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Conflicts in modern day israel


Conflicts in modern day Israel arise from historical claims to land rights. Conflict between Arabs and Jew in Israel reached a pinnacle with the establishment of Israel in 1948 marking a Jewish national state. Since then the country has been plagued with war. The region now known as Israel has been on edge for over a century. When Israel was proclaimed a national state on May 14, 1948, against the wishes of all Arab nations, tensions reached a boiling point. Violence continues to this day. Disagreement over land rights is the fundamental reason for conflict in the region.

The problem is complex. Historical knowledge of the region needs to be understood to better appreciate both groups claim to land rights. Israel's existence, and the issues that surround it, have grabbed global attention. Israel is often talked about, yet rarely understood. This paper provides information for a better understanding of Israelis' current situation and respective claims to land rights.

Conflict between Arabs and Jews in Israel and Israel's neighbouring countries has been prevalent for over a century. Tensions between groups increased alongside the mass migration of Jewish people to Israel which began in the early 1880's. The unease peaked with the establishment of Israel in 1948 and Israel's extensive history of war began only days after. This Jewish migration can be explained by the Zionist movement, which motivated Jewish people to return to their "homeland" to create a national state for Jewish people. In addition, an important incentive to participate in the Zionist movement was anti-semantic views in Europe (mostly Eastern Europe). These views oppressed the Jewish population and accelerated to the point where Jews were the targets of the world's largest genocide (estimates place Jewish deaths during WWII around six million).

The Jewish population influx created tensions between local Arabs and Jews because Jewish settlers purchased land that had been previously leased to Arab farmers. This left many Arabs landless or forced them to relocate. Arab displacement in turn increased the conflict between Israel and Arab nations. As a result of this unrest, many local Arabs left Israel to flee violence which started with the first true Israeli Arab war in 1948. This created an immense Arab refugee population due to Israel's refusal of their right to return. This refugee population has expanded through natural increases and has yet to be granted permission to return to Israel. Palestine has vanished but its displaced people have not and they've been subject to a loss of national identity and land.

Modern Israel is still dealing with conflict over land rights, most recently in the "Palestinian territories" of Israel known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Conflict persists because Israeli settlements continue to be built in the West Bank. These territories are seen by Palestinians as potential National States with political independence. As the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber put it in June of 1947: "The Arab Israeli conflict is over a land of two peoples .... the essence of a problem that has been one of the most intractable and tragic in contemporary history" (Frazer, p.1). The conflict is over land rights.

The Jewish population reached its goal of a nation state in the establishment of Israel, leaving behind oppression. But in doing so a huge group of Palestinians have been oppressed and who now strive for a national state themselves. The conflict over land has been complicated by the immense immigration of Jewish settlers, starting in 1948, with huge numbers of Palestinians displaced from the region. This has left Israel, a small country, the location in which many claim to have land rights.

Israel is located in the Middle East. The Mediterranean Sea is Israel's western boarder, Lebanon to the north, and to the northeast is Syria. Eastern Israel shares its border with Jordan running along the Jordan River. Israel's southwest border is shared with Egypt. Israel was established on May 14, 1948. However, its territory has expanded past it initial borders set by the UN in its 1947 partition plan. Israel now controls all of the Palestinian territories given to Arabs in the partition.

In 1947, the United Nations proposed a partition plan to split the territory set under the British Mandate (the British had colonial power in Palestine until 1948) of Palestine into two regions: one a Jewish state, the other an Arab state. Jerusalem would be an international territory for both groups. The UN vote favoured the partition plan and it was thus implemented. However, all Arab nations rejected the proposal. A fair partition was illusive due to the mixed settlements, a population imbalance which favoured Arabs, and strategic Jewish settlements that encompassed the majority of arable land and ports to the Mediterranean Sea.

Days after Israel was declared a national state the surrounding Arab states of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria invaded. These countries invaded in support of the Palestinian people and the unjust feeling involving the partition. Israeli forces were able to repel the attack and claimed additional territory. In 1967, Israel was again involved in war and once again expanded its territory, claiming land in all of its bordering nations including the confrontational Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which had been under the control of Jordan (West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza Strip) since 1948.

These wars resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs who fled Israel to avoid conflict. The war in 1948 alone displaced an estimated 810,000 Palestinian refugees (Berry, Philo 2006 p. 36). The Arab populations that left Israel and denied re-entry became refugees and are referred to as Palestinian refugees (the first time a group of people were referred to as Palestinians). "Israel rejected the return of refugees . . . arguing that the Arab states had created the refugee problem by attacking Israel and they should therefore settle the refugees in their own countries" (Berry, Philo p.37). These Palestinian refugees have become political pawns representing Israel's unjust actions. The refugees and Israel's refusal of their right to return is an important current issue. Palestinian refugees are now estimated at over a million. These incredible numbers make relocation to Israel extremely unlikely.

Religion also plays a factor in the conflict in Israel and has real estate implications as well. Jerusalem is a key landmark which has been fought over because of its significant religious symbolism. "Jerusalem has been a significant religious center and pilgrimage site. For Jews, it is the capital of David and Solomon's kingdom and the site of the western (Wailing) wall... for Muslims , it is the site from which Muhammad ascended to heaven on his famous night journey. For Christians, it is the site of the passion and Crucifixion" (Gelvin 2007 p.7).

Conflict in Israel, however, doesn't stem in a major way from religious differences involving Islam and Judaism. These differences play a minor role in Israel. Where religion impacts the current situation in Israel is in the powerful Zionist movement leading to the mass migration of Jewish immigrants to Israel. Zionists call upon religious history to provide reasoning for the rights of a homeland in Israel for the Jewish population. The Jewish population of Israel was dispersed in 63 BC when Romans conquered Jerusalem, the capital of David and Solomon's Kingdom (Gelvin p.6). Zionists believe the return to Israel and the creation of a national state is their right.

Whether the Jewish populations in Europe - most notably Eastern Europe - were followers of the Zionist movement or not, anti-Semitic views in these regions had great influence in the Jewish migration to Israel. Prejudiced views oppressed Jewish communities and lead to mass migration to Israel and also notably to the United States. However, immigration restrictions often left the Jewish community with little choice. Migration to Israel started in the early 1880's and accelerated in numbers peaking after World War II. World War II and the horrific events of the Holocaust provided Zionism and the Jewish population in general with increased incentive to proclaim a safe national state for themselves.

Since Israel's establishment, hostility against the country has been intense. Israel has been involved in five wars between 1948 and 1983. This history of violence has kept Israel constantly on alert to threats, unwilling to give up any position. National security is of grave importance to Israel and its small size (just over 20,000 square kilometers) exasperates its defense situation. Certain territories under the UN partition agreement were designated for Arabs (Palestinians). Israel has designated the West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinian territories, but continues to control them. Due to ongoing Israeli security concerns, and very real threats to its existence, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza strip are unlikely to become independent.

The territories Israel has gained since independence were taken as defense zones. In addition water sinks in the Golan Heights and the West Bank are of great importance to Israel. Israel is just over 20,000 square kilometers; in comparison Manitoba is 50 kilometers shy of 700,000 square kilometers. Israel's relatively small size creates defense problems because rocket attacks can easily be effective across borders, as well as tanks which could theoretically roll into the heart of Israel within hours. Israel's small size greatly reduces its response time to attack. Therefore, Israel's borders have expanded into all of its neighbouring countries. However, many of these borders were renegotiated with the support of peace agreements. As a result, much of the land originally conquered by Israel was returned. An example of this is the Sinai Peninsula, which is an Egyptian region that Israel invaded and controlled, yet withdrew its troops with the signing of a peace agreement between the two countries.

However, two important territories gained in the war of 1967 still remain under Israeli control. The West Bank, which was formally a territory of Jordan and hosts the majority of Palestinians, is now under the control of Israel. The Golan Heights, formally a territory of Syria, is also now occupied by Israel. However, unlike the West Bank, the Golan Heights are not recognized as part of Israel. These territories are of significant defensive importance.

In addition to their role as defensive zones, these territories contain water resources which are of great importance to Israel for irrigation of agricultural lands and household consumption. The West Bank contains 3 major aquifers, and water can be drawn from the Jordan River. These water resources in the West Bank account for thirty percent of Israel's water supply. The Israeli water commission controls the water supply in the West Bank and has kept Palestinians from any role in their planning or management (United Nations (1991) p.17). The Golan Heights too are host to much of the water supply Israel is now dependent on. Israel relies on the Golan Heights for around thirty percent of its water supply.

Israel is subject to a future water crisis. As stated above, sixty percent of Israel's water supply has been gained through its territorial conquests. The rest of Israel's water supply can be found in coastal aquifers. These, however, have an uncertain future, like the aquifers found in the West Bank. This is due to increased extraction rates which have reached levels beyond their natural replacement rate. These aquifers are becoming increasingly saline due to the intrusion of sea water. This will potentially render the aquifers unusable.

The conflict in Israel today is based on disagreements over land rights. The immense Jewish migrating to Israel under the Zionist movement, which gained momentum because of anti-Semitic views has complicated the issue. Palestinians had live a traditional agricultural life in Israel for hundreds of years. Jewish settlement in Israel resulted in the displacement of an incredible amount of Palestinians, many of whom are now refugees. These Palestinians now look for a National State of their own. They are oppressed peoples looking for a national state as the Jewish people did before them. To further complicate matters resources play a crucial role in Israel's presence in Palestinian territories. Water is an essential resource demanding notable attention, water is of increasing important with its decreasing availability. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been present in Israel for over a hundred years, today peace in Israel seems inconceivable.