A Love For Land, A Holy War

Western Wall, Mugrabi Gate, and Dome of the Rock/Brian Negin
Western Wall, Mugrabi Gate, and Dome of the Rock/Brian Negin

The sirens are going off, again. School children quickly run to a nearby bus stop in Sderot, Israel, since they were built with 40 centimeters of cement to serve as a bomb shelter. Fifteen minutes later, the sirens stop sounding and children continue on their way home chatting with their friends about the upcoming school dance. Their families are okay. This time.

A pair of Israeli tank shells smashed and tore through a bedroom in Gaza. A woman and tree teenage girls died. Four more family members were severely wounded. The father to those three teenage girls and the husband to the woman was on his way home.

How did this happen? In America, Muslims and Jewish people do business together, nobody has privilege over another based on religion. But in Israel, privilege is constantly shifting depending on where you are. Why is it in Israel that hatred and tension seeps so deeply into the blood of generations gone and generations to come? Many have the attitude that when one side believes in life and the other believes in death, it is impossible to have a middle ground. How can culture solely be responsible for generations of war? This idea of impossibility prevents people from learning the history, and enables people to perpetuate the situation with assumptions. The conflict in the Middle East between Palestine and Israel has been occurring long before the assignments of land after WWII. After such a long time, why hasn’t it ended? Since Palestine is not a country, but instead a political-national entity yet to become a state, the conflict between Palestine and Israel will be considered a civil war for the purpose of this case study.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine goes back to the Roman Empire. In 63 BCE, the Romans conquered Israel’s northern border.[1] Around 132 C.E, Hadrian, the emperor of Rome at the time, renamed the entire region of Syria, “Palestine”. This was the first time that the word Palestine applied to the area and Jewish entry into now a pagan Jerusalem was forbidden. This caused large numbers of Jews to spread to new lands, known as the Diaspora.[2] As time went on, Islam started to enter the Middle East and the Roman Empire began to adopt Christianity and moved out of Jerusalem, while the Ottoman Empire entered.[3] The Jewish people moved back into Jerusalem, but as Islam entered the Middle East the Jewish people rejected Muhammad’s teaching and the Arabs started to inhabit Palestine for over a thousand years.[4] The Jewish people continued to wander around, all the while longing for Zion, the ancient name for Jerusalem.[5] During the Diaspora, after being persecuted in Europe, Jewish people worked together at attempts to settle in Jerusalem. The political and social conditions gave rise to Zionism, the ideology that expressed the importance of a free, Jewish, state and explained the legitimacy of their claim to Palestine.[6] By the late 19thcentury, the Zionist movement was large and strong enough to be heard. Two student organizations, called Hovevei Zion and a group called BILU ( Beit Ya'akov Lekhu Venelkha, meaning “House of Jacob, let us go”) were formed to initiate immigration into Palestine.[7] From 1882 and 1914 about 60,000 Jewish people settled in Palestine.[8] Many of these new settlers ignored the Arab population, assuming they would voluntarily move to the many other Arab countries surrounding Palestine.[9] Instead, the Arab population grew rapidly. By 1914, there were 731,000 Arabs.[10] The Arab and Zionist movements both wanted their independent homelands, yet they had different ways of conducting their movements. Even within this political war, there were politics within each movement. While the Zionists were united in their longing for Zion, the Arabs were divided by competing interests of leaders from different lands across the region.[11] After WWI (1914-1918) Britain and Germany wanted to gain the trust of the Arabs, promising them national independence, and promised to recruit the Zionists.[12]In 1915, the British Government guaranteed Sherif Husayn, the Prince of Mecca at the time, Arab control over broadly defined areas, without supporting documentation.[13] However, it seems like Britain said the same thing to the Zionists. The Zionists and the Palestinians both created maps that favored their preferences.[14]The British denied the Arabs’ claim that Palestine was included in the area promised to them.[15] In 1915, Palestine was entrusted to Britain by the League of Nations to "make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, according to this website. In turn, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, where Palestine was given to Britain as a national home for the Jewish people.[16] The Arabs saw this as Jewish people coming in to take their land, and they feared they would be displaced.[17]After WWII, the United Nations divided the land into Arab and Jewish states. Although the Arab states surrounding the area opposed this resolution, the Jews accepted it it inciting an Arab uprising where the Jews won.[18]Weeks later, after continuous fighting, the scholars of Al-Azhar University in Cairo called on the Muslim world to declare jihad, or holy war, against the Jewish people.[19] After more violence, the Jewish people declared their independence on May 14, 1948. Still today, the violence continues.

Many scholars have come up with theories to explain civil wars, why they start and how they end. Barbara Walter, a Professor of International Relations at UC San Diego, wrote an article published in the Cambridge University Press called, “The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement.” James Fearon and David Laitin, both professors of Political Science at Stanford University, wrote an article published in the American Political Science Review called “Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War.” Havard Hegre, Tanja Ellingsen, Scott Gates, and Nils Gleditsch, professors of political science at various universities, also wrote an article published in the American Political Science Review called, “Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change and Civil War.” These scholars each took a different approach to civil wars.

In her article, Walter argues that many civil wars start because of dissatisfaction with state controls, or territory demands. To end civil wars, she argues that a third party must intervene to facilitate settlements. She illustrates that in every civil war between 1940 and 1990, the ultimate success of a peace treaty was due to a third-party’s initial and continuing involvement.[20]Having a third party come in is a reasonable solution since she takes a game theory approach, where making decisions depends on the decisions and opportunities of others. For example, in a country where two groups are fighting and they tell each other they would like to negotiate a peace treaty, each is untrusting so they cannot convince each other to disarm. This is where a third party comes in. Walter states, “Stable, less risky transitions cannot be designed by the participants themselves for…reasons that are tied to problems of credible commitment.”[21]Since credible commitment cannot come from either of the participants, Walter argues a third party must come in to guarantee protection of all parties involved. However, Walter does not put any qualifications on that third party. She exerts that the third party doesn’t even have to be neutral, and says nothing about prior knowledge to the conflict with which they are helping.

Fearon and Laitin have a related perspective and claim that civil wars occur largely because weak governments, a rough environmental terrain, and local support allow for insurgency to occur. They define insurgency as “a technology of military conflict characterized by small, lightly armed bands practicing guerrilla warfare from rural base areas.”[22]They also argue that civil war is largely dependent on per capita income, the age of the state, and if the state exports oil. Furthermore, they state that ethnic diversity, legal inequality and discrimination, and democratic institutions are insignificantly related to the causes for civil war. However, they give significance to religious fractionalization. To end civil wars, Fearon and Laitin suggest economic growth.[23]

Hegre, Ellingson, Gates and Gledtisch argue that civil wars only occur in the countries that aren’t coherent democracies or harshly authoritarian. In fact, they say that countries with a strong democracy have civil peace and are more stable.[24] All of these sources seem to agree that civil wars are a combination of many factors varying from case to case. From this research I have deduced that the two main factors that cause civil wars are culturally related and politically related. One cannot go without the other.

Walter has a valid point that the initial reasons for war were dissatisfaction with state controls and territory demands. The Palestinians were very displeased with the UN’s actions of splitting the land. Furthermore, they thought they were going to receive all of the territory because that is what the British had told them. The Palestinians were scared they would be displaced, a fear that continues to this day.[25] Fearon and Laitin have irrelivant arguments in the case of Israel concerning insurgency, per capita income, the age of the state, and if the state exports oil. In the case of Israel, perhaps the concepts behind these specific factors are applied. In the beginning of this war, the terrain and insurgency had little to do with war. In modern times, this definitely helps perpetuate it. Whether the state exports oil is irrelevant in the case of Israel, but this factor relates to political conflicts of interests which were a large contributor to the beginning of the civil war as demonstrated by Britain's decisions. They also argue that religious fractionalization is significant to civil war. This is a salient factor in the case of Israel since Islam does not have a separation between religion and politics. just as boundaries become blurred as any religion is taken too far. While Hegre, Ellingson, Gates and Gledtisch have a logical argument, it does not apply to this case study. Even before Israel declared independence, Israel was neither a democracy nor authoritarian. And, after Israel did declare independence, Israel was and continues to be a very durable democracy, yet there is still war. According to the 2009 Global Report from the Center for Systemic Peace and the Center for Global Policy, Israel is a durable and coherent democracy.[26]

To end the civil war in Israel Walter argues a third party, regardless of who that third party is, needs to come in to facilitate settlements. In Israel’s case perhaps some in power agreed since this is the current situation. President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his aides in the White House on March 23rd to discuss redrawing borders.[27]Mr. Netanyahu said he is unable to fulfill Mr. Obama’s demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners and to decrease the amount of Israeli military road-blocks because “his allies on the nationalist and religious end of his ruling coalition would rebel if he did.”[28]This illustrates how politically involved the war in Israel has become. After Obama persisted, Netanyahu said, “Of course the United States can help the parties solve their problems. But it cannot solve the problems for the parties. Peace cannot be imposed from the outside.”[29] This was a point that Walter failed to make. A third party who comes to help facilitate negotiations must understand the two parties involved and must act as a neutral intermediary.

Fearon and Laitin suggest economic growth to end civil wars. But, they do not specify the extent of that growth. Israel has a stable and growing economy and the civil war has not ended. According to NationMaster, “Israel's GDP, after contracting slightly in 2001 and 2002 due to the Palestinian conflict and troubles in the high-technology sector, has grown by about 5% per year since 2003. The economy grew an estimated 5.4% in 2007, the fastest pace since 2000. The government's prudent fiscal policy and structural reforms over the past few years have helped to induce strong foreign investment, tax revenues, and private consumption, setting the economy on a solid growth path.”[30] In fact, according to the Rule of 70, Israel’s economy will double in approximately 14 years. Israel evidently is experiencing economic growth, yet the civil war continues.

The civil war has not ended because the reasons for the war are not concrete. Over the years, the reasons behind for the continuing violence have changed. The changes imply that this war is now being perpetuated by hatred. While the war began as a political struggle beginning from the divisiveness within the Arab population, to Britain’s and then the UN’s intervention, now the war is not perpetuated by the same reasons. Each group has their own version of the same history, each illustrating how they are the victim. This contributes to a growing resentment toward the other party because each feels like their entitlement to victimhood is not being acknowledged nor validated. We have already established that the Jewish people and Arab people have felt practically the same connection toward the land of Israel from the beginning of recorded time. [31]To the Jewish people, Jerusalem is the Promised Land. However, underneath the mount of Jerusalem’s second Temple, lies a sacred sight for the Arabs: Mount Moriah. This is where Abraham offered his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God.[32]This is supposedly the third holiest site in Islam, yet this argument only developed in the 1930’s, created by Haj Amin al Husseini, the Grand Mufti.[33]

“The Mufti knew that nationalist slogans alone would not succeed in uniting the masses against arriving Jewish refugees. He therefore turned the struggle into a religious conflict... From the time Herbert Samuel appointed him to the position of Mufti, Haj Amin worked vigorously to raise Jerusalem's status as an Islamic holy center. He renovated the mosques on the Temple Mount, while conducting an unceasing campaign regarding the imminent Jewish "threat" to Moslem holy sites.”[34]

This is no longer just a war of politics and cultural and religious differences, but perhaps a war now because of stagnation. The historical trauma that was accompanied by hatred and resentment has been passed down from generation to generation. After all, hatred is learned through others. This is seen with my family. My father is aware of the political situation and political history but his immediate reaction to the reasons for endless fighting is the “other culture.” Historical trauma has very involved layered affects. From the cultural level seeping down to the individual level, a collective identity has formed based on the past events and emotions toward the opponent that accompany those events. This is also seen is legislation. Historical trauma stays with officials in charge of policy decisions which can affect huge amounts of people, like where walls will be built to create a feeling of ensured safety to one group of people while causing the other group to feel inferior. From the individual level to the cultural level, it is only through acknowledging historical trauma with one’s self and others, and then using that acknowledgment to affect positive change that a cultural shift will occur. This historical trauma and hatred has large repercussions for the modern relationship between Israel and Palestine. The Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority and the Prime Minister of Israel will not speak with each other. The first step to solving a conflict is communication. In order to take a step forward, before new borders are drawn, each party needs to affirm each party’s historical trauma.[35]

Every day on some form of news media a political commentator mentions the current situation with Israel and Palestine. Recently, there has been coverage on peace talks with the Obama administration. And then, a political commentator will give his or her opinion on how to solve the “Middle East Conflict.” Many of these political commentators have not ever been to Israel or Palestine, and what they say can help shape the opinions of millions of viewers watching the program on which they are speaking. People outside of Israel and Palestine with no extensive understanding of the culture and history have no credibility to offer solutions to the current situation. Many individuals are arrogant in thinking they know the situation, when most individuals cannot give an accurate account of the history and current situation between Israel and Palestine. It is important to understand the factors that contribute to the conflict before proposing any sort of solution.

Works Cited

Bard, Mitchell G. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. Boca Raton: Penguin Group USA Inc, 2008

The Center for Systemic Peace. The Center for Global Policy. http://www.systemicpeace.org/ (12 April 2010).

The Economist. "A wall of suspicion." http://www.economist.com/world/middle-east/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15770905 (28 March 2010).

Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. "Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War." The American Political Science Review 97, no. 1 (2003): 75-89.

Hegre, Havard, Tanja Ellingsen, Scott Gates, and Nils P. Gleditsch. "Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change, and Civil War." The American Political Science Review 95, no. 1 (2001): 33-34.

Intelligence, Rapid. "ISRAELI ECONOMY STATS." NationMaster. http://www.nationmaster.com/red/country/is-israel/eco-economy&b_cite=1&b_define=1&all=1 (14 April 2010)

Isseroff, Ami. "Israel, Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Arab-Israeli Conflict) - A brief history - Part I." MidEastWeb for Coexistence R.A - Middle East Re. http://www.mideastweb.org (7 April 2010).

Katz, Joseph E. http://www.eretzyisroel.org/~jkatz/templemount.html (16 April 2010).

Oetzel, John G. Intercultural Communication: a Layered Approach. N.p.: Pearson Education Inc, 2009. 338-64. Print.

Palestine Facts Website . "Islam's Wailing Wall?." http://www.palestinefacts.org/pf_mandate_western_wall.php (7 April 2010).

ProCon.org. "Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”ProCon.org. http://israelipalestinian.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000636 (7, April, 2010).

Walter, Barbara F. "The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement." International Organization 51, no. 3 (1997): 335-363


[1] Bard, Mitchell G. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. Boca Raton: Penguin Group USA Inc, 2008.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4]Isseroff, Ami. "Israel, Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Arab-Israeli Conflict) - A brief history - Part I." MidEastWeb for Coexistence R.A - Middle East Re. http://www.mideastweb.org (7 April 2010).

[5] Bard, Mitchell G. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. Boca Raton: Penguin Group USA Inc, 2008.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9]Isseroff, Ami. "Israel, Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Arab-Israeli Conflict) - A brief history - Part I." MidEastWeb for Coexistence R.A - Middle East Re. http://www.mideastweb.org (7 April 2010).

[10]ProCon.org. "Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”ProCon.org. http://israelipalestinian.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000636 (7, April, 2010).

[11] Bard, Mitchell G. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. Boca Raton: Penguin Group USA Inc, 2008.

[12]Isseroff, Ami. "Israel, Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Arab-Israeli Conflict) - A brief history - Part I." MidEastWeb for Coexistence R.A - Middle East Re. http://www.mideastweb.org (7 April 2010).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Bard, Mitchell G. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. Boca Raton: Penguin Group USA Inc, 2008.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Walter, Barbara F. "The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement." International Organization 51, no. 3 (1997): 335-363

[21] Walter, Barbara F. "The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement." International Organization 51, no. 3 (1997): 339-340.

[22]Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. "Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War." The American Political Science Review 97, no. 1 (2003): 75.

[23]Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. "Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War." The American Political Science Review 97, no. 1 (2003): 75-89.

[24]Hegre, Havard, Tanja Ellingsen, Scott Gates, and Nils P. Gleditsch. "Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change, and Civil War." The American Political Science Review 95, no. 1 (2001): 33-34.

[25] Bard, Mitchell G. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. Boca Raton: Penguin Group USA Inc, 2008

[26] The Center for Systemic Peace. The Center for Global Policy. http://www.systemicpeace.org/ (12 April 2010).

[27]The Economist. "A wall of suspicion." http://www.economist.com/world/middle-east/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15770905 (28 March 2010).

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30]Intelligence, Rapid. "ISRAELI ECONOMY STATS." NationMaster. http://www.nationmaster.com/red/country/is-israel/eco-economy&b_cite=1&b_define=1&all=1 (14 April 2010)

[31] Bard, Mitchell G. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. Boca Raton: Penguin Group USA Inc, 2008.

[32]Palestine Facts Website . "Islam's Wailing Wall?." http://www.palestinefacts.org/pf_mandate_western_wall.php (7 April 2010).

[33]Katz, Joseph E. http://www.eretzyisroel.org/~jkatz/templemount.html (16 April 2010).

[34] Ibid.

[35]Oetzel, John G. Intercultural Communication: a Layered Approach. N.p.: Pearson Education Inc, 2009. 338-64. Print.

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elizabeth 6 years ago

this was a very informative article...I learned so much from reading this that I think I would like to explore this even more! Thank you.

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