Back To CourseHistory 107: World Conflicts Since 1900
8 chapters | 73 lessons
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Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.
On the eve of World War I, the British Empire looked to the people of the Eastern Mediterranean as potential allies in their struggle against the Ottoman Empire. Britain promised both Jews and Arabs their independence if they would help the war effort, setting off a conflict that endures to this day.
After WWII, the UN finally authorized both a Jewish and non-Jewish state. Non-Jews, now called Palestinians, refused to accept the partition and did not create their nation. But Israel did declare its independence in 1948, triggering a war with its Arab neighbors. In the aftermath, Egypt took possession of the Gaza Strip while Jordan took the West Bank - both of which had been designated for the Palestinian state.
There has been chronic conflict in the Middle East ever since, but perhaps more than any other clash, the Six-Day War helped define the modern Israeli-Palestinian struggle. In May 1967, Egyptian president Gamal Nasser announced his intention to destroy Israel, ousted UN peacekeepers and moved his army into position along Egypt's border with Israel, and then closed off Israeli access to the Straits of Tiran. Jordan positioned troops for invasion from the West Bank, while Syria prepared to invade through the Golan Heights. Israel made a decisive pre-emptive strike, crippling all three Arab forces in a matter of six days and taking control of the territories from which they had planned to invade, including all of the Sinai Peninsula.
Historically, Arab nations have refused to recognize or be at peace with Israel until it does three things: return all territory captured in the Six-Day War, recognize a Palestinian nation with a capital in Jerusalem, and allow Palestinian refugees to return to the land in Israel they lived on prior to 1948.
In response, Israel feels it cannot withdraw from all of the disputed territories because it has faced too many threats over the years from within them. However, Israel has been willing to concede on Palestinian statehood. Finally, Israel believes that accepting Palestinian refugees as citizens would threaten its national identity and security, since they would constitute a near majority of the population.
Egypt and Syria launched the 1973 Yom Kippur War in an attempt to reclaim Golan, Sinai, and Gaza by force but were again routed by Israel. Several independent groups have since emerged trying to secure Palestinian goals.
Back in 1964, the leaders of several Arab governments created the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, to promote Palestinian rights. But some Palestinians wanted an independent voice, like Yasser Arafat, and created Fatah, a secretive body that fought against Israel without the help of the Arab League. In 1969, Arafat took over the PLO and the group became infamous for attacks, such as the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Despite this notoriety, Arafat appeared at the U.N. in 1974, bringing international attention to the Palestinians' demands.
Following the Six-Day War, the Israeli government had begun settling Jewish residents into the captured territories. Initially, those settlements were tiny outposts to keep an eye on the borders, but as time went by and the population increased, the settlements became hotly contested real estate, the frequent target of attacks by different parties fighting against Israel, and the focus of many negotiations over the decades.
In 1979, Israel agreed to gradually withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula, including the forcible removal of Israeli settlers, when Egypt became the first Arab nation to recognize Israel diplomatically. This 'Land for Peace' deal was a result of the Camp David Accords, negotiated and signed in the United States. Many historians today cite this agreement as the primary motivation behind Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassination by Muslim extremists in his own country, who objected to peace with Israel.
In 1982, PLO members in Southern Lebanon increased their attacks on towns in Northern Israel and shot the Israeli ambassador to Britain. Israel retaliated, chasing the PLO deep into Lebanon as far as Beirut. This conflict is often called the First Lebanon War. In the aftermath, a new group called Hezbollah emerged in Lebanon, calling for the destruction of Israel and the end of Western involvement in the Middle East. Three years later, most of the Israeli army withdrew from Lebanon, but some troops remained in the southern part of the country until 2000 and were frequently harassed by Hezbollah militants.
Throughout the 1980s, tensions increased between Israelis and Palestinians living throughout the region. In 1987, they reached the boiling point as a result of legitimate and rumored attacks, plus retaliations. In the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Palestinians rebelled against Israeli authority in an uprising known as the Intifada. For six years, there were suicide bombs, riots, boycotts, strikes, arson, and violence using improvised weapons and traditional munitions supplied by the PLO.
Although casualty reports vary widely, estimated Palestinian attacks against military and civilian targets killed as many as 160 and injured more than 3,000 Israelis. The Intifada prompted Israel to increase its military presence and retaliation. By the end of the First Intifada in 1993, more than 1,100 Palestinians had died at the hands of Israeli troops, while an approximately equal number were executed by the PLO for their cooperation with Israel or by rival Muslim groups.
The end of the Intifada is generally marked by the 1993 Oslo Accords. The two sides met face to face in Norway to hammer out an agreement similar to the Land for Peace deal with Egypt. For the first time, Palestinian leadership acknowledged Israel's right to exist and renounced terrorism. For its part, Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.
Israel also agreed to withdraw its military from all of Gaza and part of the West Bank and allow gradual self-rule by the newly-created Palestinian Authority, a legislature dominated by the Fatah party and Yasser Arafat. Jewish settlers were allowed to remain in their homes and could be defended by Israel if necessary. Jordan formally recognized Israel the following autumn. Soon thereafter, Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in his own country who objected to peace with Palestinians.
Unfortunately, Oslo unraveled, and both sides accused the other of reneging on the agreement. After continued Palestinian attacks from within Gaza and the West Bank, Israel constructed fences that separate those territories from the rest of the country and require travelers to pass through checkpoints. Although this significantly deterred Palestinian suicide bombings, it increased rocket attacks that are launched over the barriers into Israel. These walls and fences became a new point of contention between the two groups.
Let's review. Even before Israel was created in 1948, it was in conflict with its Arab neighbors. But the modern struggle between Israel and the non-Jewish residents of that land, known today as Palestinians, was defined by the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel reclaimed Gaza and the West Bank and captured the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula, and then settled Jewish residents in those areas in the decades to come. Egypt and Jordan have since signed peace agreements with Israel, and Sinai was relinquished, but many independent groups have emerged to continue fighting for the destruction of Israel and/or the creation of a Palestinian state, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Fatah, and Hezbollah.
Yasser Arafat became the first influential Palestinian leader. In 1987, the first Intifada, or uprising, among Palestinians within the disputed territories began. It finally came to an end six years later with the Oslo Accords, resulting in mutual Israeli-Palestinian recognition and the creation of the Palestinian Authority for self-rule in Gaza and part of the West Bank. However, continued attacks from those territories prompted Israel to wall them off, creating a fresh point of tension.
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Back To CourseHistory 107: World Conflicts Since 1900
8 chapters | 73 lessons