By Dinouk Colombage
Illegal settlements in Gaza blocked’, ‘Israel denies plans to expand eastwards’. Headlines such as these have dominated recent world bulletins; in recent months, world attitudes towards the Jewish state have taken on a more hostile approach.
As tension in the region intensifies the focus has now turned to the question of who has the right to remain in the disputed territory.
Beryl Ratzer, an Israeli historian and tour guide, contacted The Sunday Leader to present the story of Israel and help draw a clearer picture of what is taking place in the region.
A common misconception of Israeli history is that the nation came into existence at the start of the 20th century. Jewish history dates back over 3,000 years. It is described by many historians as a period of wandering through the desert, establishing a civilisation, conquests and war and continual dispersion of the people. Early records state that the Jewish people fled from Egypt, where they were believed to have been slaves to the Pharaohs. Years of wandering the desert and war lay ahead of them before finally establishing the Kingdom of Judah in what is now known as Israel. It was at this point that the Jewish people established themselves as a race, a religion and a nation. As the years progressed, the growth of the Roman Empire enveloped the Kingdom of Judah and it saw the Jewish people scattered around the Empire. Over the centuries the Jewish continued to follow the pattern of returning to the Holy Land and disbanding again in the face of invading armies.
The conclusion of the First World War saw the creation of new states in the Middle East, and with it the Western Powers’ focus turned to Jerusalem and its surrounding regions. Beryl Ratzer stated that ‘the history of the Holy Land is now part of current events rather than history.’ The re-growth of the Israeli nation is one inter-linked with the ‘Mandate for Palestine’. Through this Mandate the British successfully proposed the division of Palestine, awarding the land east of the Jordan River to the Emir Abdullah of Transjordan.
As the Palestine Mandate came into existence it was rivalled by a unified Palestine under a single administration. The perception during the time was that the British supported the Zionist goal of re-establishing a homeland, whilst the surrounding Arab states supported an Arab Palestine. Under the mandate it was the Jews who were looked upon to help build the Israeli state, whilst the British were expected to keep the Arabs at bay preventing them from militarising and posing a threat to the Jews. The lines of division were clearly drawn as it was indicated that the Jews were going to be receiving the support of the Western Powers whilst the Palestinian Arabs were forced to look to the surrounding Arab states.
Beneath the surface this is an example of the British policy of divide and rule. As long as the Arabs and Jews remained divided over the land ownership in Palestine, the door was still open for British involvement. This theory could be seen in practice during the 1940s. As Hitler grew in power so to did Jewish immigration to Jerusalem. The Palestinian Arabs reacted to the increasing number of Jews with violent protests; the British responded by forcefully subduing these groups.
The United Nations involved themselves, dispatching a group of experts to travel through the State of Palestine in an attempt to find an answer to the growing crisis. The result was ‘The Peel Report’ which stated that the situation ‘could be resolved through the partition of Palestine into separate independent Arab and Jewish states.’ Historians have described this finding as having divided a society originally united despite the barriers of religion. The partition of Palestine opened up the newly created state of Israel to the hostilities of its neighbouring Arab states.
In response to the Six Day War in 1967, Israel expanded its territories leaving only the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for the Palestinian Arabs to control. Israeli expansion has come under much scrutiny from the Arab community, yet the Israelis have defended their tactics by explaining it was done in preservation of their homeland. Beryl Ratzer drew attention to the fact that Israel is a nation 15 kilometres wide and surrounded by Arab nations which have expressed hostilities towards the state in the past. The Israelis believe that a continual expansion in the face of hostile actions is the only way they can ensure their survival as a nation.
As the modern day situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate, the Western Powers’ attitude towards the State of Israel has changed. They no longer look upon Israel as the helpless minority state surrounded by an aggressive region. The Palestinians have taken upon themselves the title of the minority who have been gifted the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people in the West Bank has resulted in growing sympathy from the international community. In turn, attitudes towards Israel have turned sour with increased condemnation of their actions and presence in the region. The negative opinion towards the State of Israel originated from the Middle Eastern countries and has expanded to include many European nations such as Turkey. The question that now remains is whether or not Israel created this situation for themselves or whether it was thrust upon them by the actions of the Western Powers.
The partition of Palestine by the United Nations resulted in the Israelis, and the Jews, being targeted by the neighbouring Arab states. Political analysts have argued that the Western Powers allowed these acts of hostility towards Israel to continue as it provided them with an opportunity to remain in the region. Political analyst, Ian Bremmer, argues that the Western Powers ensured the region remained volatile to allow their involvement. Palestine soon was no longer seen as the aggressor, and the international community’s view towards Israel changed.
Similar to the negative portrayal the Palestinians and neighbouring Arab states received in the 1960s, Israel is now on the receiving end. Despite the actions carried out by the Arab states towards Israel, or the Israelis responses, it is clear that the situation that exists in the region was brought on through the divisions created by the foreign powers. The partition of the State of Palestine by the UN exploited what was a volatile situation. The support the Jews received from the Western Powers during this time alienated them from the Arab community. As Israel grew in stature, the international community turned its back on them turning to the pleas of the Palestinians. This further isolated the State resulting in further hostile actions taken in what is described by Israelis as ‘a struggle to protect their homeland.’