In preparation for my first trip to Israel, I set aside time to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts that have been ongoing for most of the last century. While it was easy to find sources, virtually all were biased. Fortunately, the trip was planned and conducted by the School of Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution at Southern Methodist University, where I served as a visiting professor. I gained amazing insights preceding the trip and two weeks crisscrossing Israel. I listened as government representatives argued during a joint presentation, spent time talking with Jewish and Palestinian families living happily in shared communities, and had unrestricted free time in Jerusalem as well as Occupied Palestinian Territory.
As a professor, my goal is to offer historical frames of reference for my students. I don’t subscribe to “history repeats itself,” but I’ve found that history offers valuable insights about the “whys” of current events as well as the ability to better predict “what’s next.” Israel’s history began with the Bible, which offers Palestine, Canaan, and Judea, as well as the Holy Land or Promised Land. Both Jews and Palestinians trace their faiths to Abraham by way of one of his two sons: Isaac for the Jewish or Ishmael for those who are Muslims. These beliefs are the foundations of conflicting viewpoints as to who has the right to reside in Israel. These opposing religious positions have not been modified, refuted, or successfully negotiated, nor have the potential for the future.
What has been amazing about the land we call Israel is that it was never declared as a state, nation, or country for thousands of years while being under the control of many empires, including the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Egyptians, and Ottomans for 400 years before the British took control by way of their victory in World War 1. Many Arabs and Jewish peoples were peacefully relocating to the area called Palestine during the 1800s and 1900s. The British government was formally granted control of the area by the League of Nations in 1920. While the British declared support for the concept of a Jewish national homeland, they formally mandated that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestinian territories, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
With anticipation and concern related to the 1948 expiration of British rule over Palestine, the United Nations voted to create separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem designated as an international city controlled by neither. The Jewish delegation accepted this original two-state plan, while the Arabs immediately rejected the proposal. After this unsuccessful attempt by the UN and the expiration of the British Mandate, the Jewish People’s Council voted on May 14, 1948, to establish the State of Israel by way of their Declaration of Independence, and this new nation was officially recognized by President Harry Truman one day later.
This first of many military conflicts began within days and ended in 1949. The Israeli victory was accompanied by the decision to require some 750,000 Palestinians to leave their homes and relocate to the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories. The Israelis retained control over these occupied territories. It is important to note that these were longtime Palestinian families who were allowed to take only their personal possessions, which may have included house keys that would never again open doors to homes they built. Those keys, along with family history stories, have been passed along to the next generation.
The October 7th Hamas attack on Israel resulted in death, destruction, and hostage-taking. The Israeli revenge attack on Gaza resulted in civilian deaths and carnage in Gaza. Hamas is a political, military terrorist group that originated in Iran and controls Gaza and the Palestinian people. They promised to bring peace with Israel when they were elected in 2006 and have not allowed another election since then. Israel fully supported Hamas for many years to control the Palestinian people. Prime Minister Netanyahu was re-elected in 2022 with majority political support by the far-right, ultra-Orthodox Likud party. Many Jewish citizens are questioning the actions of their elected leaders. While we are saddened by the daily horror stories, it is important to remember that Palestinian and Jewish civilians are considered collateral damage by those who make decisions about the war.
This is no longer a violent conflict between people in a faraway land. There are students protesting on campuses, citizens demonstrating in the streets, and dramatic increases in violence against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab citizens living in America. While there is no justification for the horrors of October 7th and those that followed, my hope is that we can begin to understand why they occurred and the likelihood they will continue. For those who feel the need to take sides, please invest time to better understand the issues and side with all the innocent people who are caught in the crossfire both here and in Israel.
Dr. Don Clardy is a tenured professor at Baker University with 40+ years in higher education and numerous academic publications. More recently, his writing interests have turned toward current, controversial issues to spark independent thinking by those who choose to read his narrative work.