Adapted fromQuest for Peace
by Gary Katz, CBC News Online
IN THE BEGINNING
The land that the State of Israel sits on is small, but you can't get from Mesopotamia to the Nile by chariot without crossing it. It's been controlled by Canaanites, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, Turks, and the British and it's deeply embedded into the passions and the history of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
When the Israelites travelled eastward across the Sinai Desert in their exodus from Egypt over three thousand years ago, the land they were aiming for was called Canaan. Their tradition was that God had promised the land to the patriarch Abraham and his descendants.
Around 1000 BC, after successful conquests, the land became the Hebrew state of Israel. Its first kings were the famous trio of Saul, David, and Solomon. In 587 BC, they were conquered by the Babylonians, and the Jews were deported into exile. 50 years later, when the Persians overcame the Babylonians, the Jews were permitted home again to rebuild Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem which the Babylonians had destroyed.
In 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem (and the Temple) and again most of the Jews were dispersed from the land.
In the early seventh century a new religion came blazing out of Arabia fueled with the word of the prophet Mohammed. Islam was seen by Mohammed as a continuation of Judaism and Christianity, and his God was the same as in both the Old and New Testaments. His followers spread quickly throughout the Middle East (and much further). Except for several years of Christian control during the Crusades, Palestine remained in Muslim hands, first Arab then Turk, for 1300 years until the end of World War One.
The Twentieth Century
The empire of the Ottoman Turks had existed since the middle of the fifteenth century and included the ancient land of Palestine and much that surrounded it. Turkey had sided with losing Germany in World War One and was carved up afterward by victorious Britain and France. By that time- the early 1920s- Jewish immigration into Palestine had already begun on a small but regular scale.
In 1917, the British foreign secretary Lord Balfour put into writing Britain's support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." He didn't, however, suggest turning the country into a Jewish state. When the League of Nations put Palestine under British control after the war, Lord Balfour's declaration was assumed as part of the deal and the allied powers of the Great War all agreed.
It was the people whose land it was that objected. Britain quickly discovered that the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine was immensely unpopular among the residents of the area (except the Jewish settlers already there).
As conditions in Nazi Germany worsened throughout the thirties, the need for Jewish sanctuary in Palestine grew.
Then came the War. When it was over in 1945, the case for a Jewish homeland was stronger than it had ever been. The problem was both practical and emotional. The practical issue was the hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe who had no homes to return to and little or no family left alive. 2.3 million of the eight million Jews who had lived in German- occupied Europe were still alive. They had to go somewhere. The emotional problem was the guilt and sadness that resulted from the revelation of the millions who hadn't survived. The Jewish homeland question was front and centre.
In 1947 Britain passed the Palestine problem on, with relief, to the newly born United Nations. The UN agreed to partition Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a neutral UN zone containing Jerusalem, a city sacred to three religions. The Jews were thrilled, the Arabs adamantly opposed.
In late 1947 the plan was approved by the UN, and the State of Israel proclaimed on May 14, 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the country or were evicted, the British pulled out completely, and most of the Arab world- Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, as well as Palestinians- immediately attacked in an attempt to destroy Israel. By the time of armistice in 1949 Israel held three quarters of Palestine- twice as much land as the UN had proposed- Jordan had taken the land on the West Bank of the Jordan River, and Egypt had taken the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians had nothing.
With Egypt on the west, Jordan on the east, Syria and Lebanon on the north, and with Iraq close enough to be a danger, Israel is surrounded by Arab Muslim nations.
By 1967 Arab nationalism and Egyptian anger toward Israel had both increased dramatically. In what became known as the 'Six Day War' Israel destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground and headed west across Sinai. Though they again faced the circle of their Arab neighbours, they gained more ground, capturing Gaza, parts of the Egyptian Sinai desert, taking the West Bank lands and old Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights on Israel's northern border with Syria.
The Arab world responded with a united policy on Israel: no peace, no negotiation, and certainly no recognition. Guerrilla violence in Israel escalated with neighbouring countries, chiefly Jordan, used as bases for attack.
In 1973 (the Yom Kippur War), Egypt attacked Sinai while Syria attacked the Golan Heights. Other Arab countries contributed troops and aid. Israel again prevailed.
But finally, after a quarter century of warring, everyone seemed to accept the futility of looking for a military solution. In December, the first Arab-Israeli peace conference was convened in Geneva,
Ten years after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left their homes they were still homeless and no one seemed to care. Some had been taken in by surrounding countries but many lived in camps.
In the late fifties an underground group was formed to push for the destruction of the state of Israel. It was called al-Fatah and its leader was a 29-year-old engineer named Yasser Arafat.
In 1964 the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed to co-ordinate the growing number of Palestinian groups fighting against Israel. In 1969 Arafat became chairman of the PLO.
In 1974, less than a year after the first Arab-Israeli talks began, the PLO was given official status by the UN and the Arab world accepted it as a Palestinian government in exile.
From Camp David to Wye Plantation
In 1977 a dramatic step was taken toward peace in a region that had known nothing but war for far too long. Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat visited Jerusalem - an unthinkable idea just a short period before - and within a year Egypt and Israel began discussions on peace between the former bitter enemies. The Arab world was appalled.
In 1978 Sadat shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin for his courageous initiative but paid dearly for it as well. In 1981 he was assassinated by a Muslim extremist for exactly the act which most of the world applauded.
A decade after Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem, the Palestinians were no further ahead. In fact, it had been 10 years in which the situation appeared to be getting worse, not better.
In 1982, Israel, in response to PLO missile attacks on Israeli settlements, invaded Lebanon in an attempt to drive the PLO out. Before the war was over several hundred Palestinians living in Lebanese camps had been massacred and, though the actual killing was done by Christian militia members, Israel was in control of the camps during the murderous event and had permitted the militia to enter. International condemnation of Israel was small comfort to the Palestinians.
The Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank were still living in poverty, mostly in squalid camps, and under Israeli rule. To make the situation even worse, Israeli settlements were being constructed throughout the lands occupied since the 1967 war, the lands on which the Palestinians hoped, demanded, to create their own state.
A conference in Madrid, Spain, in October of 1991 included representatives from Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians. The issue was clear even if the solution was anything but: both Israel and the Palestinians wanted to live in peace in their own country.
By 1993 Israel and the PLO had met in Washington and signed an agreement that all parties hoped would end almost half a century of violence and hatred. It had been worked out beforehand in secret, in Norway. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and PLO leader Yasser Arafat met and shook hands on the White House lawn. Gaza, and the West Bank town of Jericho were to be transferred to Palestinian rule. The agreement didn’t settle everything but, it was a start.
The peace process took a terrible turn when, in November of 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish law student who was opposed to peace talks with the Palestinians.
The biggest obstacle remaining to settling the land-for-security issue is that the two sides loathe and mistrust each other.
Israelis who have settled on the West Bank consider a return of the lands to Palestine a betrayal of them and of the entire nation.
Every time a small step toward resolution is planned extremists on one side or the other try to commit acts so terrible as to replace the movement toward settlement with renewed hatred.
The Lure of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is considered among the holiest of cities by Christians, Jews and Muslims, and it contains many of the most revered locations in all three traditions.
To Jews, Jerusalem is the central and most emotional place in the religion, home of Solomon's Temple which was destroyed twenty-seven hundred years ago then rebuilt. It is the City of David, from which they were driven in 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed the Temple yet again. Jerusalem is the centre of the Jewish dream of return.
According to Muslim tradition, Jerusalem the third holiest place in Islam. The Dome of the Rock is there, the place where Mohammed was elevated to heaven, and also the Mosque of Al Aqsa, one of the religion's most sacred shrines.
For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The city contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the traditional tomb of Christ. As well, Palestinian Christians have expressed concern about the Har Homa development's proximity to Bethlehem, Christ's birthplace.
In 1947 when the UN drew their partition lines in Palestine, the city of Jerusalem wasn't part of the deal. Because of its intense importance to three religions, the UN's plan called for the city to be an international enclave administered by the UN. However, after armistice was declared in 1949, ending the Israeli War of Independence, Jerusalem was a divided city, with the new, or western, section in Israeli hands and the old, or eastern, part annexed by Jordan. By the end of the Six Day War in 1967, the entire city of Jerusalem was in Israeli hands. It remains for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace process to decide its future, both in terms of who controls the city and in terms of who lives there. It's not a dispute either side will give up on.