Israel-Palestine's bloody history: Guide to world's longest-running dispute

Smoke and flames rise from a tower building as it is destroyed by Israeli air strikes. Photo: Reuters
This week, the world witnessed mayhem in the Middle-East, which stemmed from clashes at the most sensitive place in Jerusalem, the revered plateau site of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock. The clashes were a reminder of the bloody seven-week war of 2014, which killed over 2,000 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and greatly destroyed Gaza's infrastructure.

In the latest escalation of the conflict between Israel and the Hamas, which has killed at least 115 Palestinians in Gaza, including 14 children and three women, Israeli airstrikes toppled most of a massive high-rise building in central Gaza City and killed a string of senior Hamas military figures. Meanwhile, Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, and its allies continued to fire rockets into civilian areas across central and southern Israel. With no resolution in sight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive, saying it will take time. Hamas has called for a full-scale uprising.

What is the history behind Israel-Palentine conflict and what is happening now?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the world’s longest-running and most controversial conflicts. It claims to have its roots in 957 BC when King Solomon built the first temple in the Israelite kingdom. The temple was destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylonia in 587/586 BC. 

Though both the Jews and the Arab Muslims date their claims to the land back a couple thousand years, the current political conflict began in the early 20th century.

Streaks of light are seen as Israels Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon. Photo: Reuters

Here's a comprehensive guide to the world’s most controversial conflict

A 100-year-old issue

After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I, the British took control of the area known as Palestine. The land was inhabited by a Jewish minority and Arab majority. Tensions between the two peoples grew when the international community gave Britain the task of establishing a "national home" in Palestine for the Jewish people.

For the Jews, it was their ancestral home. However, the Palestinian Arabs also claimed the land and opposed the move.

The Jews, fleeing persecution in Europe and seeking a homeland after the Holocaust of WWII, arrived in huge numbers between the 1920s and 1940s. The swelling numbers led to violence between the Arabs and the Jews and resentment against the British rule.

In 1947, the United Nations 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.

Creation of Israel and the chaos that followed

British rulers failed to establish peace between the Muslims and Jews and thus, declared the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Palestinians objected and a war followed. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes in what they call Al Nakba, or the "Catastrophe".

By the time the fighting ended in a ceasefire the following year, Israel controlled most of the territory. The war led to over 700,000 Palestinians becoming refugees.

Jordan occupied land, which became known as the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza.

Jerusalem was divided between Israeli forces in the West, and Jordanian forces in the East.

Since there was never a peace agreement, each side blamed the other and wars and conflicts continued. 

The most significant one among them was fought in 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as most of the Syrian Golan Heights, and Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula.

Today’s lines largely reflect the outcomes of two of these wars, one waged in 1948 and another in 1967.

How things stand now

Tensions are always 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. 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.

For Palestinians

— Most Palestinian refugees and their descendants live in Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

— Neither they nor their descendants have been allowed to return to their homes by Israel

— Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

For Israel

— Israel says allowing Palestinians to return to their homes would overwhelmingly threaten its existence as a Jewish state.

— It still occupies the West Bank, and although it pulled out of Gaza, the United Nations still regards it as part of occupied territory.

— Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital.

Peace talks have been taking place on and off for more than 25 years, but to no avail.

A picture taken with a drone shows the remains of a tower building which was destroyed in Israeli air strikes, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City. Photo: Reuters

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel