• Arwa Hanin Elrayess

50 Years In 5 Minutes: The Full History Of Arab/ Israeli Conflict (Part 1)

Claiming the lives of over 120,000 individuals; driving more than 5 million from the land their history had intertwined with; and placing countless others under fierce persecution, the decades’ old Palestinian/ Israeli conflict has single-handedly lit the entirety of the Arab region aflame.

Recently, this issue drew international attention after Palestine announced the termination of all its security ties with Israel, leading many to predict an escalation in the conflict.

However, with this crisis sprawling much farther than the Arab region alone, and becoming increasingly complex with every decade, identifying the true severity of this development has been a difficult feat.

In this article, I will attempt to simplify not only the first 50 years of the conflict; but the international world’s interference as well, in order to gain a clearer picture of this intricate puzzle.

On the 2nd of November 1917, Britain declared Palestine a ‘national home’ for Jews who, along with countless other minorities, were inhumanely oppressed in the first World War.

Disregarding the presence and obvious objection of native Arab citizens who made up 90% of the population, the Jews pursued the territory, convinced that it was their ‘religious right.’

The end of WW2 saw almost 70,000 illegal Jewish immigrants arrive from European shores, leaving Arab Palestinians at risk of becoming a minority in their own land. So, they attacked Jewish convoys in hopes of intimidating the unstable population.

To prevent this, Israeli forces destroyed many villages surrounding the convoy route, leading to the haunting massacre of ‘Deir Yassin’.

Up to this point, more than ½ of the Arab population had fled their homes from fear.

Over the years, Palestinians protested relentlessly; but their efforts were in vain. After Britain’s withdrawal from the land in 1948, Israel was quick to announce the establishment of its own state, causing the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria to declare war just a day later.

The Arab armies had several victories early on in the battle. They would often overrun Israeli villages, killing, or expelling everyone in sight. The conflict continued to escalate in favor of the Arabs until Russia came to Israel’s rescue, ultimately leading to a ceasefire.

By 1950, the Jewish population had almost doubled; nonetheless, the Arabs remained adamant on their opposition of the Israeli entity, resulting in many multi-sided attacks.

Frequent loss of life fostered a profound feeling of hopelessness, but in 1956, with the help of Britain and France, Israel was able to kick-start their military dominance through capturing Egypt’s Sinai desert.

Meanwhile, Russia, who was threatened by America’s growing influence in Israel, had begun orchestrating a plan to aid in their downfall.

In 1967, they spread a false report to Egyptian officials, claiming that Israeli forces were mobilizing troops near the Syrian border. Alarmed, Egypt then mobilized its troops, and prepared for a clash.

Israel began to sense the growing war fever. So, on the morning of June 5th, they carried out a sneak attack that destroyed Egypt’s air force and killed more than 15,000 Egyptian soldiers.

In response, Jordan bombed Jerusalem but was soon driven back by Israeli soldiers who seized the old city and all the land on the West Bank and Jordan river.

After defeating both the Jordanian and Egyptian forces, Israel was able to capture the Golan Heights- their border with Syria where frequent attacks were carried out.

When the UN ceasefire was imposed just 6 days after the first attack, Israel had quadrupled the territory it controlled.

Peace between the multiple fronts was an impermanent blessing, and soon, the momentum of young fighters and guerrilla groups in Jordan, called fedayeen, quickly picked up pace.

Largely consisting of those who fled Palestine during the 1967 war, these organizations rarely complied with Jordanian laws and regulations, often attacking Israeli forces, and even trying to assassinate the Jordanian king.

Ultimately, tensions reached a boiling point and Jordan’s King Hussein declared war on the PLO (one of the largest Palestine-supporting rebel groups, led by Yasser Arafat) forcing the organization to flee to Lebanon.

The PLO steadily flourished in their new base until the 1975 Lebanese civil war, where Lebanese Muslims, along with the PLO, fought Israel-backed Lebanese Christians, causing some 40,000 deaths on both sides.

Because they had escalated the crisis, the PLO was forced to exit Lebanon in 1982, where they found refuge in Tunis.

After 18 years in power, the death of Egypt’s strictly anti-Israel president shook the Arab world. His successor, Anwar Sadat, threatened the Arab stereotype through being more open to peace with the Jewish entity.

Sadat was insistent on negotiating with Israel only through the Americans. However, he was repeatedly pushed to the side by American diplomacy, deciding that the only way to reclaim international attention was through a direct ambush on Israel.

After planning his attack alongside Syrian troops, Sadat went to King Hussein of Jordan to warn him of the impending war.

The King, who had already lost a considerable amount of land due to miscalculated attacks on Israel, decided to warn Israel’s prime minister, in hopes of avoiding further conflict.

Despite this, Israel’s army was ill-prepared; so, in October 1973, Egyptian forces were able to fight their way through some of their previously lost Sinai desert, whilst Syria reclaimed the Golan Heights.

Israel’s defeat seemed imminent; however, their superior air force and immediate weaponry backing from the U.S. and USSR eventually overpowered Egyptian tanks, making it only hours from Cairo.

President Sadat begged the Soviets to arrange a ceasefire, and so, after heavy international pressure, the rival armies disengaged.

Years of volatile instability commenced as Israeli settlements expanded all over occupied regions, making the prospect of reclaiming any previously lost land unlikely. Fearful of losing the Sinai desert, in 1979, President Sadat concluded a formal peace treaty with Israel in return for the land, enraging Arab nations and resulting in his assassination 2 years later.

For the past 20 years, Palestinians had been forced to squeeze into the Gaza strip.

Growing increasingly frustrated, young boys began to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers during their protests in 1987.

In retaliation, Israeli forces killed many of these young men, stepped up their presence in the occupied territories; therefore, encouraging working Palestinians to go on strike and shut down their businesses.

The Intifada had begun.

Hearing of this movement, Yasser Arafat and his forces helped the protests move beyond Gaza, resulting in mass arrests and multiple Israeli bombings on suspected terrorist houses.

After many unsuccessful peace attempts, in 1991, the Palestinian delegation was established to negotiate directly with Israeli officials in Washington.

However, other undisclosed negotiations had long been in the pipeline.

A research institute in Oslo had frequently organized secret meetings between Palestinian officials and a professor who had ties to the Israeli government.

The discussions made during these unofficial meetings were much more successful and far more flexible than those in Washington. So, Yasser Arafat was eager to contribute and, in 1993, sent a team of negotiators who asked for the Gaza strip, the Jericho district in the West Bank, and a road that connected the two regions.

The new demands strained the negotiating relationship. However, desperate for any possibility of peace in the region, Israel agreed to the deals in return for the PLO’s recognition of the state of Israel.

Both Yasser Arafat and the Prime Minister of Israel won the noble peace prize as a result of this treaty.

Following the deals, the PLO became the first official leadership of Gaza and the West Bank.

In 1995, as the peace talks were coming to an end, the Prime Minister of Israel was shot by an Israeli extremist.

Subsequently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu- who prioritized eradicating terrorism over carrying out the Oslo accords- was elected. His appointment paralyzed the Oslo agreement for 18 months as he invested the majority of his time on establishing settlements and cracking-down on terrorism.

Noticing the deadlock, in 1998, the U.S. forced the 2 fronts to meet in Washington, where Israel agreed to withdraw from additional territory in the West Bank, in exchange for more safety guarantees.

After 50 years of fighting, a partitioning of Palestine was underway. However, the prospect of complete peace still seemed beyond reach.

In my next article, I will address the last 2 decades of this crisis which have led to today’s critical developments.

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