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Two Peoples, One Land

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Sunday, May 12, 2002
The endless wars
Modern strife in the Holy Land
A Palestinian boy carrying a slingshot ducks to avoid rubber bullets fired by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah in March. Israel raided Palestinian towns and refugee camps with tanks and helicopter gunships that day, killing dozens.
The war of 1948 gave birth to Israel and cemented the psychology of distrust and anger that plagues Arab-Israeli relations to this day. That war was followed by ongoing confrontations between Israel and its neighbors, including the wars of 1956, 1967, 1973 and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. These conflicts were followed by a series of Palestinian uprisings and some halting steps toward regional peace a process that is now stalled with the latest Palestinian uprising and the Israeli military response.

In following these epic struggles over the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, it is easy to forget how small an area is involved. Modern-day Israel and the occupied territories comprise about 10,500 square miles, an area some 10 percent smaller than Vancouver Island.

To the Jews, the 1948 war proved they were alone in the Middle East, surrounded by hostile populations that would rather kill them than share the Holy Land. The story of how Israel was attacked in 1948 by the combined forces of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt just a day after it declared independence is an important part of the Israeli consciousness.

To the Arab world, the war was a humiliating defeat, another instance of pan-Arab unity proving unequal to the power of outsiders. It remains a source of bitterness to this day, with the story of how the war drove Palestinians off their lands referred to as al-Nakba, "the disaster."
Arab soldiers approach holes they blasted in Tiferet Synagogue, a stronghold of the Jewish military organization Haganah, in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 21, 1948.
By the time the 1948 war ended through a 1949 agreement called the Rhodes Armistice some 700,000 Palestinians had left their homes, most moving into the area now known as the West Bank and creating the refugee crisis that still exists.

At the same time, a similar number of Jewish refugees fled their homes in neighboring areas and other Arab countries because of the turmoil.

U.N. Resolution 194, passed in December 1948, endorsed the right of refugees "wanting to live at peace with their neighbors" to return to their homes or receive compensation for lost land and property. Palestinian refugees were neither compensated nor allowed to return. Arab countries, with the exception of Jordan, refused to absorb them, preferring to maintain the refugee camps for more than half a century as a way of keeping the issue from fading away.

Jewish refugees were eagerly absorbed by Israel.

After the 1948 war, Israel possessed approximately 8,000 square miles of Palestine reducing the Arab lands set up in the 1947 U.N. partition by some 50 percent. Jerusalem was divided, with Arabs on the east side of the armistice line the Green Line and the Jews on the west.
Books DID YOU KNOW ... Ironically, the first major U.S. venture into Mideast politics saw the United States side with Egypt against Israel as President Eisenhower tried to counter Soviet involvement in the Arab state. Driven by the Cold War concern over Soviet Union influence, Eisenhower pledged military and economic support to any Middle East nation threatened by communism. However, his doctrine quickly led the U.S. to become a staunch ally of the Jewish state, the only capitalist democracy in the region.
In 1956, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, which had been run by a private British-French consortium, and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, cutting off the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel's only link to the Red Sea.

Nasser also had recently made the West uncomfortable by making a $320 million arms deal with the Soviet Union (via Czechoslovakia).

And, Nasser had been supporting violent guerrilla raids from the Sinai into Israel.

Britain and France, fearful of losing their oil-shipping lane, plotted with Israel to wrest control of the canal from Nasser.

On Oct. 29, 1956, Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula, driving the Egyptians all the way to the west side of the canal. The plan was for Britain and France to then drop troops into Egypt to "defend" the canal.

But the plan unfolded differently. The United States intervened. President Eisenhower threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan to Britain, and on Nov. 2, the United States sponsored a U.N. resolution demanding Israel's immediate withdrawal from Egypt. It was overwhelmingly approved.

Within a year, the borders had returned to their previous arrangement and Egypt regained the canal.

The incident was the first direct U.S. involvement in the affairs of the region.

In the spring of 1967, Egypt ordered U.N. peacekeepers out of the Sinai and again closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli ships. Belligerent talk and Arab alliances made it evident that Egypt, Syria and Jordan were planning to attack Israel. In response, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike on June 5.
Israeli soldiers wave their flag from a mosque in the Sinai desert.
Over six days, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria, and took control of Jerusalem.

The fighting stopped June 10. U.N. Resolution 242, which dealt with the new boundaries, has become the basis for negotiations between Israel, the Arab states and the Palestinians. An Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza now would result in the creation of a Palestinian state, not a return of the lands to Jordan and Egypt.

Resolution 242 called for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." To the Arabs, this has always meant that Israel must return to its pre-1967 borders.

Israel, on the other hand, saw great importance in the absence of the word "the" before the word "territories" in the U.N. resolution. For Israelis, "withdrawal ... from territories occupied in the recent conflict" meant something less than a full withdrawal.

In deliberations over Resolution 242, there was specific debate over the word "the." The Arab states demanded that it be included, but it was left out, indicating that the parties recognized its significance.

Resolution 242 also called for the "... acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.... " In other words, it reaffirmed the right of Israel to exist peacefully amid its Arab neighbors.

Also, the resolution reiterated the message of Resolution 194 by calling for a "just settlement of the refugee problem," which was exacerbated by the 1967 conflict.

After its stunning military success in the 1967 war, Israel appeared the dominant power in the region. It became more confident, holding onto the conquered territories and saying it was waiting to return them in exchange for peace negotiations.

What came, instead, was another war.

On Oct. 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. The attack caught Israel off guard. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and most of Israel was shut down for the holiday.

After suffering heavy losses more than 2,500 Israelis would die and some 3,000 would be wounded in the 18 days of fighting that followed Israel appealed for help from the United States.

At first, the U.S. was reluctant to aid Israel. It did not want to upset Arab states on which it had become increasingly dependent for oil. And it did not want to raise tensions with the Soviet Union, its Cold War adversary and patron of Syria and Egypt.

But after learning that the Soviets were airlifting huge amounts of weaponry to Egypt and Syria, President Nixon decided the U.S. had to act.

Six days into the fighting, the U.S. began a massive, $2.2 billion airlift of fighter planes, tanks, helicopters and munitions to Israel. It was worth it, Nixon said, "to maintain a balance of forces and achieve stability in the Middle East."

Eventually, Israel was able to turn back the Syrian and Egyptian armies and even pursue them into their own territories. In the end, Egypt lost about 7,700 soldiers; the Syrians, 3,500.

The battle between the Israelis and the Arabs raised the tensions between the superpowers considerably, and on Oct. 22 the U.S. and Russia moved to halt the hostilities by proposing U.N. Resolution 338, which called for an immediate end to the fighting and the resumption of efforts toward peace under the guidelines set out in Resolution 242. The resolution passed unanimously.

The war left Israel as the Mideast's dominant military power once again, but it also established the Arab states' ability to inflict heavy damage on Israel.

It also inaugurated the tradition of huge U.S. military aid to Israel, which continues to this day in recent years, about two-thirds of the roughly $3 billion a year in U.S. aid to Israel has gone to the Israeli military.

The Palestine Liberation Organization was created in 1964 with the dual aims of creating a Palestinian state and destroying Israel.

Not a key player in the region at first, the organization gained strength with the failure of Egypt in the Six Day War in 1967.

Though the PLO's stated aims were to change radically with the 1993 Oslo accords, for nearly 30 years the PLO and its leader, Yasser Arafat, supported guerrilla warfare and terrorism as a primary means of promoting the Palestinian cause.

Kicked out of Jordan in 1970 because of its destabilizing effect, the PLO soon became ensconced in Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees lived in generally miserable conditions.

The PLO came to control the network of Lebanese refugee camps, essentially creating a PLO state within Lebanon.

From its new position just north of Israel, the PLO supported guerrilla attacks on Israeli territory attacks that in 1978 provoked an Israeli response.

Israel invaded Lebanon in March 1978 in an attempt to crush the PLO guerrillas. The operation was brief and of limited success. Four days into it, the U.N. issued Resolution 425, which demanded Israeli withdrawal and established a U.N. monitoring force in southern Lebanon to discourage fighting between Israel and the PLO.

In 1982, Israel again invaded Lebanon, this time with the intent of fully crushing the PLO. The invasion reached all the way to Beirut and succeeded in crippling the PLO and exiling Arafat to Tunisia. But the operation also turned into a quagmire for Israel that lasted three years, cost the lives of more than 650 Israeli soldiers and wounded almost 4,000 others.

The Sabra and Shatila massacres during which Ariel Sharon, then Israeli defense minister, failed to prevent Lebanese militiamen from killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Palestinians in the two refugee camps occurred in 1982. News of the massacres helped dampen the Israeli public's support of the war.

In 1985, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres approved the withdrawal of Israeli forces to a "security zone" in southern Lebanon. But Israeli soldiers enforcing the security zone were still targets, largely of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah (Party of God) guerrilla organization.
Two Israeli soldiers, left, mourn their comrade Uriel Peretz, one of two soldiers killed in an ambush in South Lebanon the previous night.
Scores more Israeli soldiers were killed before Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in May 2000 ordered a complete withdrawal from Lebanon, saying: "This 18-year tragedy is over."

The Arabic word intifada means "shaking off," and is used by Palestinians to describe periods of extended conflict with Israelis in the occupied territories and, more recently, in Israeli cities.

The first major Palestinian intifada began in 1987 in Gaza with Palestinian youths disillusioned by two decades of Israeli occupation. The tactics were far less violent than those seen in confrontations these days; Palestinians threw stones and Molotov cocktails, and Israelis fired rubber bullets in response. Strikes and boycotts were also used.

The fierceness and widespread participation of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians in the first intifada caught Israel by surprise. The intifada ended in 1993 with the Oslo accords, and Palestinians believe the power of the intifada, along with the worldwide attention it generated, pressured Israel to begin negotiating seriously with the PLO.

The second intifada began in September 2000 after years of failed peace negotiations and a provocative visit by Ariel Sharon to the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, an area known as the Temple Mount to Jews and as Haram al-Sharif to Arabs.

Continuing to this day, the second intifada is far more violent and bloody than the first, with Palestinians employing suicide bombers and guns.

Israel contends the autonomy granted Palestinians after the Oslo accords requires the Palestinian Authority to put down the current uprising.

Arafat, the head of the Palestinian Authority, condemns violence against Israeli civilians but claims to be unable to control it. Sharon, dissatisfied with this response, in March ordered a prolonged Israeli invasion of the West Bank in an effort to dismantle its "terrorist infrastructure."
Emergency personnel work at the scene of a suicide bombing in Haifa, Israel, in March that killed 15 people.
A Palestinian man prays over the body of a loved one as bodies were collected at the Jenin refugee-camp hospital in April.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

Left arrow The revolts The peace process Right arrow


  Britain rejects the Palestine mandate and asks the United Nations to help. U.N. votes to partition the country. The Jews accept; the Arabs don't.

May 14, 1948
  British forces leave Israel. Led by David Ben-Gurion, considered the founder of Israel, Jews declare independence. U.S. recognizes new nation. Arab states attack Israel the following day.

Dec. 11, 1948
  U.N. Resolution 194, calling for cessation of hostilities and return of refugees who wish to live in peace.

  Sinai conflict between Israelis and Egypt. Israel occupies the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip. U.S. pressures Israel for end to hostilities, for the first time wielding major influence in the Middle East.

  Israel withdraws from Gaza and Straits of Tiran, turning them over to U.N.

  Fatah founded, with goal of liberating Palestine. Leader is an engineer named Yasser Arafat.

May 1964
  Palestine Liberation Organization started. Includes Fatah.
Yasser Arafat

June 5-10, 1967
  The Six-Day War erupts.

Nov. 1967
  U.N. Resolution 242 calls for Israel to withdraw from captured territories.

  Jordan's King Hussein drives PLO out of country. PLO moves to Lebanon.

  Arab terrorists kill 11 Israeli athletes at Munich Olympics. Four terrorists and a German policeman are killed.

  Yom Kippur War begins when Egypt and Syria launch almost simultaneous attacks on Jews' holiest day.

  Menachem Begin becomes prime minister. Israeli settlement of West Bank and Gaza intensified.
Menachem Begin Anwar Sadat

  Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Begin sign Camp David agreement for peace between Egypt and Israel. Israel withdraws from Sinai and dismantles settlements; Egypt recognizes Israel.

  Israel attacks PLO in Lebanon.

Sept. 1982
  Lebanese militia, allowed by Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon to enter Shatila and Sabra refugee camps, massacres Palestinian civilians.

  The intifada, a period of protest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, begins.

  Oslo Declaration of Principles. Israel and the PLO agree on a framework for autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. Final peace foreseen by 1999.

  Israeli hands control of Gaza and Jericho to Palestinian Authority. Jordan and Israel sign a peace treaty. A Palestinian suicide bomber kills 22 on a Tel Aviv bus.

May 1994
  Arafat returns to Gaza from exile in Tunisia.

Oct. 1994
  Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Arafat awarded Nobel Peace Prize.

  Prime Minister Rabin assassinated by Israeli extremist.

  Islamic suicide bombers kill 63 in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon.

  Benjamin Netanyahu advances plans to build a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Suicide bombings increase, with incidents in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority legalizes the death sentence for Arabs who sell Jews land.

July 2000
  Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat meet at Camp David in an unsuccessful attempt to reach a final peace agreement.

Sept. 2000
  Second intifada begins.

Jan. 2001
  Final, unsuccessful talks between Arafat and Barak in Taba, Egypt.

Feb. 2001
  Ariel Sharon elected prime minister of Israel.

March 2001
  Israel invades occupied territories after rash of suicide bombings.

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