* 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 cebntered 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 shatered Jewish society throughout Europe. Many of the surviving Jews turned to Zionism and in 1948 managed to obtain United Nations aproval for partition and creatiomn 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 Isreali-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 Isrealis of all ages. The Arab obsession with destroying Israel has resulted in aadicalization of Arab society that ironically has led to huge numnmbers 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 ans many Arans, especisally the Palestinians sided with the NAZIs. After the War, Jews understanably pushed for theor 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 conflit beginning in the 19th century. Of course the conflict between Arabs and Jews predates the Palestnian-Israeli conflict. We have compiled a chronological assesstment of related developments both before and after the United Nations Partition. Oppression of Jews in boh Europe and the Niddle 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 suceed in expelling all Jews and some Jews klived in Palestine even before the foundation of the Zionist movement. Many people including suposedly well read journalists like Helen Thomas seem to think that Israelis have European prigins. Many do, but even more have Middle Easyern 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 particiption in national life. And even pogroms contunued. 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 descrination as exemplified in the French Drefus Affair (1905). Only in America which was by no means free of decrimination did Zionism make no real headway. A call for a Jewish state thus gained support anong 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 dremigration. 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 Confference (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 histotorical one, dating back to Biblical times before the Roman conquest and subsequent supression of the Jewish Revolt (1st century AD). The Palestinian claim as the majority population at the time of the Patition is the surely the strongest one. But what date should one use for assessing the Palestinisan 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 reigion or eethniity? Generally speaking the international community since World War II has attempted to satablize ethnic conflicts by seeking an end to fighting and recognizing the facts on the grond 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, includuing Arab Governmrents 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 incouraging 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 endeed 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 guaranted to Isreali 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 Irnian press acuse Israel of Fascism and racism. These charges are also echoed in the Westrn press in recent years, especially the left-wing press. Often the term Aparthaid is used to describe Israel. It is thus to hve 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 IsrealiArab 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 thirs=d 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, substantil differences between Muslims and Jews as to a willingness to tolerate differences. The British very early offered the majority Muslim Arabs majirity rule. The arabs led by the Frand Mufti rejected the offer because the Brirish 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 Wotld War II approached, the Grand Mufti wiyh NAZI assistance atte,pted to launch an abti-Jewish Krilstallnacht in Palestine. After the U.N. Second Partition of Palestine. Arab armies invaded Palestine tobdesroy Israel. In the resulting war, both sides were accused of atrocities aetting refugees in motion. This is complicated, but we know that arab radio stations ordered arabs to flee so that The arab armies could more easil destroy the Jews. After the war, Jirdanian authorities denied Jews acces to the Wailing Wall. The situation changed with the Six Days War. The Isrealis 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 wre cgranted Israeli citizenship nd legal protection and the Arab population has not declines. Israel is one of the few places that rabs can vote and live under the rule of law. There are no Arab countries where Jews or safe. And Christians are coming under creasing 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, percapita income, books published, democratic government, individual rights, ect.) are largely failed states. Why is this. Are the Isrealis 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 simce 1948 to destroy Israel. They were primarily situated in Gaza, Siani, and the West Bank. Israel has removed the 18 Sianai settlements as part of the Egypt–Israel peace agreement (1979). This was not dollowed bt attaxks on Isreal. 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 inumerable attacks, most commonly firing rockets into Israel. The settlements have been founded almost entirely by Jees, often Orthodox Jews with strong religious commitments. The settlements are now located on the West Bank. Israel has annexed the Golaon Hrights and East Jerusalem so the communities there are no longer settlemebnts. 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 laumch attacks into Israel and many of the countries that criticize Isreal on the settlents, actually support these attacks. It is rather hypcritical to demand Isreal abide by internatiinal 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 Plaestinians show no sign of ending terror attacks into Israel. Here Hamas in Gaza has been the primary actor, but the Palestinian Austhority on the West Bank cointiniues to honor and pay bounties to terorists who kill Jews.

Foreign Countries

Foreign countries have fom the beginning played a major role in the Israeli-Palestian 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 partiton (1948). The neigboring Arab or frontline 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 Hagenah 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 Palestinias establish a state. They began decades of building up military forces to destroy Israel and supporting guerrila operaions against Israel. Jordan's King Abdullah who supported a more moderate approach was assasinated. The Soviets who had voted for partition changed its policy and played a major frole in the Arab arms buildup. The United States voted for partitin, 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 assasinated. The overthrow of the Shaw in Iran brought to power an Islamic Republic which joined the fight against Israel.


The level of violence has ecalated over time as Palestinians have more and more commited themselves to terrorism targetting 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 tagets 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. Grdually Muslims bdcme targets. At first the targets were offending leaders like King Abulah and President Sadat, but gradually innocent Muslims civilians began to be targetted 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 bovious 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 pacifisn as treason and individuals who dared to speak out were arrested and usually executed. The space for peace movements and pacifism in democraric 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 Isreali 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 Palestinisan and Arab groups publicizing Jews who criticize Israel, but do not note any toleration for Palestisans promoting pacofism or peace.

Occupied Territories

Surely the most common theme in current discussion of the Middle East is the Isreali occupation of Palestinian/Arab lands ans if Israel would only end the occupation than there would be peace. Rarely do the propagabndists and pundits who persue 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 Isrealis withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza? Not only wee there no concessions, but the withdrawl 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 persue is how the Isreali-Palesinian conlict has affected the children. We have noted some horific 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 aparticularly 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 sath 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 Isrealis, 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 Kissenger succiently stated the question during secret talks with Iraqi diplomats in 1975. Kissenger said rather cinically, "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] Kissenger 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. Thean 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, attempr 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 Palestinizns 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 inflamatory one-sided reporting, often including inacuracies and openly anti-Semitic retoric. There are moderate voices, but often the most reflective assessments come from Arabs in Europe, in part becuse 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 od the Arab-Isreali War , its been a relief to be watching from another country, one wear the strains of war and defeat have marked several geberations. Is this wgat we fought all those wars with Israel for? My country, Egypt, fought four wars against Israelbetween 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 povery in the Westa Bank and Gaza today came not with the Isreali occupation, but with the Interfada and the authority given to the Palestinoian Authority as part of the Oslo Peace process.] It has even scarred the Isreali conconscience. 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 Isreali-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 repoering is an important topic that neds to be persued. 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 fabercation, at least with the Western media. There has been apauling 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 usung amaturisly manufactured documents, acepting 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 lprompted Isreali actions. Because of the problems with the media, we think it is necessary to monitor some of the most egrious 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 coyntry's press that they believe should be noted.

President Obama

President Obama has on many occassions stated his commitment to Israel's security. The Isrealis and the pro-Isreali 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 concessiins from Iran and Arab groups like Hamas or Hesbolah. The President is certainly more popular in the Middle East than President Bush. Whether he can convert that populrity 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 analized the speech both for historical accuracy as well for signals as to the President's mindset.

One or Two State Sollution

The debate over Israel is essentially a debate over one or two state sollution. The Isrealis favor a two-state sollution because in a one state sollution, Jews would inevitably become a minority in an Arab/Muslim majority state. That is not to say that Isrealis want a theoracy based on Judiaism. Isreal is a secular state, based on secular laws. Perhaps even more important is that throughout the Muslim worls, including Palestime, there is a consistent failure to understand and preceive minority rights. There was once a very sunstantial Christaian Arab population on the Wesrt 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 uis the most affluent Arab population in the Middle East, with the exception of the oil states. Compare this to the situation for Jews, Christiasns, and non-Majority sect Muslims in other Middle Eastern countries. It is also in sharp contrast to the constitution of the suposedly moderate Palestianian 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 sollution.


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 Egytian 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 Bethleham: 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 Jerrusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula (1967). This is whem the settlemnt building negan. Since then the Siani 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 Extrodinary Land (Free Press, 2003), 466p. This is rather a popular, but insightful description of Isralei 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).


Navigate the CIH Children in History Pages:
[Return to Main 20th century war page]
[Return to Main war page]
[Return to Main Israel page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]

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