By Harold Pease, Ph. D
The relentless missile attacks on Israel now exceed 2600 in the first 20 days of the Hamas/Israeli War. Fortunately only 43 Israeli soldiers have been killed because of Israel’s elaborate missile defense system. Return fire, however, has reportedly left 1,035 Palestinians dead in a war that appears to have no immediate end, despite President Barack Obama’s appeal for a cease-fire. At issue, and a major reason for the Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, are the million-dollar concrete-lined tunnels from the Strip into Israel designed to launch internal attacks inside heavily populated areas—28 discovered to date. All this is commonly known.
What isn’t—at least for those under age 35—and the need for this column, is the history behind the conflict. Those who rush in with traditional answers to such conflicts like cease-fires and peace plans have no hope of ending the hostilities. This is perhaps the single most complex area on the planet and Jerusalem is geographically the home of three of the world’s largest and competing religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity; the most aggressive being Islam, which has a very low tolerance for any faith other than their own. Hostilities between they and Judaism reach back 4,000 years to Father Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac, each the ethnic father of one of the religions. The “permanent feud” began when Ishmael and his mother Hagar were expelled from Abraham’s family.
Of course we should assist where possible in solving the feud but the reality is, no other powers on earth has been able to do so for 4,000 years and there will be an Israeli/Islamic conflict decades to come. It, as in the past, will be resolved by “might is right” and today, try as they might, the Arabic countries cannot liquidate their unwanted neighbor.
History basically left the Israelis without a homeland during the Middle Ages and they were scattered largely throughout Europe mostly because of Islamic intolerance. England came to dominate the Middle East after World War I and they clearly favored the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. A constant trickle of Jews flowed into Palestine joining those who had never left. World sympathy for the scattered Jews was amplified during and after World War II when Adolph Hitler annihilated at least 6 million of them and the trickle to Palestine turned into a river.
After the war, in 1947, the United Nations created the State of Israel. The plan was to divide the Holy Land between the Israelis and the Palestinians; each having its own homeland but the plan was rejected by the Palestinians and all Arabic countries, who denied Israel’s right to even exist. So much so that the League of Arab States formed in 1945 (consisting of the six surrounding countries) attacked Israel after it was recognized as a country by the United States. In the resultant war Israel retained its right to exist but the rest of the Palestine area was divided between competing Arabic states: Jordan had the West Bank and Egypt the Gaza Strip. Now, because of their refusal to allow the Jews a homeland, the Palestinians were without one. Arabic states again attacked Israel in 1967, vowing to destroy them, and were soundly defeated in a six-day war.
By this time the West had little interest in the original plan of providing the Palestinians a homeland and as a result of the wars encouraged by them, and the Arabic countries surrounding them, Israel had come to possess most of the land that would have made up a Palestinian state. Moreover, they were building settlements on it. The Palestinians longed to remove the Jews from “their” land and during the 1980’s initiated six years of uprisings and again in 2004 under Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The most contended Palestinian land included the West Bank, next to Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip on the coast. Israel has been receptive to removing their settlements in these areas but the Arabic community still denies Israel’s right to exist, thus peace is unlikely to come to the region for some time.
Enter Hamas, which began as a Palestinian political party winning a majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority Parliament in 2006. It divided the Palestinian people into moderates and extremists (even terrorists) quite willing to use terroristic tactics such as human shields and suicide bombs to achieve their objectives. Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority, which controlled the West Bank. It is this faction of the Palestinian people that have attacked Israel and that are responsible for the invasive tunnels into Israel. Of course, money for the costly tunnels and the missiles almost entirely comes from the Islamic states around the Holy Land.
Hopefully this historical overview will be helpful as we view the horrors of war from this part of the world. Meanwhile the missiles and death will continue.