Today is the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 war, known also as the Six Day War, in which the Jewish state of Israeli finally seized control over all of Arab Palestine. Israeli settlers and soldiers have occupied the Palestinian homeland ever since, and under occupation Arabs have been subjected to daily oppressions, often violent, and humiliation of the sort endured by the indigenous population in South Africa under apartheid.
How did it come to this? I will leave to one side the story of Zionism and pick up the thread with WWI and the disintegration of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. After the war, Palestine was one of several Arab territories placed under mandate to France and Great Britain (see Article 22 of the League of Nations for details on administrative territories). The League of Nations gave Great Britain control over the Palestinian Arabs. All of the mandated territories have since become independent states with one exception: Palestine.
Palestine has not become an independent state for a very simple reason—Great Britain committed itself in 1917, in a document known as the “Balfour Declaration,” to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Of the 689,000 known inhabitants of Palestine as of 1914, 76 percent (or 532,000) were Muslim and 13 percent (or 94,000) were Christian. Just over 10 percent of Palestine’s population was Jews. To effect their commitment to Jewish leaders, Great Britain facilitated the colonization of Palestine by European Jewry during the years 1922 to 1947. By 1947, the Jewish population in Palestine had swelled to 630,000, or 32 percent of the total population of (1,970,000). (Source: Sergio Della Pergola)
Palestinians resisted Jewish colonization, but, with the help of the British, Jewish settlers brutally suppressed them. The Hashomar, and later the Haganah (the Jewish paramilitary that would become the Israeli Defense Force), with its strike force, the Palmach, carried out considerable violence against Arabs. However, the Haganah, in cooperation with the British, had established a defense charter that restricted Jewish military action. Rejecting the charter’s restraint policy, a group of officers broke from Haganah and formed an armed underground organization, Etzel (Irgun Zeva’i Le’umi), aligned with the nationalist Revisionist Movement lead by Vladimir Jabotinsky, who believed that Arabs would have to be pacified and expelled. Etzel carried out repeated terrorist attacks against Arab civilians, as well as against British forces. Another Jewish terrorist group of the day was the Stern Gang or Lehi, which focused on driving the British from Palestine. Indeed, Lehi opposed joining with the British to fight Nazis.
With the founding of the United Nations, Great Britain turned the mandate over to the international community. The United Nations proceeded to partition Palestine into what were supposed to become two independent states, one Palestinian, the other Jewish, with Jerusalem to be an internationalized city (see Resolution 181 of 1947). Arab leaders rejected the plan. Before buying into the line that, therefore, it’s the Arabs’ fault that the violence continued, ask yourself this obvious question: Why should Arabs agree to the colonization of their homelands by European Jews facilitated by Western imperialist? The plan gave 56 percent of Palestine to the Jews, land that included three fertile lowland plains (the Sharon, the Jezreel Valley, and the upper Jordan Valley) and sole access to the Red Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Moreover, the partition placed 36 percent of Arabs—mostly Muslim—inside a Jewish state.
Notwithstanding Arab opposition (their opinion didn’t much matter to the West anyway), the Jewish settlers declared the state of Israel in mid-May 1948. Troops from surrounding Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Transjordan) joined with Palestinian irregulars to challenge the establishment of the Jewish state. Through the ensuring warfare, known as the Arab-Israeli War, Israel came to occupy 77 percent of Palestine, as well as two-thirds of Jerusalem. More than half of the indigenous Palestinian population was dispossessed and driven from their homeland during the fighting (a catastrophe known to Arabs as al Nakba). Egypt and Jordan occupied the remainder of the territory assigned by the partition resolution (Gaza and the West Bank).
This brings us to the Six Day War. The 1967 war began in June, when Israel attacked Egypt. Israel claimed that the attack was an act of “pre-emption,” to prevent a pending attack against Israel by the Egyptian army. It certainly didn’t appear that there was a pending attack. The Arab armies, in disarray, decisively lost the conflict, and Israel came to occupy the remaining territory of Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and annexed all of Jerusalem. In the process, Israel drove an estimated half million Palestinians from their homes, while placing thousands more under direct Israeli control. Moreover, Israel occupied territories in Egypt (the Sinai) and Syria (the Golan Heights).
In 1973, a coalition of Arab armies moved to recapture the Sinai and the Golan Heights. They score several early victories, but, assisted by the United States, the Israeli army gained the upper hand and pushed back the Arab armies. However, the losses sustained by Israel forced its leaders to the realization that they couldn’t continue antagonizing their Arab neighbors, and so Israel was forced to the negotiation table several times and made peace with surrounding countries. In all of this, however, Israel continued to occupy Palestine.
The international community is not on Israel’s side. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 calls on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied in the 1967 conflict. Israel refuses to comply with the resolution. In 1973, UN Security Council Resolution 338 called on Israel to implement Resolution 242. It has refused to comply with this and several subsequent resolutions, as well.
Indeed, undeterred by international law and sentiment, Israel continued its brutality against the Palestinian people. In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, its stated goals the destruction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Unprotected by Palestinian forces, which were assured the safety of Palestinians, Israeli troops carried out large-scale massacres of civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. It is estimated that Israeli forces slaughtered more than 3,000 refugees.
In response to Israeli terrorism, the International Conference on the Question of Palestine adopted in September 1983 the Geneva Declaration (see A/AC.183/SR.90 of 28 September 1983 and A/RES/38/58(A-E) of 13 December 1983), which, among other things, condemned the establishment of Jewish settlements in occupied territories and demanded the attainment of the legitimate, inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. With no action on the declaration, Palestinians rose up in December 1987. Israel brutally repressed the uprising, or intifada, killing and maiming scores of civilians.
Again, the international community moved to stop Israeli tyranny, convening the Peace Conference on the Middle East in October 1991 (see A/RES/46/75. International Peace Conference on the Middle East). It based the plan on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, what has been called the “land for peace” formula. An interim government led by the PLO was established in September 1993 and it appeared that, at last, progress was being made. However, in talks held in 2000 and 2001, Israelis and Palestinians failed to achieve a final status agreement. Western observers blame the failure to reach an agreement on the Palestinians; however, the offer the Israelis made to Palestinian negotiators were completely unacceptable and were understandably rejected (see The Myth of the Generous Offer).
It appears now that failing to reach a final status agreement was part of a larger plan. Nationalist politician Ariel Sharon visited the Al-Haram Al-Sharif thereby provoking the second intifada. Israel used the uprising as a pretext for reoccupying those areas under Palestinian self rule. It also began constructing a separation wall, which is located inside the occupied territory. The International Court of Justice ruled the wall illegal in 2004 (see The Court finds that the construction by Israel of a wall in the …). But this ruling hasn’t stopped the Israelis.
This is where it stands today. Palestine, the homeland of the Palestinian Arabs, has become de facto Israel.