Israel’s incursions into Palestine and its attacks against the Palestinian people did not begin with the founding of Hamas in 1987, during the first intifada (uprising), or its victory over Fatah during the January 2006 elections. Sadly, what is seemingly lost in news reports is the root of the Israel-Palestinian conflict: the struggle for land and self-determination of the Palestinian people.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
The Israeli army has already killed almost 800 Palestinians, including 220 children, and has wounded around 3,1000 since it began bombarding the Gaza strip on December 27 and moving into Palestinian territory January 3. It occupied the Gaza strip purportedly to protect southern Israel from Hamas’ rocket attacks. On January 9, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an investigation of possible war crimes in Gaza and Israel, saying that “harm to civilians in Israel by Hamas rockets is unacceptable” and that Israel must follow international humanitarian law regardless of Hamas’ actions.
Statements from Israel and even the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights make it appear that Israel is merely retaliating against Hamas’ rocket attacks. However, Israel’s incursions into Palestine and its attacks against the Palestinian people did not begin with the founding of Hamas in 1987, during the first intifada (uprising), or its victory over Fatah during the January 2006 elections. Sadly, what is seemingly lost in news reports is the root of the Israel-Palestinian conflict: the struggle for land and self-determination of the Palestinian people.
The struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination began after World War I, when it became clear to the Palestinians that the British had deceived them. During World War 1, the British, through its High Commissioner for Egypt Henry McMahon, convinced Husayn ibn ‘Ali, the patriarch of the Hashemite family and Ottoman governor of Mecca and Medina to revolt against the Ottoman Empire, which was aligning with Germany. The British promised that if the Arabs aligned with it in the war, it would support the establishment of an independent Arab state under Hashemite rule in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, including Palestine.
At the same time, British Foreign Minister Lord Arthur Balfour issued a declaration in 1917 declaring Britain’s support for the establishment of a “ Jewish national home in Palestine”, which was being pushed for by the Zionist movement since its founding in Europe in 1897 by Theodor Herzl. Britain also entered into an agreement with France to divide control over the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire.
After the war, the British took control over areas, which now comprise Israel, the West Bank, Gaza strip, and Jordan, and France annexed Syria, and from it carved a separate state of Lebanon. The British also allowed the purchase of large tracts of land from absentee Arab landowners by the Jewish National Fund and the steady stream of Jewish immigration from Europe. When Arabs were evicted from lands purchased by the Jews, clashes erupted between Arabs and Jews from 1920-21. Clashes erupted anew between Muslims and Jews over the Wailing Wall from 1928-29.
The dramatic increase in European Jewish immigration in 1933 was the last straw. The Arabs revolted from 1936-39. The revolt was crushed by Britain with the help of Zionist militias and the complicity of neighboring Arab countries.
On March 22, 1946, the British relinquished its mandate over Jordan after securing their military bases and installations there. On April, it authorized the entry of 100,000 Jews into Palestine.
At the end of 1946, there were 1.3 million Arabs and 608,000 Jews in Palestine, with the latter owning 20 percent of the arable land. This was already a dramatic increase in the Jewish population in Palestine considering that during the late 19th century, Palestine, with a total land area of 10,000 sq m, used to be inhabited by 403,795 Muslims, 43,659 Christians, and only 15,011 Jews.
On Nov. 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two states: one Jewish and the other Arab. The Jews were given 56 percent of the territory while 43 percent was allocated for the Arabs. Fighting between Jews and Arabs erupted within days of the announcement of the partition plan. On May 15, 1948, the British evacuated Palestine and the Zionists proclaimed the state of Israel.
Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq declared war on Israel shortly thereafter. Israel’s armed forces unleashed a brutal was causing the displacement of 700,000 Palestinian refugees. The war ended with an armistice agreement whereby Israel encompassed over 77 percent of the territory. Jordan occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank; Egypt took control of the Gaza strip. The Palestinian Arab state was never established.
Tensions between Israel and the Arab states did not abate, but with every eruption of the conflict, Israel – which was being aided militarily by the US – was able to expand its territory. After another war in 1967, Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza strip and Sinai peninsula from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria.
Israel established a military administration in the Gaza strip and West Bank. Since 1967, over 300,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned without trial; over half a million have been tried by Israel’s military courts; and torture of Palestinian prisoners was a common practice. At the same time, Israel built hundreds of settlements in the occupied territories.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was organized in 1964. The largest group is the Al Fatah. Other members included the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestine People’s Party. It established its base in Jordan before moving to Lebanon then Tunisia. In 1985, Israel bombed the PLO headquarters in Tunisia.
In December 1987, the first intifada erupted and lasted until 1991. It was a mass uprising that included demonstrations, general strikes, boycott of Israeli products and refusal to pay taxes. The intifada was brutally crushed by the Israel army, killing 1,000 Palestinians, including 200 below the age of 16.
While the intifada was led by the four PLO parties active in the occupied territories, it gave birth to Islamist groups such as Hamas. Earlier, Israel encouraged the development of Islamist groups to divide the Palestinians. When it appeared that these groups pose a greater threat to it than the PLO, Israel began talks with the latter.
On September 28, 1995 an interim agreement was signed between the Israel government and Palestine. It provided for the withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza strip and Jericho, as well as parts of the West Bank during a period of five years, and for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) with “self-governing powers”. Yasser Arafat, head of Al Fatah, was elected president of the PA in 1996.
However, the talks were protracted. After painful negotiations, which extended till the turn of the century, the Palestinian Authority was able to fain direct or partial control of 40 percent of the West Bank and 65 percent of the Gaza strip.
All through the period of negotiations, Israel expanded its settlements and built bypass roads within the occupied territories. Thus, even as the PA gained some measure of control over certain areas of the West Bank and Gaza strip, they were surrounded by Jewish settlements with entry and exit to these areas being controlled by the Israel army.
On September 28, 2000 Ariel Sharon visited the Muslim holy shrine, Haram al-Sharif in the company of 1,000 guards, thereby provoking a second intifada. When the militant wing of Al Fatah fired on Israeli soldiers, Israel attacked PA installations with helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery fire, and missiles. It also bombarded civilian neighborhoods in the West Bank and Gaza strip.
In June 2002, Israel began construction of the West Bank barrier, which was 700-km long and five meters high. Palestinian land was confiscated to build the wall. Worse, Palestinian farmers and traders were cut off from their farms and water sources.
On September 20, 2002 Israel besieged Arafat’s headquarters in Ram Allah and confined him there for over two years up to his death in November 2004. Israel also embarked on a policy of extrajudicial assassinations and imprisonment of Palestinian leaders. One of the more prominent Palestinian leaders who was imprisoned and sentenced to five life terms is Marwan Barghouti of the Al Fatah.
On February 26, 2003, Israel made a series of re-incursions that led to the re-occupation of parts of the Gaza strip and the West Bank.
In April 2003, Mahmud Abbas was elected as Palestinian Prime Minister. On June 4, 2003 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas met at Aqaba, Jordan to discuss the implementation of the “road map formula for peace”, which was backed by the US, Russia, the European Union, and the UN.
However, nothing came out of the negotiations. Abbas was politically humiliated.
On January 25, 2006, Palestinians voted in parliamentary elections and Hamas won 74 out of the 132 parliamentary seats. Fatah won 45 seats, and 13 seats went to other minor parties. Since then, Israel vowed to “liquidate Hamas rule in Gaza”.
Thus, the December 2007 Israeli offensive was more than a retaliation. It is part of Israel’s genocidal acts against the Palestinian people, much like what the British settlers did to the native American Indians. (Bulatlat.com)