Historical Background: Israel – Palestine
- The conflict has been ongoing for more than a 100 years between Jews and Arabs over a piece of land between Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea.
- It was between 1882 to 1948, when the Jews from around the world gathered in Palestine. This movement came to be known as Aliyahs.
- Then in 1917, Ottoman Empire fell after World War 1 and the UK got control o ver Palestine.
- The land was inhabited by a Jewish minority and Arab majority.
- The Balfour Declaration was issued after Britain gained control with the aim of establishing a home for the Jews in Palestine. However during that period the Arabs were in majority in Palestine.
- Jews favoured the idea while the Palestinians rejected it. Almost 6 million Jews lost their lives in the Holocaust which also ignited further demand of a separate Jewish state.
- Jews claimed Palestine to be their natural home while the Arabs too did not leave the land and claimed it.
- The international community supported the Jews.
- In 1947, the UN voted for Palestine to be split into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem becoming an international city.
- That plan was accepted by Jewish leaders but rejected by the Arab side and never implemented.
The creation of Israel and the ‘Catastrophe’:
- It was in the year 1948 that Britain lifted its control over the area and Jews declared the creation of Israel. Although Palestinians object ed, Jews did not back out which led to an armed conflict.
- The neighboring Arabs also invaded and were thrashed by the Israeli troops. This made thousands of Palestinians flee their homes. This was called Al-Nakba, or the “Catastrophe”.
- Israel had gained maximum control over the territory after this came to an end.
- Jordan then went on a war with Israel and seized control over a part of the land which was called the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza.
- Jerusalem was divided between Israel in the West, and Jordan in the East. However, no formal peace agreement was signed, each side continued to blame each other for the tension and the region saw more wars.
- Israeli forces captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank, various areas of Syrian Golan Heights, Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula in the year 1967.
- Israel still occupies the West Bank, and although it pulled out of Gaza the UN still regards that piece of land as part of occupied territory.
- Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
- The US is one of only a handful of countries to recognise Israel’s claim to the whole of the city.
What’s happening now?
- Tensions are often high between Israel and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.
- Gaza is ruled by a Palestinian militant group called Hamas, which has fought Israel many times. Israel and Egypt tightly control Gaza’s borders to stop weapons getting to Hamas.
- Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank say they’re suffering because of Israeli actions and restrictions. Israel say it is only acting to protect itself from Palestinian violence.
- Things have escalated since the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in mid – April 2021, with nightly clashes between police and Palestinians.
- The threatened eviction of some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem has also caused rising anger.
The Gaza Strip is an entirely artificial creation that emerged in 1948 when roughly three- fourths of Palestine’s Arab population was displaced, in some cases expelled, during the course of Israel’s creation. And most of the refugees, they were sort of scattered across the region in neighboring countries like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
- Some went to the West Bank, which came under Jordanian rule after 1948. And a very large number went to the Gaza Strip, which is this tiny little coastal strip between Egypt and what is now Israel. Today, the population of Gaza, about 70% of Gaza’s population are refugees.
Who controls it?
Hamas forcibly took control over the Gaza Strip in 2007. Shortly thereafter, the Israelis imposed a complete closure on Gaza’s borders. They declared Gaza to be an enemy entity. Of course, Gaza is not a state.
- Hamas, of course, is viewed by Israel and by much of the international community as a terrorist organization, including the United States, for their history of attacks on civilians and so forth.
On June 24, the UN Secretary General António Guterres told a virtual meeting of the United Nations Security Council that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at a “watershed moment”.
- The Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank have alarmed the Palestinians, many Israelis and the international community. Such annexation would be “a most serious violation of international law”.
What needs to be done now?
He called upon the Israeli government to abandon its annexation plans and asked the Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN) to resume its mandated mediatory role.
What’s the issue?
The UN Secretary General’s alarm has been sounded in the context of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported plan to annex on July 1 around 30% of the Occupied West Bank.
This will include annexation of all the existing (post-1967) settlements in addition to areas surrounding them and access roads.
What is Annexation in the international law? Why Israel’s move is illegal?
Under international law, annexation is forcible acquisition of territory by one state at the expense of another state.
Such an act even if sanctified by Israeli law is illegal under international law and would violate the universally acknowledged principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force”.
- This is the accepted position of all international legal bodies including the International Court of Justice.
- Even, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) has described the annexation of occupied territory as a serious violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions.
- It is also contrary to the fundamental rule affirmed many times by the UN Security Council and the General Assembly that acquisition of territory war or by force is inadmissible.
Where is West Bank?
It is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, bordered by Jordan to the east and by the Green Line separating it and Israel on the south, west and north. The West Bank also contains a significant section of the western Dead Sea shore.
What are the disputed settlements here? Who lives there?
1. The West Bank was captured by Jordan after the 1948 Arab -Israeli War.
2. Israel snatched it back during the Six Day War of 1967, and has occupied it ever since.
3. It has built some 130 formal settlements in the West Bank, and a similar number of
smaller, informal settlements have mushroomed over the last 20 -25 years.
4. Over 4 lakh Israeli settlers — many of them religious Zionists who claim a Biblical birthright over this land — now live here, along with some 26 lakh Palestinians.