Roots of Arab-Israeli conflict
To cast Muslims as the ‘enemy’ of Jews is distortion of history. Judaism resembles Islam in theology, structure and rituals far more than with Christianity. Historically, the Muslims treated the Jews fairly and humanely. Unlike in Europe where the Jews were hounded and ruthlessly persecuted, the Muslim rulers didn’t consider the Jews as infidels and were not proselytized. The Jews lived manifestly better in Muslim societies when compared with their stay within the Christian world. This is evident from the munificence and humility shown by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) towards the Jews. They were treated justly and kindheartedly by Muslim rulers during their golden rule in Spain and during the rule of the mighty Ottomans. Anti-Semitics was practiced by the Christians only. Accusing them of crucifying the Christ, the Jews were not only made to live in ghettoes in Europe but they also had to endure periodic massacres by Europeans.
It must also not be forgotten that Pope Urban II instigated the Christians in the name of religion and launched a crusade in 1095 to reclaim Jerusalem. The crusaders captured Jerusalem mainly because of disunity among the Muslims. The Old City was soaked in ankle deep human blood of Muslims and Jews. The crusaders were roundly defeated by Salahuddin Ayubi in the third crusade (1187-92) in the epic battle of Hattin mainly because he succeeded in achieving unity among the Arabs. Out of five crusades spread over two centuries, four were lost to the Muslims and the Jews played no role in defending Jerusalem. Logically, the Jews should have sought Muslims help to fight against the Christians to seek revenge, but ironically the two erstwhile antagonists joined hands to repress the Muslims.
None can deny that for over 1400 years, Muslim Arabs have been predominant in Palestine and in Jerusalem. In the 19th century, Palestine was inhabited by multi-cultural population with 86% Muslims, 10% Christians and 4% Jews living in peace. Extremist Jews called Zionists decided to create a separate homeland for the Jews. Accordingly, from late 19th century, the Jews spread all over the world were motivated by the Zionists to relocate to Palestine under a calculated plan. Great Britain which was in control of Palestine granted them permission to emigrate. Their influx disturbed the local inhabitants and heightened tensions.
During the First World War, the British Empire convinced the Arab leaders in 1916 to revolt against the Ottoman Empire promising them an independent Arab State including Palestine. However, contrary to the given commitment, Balfour Declaration in 1917 envisaged establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine since the Europeans desperately wanted to get rid of troublesome Jews. In 1920, European colonial powers divided Ottoman Empire into series of separate States and shared the spoils of war in the Middle East. Once Hitler gained power in Germany, the Jews eating into the vitals of German economy came under the axe of Nazis. When they refused to depart despite repeated threats, about 6 million Jews were killed, although some doubt the Holocaust.
On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly under Zionist pressure recommended partition of Palestine into two States and internationalization of Jerusalem under UN administration. Minority Jews were to receive 57% and the majority Arabs 43% of land. After the plan was approved by the US, the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948. Rejection of the partition plan and creation of Israel by the Arab States led to 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Greatly helped by over 4000 war veterans of 2nd World War residing in US, Canada and Europe, the augmented Israeli Army defeated the poorly trained armies of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Trans-Jordon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt and captured 78% of Palestine. 750,000 Palestinians were driven out into refugee camps. Their breakdown was 2 million in Jordon, 427057 in Lebanon, 47770 in Syria, 788108 in West Bank, 1.1 million in Gaza and a quarter million internally displaced within new Jewish State of Israel, living under squalid and humiliating conditions as second rated citizens. Systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians was undertaken by Zionists and over 500 villages/towns were depopulated and destroyed.
After the end of war in 1949, Jordan occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank while Egypt took control of Gaza Strip in Sinai. In 1956, armies of Britain, France and Israel invaded Sinai after Egypt under Jamal Nasser nationalized Suez Canal. After the ceasefire enforced by the UN and withdrawal of invaders under international pressure, Israeli forces moved into Palestinian garrison based in Khan Younis which had refused to surrender and carried out gruesome massacre of 124 Palestinians in Rafah refugee camp. In the six-day war in 1967, Israel annexed Golan Heights in Syria, Jordon’s West Bank and Gaza Strip from Egypt. Since then, Israel is in military occupation of these lands. In the 1973 war, few Pakistani pilots took part in the Syrian air battles and downed several Israeli jets and checkmated Israeli aerial onslaught. Israeli ground forces captured Sinai Peninsula but returned it to Egypt after signing Camp David Accord in 1978.
After the debacle in 1967 war, Al-Fatah founded in 1959 joined PLO and Yasser Arafat became its chairman in 1969. That year, PLO carried out 2432 guerrilla attacks on Israel and became a force to reckon with. Arafat led the resistance movement against Israeli aggressive and expansionist policies resolutely and in short time internationalized the PLO movement. After battling with Israeli forces in Karameh in Jordon, PLO began to assert its authority and tended to mount a coup in Jordon. It impelled King Hussein to launch an all out offensive in September 1970. In this, Pakistani military advisor Brig Ziaul Haq guided Jordanian Army and helped it in expelling Fatah fighters.
They had to shift to Lebanon where they recouped and militarized 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in camps. PLO created a state-within-state in West Beirut and Southern Lebanon and then clashed with Maronite Christian Phalangists in 1975 which triggered civil war. The infighting propelled Syria to intervene in Lebanon in June 1976 with 30,000 troops. PLO fighters kept targeting Israeli targets as well, prompting Israel to invade Lebanon in March 1978 but it failed to dismantle PLO HQ. Another force which posed a challenge to Israel was Iran backed Hezbollah in Beirut in late 1970s. In the same timeframe intifada sparked in occupied Palestinian territories. Israeli troops killed thousands of teenagers armed with sling shots and stones. Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 which went up to Beirut was led by Gen Aerial Sharon. 2-3000 Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila camps were massacred by Phalangists under direct supervision of Sharon in September 1982. PLO had to pullout and shift to Tunisia and later to West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Suicide attack on US Embassy in Beirut on April 18, 1982 followed by another attack on October 23, 1983 on Marine HQ killing 241 Marines and attack on French paratroopers’ barracks killing 58 French soldiers forced the foreign forces to quit Lebanon. Civil war in Lebanon raged till 1990 claiming 120,000 fatalities.
Under intense pressure of the US and continued Israeli obduracy, Arafat made a huge compromise by foregoing PLO’s stance of not recognizing existence of Israel and agreeing to sign US brokered Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 whereby Israel recognized Palestinian Authority (PA) and gave it limited autonomy over West Bank and Gaza Strip in return for peace. The PA had however no control over borders, water and airspace. The Accord was in actuality a ruse to end Intifada which had brought a bad name to Israel. Instead of honoring the commitment and letting the PA to run an independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital, Israel continued with its forward settlement policy into West Bank at neck break speed to change the demographic structure. This illegal settlement is going on unabated to this day. It wanted the Palestinians to give right of existence to Israel but denied this right to the Palestinian State. Oslo Accords gave birth to Hamas, an offshoot of Ikhwanul Muslimeen/Muslim Brotherhood, which believed in continuation of resistance movement till the accomplishment of goals.
In 1994 Israel carried out partial withdrawal from Gaza Strip and later withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. However, it continued to persecute the Palestinians which triggered 2nd Intifada. Besides constructing a security fence in West Bank in 2002/03, Israel stepped up its campaign against Hamas as well as targeted assassination of prominent Palestinians. Multiple pressures affected the health of Arafat and after prolonged illness he died in November 2004 in Paris hospital under mysterious circumstances. It was widely speculated that he was slow-poisoned by Mossad. In 2012, the French authorities exhumed his body to investigate the allegations and it was confirmed that he was poisoned with polonium-210.
After his death, Mahmood Abbas became PLO’s Chairman and later President of PA but he couldn’t fit into the shoes of Arafat and soon the Fatah Party gave in to corruption and comforts of life and got factionalized and in turn strengthened Hamas. Izz al Din Qassam Brigade was formed by a small group of school kids in Central Gaza to confront Israeli aggression. By September 2005, Israeli troops completely withdrew from Gaza. In January 2006, Hamas won the elections and ousted Fatah government, which by then had become unpopular. It triggered infighting but in June 2007, much to the chagrin of Israel, Hamas fighters seized control over Gaza Strip and formed a government, restricting Abbas led Fatah government to Israeli controlled West Bank only. Tel Aviv refused to recognize democratically elected Hamas government and clamped down stringent controls over movement and flow of daily commodities into/out of Gaza enclave. The US and the West backed Israeli stance and jointly declared Hamas a terrorist outfit. Israel then widened rift between Fatah and Hamas to keep them on warpath.
Since then, Gaza Strip which is only 41 km long and crammed with 1.7 million Palestinians has remained under Israeli military control and economic siege and even Egypt under pro-US/Israeli Hosni Mubarak became part of the siege. Tel Aviv refuses to honor the Oslo Accords it had signed in 1993, giving Palestinians the right to establish an independent State in Gaza Strip and West Bank with Jerusalem as its capital or Jerusalem becoming a common capital for both. Israel has refused to lift siege of Gaza as promised in 2012 agreement and continued the land and sea blockade. Two-State solution duly endorsed by the UN goes against the master plan of establishing ‘Greater Israel’. Over 10,000 Palestinian men, women and children are held in Israeli prisons. Physical abuse and torture are a routine. Refugees are prohibited to return to their homeland. The lands on which Israelis are being settled are prime lands. Water sources are under the control of Israel. Not a bird can fly into Gaza Strip without the permission of Israel. Any ship attempting to send relief goods is seized and cargo confiscated. According to Robert Fisk, ‘Future Palestinian State will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel’.
Besides the economic blockade, Gaza was subjected to frequent aerial and artillery assaults as well as ground offensives by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in order to fail the Hamas regime. Israeli forces launched brutal offensives in 2007, Operation Cast Lead in December 2008/January 2009, and Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012 (8-day war). In each offensive, hundreds of Gazans including children died. Egypt added to the miseries of people of Gaza by blocking Rafah crossing and destroying secret tunnels opening into Sinai. Only time the two were on friendly terms was during the one year rule of Morsi from June 2012 to July 2, 2013, who helped in arranging truce in November 2012, but ouster of Morsi regime and replacement by pro-Israel military regime has once again put Hamas under huge disadvantage.
Alignment of Hezbollah and Hamas during Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 put Israel on the back foot for the first time. IDF suffered maximum fatalities in this war and the myth of invincibility of IDF was broken for the first time by Hezbollah. Iran helped Hamas in improving its defensive capability by providing rockets. It must not be forgotten that Hamas is devoid of army, air force, air defence, navy and intelligence and pitched against US-West backed IDF which is laced with most advanced weapon systems. Owing to fearless resistance offered by al-Qassam fighters against all odds, all Israeli offensives have proved inconclusive and Hamas earned moral victory.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian status at the UN from ‘observer entity’ to ‘Non-member State’, which by implication was a de facto recognition of an independent Palestinian State. Reconciliation pact was signed between Fatah Party and Islamist Hamas on April 23, 2014 which called for uniting the two feuding factions and forming a unity government. The two sides agreed to establish an interim government of independents that would organize elections, thus ending seven years old rivalry which suited Israel. On May 29, 2014, President Mahmoud Abbas ignoring threat of sanctions by Israel asked PM Rami Hamdullah to head a new national unity government and the long awaited unity government took oath on June 2, 2014 at Ramallah. Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah and his cabinet resigned and 17-member cabinet, all politically independent, was selected after mutual consultations of Fatah and Hamas. Although the reconciliation agreement has held, a lot of bad blood still remains between Hamas and West Bank leadership.
Israel, which is an artificial implant in the Muslim heartland, is highly perturbed over the unification of Fatah and Hamas and in reaction has established 1500 new settlements in New Jerusalem and West Bank. Israel is trying its best to break the unity and reactivate their enmity. In revenge of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths on June 12, 2014, alleged to be the handiwork of Hamas activists, a 15-year old Palestinian Tariq Abu Khudair was arrested by Israeli Police in East Jerusalem on July 3 and beaten to pulp. His 16-year old cousin M. Abu Khudair was kidnapped, beaten to near-death and then burnt to death by the three Israeli teens in Jerusalem on July 4. Over 460 Palestinians in West Bank and East Jerusalem were arrested and jailed on suspicion and their homes demolished. Social media sprang into action and young Jewish boys and girls started posting flurry of messages seeking death to Palestinians. An individual act has subjected 1.7 million Gazans to collective punishment.
These vicious acts prompted the armed wing of Hamas Izzel-Deen al-Qassam to fire rockets over Israeli southern towns including city of Ashdod in protest. Hamas has fired 800 rockets during the ongoing conflict most of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. In reaction, IDF launched an airstrike on July 1, striking 15 Hamas sites in Gaza Strip. From July 8 onwards, Israel broke the 2012 truce and unleashed Operation Protective Edge. Thousands of young volunteers from the western world are streaming in to Israel to take part in the massacre of Gazans. This inflow has caused no anxiety to the western world as in the case of western Jihadists taking part in Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. Hamas fighters have so far killed 50 Israeli soldiers.
Till July 26, 3250 aerial strikes and gunfire have killed over 1050 Palestinians, mostly women and children including handicapped, injured 5500 including 950 children and 90 women and destroyed over 500 homes. Hamas homes are the preferential targets. Over 77% fatalities are of innocent civilians. On an average, seven children are killed daily. It is soul searing to watch the pictures of mutilated bodies of children. One such picture was that of four-year old lovely Sahar Salman Abu Namous before and after his decapitation by an Israeli shell.
This is the worst flare-up in last two years and is for sure in reaction to reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Israeli leadership particularly defence minister Moshe Ya’alon wishes to completely obliterate Hamas infrastructure once and for all to prevent future rocket attacks. Dani Dayon urged the government to cut off fuel and electricity to Gaza. Netanyahu asked 100,000 Gazans to vacate northern Gaza. Fearing ground assault, over 10,000 Gazans took shelter in installations of UN agency, but even the UN run school was not spared. Hospitals are short of medicines and equipment. Repeated bombardments are destroying the vulnerable water system. Hundreds of thousands are now without water. Israeli forces besides using chemicals are also using flechette shells which spray thousands of tiny and lethal metal darts. Israel has turned Gaza Strip into an experimental laboratory for its high-tech weapons industry and chemicals. Israelis are criminals in every law of the civilized world and are behaving worse than Nazis.
Amid worldwide protests condemning genocide of people of Gaza by IDFs, Egypt proposed a ceasefire on July 15 without consulting Hamas. It was silent on sea blockade and compensation for human/material losses incurred by Gazans. These shortfalls shortened the life of ceasefire to six hours only. Continuation of rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups like Islamic Jihad, Popular Front/Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine impelled Israel to resume aerial offensive followed by ground offensive on 19 July which took the lives of 42 Israeli soldiers and three civilians. One Israeli soldier has been captured alive. Israel disregarded UN proposed humanitarian ceasefire on 26th July for 24 hours. Operation Protective Edge is aimed at punishing Gazans for bestowing confidence in the leadership of Hamas, forcibly obliterating Hamas network or bringing it to its knees.
West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are under illegal military occupation of Israel for the last 47 years. The Israeli forces laced with latest state-of-art weaponry are ruthlessly bombing densely crowded refugee camps, schools, apartments, mosques and hospitals. They are raining bombs unchecked since they know the other side is devoid of an adequate response action. They are also confident that their excesses will not be questioned. Champions of democracy and human rights mired in hypocrisy, double-standards and Orwellian lies instead of bridling the monster are projecting Israel as the victim of aggression and patting it on the back that it has the right to defend itself and to go any length to safeguard its people. The US led west is shedding copious tears over the so-called piteous plight of the Israelis. The Israelis are mourning that they have to run for cover each time a rocket is fired and that they cannot sleep peacefully because of the noise of rockets.
In the calculation of Israel and biased west, Palestinians are an expendable commodity while Israeli Jews are holy cows and have license to kill. For the US, security of Israel is top most priority. The western world is silent over vicious bombing of IDFs massacring so many in open prison of Gaza and is not moved over the heart-wrenching sights of cruelly killed infants and wailing mothers. World powers including the biased UN are insisting upon Hamas to stop rocket attacks that have caused death to one Israeli soldier and injury to two and are politely requesting Israel to show ‘maximum restraint’. For a single death of Israeli, hundreds of Palestinians are killed and their properties destroyed. Jewish controlled CNN, Fox News, CNBC, BBC are uttering sheer lies to project racist Israel as victim of aggression and Palestinians as terrorists.
The American leadership bears the taunts and barbs of Israeli leaders smilingly and not only accept their blackmailing tactics submissively but also defends Israel’s black deeds resolutely and bend over backwards to keep it in good humor. Obama has doled out more aid to Israel than any president ever. This policy of appeasing Israel has been going on for decades and there are no signs of any change in this policy despite the fact that over a period of time the American public has got weary of Israel. While the Americans detest the repulsive arrogance and high-handedness of Israeli leaders and feel pity for the victims of Israeli unabated savagery, they abhor their leadership getting dictated by Israel and that too at the cost of American interests. They have seen the ugly face of Israel which is in illegal occupation of Palestinian lands since 1967 and is consistently gobbling up additional territory under the scheme of forward settlement of Jews and persecuting the subjugated Palestinians.
They are now questioning as to why their government remains subservient to the commands of Tel Aviv when it doles out largest share of aid ($3 billion) to it each year. They ask as to why Israel’s wanton crimes and injustices against Palestinians are being willfully ignored and its criminal acts backed. Such resentful sentiments are heard all over the world and voices of concern against Israeli Apartheid can be heard from all quarters. Support to Israel is diminishing in Europe as well and calls are being made to try Israeli leaders for war crimes in international court of justice. Even Jews in Israel are turning away from vindictive and violent policies pursued by their Zionist leaders.
Notwithstanding the barbarity of Israel and connivance of the US-western leadership, what is more painful is the abysmal role of the OIC and the Arab League in particular and the Muslim world in general. Their shameful silence and dreary approach is appalling. One is equally nonplussed over the indifference of dozens of Jihadi groups in Middle East towards the dilemma of marooned Gazans being mercilessly slaughtered by bestial Israelis. There is no Salahuddin Ayubi in the entire span of Muslim world to face up to the Israeli challenge. None has the ability to unite the Arab world since they direly lack Salahuddin’s piety, his mysticism, and his human and fighting abilities. The people of Gaza who in the past used to look towards Egypt are today cursing the ruling regime and are beseeching Pakistan Army to come to their rescue. Within the Muslim world only Pakistani, Turkish and Iranian armies backed by Pak air force are capable of roundly defeating US-NATO supported IDF in the battlefield.
The Muslim leaders must rise from their slumber and pick up courage to remind Israel that Muslims have historically greater claim over the holy city of Jerusalem and Israel is an illegitimate child of the west illegally occupying Palestinian land. As a minimum, they should take advantage of the change in the thinking of American and European public and collectively exert pressure on Israel to immediately stop the genocide of people of Gaza, end the inhuman blockade of Gaza, vacate the Palestinian lands under its illegal occupation and grant Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland.
The writer is a retired Brig/war veteran, defence analyst/columnist/historian, author of five books, Director Measac Research Centre and Director Board of Governors Thinkers Forum Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org