Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict As Tensions Rise Once Again


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Israel-Palestinian Relations Are Nearing a Tipping Point

Since the inception of the State of Israel, the Jewish holy land and Palestinian homeland within the Levant has been hotly contested in rage and violence. Hopes of a peaceful resolution for those who live here have never been realized, and with the recent shift of Israel’s government into the control of what is potentially the most right-wing government in the nation’s history, peace and unity between the Israelis and Palestinians only seems to be growing more unreachable by the day.

Tensions Flaring

On January 27, a Palestinian gunman opened fire inside of a synagogue in East Jerusalem, killing seven people. It was the deadliest single attack in Israel since 2011. The attack was likely in response to an Israeli Defense Forces raid in the West Bank that had happened the day before, in which 10 Palestinians were killed.

The synagogue attack was met with outrage by Israeli citizens, who have demanded more action from a government that has already been quite antagonistic in their approach to countering Palestinian resistance.

In just the last year, over 200 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, 40 of which have happened just since the start of 2023. The escalation followed an increase in Palestinian attacks early last year that killed over 30 Israeli citizens. The recent rise in violence and protest is reminiscent to those living here of the Intifadas of decades past.

New Government Promises to Protect Israeli Citizenry

Courtesy of Chatham House (Flickr CC0)

On November 1, 2022, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allied political parties won a strong majority in parliament, and paved the way for Netanyahu’s return to Prime Minister. Netanyahu appointed Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, as national security minister.

The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Affairs Ministry predicted that Ben-Gvir’s appointment would have a, “potentially catastrophic impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He has a history of provocative words and actions, including a conviction of anti-Arab racism in 2007.

In his new role, Ben-Gvir has full authority over border police in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He has exercised his authority in the wake of the synagogue attack and two shootings that followed. The family homes of the alleged attackers were sealed and scheduled for demolition. Operations in the West Bank increased, including one near the city of Jericho in which Israel claimed five Hamas militants were killed. Lastly, Ben-Gvir declared a removal of fresh pita bread from Palestinian prisoners.

“The burden of proof is on us, and we need to act now and respond, because it can’t go on like this,” Ben-Gvir said to a crowd that had gathered at the scene of the attack.

Is Ben-Gvir Fanning the Flames?

Former Israeli police chief, Moshe Karadi, has been critical of Ben-Gvir since his appointment. “He’s been given a job he’s entirely unequipped for,” said Karadi in an interview with the Times of Israel.

“Ben-Gvir doesn’t understand that police need to prevent crime, investigate and bring [suspects] to trial,” he said. “If you want to lock down neighborhoods as a punishment, you need to appeal to the court, not the police.”

Karadi also described Ben-Gvir as a “pyromaniac with a gas tank,” but former senior Israeli military adviser, Michael Milshtein, believes the more center-right Netanyahu and his government will keep him in check. “The government on the whole doesn’t want a complete explosion – although perhaps Ben-Gvir and (Finance Minister) Smotrich may want it – and they also don’t want to get into a clash with the US,” said Milshtein.

To understand why the situation today is so volatile, one must first have knowledge of the history of how and why the State of Israel was created, and the conditions that the Palestinians have endured in the decades since.

Establishing the Modern State of Israel

Many papers and treaties made in the early 20th century by Great Britain and other nations paved the way for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, but the way they were written, and the conflicting promises made, led to the tumultuous conflicts that persist to this day.

Decisions of the Past at the Core of Today’s Conflict

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As the first World War began to wind down, the British negotiated with Arabs and other European nations on the lands once controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The Balfour declaration was written in November of 1917, with in influence of Zionist Walter Rothschild.

The declaration stated that a home for the Jews would be made in Palestine, without the removal of Arab Muslims and Christians. The agreement set no rigid timetable, allowing for Jewish immigration into the 20s and 30s. The agreement was not upheld when the British left in 1948, as the Arabs were forced out and persecuted by the Jews.

The League of Nations created a mandate in 1919, providing guidelines on what was to happen to territories newly acquired by nations in the wake of World War I. It set out to protect them from being controlled by a foreign nation, preserve access to Holy sites for all religions, set aside days of rest for the various religious holidays, and establish English, Arabic, and Hebrew as their official languages.

Despite this, the problems of establishing this nation and moving people in would never sit well with those already living there, and with the cultural and religious differences it was doomed from the start.

A Two State Compromise?

The British Royal Commission wrote the Peel Commission Report in 1937. The report stated that the League of Nations mandate was not working. It recommended creating separate states in Palestine, based on cultural differences in the region, after the Arab revolt in 1936. The Arabs condemned the partition plan and did not want a Jewish state in Palestine, and the Jews were divided over it. The British government ultimately rejected the plan in 1938. Palestine remains to this day as an occupied territory controlled by the nation of Israel.

Courtesy of Library of Congress (Wikimedia PDM)

In 1939, Neville Chamberlain and the British Government issued the White Paper that implemented restrictions on Jewish immigration and land transfers in Palestine. The paper also argued that the Jewish colonization was a benefit to Palestinians, bringing prosperity and technology to their land. The Jews rejected the proposal, saying they would not stand for a ghettoization in their home and reprimanded Britain for trying to close the “road to their homeland.”

The paper also did not satisfy the demands of the Arabs, further proving the unwillingness for both sides to compromise. It foreshadowed future problems in the region when it said that Jews had not felt the need to violently retaliate against the Arabs, as this did not last and both sides continued to retaliate into the present, which is why a peaceful resolution has yet to be established.

The Incompetency of Colonialism

Ultimately the failure of the British to bring a peaceful establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine was in the very attempt to do so. The British have a long history of colonization across the globe, and should have known from experience that the inhabitants of land being colonized do not tolerate foreign occupation for very long.

The problem is accentuated due to the fact that once the British left, the Jewish people were still viewed as a foreign colony by the Arabs from the region, but the existence of this colony was now vital for the survival of the Jewish people there.

This created a desperate conflict in which both sides feel they have a historic and religious claim to the land. The Arabs see the very existence of the Jewish state as a threat to their own sovereignty, and the Jews feel they are defending their very existence when they displace, oppress, or retaliate against the Arab Palestinians. The failed promises made by the British, that often conflicted with other promises they had made to different peoples in the region, made this core problem much worse.

The Six Day War

The nation of Israel had scored military victories against its Arab neighbors in 1948 and 1956. These victories, however, did not bring an end to the violence, as the Arab coalition continued to see the Jewish State as a threat. Egypt, Jordan and Syria prepared once again to invade and defeat the Israeli Defense Forces. On May 13, 1967, Egypt received false information from the Soviet Union that Israel was planning to attack Syria.

Courtesy of Government Press Office of Israel (Wikimedia PDM)

Egypt responded to this by amassing their troops and ground forces along their border with Israel in Sinai. The Egyptians subsequently forced UN peacekeepers out of the Sinai Peninsula, and soon Jordan, Iraq, and Syria began mobilizing troops towards Israel’s borders. The imminent attack from Israel’s neighboring Arab nations would threaten the very survival of Israel and its people.

On May 22, war became inevitable when Egypt blockaded the Strait of Tiran, not allowing Israeli ships to pass through. Israel could see the writing on the wall, and their situation seemed dire. They were surrounded, outmanned, and outgunned.

Israel only saw one path to victory. They decided that they could not afford to wait around for the Arab nations to strike. They had to take the fight to them.

Preemptive Strikes Were Key To Israeli Victory

On June 5, Israeli air forces attacked 14 Egyptian airfields, decimating the Egyptian air strike capabilities in a span of three hours. In retaliation, the air forces of Jordan and Syria attacked Israel. Israel’s air force then turned their attention to the Jordanian and Syrian air bases. They wiped out the totality of their planes as well as the planes Iraq had supplied to Jordan. Israel had now secured for themselves total control of the skies for the remainder of the war.

That same morning, Israeli infantry and armor divisions along the Israel-Egyptian Border pushed into Sinai. They surprised the Egyptians and pushed them back. The Egyptian generals ordered a retreat out of Sinai in a premature panic, foolishly handing Israel a strong foothold in an expansion of their border.

By June 8, Israel had full control of the Sinai Peninsula. The fight against Jordanian ground forces was much more difficult for Israel, but by June 7 the IDF had taken the West Bank.

Syrian forces attacked Israel in the north, but poor communication amongst the Syrian divisions, along with the Israeli air resistance caused the Syrian defeat. IDF airstrikes weakened the Syrian position and after some fighting Israel took control of the Golan heights. By June 11, the fighting was over.

The Six Day War was not the end of the violent conflicts Israel had to face. However, with their overwhelming victory they proved to their Arab neighbors and the world that Israel was a prominent military power within the Middle East, and the State had no plans to abandon their land.

Palestinian Uprising

For 20 years, the Palestinians endured strict Israeli control with constant checkpoints, common interactions with soldiers, poor treatment in Jewish workplaces, as well as the building of Jewish settlements in Palestine.

The First Intifada

Courtesy of Noorrovers (Wikimedia CC0)

These conditions laid the groundwork for civil unrest. On the December 9, 1987, an IDF truck crashed into a civilian car, killing four Palestinians.

The crash is understood to have been an accident, but Palestinians perceived it to be targeted violence against them. This sparked nationwide revolt and protest. The event came to be known as the Intifada, which means “shaking off” in Arabic.

The protests would often turn into violent riots, with Palestinians throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at IDF soldiers who initially responded with lethal gun fire. Outsiders criticized the use of lethal force, and so the IDF distributed clubs to their soldiers.

The intifada lasted for six years. Over that course of time the IDF killed an estimated 1200 Palestinians, while rioters killed 60 IDF soldiers and 100 Israeli citizens. The First Intifada ended in 1993, after the United States recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, and Israel started to negotiate with them.

The Second Intifada

The Second Intifada started six years later, after failed negotiations between the two sides reignited tensions. The Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian Authority Leader met at a summit in July of 2000, at Camp David in the United States but failed to work out agreements.

This failure caused tensions to rise dramatically, and in September of that year tensions once again boiled over when the Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon, who would later become the next Prime Minister, made a visit to the Temple Mount Holy site, which was also the site of the Dome of the Rock Mosque. This visit, although uneventful itself, sparked the outrage of Palestinians.

As the visit ended, rioting broke out in Jerusalem. Rioter threw rocks at both riot police and Jewish worshippers. After a rock knocked the Jerusalem Police chief unconscious, the Israelis switched to live ammunition, killing seven Palestinians. Protests and riots started throughout the Palestinian territories. The Israeli forces responded harshly and killed 50 Palestinians in five days.

After this, the two sides essentially broke out into a full-scale armed conflict. Over the course of a couple years, Palestinians orchestrated suicide bombings and killings of Israeli citizens. This prompted Israel to enact Operation Defensive Shield. The operation included taking military control of several Palestinian cities. This operation, as well as a newly built fence along the border of the West Bank, greatly reduced the number of attacks.

In early 2005, Prime Minister Sharon met with Palestinian leadership and agreed to relinquish control of these Palestinian cities, as well as release 900 Palestinian prisoners. The official end to this Intifada remains disputed, but was more or less quelled by these agreements. Over the span of the Second Intifada, 1000 Israelis and 3000 Palestinians died including soldiers and civilians.

Aftermath and the Rise of Hamas

The aftermath of these intifadas has resulted in continued unrest and failures of peace. Shortly after the Second Intifada, the organization known as Hamas, which Israel and the US both consider to be a terrorist organization, took control of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

With Hamas as the recognized leadership of Palestine, hopes for negotiations between the groups plummeted, and armed conflicts continued, for example the Gaza War which started in 2008, and a continued number of rocket attacks both into Israel, and retaliatory attacks back at the Palestinians.

Will This Conflict Ever End?

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Because of the continued conflict, Israel has never lessened its strict control over the Palestinians, nor has it stopped building settlements into Palestinian territory. Even after several ordered ceasefires by both sides, peace has never lasted very long.

The path forward to peace between the two groups remains incredibly challenged by these factors. While in recent years peace deals between Israel and many of its neighboring Islamic nations have taken place, its own conflicts with the Palestinians have remained, with no peaceful future in sight.


Written by Seth Herlinger



Aljazeera: Analysis: Israeli government starts by pushing far-right agenda

AP News: Israel kills Palestinian militant after West Bank shooting

BBC News: Over 80,000 Israelis protest against Supreme Court reform

Christian Science Monitor: On security, Israeli leaders’ words speak louder than their actions

Encyclopedia Britannica: Peel Commission

History.com: Balfour Declaration

History.com: Six-Day War

The Israel-Arab Reader : A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict

Return to Zion : The History of Modern Israel

Reuters: Israeli far-right’s Ben-Gvir to be national security minister under coalition deal

Side by Side : Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine

Times of Israel: Ex-police chief slams ‘pyromaniac’ Ben Gvir, says he’s ‘entirely unequipped’ for job


Top and featured image courtesy of Sander Crombach‘s Unsplash page – Creative Commons License

First inset image courtesy of Chatham House‘s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

Second inset image courtesy of Yoav Aziz‘s Unsplash page – Creative Commons License

Third inset image by Courtesy of Library of Congress, courtesy of Wikimedia – Public Domain

Fourth inset image by Government Press Office of Israel, courtesy of Wikimedia – Public Domain

Fifth inset image by Noorrovers, courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License

Final inset image courtesy of Mor Shani‘s Unsplash page – Creative Commons License

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