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Anti-Semitism, Zionism & Palestinian Nationalism in the Arab-Israeli Conflicts

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  • 0:01 Ancient History of Israel
  • 2:08 The Roots of Zionism…
  • 3:38 World War I and the…
  • 5:20 Israeli-Arab Conflict…
  • 7:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

The modern Arab-Israeli conflicts started with the British Mandate of Palestine, following World War I, but the roots of the struggle are 3,000 years old. This lesson traces the origins of the land of Israel, and both the Muslim and Jewish people.

Ancient History of Israel

Who has the most legitimate claim to the land that is now the United States: Native American tribes, Spain, Britain, or the Americans? A person could argue the case for any one of those groups. In some ways, the modern struggle between Israel and its Arab neighbors is similar: two groups with historical ties to the land are fighting for the right to control it. And though the conflict arguably started in the aftermath of WWI, to make sense of it, we need to go back more than 3,000 years.

Jewish tribes first entered the land known today as Israel on the eastern Mediterranean around 1300 B.C.E. Not long after, they unified and settled into two kingdoms that focused on the city of Jerusalem and their religious temple. Since then, the territory has been conquered by many outside empires, starting with the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E., followed by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and then the Romans, who utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 C.E. Just a single wall - the Western Wall - was left standing. At the time, the land was called Judea. In order to sever the Jews' connection to the land, the Romans renamed the region in honor of the Jews' biblical enemies: Palestine. Most, but not all, Jews left the region and scattered.

In the intervening 2,000 years, a variety of natural and man-made disasters (such as the plague and the Crusades) decimated the local population. The religion of Islam was founded in the 7th century C.E., and soon, Muslims moved into Palestine, where they built a shrine directly on top of the Jewish temple site (known today as the Dome of the Rock). Then, in the early 1500s, the Ottoman Turks conquered the land and ruled almost exclusively for nearly four centuries.

The Roots of Zionism and Palestinian Identity

Despite all of these incursions, a Jewish remnant survived in the sparsely populated region, and religious Jews, who had been scattered throughout the world known by the Romans, stayed attached to Israel through prayers, scriptures, and even their calendar. Then Nationalism, a powerful new political concept in the 19th century, prompted many European and Russian Jews who faced rising anti-Semitism (that is, hostility towards Jewish people) to return to their ancient homeland. These pilgrims inspired many Jews in nearby Muslim countries to join them. This Jewish migration was known at the time as Zionism. The religious focal point for the returning Jews was the Western temple wall. Because it's located below the Muslim holy site, access to the Western Wall became a point of contention between the two groups.

The Ottoman Turks reigned, but local Muslims generally identified with Syria and wished to unify with it, while many Jewish residents sought to reestablish Israeli sovereignty. At the time, all residents of the land were considered Palestinian, but in response to the influx of Jewish settlers, non-Jews wanted to distinguish themselves culturally. For clarity, this lesson refers to the two groups as Arab or Jewish, although today, it is the non-Jewish residents who call themselves Palestinian.

World War I and the Mandate of Palestine

In 1914, WWI pitted the Ottoman Empire against the Allied Powers. Britain encouraged nationalist groups under Ottoman control to revolt, in exchange for promises of independence when victory was achieved. The Hussein-McMahon correspondence in 1915 reveals that Britain promised to 'recognise and support the independence of the Arabs.' Likewise, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 explicitly suggested the 'establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.'

When the war ended in 1919, the victorious allies carved up the Ottoman Empire into 'mandates.' These were essentially non-permanent colonies. Britain oversaw the Mandate of Palestine, dashing the nationalist hopes of both Jews and Arabs. Worse still, Damascus - the geographic focal point for many Arab Palestinians - fell under the French Mandate of Syria.

In 1922, Britain partitioned the mandate, designating about 3/4 of the land exclusively for Arab settlement (then called Transjordan; today, the Kingdom of Jordan); the remaining 1/4 was open to Jews. But Arab Palestinians continued to migrate into the Jewish portion from surrounding countries, and after a 1925 revolt in the French mandate, many began to view the Jews as their only obstacle to complete unification with the new State of Syria.

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