Monday, July 31, 2006

Israeli History and the Current Conflict

A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words Salaam in Arabic and Shalom in Hebrew. Similar images have been used by several groups proposing a two-state solution to the conflict.
Israel and Lebanon are in quite a mess. There are a lot of opinions floating around about this conflict - The US should put pressure on Israel for an immediate cease fire; Israel is overreacting; Hezbollah deserves what it gets for its terrorism; Israel has a right to defend itself. What's a white bread American dude to think? Is there any way I can even have an opinion on this thing given that I live in a peaceful suburb in freaking Texas, and my only worry these days is whether my grass will survive the August heat?

Well, I'm not sure I have much of a solid opinion on this conflict. I can certainly see why there are such varying views on this matter. It is, no doubt, a complicated issue, so I thought I'd give a brief history of the conflict surrounding Israel. This is not a comprehensive history, but it should give some insight as to why Israel is such a hotbed of activity in the Middle East. This is not a history of the Israel/Hezbollah conflict as much as it is a history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The two are certainly tied closely, but not entirely the same. This should, however, help give the average person an idea of why the region is so divided. I can't claim to be completely objective in this report because of my Judeo-Christian worldview, but I will try to just give the facts that are pertinent to this issue. Here goes:

Judea, home of the Jews in ancient times (From the time of Jacob until just before the time of Christ - some 1,500 years), was conquered by the Romans and renamed Palestine (Remember when Jesus was crucified by Roman order, and Paul was imprisoned in Rome?). Palestine was later conquered and inhabited by Arabs for over a thousand years. The Zionist movement arose to restore the Jews to Israel, largely ignoring the existing Arab population. Following the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Palestine was granted to Britain as a League of Nations mandate to build a national home for the Jewish people. The Arabs resented the Jews coming in to take their land. Led by Grand Mufti Hajj Amin El Husseini, they rioted repeatedly and later revolted, creating a history of enmity between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Britain stopped Jewish immigration to Palestinein 1938.

Following the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, pressure on Britain increased to allow Jewish immigration to Palestine. In 1947, the UN partitioned the land into Arab and Jewish states. The Arabs did not accept the partition and war broke out. The Jews won a decisive victory, expanded their state and created several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees. The Arab states refused to recognize Israel or make peace with it. Wars broke out in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982, and there were many terror raids and Israeli reprisals.

In the 90's, negotiations occurred at Camp David and Taba, Egypt. Israel offered to turn over 97% of the land in the West Bank and all of Gaza, as well as Arab sections of Jerusalem. This offer was turned down by the Palestinians. Israel is currently implementing a controversial disengagement plan proposed by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. So far, Israel has removed all of its civilian and military presence in the Gaza Strip, (namely 21 Jewish settlements there, and four in the West Bank). Israel does maintain exclusive control in the air space of Gaza, and continues to conduct military activities, including incursions, in the territory. The Israeli government argues that "as a result, there will be no basis for the claim that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory."

The Israeli/Hezbollah conflict is similar in that Hezbollah is an Islamic civil and military force dedicated to fighting the Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon. Hezbollah was formed out of the Iranian movement that was responsible for the Iran Hostage Crisis in the late 70's/early 80's. Formed in 1982, Hezbollah has carried out many terrorist activities throughout the world. The United State's first introduction to Hezbollah was the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed 63. Since then, Hezbollah has continued its assault on Israel and friends of Israel by carrying out the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, a suicide truck bombing that killed 241 U.S. Marines in their barracks in Beirut in October 1983; bombing the replacement U.S. Embassy in East Beirut on September 20, 1984, killing 20 Lebanese and two U.S. soldiers; and carrying out the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 en route from Athens to Rome.

Hezbollah has also resorted to kidnapping in its quest to fight Israel. In 1994, Hezbollah kidnapped three Israeli soldiers and exchanged them for over 1,000 Lebanese prisoners held by the Israeli government. The current war between Israel and Hezbollah is the result of the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Rather than surrendering to the release of prisoners in exchange for the soldiers, Israel has decided to instead engage Hezbollah in a conflict. This is an ugly mess, and there do not seem to be any easy answers to this war.

I hope this is a helpful overview of the history of the Israeli conflicts. I don't think we in the US have any idea of the kind of zealous measures that people are willing to pursue to maintain/recover the land they claim as their own. The only thing I could relate it to would be if Native Americans were to displace US citizens claiming that the land was rightfully theirs. Nobody could blame Native Americans for wanting their land back, but it would be difficult to blame US citizens for fighting against such a claim. Even this kind of conflict wouldn't be sufficiently analogous to the conflicts we see in the Middle East. These are ancient conflicts that have been ingrained in the lives of those on both sides. I wish I had more hope that a resolution were attainable. In any case, I pray for peace in this region. It's all I can do.


ryan said...

Good post, Stevo.
I always like to point out that this conflict is not just as old as the Balfour Declaration or the Roman Conquest. Religion is, obviously, a huge part of the struggle and enmity between the religions of Abraham began with, well, Abraham and his two sons waaaaay before Jerusalem was even an issue. This thing is older than old, and even though I think we should work for peace, I always find it a little presumptous for anyone - Bill Clinton, Ariel Sharon, George Bush, take your pick - to start talking about "lasting peace" and a "permanent solution" to a problem that none of about 100 generations before us have been able to solve.

That brings me to a question I've always wondered about: we are to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, right? But isn't it pretty clear that there will be no peace in Jerusalem until after the battle of Armageddon in which a bunch of "evil forces" unite against God's people and are routed. Are we then to pray for this conflict to escalate into Armegeddon? I'm sure I have really twisted up some prophecy or something here, but logically, that's what seems to make sense.

Erik Mann said...

great topic, keep up the great posts, MMA