Israeli-Palestine Issue Run Down

As usual, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on -- just this week, for instance, tensions between Israeli and Palestinian forces increased following an exchange of fire between Israeli rockets and Palestinian militants in Gaza. The latest campaign of Israeli military operations in the region had three primary targets controlled by Hamas, including the home of militant Ismail Haniyeh. Israel reports that, in response, thirty retaliatory rockets were fired from Gaza. At least seven Palestinians were wounded, while several Israelis also sustained injuries.

All of this comes in the midst of a heated Israeli election. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in a fight for his political life as several opposition parties have joined together under a big tent banner dubbed “Blue and White” in order to challenge the Prime Minister and his conservative Likud party. Polling has tightened considerably since the formation of Blue and White, in large part due to the popularity of its leader, Benny Gantz, who has combined a sort of social liberalism with more hawkish security policies. His appeal is made more compelling by the litany of corruption charges recently filed by Israel’s Attorney General against Netanyahu.

It remains to be seen how events on the ground in Gaza will affect the election, but events in the United States appear to be shaping Israeli politics and the narrative surrounding the Israel-Palestine debate at large. Freshman US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) sparked controversy recently with comments about the role of the “Israel lobby” in American politics, identifying AIPAC as an agent of Israeli domination over American politics. When pressed further, she tweeted “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,” a comment for which she earned condemnation from the leadership of both American political parties. Netanyahu even took the time to respond to her at an AIPAC conference this week -- “take it from this Benjamin,” Netanyahu said. “It’s not about the Benjamins,” met with roaring applause.

The events of the past few weeks, particularly in American politics have brought the forefront of the public debate once again both off and on Exeter’s campus, as they have resulted in a series of op-eds in Exeter’s school newspaper, the Exonian , presenting multiple perspectives on the conflict, its origins, and the role of Israel in American politics. This public debate was brought to its head when three faculty members authored an opinions editorial reminding students to avoid the use, intentional or otherwise, of anti-Semitic tropes in such a debate, as they contended one particular article did invoke.

The issues being grappled with on campus are reflective of larger debates occurring in the larger world about Palestine’s long and complicated history, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, the seemingly herculean task of building a Middle Eastern peace, the role of the West in this conflict, and the settlement issue, among countless others.

Jerusalem and the Three Religions

Jerusalem: the modern-day capital of Israel, housing a population of nearly a million. As a major focal point in Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike, the historical wealth of this city remains unparalleled.

One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem and its religious importance dates back to King David, ruler of the Kingdom of Israel -- over a millennium before the birth of Christ. He conquered it from the Jebusites, a tribe of this Canaan area, bringing the Ark of The Covenant into the city and making it the capital of his kingdom.  Fifty years later, King Solomon, his son, builds the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah, also known as Temple Mount: known in both Judaism and Christianity as the location where Abraham bound his son, Isaac.

From here on, the city would become the religious center of the Israelites and the holiest city in Judaism; still nowadays, almost three thousand years later, Jewish people from all over the world face the Holy Temple when praying. In Christianity, the city is equally prominent as the place where Christ healed and preached, sat for the Last Supper, and where his trial, burial, and resurrection took place.

In Islam, the city (known as al-Quds) is home to the Al-aqsa Compound, a collection of mosques and shrines on Temple Mount where it is believed that the Prophet Muhammad began his ascension to heaven.

Since its inception, then, the city has been both holy land and a battlefield, shared and fought over between cultures who all stake their own claim to the hallowed ground. As Israel celebrates its seventieth year of independence amidst the ongoing conflict, one might question what fuels such conflict.

Both Israel and Palestine, a neighbouring territory, were ruled under the Ottoman Empire back in the 16th century. After the Ottoman defeat in the First World War, their land was handed over to Britain and France, who set up the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration. The area under British control, known as Mandatory Palestine, spanned the area of present-day Israel and Palestine, including the whole city of Jerusalem.

In the meantime, the concept of Zionism--the idea that Israel, Jerusalem included, is the rightful homeland of the Jewish people--gained momentum. The Jewish religion had spread around the world at the time, and some even tried immigrating to Palestine, trying to escape increased tensions from antisemitism. During the war, Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, promised the British Jews that they would be granted an area of their own, a “home,” a nation. The Jewish Legion, battalions of volunteers, helped the British defeat the Ottomans.

Along the same period when the Ottoman Empire dismantled, Arabs in Palestine started to feel a sense of national identity. The British rule, to them, represented colonialism. In 1920, the Palestinians erupted, in opposition to Zionism, but still the Jewish people kept coming to Palestine in Aliyahs. The stage was set for violence.

In 1947, the United Nations came into play. They made a plan to carve up the then-Palestinian controlled Jerusalem into two halves, one for the Jewish and the other for the Palestinians. Jerusalem was to remain international, for religious matters. The Jewish people saw this as a gain: they had reconquered their homeland, a victory for Zionism; while Palestinians saw this as a loss: their land was just cut half after the British got ahold of the area.

What followed was the Independence of Israel in 1948 and a series of conflicts that resulted in nowadays Jerusalem being fought over between the Israeli people, who hold it as their rightful capital; and the Palestinians, who see it as unlawfully occupied territory.

And now that the Trump administration moved their embassy to Jerusalem, right in the heart of conflict, we must all ask ourselves: what’s in store for this historical, sacred city?