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.


Important note: It is impossible to cover such a complicated topic in a short article. There are multiple narratives that describe the conflict differently. Please read more on the topic to receive a broader perspective.


The Bible

The Israelites began their journey into the land of Canaan in biblical times.  Some historians would argue that this is only a legend.  However, there is actual archaeological proof for the existence of the nation of Israel.  it dates back to the late thirteenth century BC and is called the “Merneptah Stele” or the “Israel Stele”. It was discovered in 1896 by the father of Egyptology, the famous British archaeologist Flinders Petrie.  It states that one of the Pharaohs eliminated the nation of Israel during his conquests in the region.   Archaeologists consider this to be stele strong evidence for the existence of the Israelites. 


The Philistines

The Philistines are also mentioned in the Bible. they are an ethnicity that sailed over to the shores of Canaan from the Greek Islands.  They lived in 5 coastal cities.  Some of these are known by name until today: Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod, for example. Most Philistines went on to live in Canaan for 200-300 years. After the Babylonian conquest of the 6th Century BC, no Philistines remained in the land of Canaan. 


Roman Times

In the year AD 132, the Jews revolted against the Romans. This war lasted three years. After this war Jews were not permitted to live in Jerusalem. the Jewish Center moved to Galilee. What was called until then “the province of the Jews” had to change its name.  The emperor Hadrian decided to abolish the memory of Jews from their Homeland.  Therefore, instead of  “the province of the Jews” it was now named “Syria-Palaestina”. By doing this, he attached the name of the province to the name of the biblical Philistines, latinizing their name to “Palaestina”.


The Modern Era

Different pronunciations of the Latin name carried on throughout the generations. In the year 1917, the British Empire conquers Biblical Israel from the Ottoman Empire. The international community awarded Biblical Israel to the British Empire when the first world war ends. It is known as the “British Mandate for Palestine”.


The British and the French make a secret deal

Initially, the British were aided in the first world war by the Hussain family from Saudi-Arabia against the Ottomans. In return, they were promised land to create “Greater Syria”. The agreement was called the “McMahon-Hussain letter”. In 1919, the Zionist movement signed an agreement with Faisal, son of Hussain, to allow Jewish Autonomy in the newly formed country. This autonomy would be in modern-day Israel.

However, the British and the French had secretly made a deal that served colonial interests. They divided up the middle east differently, as seen in the map below. According to the “Sykes-Picot” agreement, there would be no “Greater Syria”. A big portion of the intended land would be under French rule.

The result was the creation of Transjordan and Iraq for the sons of Hussain. Syria was under French rule. The area of modern-day Israel became “The British Mandate for Palestine and EI”.

So there was a Palestine?

There was a British mandate for Palestine and EI (Eretz Israel).  There was never a sovereign entity by the name of Palestine.  However, during the next 31 years of British rule, people all over the world referred to biblical Israel as “Palestine”. Even Jews immigrating to Israel commonly referred to it as “Palestine”.


What happens next?

During British rule, several partition plans for the British Mandate for Palestine were suggested.  To make a long story short, all of these resulted in Jewish approval and Arab resistance.  In 1947, the United Nations voted for a partition plan which would form two new countries: a Jewish state and an Arab state.  While this plan’s map raised opposition on both sides, the Jews reluctantly agreed.  In fact, the Jewish State would be established without Jerusalem. Despite that, Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister said:” Better a small country than no country at all”. Another thing to remember is that this happened only a few years after the end of the Holocaust. Jewish refugees still living in DP camps in Europe had nowhere to immigrate. In May of 1948, the British ended their mandate and left the country hastily. the Jews decided to declare statehood according to the UN resolution of 1947. After the declaration of statehood, the Jewish state was immediately attacked. Not only by the native Arabs but also by its neighboring countries: Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, Egypt, and even Iraq, which had no mutual border with Israel.



What happened after the war?

To everyone’s surprise, Israel was not annihilated.  Israel deliberated with each of the countries separately. On the Eastern side, Israel deliberated with Transjordan. they drew a green line in an area between the Israeli military and the Jordanian one. The line drawn with a green marker was to be known as “the green line”.  Transjordan took over the entire piece of land west of the River Jordan, rebranding it as the “West Bank”. Until that day it was called “Judea and Samaria”. This was the name of the land in the UN partition plan of 1947. Much of that land was designated to be the Arab state. After the war, Transjordan annexed it, even though this went against the UN resolution to establish an Arab state. Also, from that day on, Transjordan changed its name to “Jordan”, now that it controlled the other bank of the River Jordan.


So Jerusalem was a part of Israel after the war?

That depends on the definition of “Jerusalem”. Practically all 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 Resurrection.


When did this change?

In 1967 there was a war between Israel and all of its neighboring countries. in 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 wish to Annex the West Bank. Instead, Israel annexed a thin loop on the northern, eastern, and southern sides of Jerusalem. This is a small piece of land containing most of the religious sites, and is known as “East Jerusalem”. An estimated 66,000 Palestinians were now under Israeli rule and were given permanent residence status. Later on, some of them applied for Israeli citizenship. Many refused to cooperate with the Israeli government and never became citizens. The Islamic Waqf of Jordan was given control of the Temple mount.  This is the site where the Jewish temple used to stand until the year 70. Today it contains the Dome of the Rock and Haram al-sharif (Al Aqsa). Until this day, tourists and non-muslims are permitted to visit the Temple Mount Plaza for 4 hours a day.



What are the Oslo Accords?

In 1995, an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was signed. Israel acknowledged the Palestinian Authority as the local leadership, giving them control of the large cities in the West Bank. This was a temporary agreement that was supposed to lead to the foundation of a Palestinian state. Palestinian terrorists who opposed the partition of the land responded with multiple suicide bombings deep in Israeli territory.  As a result, Israel was forced to build a separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank to regulate the entrance of non-Israeli citizens. The separation barrier was completed in 2005. Since then, the delegations have met multiple times but have not finalized a permanent agreement. Currently, the West Bank is divided into three pieces of land.

  1. The first, called territory “A” is under complete Palestinian control. 
  2. The second called territory “B”,  includes areas under Palestinian civil control but under Israeli military control. 
  3. The third territory “C”,  is under complete Israeli control, containing mainly Jewish settlements in the West Bank. 


So what’s the good news?

The good news is that for a vast majority of everyday life, Palestinians and Jews get along excellently.  As long as both sides acknowledge that the other side is there to stay some form of solution will have to be found in the future. Read here about traveling through the west bank.

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