The situation between Israel and the Palestinians is a complex one and the media rarely conveys information on the details behind the military occupation. To provide some context to my upcoming posts, I have written some background to the Israeli-Palestinian situation as I understand it.
Although I have made every effort to keep what I have written as factual as possible, I certainly assume no expertise on the subject. If it is enough to encourage a search for further information on the conflict, then I will consider my efforts here worthwhile. At the end of this post I have listed some excellent resources on the subject.
There are three Palestinian Territories that came under military occupation by Israel in 1967: Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Gaza is a thin strip of heavily urbanised land located to the south of Tel Aviv, now self-governed by Palestinian political and militant group Hamas. While no longer officially ‘occupied’ by Israel, entry to the region is extremely difficult and highly regulated. Israel controls Gaza’s airspace, its territorial waters and two of its three land-based border crossings. The other one is controlled by Egypt. The interior of Gaza is essentially cut off from the outside world with very few people being allowed to enter or leave. The flow of resources and services to and from the region is also heavily regulated. Even NGO’s (Non-Government Organisations operating for humanitarian reasons) and journalists have a difficult time gaining entry, and if they manage to get a permit, they may still be refused entry if the border crossings are closed for security or other reasons.
Gaza is currently home to nearly 1.9 million Palestinians making it one of the most densely populated places on earth, with almost half the population being children. Most of the population will never set foot outside the Gaza Strip. The United Nations has warned that the humanitarian crisis that exists within its borders could make the area uninhabitable as early as 2020. For more information on the Gaza Strip, an excellent Al Jazeera article can be found here.
The other occupied territory is the West Bank – a much larger and roughly rectangular region of land between the West Bank of the Jordan River and Israel – now home to around 2.8 million Palestinians.
In 1949, following the end of the Arab-Israeli War, Israel’s border was defined in a series of armistice agreements with its neighbours. The border, drawn on a map in green ink, became known as the Green Line and remained in place until the Six-Day War of 1967. Until then, the Palestinian region that is now the West Bank was part of Jordan and under Jordanian control.
After the Six-Day War, the Gaza Strip and West Bank came into existence as Palestinian states under military occupation by Israel. Since then, Israel has steadily encroached beyond its original Green Line borders into Palestinian territory.
In 2002, after two major Palestinian uprisings against the Occupation – the First and Second Intifadas – the Israeli government decided to build a separation barrier designed to confine the Palestinians to the West Bank. With a proposed length of just over 700 kilometres, the still-incomplete wall meanders considerably away from the Green Line and in some parts deep into Palestinian territory. Marketed as a security necessity, the separation barrier consists of either an electronic barbed wire fence or a concrete wall six to eight metres high. All roads into the West Bank pass through the barrier and contain border check points to control access into and out of the region. Both the proposed and existing route of the wall is subject to change based on the demands of numerous interested parties – mostly Israeli settler groups or military tacticians – with no consideration at all for how the wall divides Palestinian land or its people.
As if the separation barrier were not enough, one of the most controversial and ongoing problems in the West Bank is the establishment of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. At present there are over 370,000 Jewish settlers living inside the West Bank despite the fact that settlements are illegal under international law. Settlements are typically built in an architectural style that does not blend with the landscape. They tend to be situated on hilltops that look down on and essentially surround Palestinian villages and farms.
The first settlers were fervent Jews who believed that the land of the West Bank was their ‘divine right’, part of the Judea and Samaria described in the Bible as ‘promised’ to the Jewish people. Settlements normally begin as small groups of mostly young Israelis, living in tents, caravans or shipping containers, often called outposts, before growing into larger and more permanent communities.
The government frequently turns a blind eye to this unlawful development for a number of reasons. One is that it wants to use West Bank land for establishing settlements more for economic reasons than religious ones. Even Israelis with little or no religious conviction for relocating, are sold on the idea of moving to a settlement because generous government subsidies make it a much cheaper alternative than living in the coastal cities. Settlements are often marketed as a retreat from busy city life where you can enjoy ‘great views’ and be ‘closer to nature’.
There are those who secure land because of some supposed archaeological significance related to Jewish biblical history while at the same time completely ignoring sites that may be archaeologically significant, but are non-Jewish. Israel also knows that the West Bank contains several very large underground aquifers which can supply Israel with water both now and in the future. Of course there is also the argument that the settlements are a necessary security feature – that their existence acts as a deterrent against threats from possibly hostile Arabs.
America and the West turn a blind eye to settlement development and the Occupation because they see Israel as a vital Western presence in the Middle East, one necessary for ongoing security in the region and for maintaining the supply of oil to Western countries.
A question often asked by people who first experience something of the Israeli Occupation is how it has managed to last so long, despite varying degrees of international pressure, and how it continues to exist. One theory posed by Israeli activist Jeff Halper is that for Israel, the Palestinian Occupation is a laboratory of sorts in which all kinds of Israeli-made military and security products can be ‘live-tested’. Israel has become a ‘go-to’ place for international buyers of high-end military, security and population control devices, mainly because buyers know that its products have undergone extensive testing. Israel is the world’s biggest supplier of military drones for example, gets exclusive access to US military technology, has established world-leading industries in psychological and cyber warfare and is often described as one of the most militarised countries in the world.
Many other factors come into play making the situation between Israel, Palestine and other interested parties a particularly complex one. Israel understands better than anyone that such complexity works to their advantage and they have done much to increase rather than reduce it. They have become dangerously adept at security, military strategy, psychological control strategies, political deception and contradictory policies aimed at securing their overarching agenda for dominance and control of the region.
Weizman, Eyal, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, Verso, 2017.
Halper, Jeff, War Against the People, Pluto Press, 2015.
Shlaim, Avi, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, Penguin, 2014.
5 Broken Cameras. Directed by Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi. Kino Lorber Films, 2011.
The Settlers. Directed by Shimon Dotan. BOND360, 2017.
The Lab. Directed by Yotam Feldman. Gum Films, 2013.