Any discussion of Palestine inevitably takes us into the history of the land and its people. The following is not a definitive account, but is a basic timeline.of significant events. Other pages on this site (mainly the ‘Resources’ section) suggest further reading.
THE BIRTH OF ZIONISM
Political Zionism was a European Jewish movement founded by Theodor Herzl, who considered that anti-Semitism made it impossible for Jews ever to be integrated into European societies. His book, ‘The Jewish State’, proposed a homeland in either Argentina or historic ‘Israel’. The first Zionist Congress of 1897 settled on Palestine, which was then a part of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire. The 1880s had seen a ‘mad scramble’ for Africa by the European powers and in this context Zionism appears as another settler-colonial philosophy.
The fifth Zionist Congress resolved to set up a Jewish National Fund to finance the purchase of land in Palestine. Some members of that Congress were concerned at the implications for native Palestinians, but this speech suggests they were only a small minority. Note that settlement plans involved buying Palestinian land from the existing owners. Violent conquest would only come later.
At the sixth Zionist Congress (1903), Herzl proposed acceptance of the British offer of territory in Uganda as a temporary refuge for Jews in Russia in immediate danger. This proposal was investigated but finally rejected at the next Congress in 1905.
As a political movement, Zionism did not have a great deal of influence amongst the Jewish communities in Europe or worldwide until the coming to power of Hitler and the Third Reich.
1917 – THE BALFOUR DECLARATION
In November 1917 British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Britain. The letter contained the following declaration made by the British War Cabinet: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understod that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
Historians still argue about the motives behind this declaration. Was it a short-term tactic to enlist a supposedly powerful American Jewish lobby to strengthen the involvement of the US in World War I? Was it a long-term plan by Britain to control the Middle East? Was it in fact motivated by anti-Semitism (primarily a fear of Jewish immigration into Britain)? How did it square with Britain’s alliances with Arab leaders and the ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ military campaign then in progress in Palestine?
One thing is clear: ever since that time Britain has been accused of promising the land of Palestine to two different groups. See here for Avi Shlaim’s article “The Balfour Declaration and its Consequences”
THE BRITISH MANDATE
The British Mandates for Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq) were authorised by the Supreme Council of the Peace Conference at Saint Remo in 1920, which also authorised France to manage Syria and Lebanon. These mandates were confirmed by the newly-formed League of Nations in 1922. It fell to Britain and France to determine the border-lines, which are the internationally recognised borders today.
The Palestine mandate included the provisions of the Balfour Declaration. The Jewish community within Palestine was a small minority of the population at the start of the mandate. Significant Jewish immigration into Palestine took place in the mid-1920s for a short period and then did not increase significantly again until Hitler took power in Germany in 1933.
BETWEEN THE TWO WORLD WARS
During the 1920s and 1930s, opposition to the mandate by Muslim and Christian Palestinians resulted in numerous conflicts with Jewish settlements. Reports described here in the “British Mandate: A Survey of Palestine” repeatedly identified anger at the denial of independence for the Palestinians and fear of economic and political subjugation by the Jewish immigrants.
The Arab revolt from 1936 to 1939 was particularly bloody. By the time it concluded in September 1939, more than 5,000 Arabs, over 300 Jews, and 262 Britons had been killed and at least 15,000 Arabs were wounded. During the uprising, British authorities attempted to confiscate all weapons from the Arab population. This, and the destruction of the main Arab political leadership in the revolt, greatly hindered their military efforts in the 1948 Palestine war, where imbalances between the Jewish and Arab economic performance, social cohesion, political organisation and military capability became apparent.
AFTER THE HOLOCAUST
For decades support for Zionism amongst European Jews was limited. Indeed there were Jewish organisations who opposed both anti-Semitism and Zionism, such as the Jewish Labour Bund. They believed that the proper response to anti-Semitism was not to escape it by emigrating to set up a Jewish state in Palestine but to confront it in the fight for socialism.
At the end of World War II there were some eight million displaced persons and the policy of the Western powers was to repatriate them to their respective homelands. For many Jewish refugees this would mean a return to Eastern Europe, but many were unable or unwilling to go because of anti-Semitism and the destruction of their communities during the Holocaust. Many feared for their lives and with good reason. For example in Kielce, a mob of Polish soldiers, police officers, and civilians murdered at least 42 Jews and injured over 40 in the worst outburst of anti-Jewish violence in post-war Poland. Western countries were also unwilling initially to allow refugees to enter.
Under these circumstances the Zionist message of a ‘homeland’ in Palestine was an attractive alternative. Many governments thus became the ‘unwitting tools’ of the Zionist project. It was the Palestinians who were going to suffer for the European crime of the Holocaust.
After the Second World War there was a sharp rise in Zionist attacks in Palestine, which was still administered by Britain, in an attempt to put pressure on Clement Attlee’s Labour government to create a Jewish state. The Stern gang and Irgun, led by Menachem Begin (a future Prime Minister of Israel), carried out bomb attacks, kidnappings and murders, the worst of which was the bomb attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 1946.
1947 – THE UNITED NATIONS PARTITION PLAN
Zionist attacks were successful in forcing the British government to announce in February 1947 that it would give up its mandate on 14 May 1948 and hand Palestine back to the United Nations. The UN General Assembly voted in November 1947 to divide Palestine into two states: a Jewish state (56%) and an Arab state (43%), with Jerusalem becoming an international zone. However, it was clearly envisaged that the ‘Jewish State’ would be a binational state – containing 325,000 Arabs as well 498,000 Jews – with equal rights for all citizens. At this time the population of Palestine was 1,269,000 Arabs and 608,000 Jews, with the Jews having acquired by purchase 6-8% of the total land (about 20% of the arable land).
The injustice (and illegality) of this UN decision was stated with clarity by several speeches at the UN. The partition was opposed by the Arab countries and the Palestinians but was pushed through, in particular by American coercion.
1948 – THE NAKBA
The Nakba (disaster) is the Palestinian word to describe the events surrounding the formation of Israel. On May 15 1948 the British evacuated Palestine and Israeli independence was proclaimed. Even before this date Zionist militias had started the process of ethnic cleansing (here and here) and throughout December 1947 and January 1948 Zionist militias carried out atrocities in Palestinian villages and neighbourhoods including such massacres as Deir Yassin. After these atrocities, as Menachem Begin wrote in an infamous passage in his 1952 memoirs, the Zionist forces could “advance like a hot knife through butter.”
The main opposition to the Zionist militias were Palestinian irregulars who were severely outmanned and outgunned. These were aided by regular soldiers from the surrounding Arab states organised by the Arab League. However, the claim that little Israel David was battling for its life against the Arab Goliath is a myth.
1949 – ARMISTICE AND ETHNIC CLEANSING
After two ceasefires the Armistice Demarcation Line was agreed in 1949 and became the de facto border between Israel and the surrounding Arab states. It is now referred to as the ‘Green Line’. The new state of Israel now occupied 78% of Mandate Palestine and 750,000 Palestinians became refugees, whose descendants are found today in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. Some of these camps are run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). In all over 400 Palestinian villages were razed to the ground. The UN Security Council passed resolution 194 calling for Israel to allow the refugees to return (the ‘Right of Return’, the first of many resolutions to be ignored by Israel).
1956 – THE SUEZ WAR
Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power following the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1951. He promoted Arab nationalism within the Arab world and was seen as a threat to the interests of the imperial powers and Israel. He built new ties with the Soviet Union and recognised the People’s Republic of China. In consequence, Britain and the United States withdrew an offer to fund the construction of Egypt’s new Aswan dam. As a response, on 26 July 1956 Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal.
At the time Britain had a huge military complex at Suez with 80,000 troops which reflected its influence in the region. Direct military intervention, however, ran the risk of angering Washington and damaging Anglo-Arab relations. So the British government concluded a secret military pact with France and Israel. Israel was to invade the Sinai peninsula and advance as far as the canal. This would provoke Egyptian reaction and Britain and France would then intervene ‘to restore order’.
The three allies, especially Israel, were initially successful in attaining their military objectives but politically the operation was a disaster. Pressure from the United States and the USSR at the United Nations and elsewhere forced them to withdraw and as a result Britain and France failed in their political and strategic aims of controlling the canal and removing Nasser from power. Israel initially refused to withdraw its troops from the Sinai peninsula until threatened with sanctions by US President Eisenhower, over the objections of the American Senate. They also refused to host any UN force on Israeli-controlled territory which resulted in the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) policing the Egyptian–Israeli border to prevent either side from recommencing hostilities.
Before withdrawing from Egyptian territory the Israeli forces, in violation of the ceasefire terms, systematically destroyed infrastructure in the Sinai Peninsula (roads, railways, telephone lines) and all houses in the Arab villages of Abu Ageila and El Quseima.
Massive expulsion of Arabs from Palestinian villages continued and their property was seized. Actions were taken increasingly to “judaise” parts of Israel, in order to counter a perceived ‘demographic’ threat as in Nazareth. From 1949 to 1967 legislation was enacted that made the Jewish National Fund responsible for safeguarding the “Jewishness” of most state land and prohibited all transactions with non-Jews. The objective was to prevent Palestinians regaining ownership, even through purchase, of the land that had historically belonged to them.
PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANISATION
In 1964 the Palestine Liberation Organisation was founded as a Palestinian nationalist umbrella organization. The most dominant member was Yassir Arafat’s Al-Fatah, which was dedicated to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
1967 – THE SIX-DAY WAR
Up to 1967 there had been numerous border incidents, often in the early years by Palestinian farmers trying to return to their land, but also large-scale military incursions by Israel. In June 1967 war broke out and resulted in Israel bringing all of Mandate Palestine under its control, together with Sinai (Egyptian territory) and the Golan Heights (Syrian).
The Six-Day War is presented by Zionists as Israel launching a pre-emptive strike to defend against the threat of a second ‘holocaust’. Others, such as US academic Norman Finkelstein, say that this is another myth. See this discussion. The UN Security Council in November 1967 unanimously adopted resolution 242 that called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. Israel expressed its acceptance in a speech to the General Assembly some months later but has never actually complied.
1973 – THE YOM KIPPUR WAR
Repeated refusals by Israel to evacuate Egyptian territory (even when offered a treaty of recognition in exchange) led to war in 1973 (the Yom Kippur war). This was a military defeat for Egypt and Syria (which joined in on Egypt’s side), but it led eventually to the return of Sinai to Egypt. A peace treaty known as the Camp David accords was signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979.
See Norman Finkelstein here.
The Egypt-Israel treaty, denounced by other Arab states, remains in force to-day
1976 – THE LAND DAY MASSACRE
During the 1970s the attitude towards Palestinians in Israel was made clear in the Koenig Memorandum. This was a confidential report to the Israeli Minister of the Interior by Yisrael Koenig, the Minister’s district representative in the Northern part of the country (where the largest concentration of Israeli Arabs resided). The report made recommendations intended to “ensure the [country’s] long-term Jewish national interests.” and included “the possibility of diluting existing Arab population concentrations.”
The announcement of the resulting plan to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for “security and settlement purposes” led to a general strike and marches amongst Palestinians in Israel on March 30 1976. Six people died, over 100 were injured and thousands were arrested after confrontations with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF – often referred to as the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) by the Palestinians). 30 March is now commemorated every year as Land Day.
THE PLO OUTSIDE PALESTINE
During the 1970s the PLO carried out a guerrilla war from Lebanon where it had relocated from Jordan in 1970. The right to resist occupation was recognised again in the UN General Assembly Resolution on terrorism 42/159, passed on 7 December 1987 (text here, see clauses 8 and 14)), with only the US and Israel voting against. At the same time Israel carried out attacks on PLO positions, Lebanese villages and Palestinian refugee camps.
When questioned about attacks on civilians, leading Israeli officials have sometimes acknowledged that Israel has used such “pressure tactics” – otherwise known as “terrorism” – as an instrument of policy. In 1978, for example, following the first of major Israeli attacks on Lebanese population centres, General Mordechai Gur, then Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces and later a leading Labour Party politician, responded to criticism of Israeli tactics in Lebanon in this way: “I’ve been in the army thirty years. Do you think I don’t know what we’ve been doing all those years? What did we do the entire length of the Suez Canal? A million and a half refugees!…..Since when has the population of South Lebanon been so sacred? They know very well what the terrorists were doing…..I had four villages in South Lebanon bombarded…[as, he says, was done in Jordan]….the whole Jordan Valley was evacuated during the War of Attrition.” The Israeli interviewer then comments: “You maintain that the civilian population should be punished?” Gur responds: “And how….I have never doubted it, not for one moment….For thirty years from the War of Independence to this day we have been fighting against a population that lives in villages and towns…”
The same attitude towards attacks on civilian has continued through to today. The 1982 Operation Peace for Galilee, designed to drive the PLO out of Lebanon and turn Lebanon into a Christian-ruled ally, caused the deaths of 17,000 Lebanese civilians and the massacres at the refugee camp at Sabra and Shatila (see MAP report here). General Sharon led the Israeli army, misled the US administration (see here) and was later found guilty in Israel of ‘moral responsibility’ for the events. These massacres also led what is still the largest peace demonstration in Israel’s history when 400,000 Israelis marched with Peace Now in Tel-Aviv. But seventeen years later, in 2000, the same Ariel Sharon was elected Israeli Prime Minister.
1987 – THE FIRST INTIFADA
The first Intifada was a spontaneous grass-roots uprising against twenty years of occupation, by a population denied any control over their economic, social and political development. It began in December 1987 in the occupied territories and changed the world’s view of Israel.
“The Palestinians realized that their greatest power lay in mass civil disobedience — boycotting Israeli goods, refusing to pay taxes to Israel, establishing their own mobile medical clinics, providing social services, organizing strikes and demonstrations and unarmed confrontations. The tactics they used took Israel unawares and captured the attention of a hitherto unreceptive Western media. Specifically, the images of Palestinian boys throwing stones at advancing armoured tanks totally upended the David-and-Goliath myth that Israel had propagated so effectively — a fledgling Israel struggling to survive against the mighty Arab world. Suddenly, everyone was seeing a different Goliath. Israel — the most powerful military force in the Middle East — was facing down defenceless “David” in a re-enactment of the Old Testament story when David slung his stone and slew the giant, Goliath.” (Electronic Intifada, Dec 2007, full article here)
The response by the Israelis to this mass civil disobedience was predictable. The Israeli Minister of Defence, Yitzak Rabin – later to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Yassir Arafat – explained that it would consist of ‘force, might, beatings’ while Prime minister Shamir – a hard-liner with a pro-Nazi past – said that they would be crushed ‘like grasshoppers‘ with their heads smashed ‘against the boulders and walls’.
1987 – HAMAS
One immediate consequence of the first intifada was the foundation of Hamas by Sheikh Yassin – later assassinated by Israel in 2004 – as the Muslim Brotherhood’s local political arm in December 1987. Hamas stressed a return to conservative Islamic values and provided a network of health and social services for Palestinians in the occupied territories. All this put them in competition/conflict with the secular Fatah – a situation which continues today.
1993 – THE OSLO ACCORD
In June 1992, the Labour Party of Yitzak Rabin won an election from Yitzhak Shamir of Likud and initiated negotiations with the Palestinians in Washington, which produced no tangible results. At the same time the Israeli government opened a second and secret channel with negotiations directed only to Yassir Arafat and a few of his close associates. The result was the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the Palestinians, signed in September 1993 on the White House lawn. It stipulated an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho with a Palestinian police force taking over internal security. Elsewhere in the West Bank, the Palestinians were to take responsibility for: education, health, social welfare, direct taxation and tourism. Elections were to be held for a Palestinian Authority to take over responsibility for municipal affairs. ‘Final status negotiations’ were to start within two years and be completed within five. All the most serious issues such as Palestinian statehood, borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem, were postponed to the final status talks.
The PLO recognised Israel’s right to exist, agreed to accept UN Resolutions 242 in 1967 (inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war) and 338 in 1973 (ceasefire), to end the armed struggle against Israel and to amend those parts of the Palestinian National Charter that called for the destruction of the Israeli state. Israel agreed to recognise the PLO as the representatives of the Palestinian people. This brought an end to the First Intifada but was opposed by many senior Palestinian figures such as Edward Said, who regarded it (here) as ‘an instrument of Palestinian surrender’
NO PEACE AFTER OSLO
A new set of documents was signed in Cairo in 1994. The Palestine National Authority was to take over some municipal functions and the IDF was to withdraw from urban centres to rural, which allowed it to maintain control of overall security and land crossings. The murder of 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron by an American-born settler, Baruch Goldstein, a member of the Kach party, resulted in a 5-week, 24-hour curfew on more than a million Palestinians during which a further 79 were killed by the IDF. It was later claimed by an Israeli journalist that the Hebron killings led directly to the chain of suicide-bombings, starting with the Hamas bombing which killed eight people in Afula in April 1994.
In November 1995 Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a 25-year-old settler, who accused him of selling out the settlers and preparing to give away the occupied territories to the Palestinians. Rabin was succeeded by Shimon Peres, who, despite pledging that he would maintain the ‘peace process’, ordered the targeted assassination of a Hamas leader, Yahya Ayyash, using a booby-trapped phone. Hamas responded with further suicide-bombings and Peres suspended talks with the newly-elected Palestinian Authority and closed the border to all workers from the occupied territories.
Soon after, Israel launched Operation ‘Grapes of Wrath’, an attack against Lebanon. Despite claiming that it was a defensive operation,against fewer than 500 Hezbollah fighters, as usual it was civilians who suffered. There was widespread destruction of infrastructure, with 400 civilians forced to flee their homes and the bombing of the UN compound at Qana, killing 106 civilians who had sought sanctuary there. The claim by Israel that this latter incident was accidental was rejectedby UN investigators (here).
Postscript: Ten years later, in July 2006, the village of Qana was again the target, this time of Israeli airstrikes, killing 54 villagers sheltering in a house. This action was again identified by Human Rights Watch as a war crime (here).
WEST BANK SETTLEMENTS EXPAND
Following the election of the Rabin government the influx of Jewish settlers into the West Bank accelerated, from 75,000 in 1992 to 136,000 in 1995. Together with expropriations of land and the building of roads linking settlements which could only be used by the IDF and settlers it became easier for Israel to enforce closures which in turn restricted movement and employment possibilities for the Palestinians. The deteriorating economic situation was compounded by Israeli moves to achieve ‘separation’ by replacing Palestinians with workers from other countries.
Such actions undermined the hope amongst Palestinians that the Oslo Accord would provide the basis for the development of the economy and the structures necessary for the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian state.
In June 1996 Peres lost the election to Benjamin Netenyahu, leader of the Likud party, who led a right-wing government, including two far-right parties and representatives of the settlers. He deliberately set out to undermine the Oslo process, which he had always opposed and to renege on its obligations. The expropriation of Palestinian land for settlement-building continued, as did the ‘Judaization’ of the Holy places. In 1998 the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom blamed Netenyahu for the breakdown of the peace process and accused the government of 19 separate violations of the Oslo Accords.
Then, even as the ink was still drying on the Wye River Memorandum, signed in October 1998, Ariel Sharon, Infrastructure Minister in Netanyahu’s government, called on his followers to go into the West Bank and seize as much land as possible.
2000 – CAMP DAVID
The May 1999 elections brought Ehud Barak back to power and the pace of the settlement programme increased. In 2000 Barak decided to pursue negotiations with Syria, rather than the Palestinians. In return for a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967 line, the Syrian President, Hafez Al Assad, was willing to agree to a ‘full peace’ which would involve full diplomatic relations, an end to the economic boycott and the establishment of commercial relations. Syria was also willing to accommodate Israel on all its security concerns.
However, Barak was under pressure from opposition in Israel to refuse to withdraw and together with Dennis Ross, a pro-Israeli American negotiator, constructed a plan to prevent an agreement whilst making itappear that Syria was to blame (see here).
In July 2000 the American president, Bill Clinton, wanting to establish a legacy as the man who had achieved peace in the Middle East, called a summit meeting at Camp David between Barak and Yassir Arafat. The standard US story is that Yassir Arafat was unable/unwilling to accept the generous offer made by Ehud Barak. This claim is rejected by numerous authors, for example; David Hirst (here), Amnon Kapeliouk (here) and Norman Finkelstein.
THE SECOND INTIFADA
On September 28, 2000 Ariel Sharon, a Likud party candidate for Israeli Prime Minister, entered the Temple Mount accompanied by over 1,000 security guards. He stated on that day, “The Temple Mount (home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, third holiest site in Islam) is in our hands and will remain in our hands. It is the holiest site in Judaism and it is the right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount”. He was later elected as Prime Minister in September 2001 after the collapse of the Barak government.
Sharon’s ‘walk’ on the Temple Mount precipitated the Second Intifada, which was met violently by the IDF. Over the next four years, at least 2,859 Palestinians were killed and tens of thousands injured. Israel destroyed more than 3,700 Palestinian homes and placed more than 7,300 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, according to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem. Significantly, the Palestinian leadership was also decimated by a concerted campaign of assassination.
2002 – THE ROAD MAP
In the spring of 2002 the American President, George Bush, delivered a pair of speeches that became known as the Bush Road Map for peace. This stipulated goal-driven phases with obligations on both sides to produce an independent Palestinian state, existing side by side with Israel in peace, by 2005. It was accepted in principle by the Palestinian Prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, but Sharon rejected the main condition for Israel – a freeze on settlements. The Map obliged Sharon to remove immediately about 80 settlement outposts, to freeze all settlements, to stop the building of the wall (see below) and to withdraw the army from all West Bank towns. Sharon never dreamt of fulfilling even one of these obligations.
THE SEPARATION WALL
In June 2002 Sharon approved the construction of the Separation Wall (also known as the Apartheid Wall) between Israel and the West Bank. However, rather than follow the ‘Green Line’ (the 1949 cease-fire line) the original route was designed to annex 20% of the West bank territory to Israel. Israel has ignored the July 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, which stated that the construction of the wall was illegal. It has, with only minor modifications, continued the project. Apologists for Israel say that the Wall was designed to prevent the entry of suicide-bombers into Israel and claim that the reduction in suicide-bombing since 2005 is proof. However, Israel itself has admitted (here) that the main cause for this reduction was the truce in the territories.
WITHDRAWAL FROM GAZA
In 2004 Sharon announced that Israel would withdraw from Gaza, a Disengagement Plan applauded by Bush. In his letter (here) Bush also clearly dropped the provisions of Security Council Resolution 242 in stating that “…it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiationswill be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949”. Withdrawing from Gaza was never intended to be part of the Road Map to achieve a Palestinian State, rather it was a strategy to maintain control of the West Bank (analysis here). It would also allow Israel to attack the Palestinians (those in Gaza, at least) without restraint in the future, as there would no longer be a risk to Israeli settlers (comment here).
DEATH OF YASSIR ARAFAT AND ELECTIONS
In November 2004 Yassir Arafat died and the January 2005 Presidential Election was won by Mahmoud Abbas.
In 2006 Hamas won the elections for the Palestinian Authority. These elections had been pushed by the USA against the desires of Israel and their conduct was praised by the European Union. The result, however, was an unpleasant surprise for the Bush administration, that could no longer say that ‘democracy’ would get rid of ‘terrorist’ organisations like Hamas. So the USA – urged on by Israel and followed without question by Europe – now placed a series of demands on Hamas: recognise Israel, reject violence and accept previous agreements. However, no demands were placed on Israel despite their non-recognition of Palestine, their continual violence against the Palestinians and the fact that it was Israel that had repeatedly broken agreements.
Economic sanctions were then imposed against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian territories by Israel and the Quartet on the Middle East (the ‘Quartet’ comprises the USA, Russia, European Union and the United Nations but in practice is a vehicle for US dominance over the ‘peace process’- see its post-mortem here)
2006 – WAR IN LEBANON
On July 12 2006 Israeli launched a 34-day assault against Lebanon, ostensibly to ‘punish’ Hezbollah for an attack on an Israeli patrol and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. By the time a ceasefire had been agreed 1,300 Lebanese and 165 Israelis were dead – 121 of the latter were soldiers. The vast majority of Lebanese dead were civilians, and about one-third were children. There was, as always, widespread damage to the infrastructure of Lebanon. Israeli claims that it was only Hezbollah that was being targeted were rejected by Amnesty International. In the last two days of the attack Israel launched cluster bombs on to Lebanon which left over one million unexploded bomblets. Civilians are still being killed by these.
Initial attempts at the United Nations to broker a ceasefire were obstructed by America and notably by Tony Blair’s British government who sought to ‘give Israel the time to finish the job’. A cease-fire was finally voted for at the UN Security Council on 14 August. The war was widely regarded (see here) as a defeat for Israel even within Lebanon, since its goal of destroying Hezbollah was not achieved. On the contrary, Hezbollah provided a much more formidable resistance than expected and was perceived as having come out of the conflict stronger.
UNREPORTED WAR ON GAZA
The attack on Lebanon coincided with a largely unreported war on Gaza which killed almost as many people. Israel’s Operation Summer Rains was ostensibly waged in response to the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, but it began before then and killed hundreds of civilians . For a specific example see here and for a comprehensive list see Wikipedia’s entry here.
AN UNSUCCESSFUL COUP
On February 8, 2007 Saudi-sponsored negotiations in Mecca produced an agreement on a Palestinian national unity government. The agreement was signed by Mahmoud Abbas on behalf of Fatah and Khaled Mashal on behalf of Hamas. America and Israel refused to recognise the unity government. At the same time they attempted to organise an armed coup, the details of which were exposed in an article in Vanity Fair in 2008 (here). This attempt backfired, with Hamas taking control of Gaza and Fatah taking control of the West Bank.
Abbas then appointed a new Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, to take the place of Ismail Haniya of Hamas in a new ‘independent’ government. The legality of this has been challenged because it was not voted by the elected Legislative Council, however the move was supported by Fatah, Israel and the West. The West now started to provide financial help to the new government, whilst at the same time Israel intensified the blockade against Gaza which had already been in place for many years (see here).
2008-9 – “CAST LEAD” WAR ON GAZA
Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on 27 December 2008, a violent and unrestrained attack on Gaza. The attack lasted until 18 January 2009 and was “one of the most violent episodes in the recent history of the Palestinian territory,” according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This report (see here) also details the consequences of the blockade, both before and after the Israeli attack.
By the time unilateral ceasefires were announced by both Israel and Hamas, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians. Large areas of Gaza were razed to the ground, leaving many thousands homeless and the already-dire economy in ruins. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, the majority of whom were soldiers.
Israel claimed this invasion was to stop rocket fire from Gaza. Yet there had been an effective ceasefire since June 2008. The rate of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza had dropped to almost zero, and had stayed there for four straight months. On November 4th, Israel killed a Palestinian, provoking a volley of mortar fire from Gaza. Immediately after that, an Israeli air strike killed six more Palestinians. This provoked a massive barrage of Palestinian rockets. But it was Israel who had broken the ceasefire (see here).
Recurring claims that only Hamas and rocket-launchers were targeted have been rejected by an Amnesty report (see here): “Much of the destruction was wanton and resulted from direct attacks on civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks that failed to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilian objects” … “Hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks carried out using high-precision weapons – air-delivered bombs and missiles, and tank shells. Others, including women and children, were shot at short range when posing no threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers. Aerial bombardments launched from Israeli F-16 combat aircraft targeted and destroyed civilian homes without warning, killing and injuring scores of their inhabitants, often while they slept. Children playing on the roofs of their homes or in the street and other civilians going about their daily business, as well as medical staff attending the wounded were killed in broad daylight by Hellfire and other highly accurate missiles launched from helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, and by precision projectiles fired from tanks.” A further Israeli propaganda claim was that rockets were fired from UNRWA schools which justified attacks on those schools. This was finally (October 2012) admitted to be false on Israeli TV (see here).
GAZA – THE GOLDSTONE REPORT
A fact-finding commission was set up by the United Nations and led by Richard Goldstone, a former judge from South Africa. The report was released on 15 September 2009 by the UN (the press release is here). According to the report: “The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defence Force.” … “There’s no question that the firing of rockets and mortars [by armed groups from Gaza] was deliberate and calculated to cause loss of life and injury to civilians and damage to civilian structures. The mission found that these actions also amount to serious war crimes and also possibly crimes against humanity.”
Richard Goldstone, who is Jewish and a self-confessed ‘lover of Israel’, came under enormous pressure from Israel and some parts of the Jewish community and later published what has been claimed to be a ‘retraction’ (see this article). His apparent change of attitude was rejected by the other three members of the fact-finding commission (as reported here).
WEST BANK SETTLEMENTS CONTINUE TO GROW
During this entire decade the growth in settlements continued. In 2000 there were 390,000 settlers in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.By 2010 there were over 530,000.
To be continued