*** Arabs and Israel Muslims and Jews

The Arab-Israeli Conflict (1947- )

Jewish refugees headed to Israel
Figure 1.--Here four Jewish children are on a train, the first leg of thedir journey to Palestine after having been released from the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The girl on the left is from Poland, the boy in the center from Latvia, and the girl on right from Hungary. The photograph was taken by T4c. J.E. Myers, June 5, 1945. National Archives 111-SC-207907

A conflict between Arabs and Jews is recorded in the Koran at the very inception of Islam. Fourteen centuries later, one of the most intractable conflicts of the 20th century is the conflict between Jews and Arabs. The conflict is centered over Palestine, but not limited to it. The modern problem began in the 19th century, although the two groups trace their claims to the land back to Biblical, centuries before Islam. Most Jews in the 19th century lived in Europe and accept for Russia after centuries of isolation and repression had achieved a high degree of integration in civil society. Most Jews had been emancipated and were full citizens. Pogroms in Russia during the 19th century had driven many Jews to Western Europe and America. This resulted in rising anti-Semitism, but this was partially restrained by the force of law. Most Jews saw their future as Europeans. Zionism gained grown with the Russian Pogroms, but until the rise of the NAZIs in Germany Zionism was supported by only a small minority. The NAZI Holocaust shattered Jewish society throughout Europe. Many of the surviving Jews turned to Zionism and in 1948 managed to obtain United Nations approval for partition and creation of a new Jewish state in Palestine. This basic outline is historical fact. Virtually everything else about the conflict is a matter of contention. An unusual aspect of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that children (Arab and Jewish) are not only the victims of the conflict, but they are also participating in the violence. We have all seen the images of rock-throwing Palestinian boys, some as little as 6 years old. Palestinian youth have carried out suicide bombing attacks killing Israelis of all ages. The Arab obsession with destroying Israel has resulted in a radicalization of Arab society that ironically has led to huge numbers of mostly Arab and other Muslim deaths.


The Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine is often dated from the World War II era. Jews were a primary target of the NAZIs and many Arabs, especially the Palestinians sided with the NAZIs. After the War, Jews understandably pushed for their own country. The issue came to ahead in 1947 when the United Nations voted to partition the British mandate of Palestine between its Jewish and Palestinian population. The background to the conflict, however, goes back many years before that. Here we are assessing the conflict beginning in the 19th century. Of course the conflict between Arabs and Jews predates the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We have compiled a chronological assessment of related developments both before and after the United Nations Partition. Oppression of Jews in both Europe and the Middle East led to the creation of the Zionist movement in the 19th century. There is a vast difference of opinion over this conflict. Of special importance is the emigration over time to Palestine. Of course the Romans did not succeed in expelling all Jews and some Jews lived in Palestine even before the foundation of the Zionist movement. Many people including supposed well read journalists like Helen Thomas seem to think that Israelis have European origins. Many do, but even more have Middle Eastern origins. Over time, Jews have fled from persecution in Middle Eastern countries. Many were actually expelled. There is a great deal of basic historical fact available on the conflict.

Jewish State

The Zionist Movement emerged from the Jewish experience in Western Europe. Great progress was made in emancipating Jews in Western Europe (throughout the 19th century). Jews became integrated into the national life, especially in Western European countries. Jews in Eastern Europe, especially the Russian Empire which included Poland were still denied extensive participation in national life. And even pogroms continued. It was thus in Eastern Europe that Zionism made its greatest progress. There was at the time an outlet, Jews could move to western Europe or emigrate to America. Only in America was Jewish emigration unlimited. Zionist debated the idea of a Jewish state. But even in Western Europe Jews found discrimination as exemplified in the French Dreyfus Affair (1905). Only in America which was by no means free of discrimination did Zionism make no real headway. A call for a Jewish state thus gained support among European Jews. It was, however, the NAZI Holocaust that created a steely determination among Jews that a Jewish state was indispensable. The NAZIs until 1939 had pursued a policy of expulsion. The NAZIs were willing to allows Jews to leave and in fact adopted policies to drive Jews out of Germany, even revoking their citizenship, confiscating property, and denying them all legal protections. In some cases they even expelled Jews. The problem was that Jews could not find countries willing to accept large numbers of Jews. Many Jews did leave Germany and more would have had they been able to find countries to accept them. American emigration policy became more restrictive after World War I. This was not directed specifically at Jews, but it did significantly limit the major haven for European Jews. And the problem of finding countries willing to accept Jews continued even at the Evian Conference (July 1938) when it was becoming increasingly clear where the NAZIs were headed. If a Jewish state had existed, millions of lives could have been saved. This was the idea that was on Jewish minds after World War II when partition and an independent Jewish state surfaced. Arab violence and the lack of a democratic tradition or the idea of minority rights only increased the determination of the Jews who had reached Palestine.

Land Rights

One of the central issues involved with Israeli-Palestinian conflict is who has a right to the land. The basic Jewish Zionist claim is a historical one, dating back to Biblical times before the Roman conquest and subsequent suppression of the Jewish Revolt (1st century AD). The Palestinian claim as the majority population at the time of the Partition is the surely the strongest one. But what date should one use for assessing the Palestinian claim. Does one go back to the early 19th century before the Zionist movement began promoting emigration. Or does one select some time between the beginning of the British mandate (1919) and Partition (1947). A major consideration in assessing rights is the fact that the Palestinians rejected efforts to move toward majority rule during the Mandate period. This seems surprising because they were the majority, but they resisted because the British wanted to include protection for minority rights. Another question is the right of private property. What are the rights of Jews who purchased land in Palestine? And would it be protected in a majority Arab government? We wonder if Arabs and other Muslims in Britain and France would accept the proposition that they do not have the right to buy land because of their religion or ethnicity? Generally speaking the international community since World War II has attempted to stabilize ethnic conflicts by seeking an end to fighting and recognizing the facts on the ground which was the basis for the U.N. Partition. One complaint the Arabs make with some justification is that they should not have to pay for NAZI Germany's Holocaust. But of course many Arabs, including Arab Governments and Iran sided with the NAZIs, including the first major Palestinian leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who from Berlin made propaganda and helped recruit Muslims for the NAZIs as well as encouraging Hitler and Himmler to kill more Jews in Auschwitz during the War. Also it should be recalled, that Israel was not just peopled with European Jews, but Middle-Eastern Jews as well, many of which lost their property including land, if indeed they were allowed to own land, when they left or were expelled from Arab countries.

Human Rights

Israel is one of the few democracies in the Middle East. It is a Jewish state, although one does not have to be Jewish to be a citizen. There is a wide range of individual human rights guaranteed to Israeli citizens of all ethnic and religious affiliations. The rights guaranteed in Israel stand in sharp contrast to those afforded citizens in many other Middle Eastern countries. Yet we notice that the Arab and Iranian press accuse Israel of Fascism and racism. These charges are also echoed in the Western press in recent years, especially the left-wing press. Often the term Apartheid is used to describe Israel. It is thus to have a look and some of the basic human rights and to assess how they are guaranteed or denied in Middle Eastern countries. Many of these were indeed violated by Fascist regimes as well as Communist regimes. The question is where is Fascist principles most entrenched. And where are the rights enshrined in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights are most respected and adhered to.

Religious Rights

Religion was and continued to be a major issue in Israeli-Arab conflict, but not the only issue. Thus religious rights needed to be considered in any assessment of the conflict. And we need to consider that a third religion was involved--Christianity. Not only were European and American Christians interested in the Holy Lands, but there was a very sizeable Arab Christian population in Palestine. There were from the beginning of the British Mandated, substantial differences between Muslims and Jews as to a willingness to tolerate differences. The British very early offered the majority Muslim Arabs majority rule. The Arabs led by the Grand Mufti rejected the offer because the British had attached protection of minority groups to the offer. This was followed by the First Partition of Palestine, Trans-Jordan which became modern Jordan was cut out of eastern Palestine. Th Jordanians proceeded to ban Jews from the new kingdom--a total ban. And then as World War II approached, the Grand Mufti with NAZI assistance attempted to launch an anti-Jewish Kristallnacht in Palestine. After the U.N. Second Partition of Palestine. Arab armies invaded Palestine to destroy Israel. In the resulting war, both sides were accused of atrocities setting refugees in motion. This is complicated, but we know that Arab radio stations ordered Arabs to flee so that The Arab armies could more easily destroy the Jews. After the war, Jordanian authorities denied Jews access to the Wailing Wall. The situation changed with the Six Days War. The Israelis seized control of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The Israelis did not exclude Muslims from the Temple Mount and the revered Dome of the Rock. Rather they included Muslim clerics in the management of the Temple Mount. Muslims were allowed to come into Jerusalem to worship at the holy sites. Palestinian Arabs were granted Israeli citizenship and legal protection. Which van be see because the Arab population has not declined. Israel is one of the few places that Arabs can vote and live under the rule of law. There are no Arab countries where Jews or safe. And Christians are coming under increasing attack. This is especially notable in the Palestinian territories.


There has since the beginning of the Zionist emigration been a remarkable change in the economy of Palestine. The province changed from one of the poorest in the world to under the British mandate to one of the most affluent in the Arab world. Since independence, Israel has emerged as one of the most successful in the world. Non-oil Arab countries, however, measured by basic metrics of modern societies (infant mortality, longevity, nutrition, educational achievement, scientific discoveries, per capita income, books published, democratic government, individual rights, etc.) are largely failed states. Why is this. Are the Israelis responsible or are the Arabs themselves responsible?. And how does this affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Israeli settlements are communities of Israeli citizens which have been developed in land seized by Israel during the Six Days War (1967). [Rivlin, p. 143.] This was one of several wars waged by the Arabs states and Palestinian irregulars since 1948 to destroy Israel. They were primarily situated in Gaza, Sinai, and the West Bank. Israel has removed the 18 Sinai settlements as part of the Egypt–Israel peace agreement (1979). This was not followed by attacks on Israel. As part of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, Israel removed 21 Gaza settlements and 4 in the West Bank (2005). [Gorenberg, p. 363.] The unilateral disengagement from Gaza was an Israeli peace move that would lead the Palestinians to reciprocate. They did not. Instead, Hamas which gained control of Gaza, organized innumerable attacks, most commonly firing rockets into Israel. The settlements have been founded almost entirely by Jews, often Orthodox Jews with strong religious commitments. The settlements are now located on the West Bank. Israel has annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem so the communities there are no longer settlements. These settlements have emerged as a major controversy. The international community considers the settlements to be illegal under international law. [Roberts, pp. 85-86.] It is also the case that Palestinian groups continue to launch attacks into Israel and many of the countries that criticize Israel on the settlements, actually support these attacks. It is rather hypocritical to demand Israel abide by international law and at the same time support and promote attacks on Israel. Israel has taken some actions against new settlements, but may approve some new ones. The Palestinians show no sign of ending terror attacks into Israel. Here Hamas in Gaza has been the primary actor, but the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank continues to honor and pay bounties to terrorists who kill Jews.

Foreign Countries

Foreign countries have from the beginning played a major role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Ottoman Empire allowed the first Zionist settlers. Britain seized Palestine during World War I and was the mandate power governing Palestine until after World War II and partition (1948). The neighboring Arab or front-line states invaded Palestine to support Palestinian irregulars in an effort to destroy Israel (1948-49). The major countries involved in the invasion were Egypt, Syria, and Jordon. The strongest was Egypt which deployed armor forces. The most professional military force was the British trained Arab Legion. Somehow the Haganah which became the core of the Israel Defense Force, without access to heavy weapons, managed to hold on to the area assigned in the U,N. partition. The front-line states joined by other Arab states refused to recognize or negotiate with Israel. They also did not assist the Palestinians establish a state. They began decades of building up military forces to destroy Israel and supporting guerrilla operations against Israel. Jordan's King Abdullah who supported a more moderate approach was assassinated. The Soviets who had voted for partition changed its policy and played a major role in the Arab arms buildup. The United States voted for partition, but until after the Six Days War played only a minor role in the conflict. After repeated military defeats, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat decided to make peace and was assassinated. The overthrow of the Shaw in Iran brought to power an Islamic Republic which joined the fight against Israel.


The level of violence has escalated over time as Palestinians have more and more committed themselves to terrorism targeting civilians. Islamic scholars have played a role here in letting Islam be used to justify violence. And there are a number of verses in the Koran which do justify violence, especially violence against non-Muslims, including the use of terror. This has essentially taken terror out of the box. At first terror against Israelis. Then terror targets were expanded to any Jews. Americans, and other Westerners. But of course once terror is out of the box it is hard to reverse the process. Gradually Muslims becme targets. At first the targets were offending leaders like King Abulah and President Sadat, but gradually innocent Muslims civilians began to be targeted in a range of Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia. The terrorism has become increasing mindless, with terrorists going for higher and higher body counts. When the violence reached Saudi Arabia, some Muslims have begun to have second thoughts about the use of violence. Any calculation of the the victims of terrorists inevitably leads to the obvious conclusion that most of the people being killed are Muslims and that they are being killed by other Muslims in sectarian acts of violence. Now some Islamic scholars are trying to put terror back in the box. A former British radical writes, "A handful of scholars from the Middle East have tried to put radicalism back in the box by saying that the rules of war devised so long ago by Islamic jurists were always conceived with the existence of an Islamic state in mind, a state which would supposedly regulate jihad in a responsible Islamic fashion. In other words, individual Muslims don't have the authority to go around declaring global war in the name of Islam." [Butt} It remains to be seen if this is possible.

Pacifist/Peace Movement

There have been peace and pacifist movements in all the important conflicts of the 20th century. The exceptions have been the wars fought by totalitarian powers (NAZI Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union). Totalitarian powers equated peace movements and pacifism as treason and individuals who dared to speak out were arrested and usually executed. The space for peace movements and pacifism in democratic countries has varied. Often is was not great, at other times it was substantial. Civilians could be arrested, but not executed. The existence of peace and pacifist movements in Israel and Palestine is thus an important one to consider. We know of Israeli peace activists who enjoy a level of tolerance in Israel. An important element of the Zionist movement was socialism and there was a strong peace/pacifist strain of thought among socialists. Thus in Israel there was a political foundation for a peace sand fascist movement. We do not know of any comparable movement among the Palestinians or indeed the wider Arab world. We note Palestinian and Arab groups publicizing Jews who criticize Israel, but do not note any toleration for Palestinians promoting pacifism or peace.

Occupied Territories

Surely the most common theme in current discussion of the Middle East is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian/Arab lands ans if Israel would only end the occupation than there would be peace. Rarely do the propagandists and pundits who pursue this theme address the history of the conflict. Almost all of the occupied territories were acquired in the Six Day War. Were the Arabs oriented toward peace after the 1948-49 War or the Suez War when there were no occupied territories? Or did the Arabs make any concessions when the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza? Not only wee there no concessions, but the withdrawal brought a war and a rain of rockets. This basic history suggests that the fundamental Arab agenda is not just ending the occupation, but at heart remains the destruction of Israel.


HBC is particularly concerned with children's issues. The question we want to pursue is how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has affected the children. We have noted some horrific images broadcast by the media. Some seem to defy understanding. Here we need to look at society, education, the economy, living standards, health care, and the conflict itself. This is a particularly important topic for our HBC assessment. We are not entirely sure how to address this topic, but we have some basic ideas and hopefully readers will also have insights to add.

Failure of Arab Society

The Arabs today encompass a vast swath of territory from Iraq in the heart of the Middle East west to Morocco on the Atlantic coast. From the very beginning of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, the Arab states without exception made the struggle a pan-Arab struggle with Israel. This raises the question of why such a large grouping of countries backed for a time with large quantities of Soviet arms have not been able to destroy tiny Israel. American diplomat Henry Kissinger succinctly stated the question during secret talks with Iraqi diplomats in 1975. Kissinger said rather cynically, "We can't negotiate about the existence of Israel, but we can reduce its size to historical proportions. I don't agree that Israel is a permanent threat. How can a nation of three million be a permanent threat? They have a technical advantage now. But it is inconceivable that peoples with wealth and skill and the tradition of the Arabs won't develop the capacity that is needed. So I think in ten to fifteen years, Israel will be like Lebanon struggling for existence, with no influence in the Arab world." [Stein] Kissinger was wrong about Israel's future. The question he poses, however, is very important. Why have the Arab states which mostly achieved their independence after World War I or World War II been such failures. The inability to destroy Israel is the most publicized failure. The more fundamental failure has been their inability to provide a decent living standard to their people. The only exception here has been the oil states. For years the Arabs blamed their failure on Ottoman rule. Then for a brief time they blamed European colonialism. But most Arab states have been independent for more than 50 years. Why have they failed to participate in the global economic boom. Ironically while the Arabs who complain loudly about European colonialism, attempt in large numbers to emigrate to Europe, legally and illegally, because there is so little economic opportunity in their now independent homelands.

Arab Thought

There seems to be very indication that either the Palestinians or the Arab world in general are willing to make peace with Israel. Even in Jordon and Egypt, the two countries which signed peace treaties with Israel, there is little public support for ending the struggle. Arab newspapers are full of extremely inflammatory one-sided reporting, often including inaccuracies and openly anti-Semitic rhetoric. There are moderate voices, but often the most reflective assessments come from Arabs in Europe, in part because of Government media controls and the fact that it is dangerous to openly question the struggle with Israel. An Egyptian writer in Europe writes, "My parents' generation grew up high on the Arab nationalism that Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser brandished in the 1950s. By 1967, humiliation was decisively stepping into pride's large, empty shoes. As the region marks the 40th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli War , its been a relief to be watching from another country, one wear the strains of war and defeat have marked several generations. Is this what we fought all those wars with Israel for? My country, Egypt, fought four wars against Israel between 1948, when the Jewish state was created, and 1979, when Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. ..., Watching the Palestinians' whip-lash descent into civil war in Gaza this summer, it is difficult not to question the past. Israel's occupation of Palestinian land has caused no end of misery, poverty and frustration for the Palestinians. {HBC note: the poverty in the West Bank and Gaza today came not with the Israeli occupation, but with the Intifada and the authority given to the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo Peace process.] It has even scarred the Israeli conscience. But occupation doesn't explain the reckless and often corrupt leadership that seems to be the curse of the Palestinians." [Eltahawy, p. A19.]

Media Reporting

The Israeli-Arab conflict is a topic that is extensively reported in the press. We have generally noted a fair degree of accuracy in the Western media. This has, however, changed in the 1990s, although we are not entirely sure why. This shift in the reporting is an important topic that needs to be pursued. Many important Western media outlets, both networks (BBC, CNN, NBC, and others ) as well as important newspapers (Guardian. Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post) and others) show a clear idelogical bias in their reporting. This is not normally a matter of outright fabrication, at least with the Western media. There has been appalling incidents of journalistic ethics and competence even in the Western media. The BBC has been found guilty of manufacturing news. CBS fixture Dan Rather was duped into using amateurishly manufactured documents, accepting them because of his ideological bias. The more common problem with the Western media has been a willingness to show or report on Palestinian suffering without reporting on what prompted Israeli actions. Because of the problems with the media, we think it is necessary to monitor some of the most egregious examples of inaccurate or misleading reporting. Here we are able to monitor primarily the English language media. Readers are invited to provide to forward media reporting from their country's press that they believe should be noted.

President Obama

President Obama has on many occasions stated his commitment to Israel's security. The Israelis and the pro-Israeli lobby in America are, however, concerned about that commitment. Some believe that the President is prepared to pressure Israel to make concessions that could threaten its security in a quixotic attempt to gain concessions from Iran and Arab groups like Hamas or Hezbollah. The President is certainly more popular in the Middle East than President Bush. Whether he can convert that popularity into concrete progress on major issues. His first major plunge into Middle Eastern politics was a policy speech aimed at the Arab World delivered in Cairo (June 4, 2009). We have analyzed the speech both for historical accuracy as well for signals as to the President's mindset.

One or Two State Solution

The debate over Israel is essentially a debate over one or two state solution. The Israelis favor a two-state solution because in a one state solution, Jews would inevitably become a minority in an Arab/Muslim majority state. That is not to say that Israelis want a theocracy based on Judaism. Israel is a secular state, based on secular laws. Perhaps even more important is that throughout the Muslim world, including Palestine, there is a consistent failure to understand and perceive minority rights. There was once a very substantial Christian Arab population on the West Bank, under Palestinian rule, that community is rapidly disappearing. In sharp contrast, there is considerable legal protection for Muslim Palestinians which represent about 15 percent of Israel's population. The population is not only growing, but it is the most affluent Arab population in the Middle East, with the exception of the oil states. Compare this to the situation for Jews, Christians, and non-Majority sect Muslims in other Middle Eastern countries. It is also in sharp contrast to the constitution of the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas in Gaza. Thus it is instructive to look at the one-state constitutions that Palestinians and other Middle Eastern countries are demanding that Israel accept as part of a one state solution.


Butt, Hassan. "My plea to fellow Muslims: you must renounce terror," The Observer (July 1, 2007).

Clinton, Bill. My Life (Knopf: New York, 2004), 957p.

Eltahawy, Mona. "What use were all the wars, " The Washington Post (June 28, 2007), P. A19. Eltahawy is an Egyptian commentator living in Germany.

Gorenberg, Gershom (2007). The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967–1977 (Macmillan; 2007).

Hammer, Joshua. A Season in Bethlehem: Holy War in a Sacred Place (2003).

Helms, Eichards with William Hood. A Look over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency (Random House, 2003), 478p.

Hertzberg, Arthur. The Fate of Zionism: A Secular Future for Israel and Palestine (Harper: San Francisco, 2003).

Oren, Michael B. Power, Faith, and Fantasy (2007).

Rivlin, P. (2010). The Israeli Economy from the Foundation of the State through the 21st Century. (Cambridge University Press: 2010). Israel occupied the Golan Heights, the West Bank, areas of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula (1967). This is when the settlement building began. Since then the Sinai has been returned to Egypt and Israel has disengaged from Gaza. It has also annexed the Golan Heights and Jerusalem.

Roberts, Adam. "Prolonged Military Occupation: The Israeli-Occupied Territories Since 1967," The American Journal of International Law. American Society of International Law (1990) Vol. 84, Mo. 1.

Rosenthal, Donna. The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land (Free Press, 2003), 466p. This is rather a popular, but insightful description of Israeli society.

Ross, Dennis. The Missing Peace. Ambassador Ross was deeply involved in the Camp David discussions. Ross includes in his book a verbatim copy of the final offer Barak made and that Arafat refused to accept.

Stein, Kennrth W. Preface to "Henry Kissinger to Iraq in 1975: "We Can Reduce Israel's Size," Middle East Quarterly (Fall 2006).

Wasserstein, Bernard. Israelis and Palestinians: Why Do They Fight? Can They Stop? (Yale University Press, 2003).


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Created: April 29, 2003
Spell checked: 3:02 AM 1/15/2017
Last updated: 3:02 AM 1/15/2017