . . We are very far from any moral hesitations when concerned with the national struggle.” — A good source for this period is All That Remains, Walid Khalidi’s compilation of Arab villages invaded by Zionists in 1947-48.

> The “Arab leaders” invaded not simply to “keep Palestine unified,” but in response to these terrorist activities by Zionists, which included such atrocities as the massacre of hundreds of Arabs of the village of Deir Yassin. The Arab invaders were also attempting to reoccupy the Arab towns and villages seized by Jewish forces.

> Aside from these flaws in reporting on the UN partition plan, VOX might also have noted another circumstance that played a role in the establishment of the State of Israel: When President Truman’s advisers on Middle Eastern affairs urged him not to unilaterally recognize Israel as an independent state because of the serious trouble that would quite predictably ensue, he responded: “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism: I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents” (

The distortion represented by VOX’s explanation of the early stages of this conflict is an absolutely necessary factor in the continued failure to achieve peace in the region.

I find Jewish Voice for Peace to be a fair and reliable source of information on Palestine and Israel.

Their quick summary of the long term situation in the form of an animated video is available at

Their guide to the current situation can be found at

Paul Powers

Always wanting to put the most positive spin on people’s words, I’m going to assume that the Meditating Muslim’s omission of one nationality in his/her list of people for whom we should pray is a mere oversight.

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