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Israel And Palestinians Essay, Research Paper

Long ago, a great controversy arose between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel believed it should have the right to the Holy Land; including the city of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. At the same time, the Palestinians believed that they had the same rights. That controversy still exists today, and at nearly the same intensity. The ambassador to the United Nations has asked me to prepare a proposal to some of the problems in the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, West Bank, and city of Jerusalem. That is why I am here today. The purpose of this proposal is to suggest a compromise that will have at least some appeal to everyone involved.

The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the oldest and one of the most well known controversies in the history of civilization. Even the oldest book, the Holy Bible, lists the history of it. Jewish history began about 4,000 years ago (c. 17th century BCE) with the patriarchs – Abraham, his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Documents unearthed in Mesopotamia, dating back to 2000- 1500 BCE, corroborate aspects of their nomadic way of life as described in the Bible. The Book of Genesis relates how Abraham was summoned from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan to bring about the formation of a people with belief in the One God. When a famine spread through Canaan, Jacob (Israel), his twelve sons and their families settled in Egypt, where their descendants were reduced to slavery and pressed into forced labor. After 400 years of bondage, the Israelites were led to freedom by Moses who, according to the biblical narrative, was chosen by God to take his people out of Egypt and back to the Land of Israel promised to their forefathers (c. 13th-12th centuries BCE). They wandered for 40 years in the Sinai desert, where they were forged into a nation and received the Torah (Pentateuch), which included the Ten Commandments and gave form and content to their monotheistic faith. The exodus from Egypt (c.1300 BCE) left an indelible imprint on the national memory of the Jewish people and became a universal symbol of liberty and freedom. Every year Jews celebrate Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Succot (Feast of Tabernacles), commemorating events of that time. During the next two centuries, the Israelites conquered most of the Land of Israel and relinquished their nomadic ways to become farmers and craftsmen; a degree of economic and social consolidation followed. Periods of relative peace alternated with times of war during which the people rallied behind leaders known as ‘judges,’ chosen for their political and military skills as well as for their leadership qualities. The weakness inherent in this tribal organization in face of a threat posed by the Philistines (sea-going people from Asia Minor who settled on the country’s Mediterranean coast) generated the need for a ruler who would unite the tribes and make the position permanent, with succession carried on by inheritance.

The first king, Saul (c. 1020 BCE), bridged the period between loose tribal organization and the setting up of a full monarchy under his successor, David. King David (c.1004-965 BCE) established Israel as a major power in the region by successful military expeditions, including the final defeat of the Philistines, as well as through a network of friendly alliances with nearby kingdoms. Consequently, his authority was recognized from the borders of Egypt and the Red Sea to the banks of the Euphrates. At home, he united the twelve Israelite tribes into one kingdom and placed his capital, Jerusalem, and the monarchy at the center of the country’s national life. Biblical tradition describes David as a poet and musician, with verses ascribed to him appearing in the Book of Psalms. David was succeeded by his son Solomon (c.965-930 BCE) who further strengthened the kingdom. Through treaties with neighboring kings, reinforced by politically motivated marriages, Solomon ensured peace for his kingdom and made it equal among the great powers of the age. He expanded foreign trade and promoted domestic prosperity by developing major enterprises such as copper mining and metal smelting, while building new towns and fortifying old ones of strategic and economic importance. Crowning his achievements was the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, which became the center of the Jewish people’s national and religious life. The Bible attributes to Solomon the Book of Proverbs and the Song of Songs.

The end of Solomon’s rule was marred by discontent on the part of the populace, which had to pay heavily for his ambitious schemes. At the same time, preferential treatment of his own tribe embittered the others, which resulted in growing antagonism between the monarchy and the tribal separatists. After Solomon’s death (930 BCE), open insurrection led to the breaking away of the ten northern tribes and division of the country into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern kingdom, Judah, on the territory of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The Kingdom of Israel, with its capital Samaria, lasted more than 200 years under 19 kings, while the Kingdom of Judah was ruled from Jerusalem for 350 years by an equal number of kings of the lineage of David. The expansion of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires brought first Israel and later Judah under foreign control. The Kingdom of Israel was crushed by the Assyrians (722 BCE) and its people carried off into exile and oblivion. Over a hundred years later, Babylonia conquered the Kingdom of Judah, exiling most of its inhabitants as well as destroying Jerusalem and the Temple (586 BCE). The Babylonian conquest brought an end to the First Jewish Commonwealth (First Temple period) but did not sever the Jewish people’s connection to the Land of Israel. Sitting by the rivers of Babylon, the Jews pledged to remember their homeland: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour” (Psalms 137:5-6). The exile to Babylonia, which followed the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE), marked the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora. There, Judaism began to develop a religious framework and way of life outside the Land, ultimately ensuring the people’s national survival and spiritual identity and imbuing it with sufficient vitality to safeguard its future as a nation. Following a decree by the Persian King Cyrus, conqueror of the Babylonian empire (538 BCE), some 50,000 Jews set out on the First Return to the Land of Israel, led by Zerubabel, a descendant of the House of David. Less than a century later, the Second Return was led by Ezra the Scribe. Over the next four centuries, the Jews knew varying degrees of self-rule under Persian (538-333 BCE) and later Hellenistic (Ptolemaic and Seleucid) overlordship (332-142 BCE). The repatriation of the Jews under Ezra’s inspired leadership, construction of the Second Temple on the site of the First Temple, refortification of Jerusalem’s walls and establishment of the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly) as the supreme religious and judicial body of the Jewish people marked the beginning of the Second Jewish Commonwealth (Second Temple period). Within the confines of the Persian Empire, Judah was a nation centered in Jerusalem whose leadership was entrusted to the high priest and council of elders. As part of the ancient world conquered by Alexander the Great (332 BCE) of Greece, the Land remained a Jewish theocracy under Syrian-based Seleucid rulers. When the Jews were prohibited from practicing Judaism and their Temple was desecrated as part of an effort to impose Greek-oriented culture and customs on the entire population, the Jews rose in revolt (166 BCE). First led by Mattathias of the priestly Hasmonean family and then by his son Judah the Maccabee, the Jews subsequently entered Jerusalem and purified the Temple (164 BCE), events commemorated each year by the festival of Hanukkah.

Following further Hasmonean victories (147 BCE), the Seleucids restored autonomy to Judea, as the Land of Israel was now called, and, with the collapse of the Seleucid kingdom (129 BCE), Jewish independence was again achieved. Under the Hasmonean dynasty, which lasted about 80 years, the kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon’s realm, political consolidation under Jewish rule was attained and Jewish life flourished.

When the Romans replaced the Seleucids as the great power in the region, they granted the Hasmonean king, Hyrcanus II, limited authority under the Roman governor of Damascus. The Jews were hostile to the new regime, and the following years witnessed frequent insurrections. A last attempt to restore the former glory of the Hasmonean dynasty was made by Mattathias Antigonus, whose defeat and death brought Hasmonean rule to an end (40 BCE), and the Land became a province of the Roman Empire. In 37 BCE Herod, a son-in-law of Hyrcanus II, was appointed King of Judea by the Romans. Granted almost unlimited autonomy in the country’s internal affairs, he became one of the most powerful monarchs in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. A great admirer of Greco-Roman culture, Herod launched a massive construction program, which included the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste and the fortresses at Herodium and Masada. He also remodeled the Temple into one of the most magnificent buildings of its time. But despite his many achievements, Herod failed to win the trust and support of his Jewish subjects. Ten years after Herod’s death (4 BCE), Judea came under direct Roman administration. Growing anger against increased Roman suppression of Jewish life resulted in sporadic violence which esclated into a full-scale revolt in 66 CE. Superior Roman forces led by Titus were finally victorious, razing Jerusalem to the ground (70 CE) and defeating the last Jewish outpost at Masada (73 CE). The total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was catastrophic for the Jewish people. According to the contemporary historian Josephus Flavius, hundreds of thousands of Jews perished in the siege of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country, and many thousands more were sold into slavery. A last brief period of Jewish sovereignty in ancient times followed the revolt of Shimon Bar Kokhba (132 CE), during which Jerusalem and Judea were regained. However, given the overwhelming power of the Romans, the outcome was inevitable. Three years later, in conformity with Roman custom, Jerusalem was “plowed up with a yoke of oxen,” Judea was renamed Palaestinia and Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina. Although the Temple had been destroyed and Jerusalem burned to the ground, the Jews and Judaism survived the encounter with Rome. The supreme legislative and judicial body, the Sanhedrin (successor of the Knesset Hagedolah) was reconvened in Yavneh (70 CE), and later in Tiberias. Without the unifying framework of a state and the Temple, the small remaining Jewish community gradually recovered, reinforced from time to time by returning exiles. Institutional and communal life was renewed, priests were replaced by rabbis and the synagogue became the focus of Jewish settlement, as evidenced by remnants of synagogues found at Capernaum, Korazin, Bar’am, Gamla and elsewhere. Halakhah (Jewish religious law) served as the common bond among the Jews and was passed on from generation to generation.

By the end of the 4th century, following Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity (313) and the founding of the Byzantine Empire, the Land of Israel had become a predominantly Christian country. Churches were built on Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Galilee, and monasteries were established in many parts of the country. Jews were deprived of their former relative autonomy, as well as of their right to hold public positions, and were forbidden to enter Jerusalem except on one day of the year (Tisha b’Av – ninth of Av) to mourn the destruction of the Temple. The Persian invasion of 614 was aided by the Jews, who were inspired by messianic hopes of deliverance. In gratitude for their help, they were granted the administration of Jerusalem, an interlude which lasted about three years. Subsequently, the Byzantine army regained the city (629) and again expelled its Jewish inhabitants.

The Arab conquest of the Land came four years after the death of the prophet Muhammad (632) and lasted more than four centuries, with caliphs ruling first from Damascus, then from Baghdad and Egypt. At the outset, Jewish settlement in Jerusalem resumed, and the Jewish community was granted the customary protected status of non-Muslims under Islamic rule, which safeguarded their lives, property and freedom of worship in return for payment of special poll and land taxes. However, subsequent restrictions against non-Muslims (717) affected the Jews’ public conduct as well as their religious observances and legal status. The imposition of heavy taxes on agricultural land compelled many to move from rural areas to towns, where their circumstances hardly improved, while increasing social and economic discrimination forced others to leave the country. By the end of the 11th century, the Jewish community in the Land had diminished considerably and had lost some of its organizational and religious cohesiveness.

For the next 200 years, the country was dominated by the Crusaders who, following an appeal by Pope Urban II, came from Europe to recover the Holy Land from the infidels. In July 1099, after a five-week siege, the knights of the First Crusade and their rabble army captured Jerusalem, massacring most of the city’s non-Christian inhabitants. Barricaded in their synagogues, the Jews defended their quarter, only to be burned to death or sold into slavery. During the next few decades, the Crusaders extended their power over the rest of the country, partly through treaties and agreements, but mostly by bloody military victories. The Latin Kingdom of the Crusaders was that of a conquering minority confined mainly to fortified cities and castles. When the Crusaders opened up transportation routes from Europe, pilgrimages to the Holy Land became popular and, at the same time, increasing numbers of Jews sought to return to their homeland. Documents of the period indicate that 300 rabbis from France and England arrived in a group, some settling in Acre (Akko), others in Jerusalem. Following the overthrow of the Crusaders by a Muslim army under Saladin (1187), the Jews were again accorded a certain measure of freedom, including the right to live in Jerusalem. Although the Crusaders regained a foothold in the country after Saladin’s death (1193), their presence was limited to a network of fortified castles. Crusader authority in the Land ended after a final defeat (1291) by the Mamluks, a Muslim military class which had come to power in Egypt.

The Land under the Mamluks became a backwater province ruled from Damascus. Acre, Jaffa (Yafo) and other ports were destroyed for fear of new crusades, and maritime as well as overland commerce was interrupted. By the end of the Middle Ages, the country’s towns were virtually in ruins, most of Jerusalem was abandoned and the small Jewish community was poverty-stricken. The period of Mamluk decline was darkened by political and economic upheavals, plagues, locusts and devastating earthquakes.

Following the Ottoman conquest in 1517, the Land was divided into four districts, attached administratively to the province of Damascus and ruled from Istanbul. At the outset of the Ottoman era, some 1,000 Jewish families lived in the country, mainly in Jerusalem, Nablus (Shehem), Hebron, Gaza, Safed (Tzfat) and the villages of Galilee. The community was comprised of descendants of Jews who had always lived in the Land, as well as immigrants from North Africa and Europe. Orderly government, until the death (1566) of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, brought improvements and stimulated Jewish immigration. Some newcomers settled in Jerusalem, but the majority went to Safed where, by the mid-16th century, the Jewish population had risen to about 10,000, and the town had become a thriving textile center as well as the focus of intense intellectual activity. During this period, the study of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) flourished, and contemporary clarifications of Jewish law, as codified in the Shulhan Arukh, spread throughout the Diaspora from the houses of study in Safed. With a gradual decline in the quality of Ottoman rule, the country suffered widespread neglect. By the end of the 18th century, much of the land was owned by absentee landlords and leased to impoverished tenant farmers, and taxation was as crippling as it was capricious. The great forests of Galilee and the Carmel mountain range were denuded of trees; swamp and desert encroached on agricultural land. The 19th century saw medieval backwardness gradually give way to the first signs of progress, with various Western powers jockeying for position, often through missionary activities. British, French and American scholars launched studies of biblical archaeology; Britain, France, Russia, Austria and the United States opened consulates in Jerusalem. Steamships began to ply regular routes between the Land and Europe; postal and telegraphic connections were installed; the first road was built connecting Jerusalem and Jaffa. The Land’s rebirth as a crossroads for commerce of three continents was accelerated by the opening of the Suez Canal. Consequently, the situation of the country’s Jews slowly improved, and their numbers increased substantially. By mid-century, overcrowded conditions within the walled city of Jerusalem motivated the Jews to build the first neighborhood outside the walls (1860) and, in the next quarter century, to add seven more, forming the nucleus of the New City. By 1880, Jerusalem had an overall Jewish majority. Land for farming was purchased throughout the country; new rural settlements were established; and the Hebrew language, long restricted to liturgy and literature, was revived. The stage was set for the founding of the Zionist movement. Inspired by Zionist ideology, two major influxes of Jews from Eastern Europe arrived in the country at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. Resolved to restore their homeland by working the soil, these pioneers reclaimed barren fields, built new settlements and laid the foundations for what would become a thriving agricultural economy. The new arrivals faced extremely harsh conditions, as the attitude of the Ottoman administration was hostile and oppressive; communications and transportation were rudimentary and insecure; swamps bred deadly malaria; and the soil itself suffered from centuries of neglect. Land purchases were restricted, and construction was banned without a special permit obtainable only in Istanbul. While these difficulties hampered the country’s development, they did not stop it. At the outbreak of World War I (1914), the Jewish population in the Land numbered 85,000, as compared to 5,000 in the early 1500s. In December 1917, British forces under the command of General Allenby entered Jerusalem, ending 400 years of Ottoman rule. The Jewish Legion, with three battalions comprising thousands of Jewish volunteers, was then an integral unit of the British army.

In July 1922, the League of Nations entrusted Great Britain with the Mandate for Palestine (the name by which the country was then known). Recognizing “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine,” Great Britain was called upon to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine-Eretz Israel (Land of Israel). Two months later, in September 1922, the Council of the League of Nations and Great Britain decided that the provisions for setting up a Jewish national home would not apply to the area east of the Jordan River, which constituted three fourths of the territory included in the Mandate and eventually became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Motivated by Zionism and encouraged by British “sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations,” as communicated by Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour (1917), successive waves of immigrants arrived in the Land between 1919 and 1939, each contributing to different aspects of the developing Jewish community. Some 35,000 who came between 1919 and 1923, mainly from Russia, strongly influenced the community’s character and organization for years to come. These pioneers laid the foundations of a comprehensive social and economic infrastructure, developed agriculture, established unique communal forms of rural settlement – the kibbutz and moshav – and provided the labor force for building housing and roads. The next influx of some 60,000, which arrived primarily from Poland between 1924 and 1932, was instrumental in developing and enriching urban life. These immigrants settled mainly in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, where they established small businesses, construction firms and light industry. The last major wave of immigration before World War II, comprising some 165,000, took place in the 1930s following Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. The newcomers, many of whom were professionals and academics, constituted the first large-scale influx from Western and Central Europe. Their education, skills and experience raised business standards, improved urban and rural amenities and broadened the community’s cultural life. The British Mandate authorities granted the Jewish and Arab communities the right to run their own internal affairs. Utilizing this right, the Jewish community, known as the yishuv, elected (1920) a self-governing body based on party representation, which met annually to review its activities and elect the National Council (Vaad Leumi) to implement its policies and programs. Financed by local resources and funds raised by world Jewry, a countrywide network of educational, religious, health and social services was developed and maintained. In 1922, as stipulated in the Mandate, a ‘Jewish Agency’ was constituted to represent the Jewish people vis-a-vis the British authorities, foreign governments and international organizations. During the three decades of the Mandate, agriculture was expanded; factories were established; new roads were built throughout the country; the waters of the Jordan River were harnessed for production of electric power; and the mineral potential of the Dead Sea was tapped. The Histadrut (General Federation of Labor) was founded (1920) to advance workers’ welfare and provide employment by setting up cooperatively-owned enterprises in the industrial sector as well as marketing services for the communal agricultural settlements. Day by day, a cultural life was emerging which would become unique to the Jewish community in the Land of Israel. Art, music and dance developed gradually with the establishment of professional schools and studios. Galleries and halls were set up to provide venues for exhibitions and performances attended by a discriminating public. The opening of a new play, the appearance of a new book or a retrospective show by a local painter were immediately scrutinized by the press and became the subject of lively discussion in coffee shops and at social gatherings. The Hebrew language was recognized as one of three official languages of the country, alongside English and Arabic, and was used on documents, coins and stamps, as well as for radio broadcasting. Publishing proliferated, and the country emerged as the world center of Hebrew literary activity. Theaters of various genres opened their doors to enthusiastic audiences, accompanied by first attempts to write original Hebrew plays. The Jewish national revival and the community’s efforts to rebuild the country were strongly opposed by Arab nationalists. Their resentment erupted in periods of intense violence (1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-39) when Jewish transport was harassed, fields and forests set on fire, and unprovoked attacks launched against the Jewish population. Attempts to reach a dialogue with the Arabs, undertaken early in the Zionist endeavor, were ultimately unsuccessful, polarizing Zionism and Arab nationalism into a potentially explosive situation. Recognizing the opposing aims of the two national movements, the British recommended (1937) dividing the country into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Jewish leadership accepted the idea of partition and empowered the Jewish Agency to negotiate with the British government in an effort to reformulate some aspects of the proposal. The Arabs were uncompromisingly against any partition plan. Continuing large-scale Arab anti-Jewish riots led Britain (May 1939) to issue a White Paper imposing drastic restrictions on Jewish immigration, despite its consequence of denying European Jewry a place of refuge from Nazi persecution. The start of World War II soon after caused David Ben-Gurion, later Israel’s first prime minister, to declare: “We will fight the war as if there were no White Paper, and the White Paper as if there were no war.” Over 26,000 men and women of the Jewish community in the Land volunteered to join the British forces in the fight against Nazi Germany and its Axis allies, serving in the army, air force and navy, as well as in the Jewish Brigade. During World War II (1939-45), the Nazi regime deliberately carried out a systematic master plan to liquidate the Jewish community of Europe, in the course of which some six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, were murdered. As the Nazi armies swept through Europe, Jews were savagely persecuted, subjected to every conceivable torture and humiliation, and herded into ghettos where attempts at armed resistance led to even harsher measures. From the ghettos they were transported to camps where a fortunate few were put to hard labor, but most were either shot in mass executions or put to death in gas chambers. Not many managed to escape. Some fled to other countries, a few joined the partisans and others were hidden by non-Jews who did so at risk of their own lives. Consequently, only one third, including those who had left Europe before the war, survived out of a population of almost nine million, which had once constituted the largest and most vibrant Jewish community in the world. After the war, the British intensified their restrictions on the number of Jews permitted to enter and settle in the Land. The Jewish community responded by instituting a wide network of “illegal immigration” activities to rescue Holocaust survivors. Between 1945 and 1948, some 85,000 Jews were brought to the Land by secret, often dangerous routes, in spite of a British naval blockade and border patrols set up to intercept the refugees before they reached the country. Those who were caught were interned in detention camps on the island of Cyprus. .

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