A brief history of Israel and Palestine

“There is no such country [as Palestine]! ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria.” Awni Abd al-Hadi, testimony to the Peel Commission of 1937.

Note: It is important to acknowledge that the topic of the Israel-Palestine conflict is highly complex and cannot be covered exhaustively in a short article. Multiple narratives describe the conflict in different ways. For a broader perspective, further research is encouraged.

The Bible and Israel’s Existence

The journey of the Israelites to the land of Canaan dates back to biblical times. While some historians argue that this is purely a legend, archaeological evidence supports the existence of the nation of Israel. One such proof is the “Merneptah Stele” or the “Israel Stele,” dating back to the late 13th century BC. Discovered in 1896 by the father of Egyptology, Flinders Petrie, it mentions the Pharaoh’s conquest of the Israelites in the region. This stele is considered strong evidence for the existence of the Israelites.

The Philistines

The Bible also mentions the Philistines, an ethnic group that arrived on the shores of Canaan from the Greek Islands. They inhabited five coastal cities, some of which are still known today, such as Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod. The Philistines lived in Canaan for 200-300 years before vanishing from the region after the Babylonian conquest in the 6th century BC.

Roman Times

In AD 132, the Jews revolted against the Romans, resulting in a three-year war. Afterward, Jews were forbidden to live in Jerusalem, and the Jewish center shifted to Galilee. To erase the memory of Jews from their homeland, Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the province from “the province of the Jews” to “Syria-Palaestina.” By doing so, he linked the name of the province to the biblical Philistines, Latinizing their name to “Palaestina.”

The Modern Era

Over time, different pronunciations of the Latin name “Palaestina” persisted. In 1917, the British Empire conquered biblical Israel from the Ottoman Empire, and the international community awarded biblical Israel to Britain as the “British Mandate for Palestine” after World War I.

Secret Deals: McMahon-Hussain Letter and Sykes-Picot Agreement

Initially, Britain was supported by the Hussain family from Saudi Arabia during World War I. In return, the British promised them land to create “Greater Syria” through the “McMahon-Hussain letter.” In 1919, the Zionist movement signed an agreement with Faisal, son of Hussain, allowing Jewish autonomy in modern-day Israel.

However, the British and the French secretly made a deal, the “Sykes-Picot” agreement, which divided the Middle East differently and ignored the creation of “Greater Syria.” As a result, Transjordan and Iraq were created for the sons of Hussain, Syria came under French rule, and the area of modern-day Israel became “The British Mandate for Palestine and Eretz Israel (EI).”

So, did Palestine exist?

While there was a British mandate for Palestine and EI, there was never a sovereign entity called Palestine. However, during the 31 years of British rule, people worldwide referred to biblical Israel as “Palestine,” including Jewish immigrants to the region.

Partition Plans and Statehood

During British rule, several partition plans were proposed for the British Mandate for Palestine. The plans usually resulted in Jewish approval and Arab resistance. In 1947, the United Nations voted for a partition plan that would create two new countries: a Jewish state and an Arab state. Despite opposition from both sides, the Jews reluctantly agreed. In May 1948, the British ended their mandate, and the Jews declared statehood according to the UN resolution of 1947. Immediately after the declaration of statehood, the Jewish state was attacked by native Arabs and neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, Egypt, and Iraq.

Post-War Developments

Contrary to expectations, Israel was not annihilated. Israel negotiated separately with each attacking country. On the eastern side, Israel negotiated with Transjordan, drawing a “Green Line” between the Israeli and Jordanian militaries. Transjordan took control of the land west of the River Jordan, renaming it the “West Bank.” Until then, it was known as “Judea and Samaria.” Transjordan annexed the land, contrary to the UN resolution to establish an Arab state, and changed its name to “Jordan.”

Jerusalem’s Status After the War

The status of Jerusalem after the war depends on its definition. Most of the holy sites for Judaism and Christianity were under Jordanian rule, including the Mount of Olives, the Old City, the Western Wall, and the Holy Church of the Resurrection.

The 1967 War and Its Aftermath (6-Day War)

In 1967, a war erupted between Israel and all of its neighboring countries. In just six days, Israel tripled its size, conquering the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the entire West Bank. Israel did not annex the West Bank but did annex a small area around Jerusalem, known as “East Jerusalem,” which contained most of the religious sites. Approximately 66,000 Palestinians living in this area were granted permanent residence status, with some later applying for Israeli citizenship. The Islamic Waqf of Jordan was given control of the Temple Mount, home to the Dome of the Rock and Haram al-Sharif (Al Aqsa). To this day, tourists and non-Muslims can visit the Temple Mount Plaza for four hours daily.

The Oslo Accords

In 1995, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed the Oslo Accords, with Israel recognizing the Palestinian Authority as the local leadership and granting them control of major West Bank cities. This temporary agreement was intended to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, Palestinian terrorists who opposed the land partition responded with multiple suicide bombings in Israeli territory. Consequently, Israel built a separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank to regulate the entrance of non-Israeli citizens. The barrier was completed in 2005, but no permanent agreement has been reached since then. Currently, the West Bank is divided into three territories:

Territory “A” – under complete Palestinian control.
Territory “B” – under Palestinian civil control but Israeli military control.
Territory “C” – under complete Israeli control, mainly containing Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

A Glimmer of Hope

The positive aspect of the situation is that, for the most part, Palestinians and Jews coexist peacefully in everyday life. As long as both sides recognize that the other is here to stay, a future solution can and must be found. For more information on traveling through the West Bank, please read here.

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