The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has disputed the findings highlighted in the report by ABC’s Emily Clark An attempt to explain why explosions are again filling the skies over Israel and Gaza.
There is a long history of occupation, oppression and violence in the region and it’s impossible to explain it all in one concise article. What we can try to do is provide some background, explain what’s happening at the moment and contextualise the position of the relevant sides.
We will keep working to explain the situation over coming days and weeks.
An abbreviated history of the region
The region we’re talking about is between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, below Lebanon and north of Egypt.
Like many places on Earth, the history of the region is complex and bloodied. It has been ruled by many different powers over centuries, but Arab people have lived there throughout.
Not so. “Arab people” have not lived there “throughout”. It is false to suggest that all Semitic peoples are Arabs. This is one of the foundational myths of the anti-Israel narrative. It is designed to air-brush away the ancient and unbroken historical connection of the Jewish people to Israel.
Pretending that any of the people of ancient Canaan were “Arab people” is not merely false but disingenuous. In some of the surviving murals at Karnak from 3000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians strikingly depicted the Canaanites as a distinctly different ethnocultural group from the Shasu (the ancestors of the Arabs) – different in dress, hairstyles and general appearance. The ancient Canaanites did not speak any ancient or other form of Arabic. They worshipped a pantheon of pagan gods and engaged in bizarre rituals, which would be anathema to all Arabs. In fact, they had religious and cultural practices, such as human sacrifice, including child sacrifice, sexual rites, eating of pigs and drinking of wine, which are entirely repugnant to Arab and Muslim mores.
The Arabic language and culture originated in the Arabian peninsula. It is a southern Semitic language that is distinctly different from the north-western Semitic languages spoken by the ancient Canaanites, Hebrews and Arameans. Arabic was not embraced as the prevailing language and culture of the Levant or any other parts of the Middle East and North Africa until well after the Arab-Muslim military invasions and conquests of the 7th century. In fact, not a word of Arabic is to be found on any document or artefact from these locations dating any earlier than the 7th century CE.
There is thus no evidence of any continuity in ethnicity, language, customs, religion, diet or mores between the ancient Canaanites and contemporary “Arab people”. Indeed, all the available evidence points to their stark differences. The claim that there is some direct line of continuity of peoplehood and ethno-cultural identity from the ancient Canaanites to modern-day Palestinians is a very recent one that has been fabricated for transparently political purposes in the context of the contemporary Israel-Palestinian conflict. No academic historian, anthropologist or archaeologist of any repute has given this claim any credence whatsoever. It is devoid of truth.
Most recently — and we’re talking the past few hundred years — the area now known as Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories was ruled by the Ottoman Empire and after World War I, the United Kingdom.
No, we’re not just talking “the past few hundred years”. The Ottomans conquered the Holy Land in 1517. Over the next two centuries a wave of Jews living in other parts of the Ottoman Empire moved to the Holy Land and joined other Jews whose families had lived there continuously since antiquity, principally in the four Holy Cities (for Jews) of Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron.
There’s no straight line that can be drawn between religious groups. It’s a mix of religion, nationalism, ethnicity and geopolitics.
If this is intended as an obscure way to deny the ancient and unbroken historical connection of the Jewish people to Israel, it is false. In contrast to the complete absence of Arabic writing, artefacts or inscriptions to be found anywhere in the Holy Land dating before the Muslim conquests of the 7th century CE, and the absence of any reference to Palestine as a descriptor for a people before the late nineteenth century, there is an abundance of evidence of a distinct people and polity called “Israel” stretching back to the dawn of the Iron Age, more than 3,200 years ago. Even for those who do not believe in the Bible, there is no shortage of documents and other archaeological artefacts which attest to the antiquity of Israel and the Jewish people.
The oldest reference to a people called Israel located in ancient Canaan is to be found on a stone monument of the Egyptian Pharaoh Merenptah, son of Rameses II. The monument is dated to about 1,205 BCE and records Merenptah’s military campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa. One section of it records his victories in Canaan and declares that the Egyptians laid waste “Israel” and destroyed its crops.
Significantly, “Israel” is identified by the hieroglyphic determinative for “a people”, a socio-ethnic unity powerful enough to be mentioned along with major city-states against which Merenptah campaigned. According to Professor Michael G Hasel:
“Israel functioned as an agriculturally-based/sedentary socio-ethnic entity in the late 13th century B.C., one that is significant enough to be included in the military campaign against political powers in Canaan. …While the Merneptah stela does not give any indication of the actual social structure of the people of Israel, it does indicate that Israel was a significant socio-ethnic entity that needed to be reckoned with”
Both Arab people of different faiths and Israeli Jewish people date their claims to the land back thousands of years, but it was in the early 20th century that the brutal displacement of the Palestinians began.
The description “brutal displacement” to describe lawful land purchases by Jews in the early 20th century, often at above-market prices, is false and inflammatory. Organised sectarian violence began in 1920, and it was directed against Jewish civilians by Arab leaders, including the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who later allied himself with, and moved to, Nazi Germany. There were many examples of these attacks, the most notorious of which were the massacres of Jews which took place in Hebron and other places in 1929.
In the late 1800s, a Jewish movement to establish a homeland in what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine began. It gathered pace after the defeat and collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
After World War I, the British ruled the area under a mandate from the League of Nations. They committed to the establishment of two separate states — one Jewish and one Arab.
No, the British never committed to establishing two States. In the Balfour Declaration, they committed to allowing the Jewish people to establish a national home. This commitment received international endorsement at the San Remo Conference of the victorious Allied powers of WWI in 1920, and in the terms of the Mandate granted to Britain by the League of Nations in 1922. The League of Nations Mandate:
explicitly recognised “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country” (Preamble)
provided for the recognition of a “Jewish agency…as a public body for the purpose of advising and co-operating with the [British] Administration of Palestine” in economic, social and other policy (Article 4); and
provided that the Administration of Palestine “shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes” (Article 6)
In 1937 a British Royal Commission recommended partitioning the country into a Jewish State and an Arab State but the British government never adopted the recommendation.
Al-Husseini appeared before the Royal Commission and shocked the commissioners with his extremism when he suggested that most of the then existing Jewish population of Palestine should be forced to leave the country or be exterminated. When asked whether he thought the 400,000 Jews already living in Palestine could be assimilated into the country, he gave a one-word answer: “No”. When pressed whether he meant that some of the Jews “would have to be removed by a process kindly or painful, as the case may be” he replied, “We must leave all this to the future”. Husseini’s answer takes on an especially sinister connotation in light of the fact that he was soon to become one of Nazi Germany’s most fanatical and devoted allies.
Following the Mufti’s evidence, the Commission noted ironically, “We are not questioning the Mufti’s intentions…but we cannot forget what recently happened, despite treaty provisions and explicit assurances, to the Assyrian [Christian] minority in Iraq; nor can we forget that the hatred of the Arab politician for the [Jewish] National Home has never been concealed and that it has now permeated the Arab population as a whole.”
On 17 May 1939, as the Arab riots ended, the British issued a White Paper severely limiting Jewish immigration into Palestine. Published on the eve of World War II and the Holocaust, the White Paper tore up the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to foster the Jewish national home and effectively signed the death warrant for tens of thousands of European Jews who might otherwise have found refuge from the approaching Nazi genocide. The existing Jewish population in Palestine would be relegated to permanent minority status in a future majority-Arab state.
Yet incredibly this too was rejected by al-Husseini and his followers. As Husseini’s evidence to the Commission had revealed, they were resolved to expel or kill off most of the Jews already living in Palestine.
This rejectionist attitude sadly persists and remains at the core of the conflict.
After the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people in World War II, the newly formed United Nations voted to establish Israel alongside a Palestinian state.
In fact, the UN General Assembly resolved that the territory of the British Mandate be partitioned into a “Jewish State” which would have obligations to protect the rights of its “Arab minority” and an “Arab State” which would have obligations to protect the rights of its “Jewish minority”. The Arabs not only rejected the resolution but in late November 1947 they went to war against their Jewish neighbours to prevent its implementation. This civil war openly declared and initiated by Arab leaders, was what caused the first Palestinians to flee the country.
Many Jews believe this was a homecoming, the return to their Holy Land and their rightful place.
In fact, by 1947, the Jewish population already living in the country had already established the foundations of a State.
In 1948, the state of Israel was founded. The Arab nations of the region, including Jordan and Egypt, refused to recognise it and war followed.
War did not just “follow”. The armies of 5 Arab States invaded the country on 15 May 1948 in a massive land grab.
The new Israeli armed forces conquered more territory than envisaged by the UN vote — including the western half of Jerusalem.
The UN vote was violently rejected by all Arab leaders. They announced and launched a war that was openly aimed at “driving the Jews into the sea” in order to prevent the UN resolution from being implemented.
The partition and subsequent war resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
It also resulted in an even greater number of Jews, some 800,000 of them, being forcibly expelled from Arab countries.
Many were forced from their homes and their property was seized by Israelis.
Properties left behind by the Palestinians who fled are held by the government Custodian in Israel. As early as 1949, the Israeli government committed itself to paying fair compensation for these properties as part of an overall peace settlement.
A much smaller number of Jews were displaced, mostly from East Jerusalem.
They were killed or evicted and their homes were either destroyed or seized by Jordan, without any commitment to pay compensation. Quite the contrary.
In the next war, in 1967, Israel extended its control further, pushing Jordan, Syria and Egypt back to take over the rest of Jerusalem and the surrounding West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip and Golan Heights on the Syrian border.
The 1967 war was instigated by Arab leaders in a second attempt to expel the Jews. In May 1967, the Egyptian government massed 100,000 troops in the Sinai peninsula to confront Israel, ordered out the UN peacekeeping force and imposed a naval blockade cutting off maritime access to Israel’s southern port of Eilat through which, at that time, Israel imported 90% of its oil requirements. The latter measure, a clearly unlawful act of aggression which was widely denounced as such at the time, was the proximate cause of the 1967 war.
Israel established long-running military occupation of these areas and despite UN Security Council resolutions against it, Israel built new settlements for its people.
As well as civilian protesters, armed Palestinian groups have opposed the Israelis and several terrorist groups, including militant group Hamas, have launched waves of attacks, including suicide bombers.
Recently, the International Criminal Court launched an investigation into alleged war crimes by both Israel and Palestinians and on Thursday its head prosecutor said she was watching current events “with great concern”.
So, Israel is an independent state, but the Palestinians do not have an equivalent.
See next comment.
For decades, the international community has worked towards establishing a Palestinian state but that hasn’t happened.
Israel has made far-reaching offers to the Palestinians to try to resolve the conflict – at Camp David in 2000, at Taba in 2001 (based on the Clinton Bridging proposals) and at Annapolis in 2008 (the Olmert offer). In a joint Israeli-Palestinian statement made at the conclusion of the Taba Summit on 27 January 2001, the parties declared that “they have never been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus [their] shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiations…” The seriousness of the Israeli offers is thus beyond reasonable argument.
The Palestinian National Authority, established in the 1990s, runs police and services in the major cities and towns of the West Bank and has slowly brought the terrorist groups there under control.
The Tanzim and other terrorist groups operating in the West Bank are branches of the PLO which controls the Palestinian National Authority.
While Israel still controls the air and sea space around Gaza, it pulled its troops out in 2005, but Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, now controls it.
That’s where the rockets fired at Israel are coming from.
And of course — Jerusalem. You might have heard news about Jerusalem being a disputed capital.
The fate of Jerusalem and its holy sites is one of the most explosive issues in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel controls the whole city and has declared it the capital, but there are UN Security Council resolutions against that too because international law bans acquiring territory by force.
Israel’s claims are not based on force. They are based on the terms of the League of Nations Mandate which continued to operate under the UN Charter (Article 80).
The Palestinians haven’t given up on establishing their own capital in the eastern part of the city.
And the offers Israel made to the Palestinians (see above) included having their capital in the predominantly Arab neighbourhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
That’s why most nations have their embassies in Tel Aviv and why it was such a big deal when Donald Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2018 — it’s seen as recognition of Israel’s claim.
Details of the recent conflict
So, the battle for Jerusalem has been going for decades.
Inside East Jerusalem is the al-Aqsa Mosque — the third holiest site in Islam.
The site is also sacred to Jews, who believe [It’s not just a belief. Until the 1950s the Arab religious authorities and Muslim writers acknowledged that the site is where the Ancient Jewish Temple stood] it’s where the Jewish Second Temple stood until the first century, and is considered a “chronic flashpoint” in the regional conflict.
Over the weekend, violence erupted at the al-Aqsa Mosque when Israeli riot police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at Palestinians.
Israel says they stormed the mosque’s compound in response to Palestinians stockpiling rocks and throwing them at police.
Video is freely available online to substantiate the stockpiling inside the mosque.
More than 300 Palestinians were injured, according to the Red Crescent, the Red Cross affiliate in the Muslim world.
At least 21 police officers were injured, according to Israeli police.
Hamas gave Israeli forces a deadline to be out of the area and when that lapsed, the militant group fired rockets into Israel from Gaza.
The Jerusalem events had nothing to do with Hamas, 75 kilometres away in Gaza, and in any event, they did not even remotely justify the indiscriminate firing of 1800 rockets or more at Israeli cities. The intervention of Hamas was largely opportunistic, It was intended to grandstand and gain a political advantage over their rivals in the Palestinian Authority. This has to be seen in the context of the recent cancellation of elections by the Palestinian Authority. The last elections were in 2006. They are supposed to happen every four years.
This ignition of the cross-border fight came after weeks of skirmishes on the streets, protests by Palestinians and demands Israeli forces leave parts of East Jerusalem.
Israel has now carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, and Hamas militants have fired heavy rocket barrages at Tel Aviv, towards Jerusalem and at several southern Israeli cities.
The Israel Defense Forces are also attacking Gaza from the ground but on the Israeli side of the border.
The hostilities are the most intense the region has seen since 2014, with the death toll climbing.
Hamas clearly intends to maximise civilian casualties. Israel takes extraordinary precautions to minimise them, on both sides.
An Israeli firefighter extinguishes a burning bus after it was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza, at the central Israeli town of Holon, near Tel Aviv.(Commentators say several pressure points in the volatile Israeli-Palestinian relationship have recently converged and the violence that has broken out has escalated very quickly. An ongoing trigger for violence is the Israeli settlement of the land they occupied in 1967.
Since his last election campaign, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to officially annex large swathes of the West Bank.
This week, an Israeli court was deliberating a case involving the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
It’s about a lot of things. But internal Palestinian politics is a key factor missed by most western journalists.
The court was due to rule on whether authorities could evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes in the neighbourhood, but the ruling was delayed.
Sheikh Jarrah is an area of significance. It was captured by Israel in the 1967 war and the evictions of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers are seen by the Palestinians as another bid to drive them from Jerusalem.
The settlers claim the area was occupied by Jews prior to the war and the Palestinians are squatters.
The homes in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem have had Jewish owners continuously since 1875;
The Palestinian residents under threat of court eviction were illegally installed as tenants when the neighbourhood was under Jordanian military occupation in the 1950s, and they have not paid rent since the 1990s;
Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups in Gaza, 75 kilometres away, have cynically exploited the dispute for political advantage against their rivals in the Palestinian Authority by using it as a pretext to fire more than 1800 rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities with the undisguised aim of killing as many Israeli civilians as possible;
Hamas rockets have killed both Arabs and Jews. One-quarter of them have fallen short and struck Gaza, which is seldom reported;
The Israeli airstrikes are a response to the rocket attacks from Gaza, not the other way around.
It’s a very sensitive situation and has been met with protests from Palestinians. Also, Muslim Palestinians have been observing the holy month of Ramadan.Anger flared last week when Israel decided to barricade a plaza outside of Jerusalem’s Old City where Palestinians traditionally gather after evening prayers.
The barricades were not just put up for the fun of it. There had been a spate of attacks against Jews by Palestinian youths, with incitement to more attacks on social media, and the situation was already worsening.
Then there was the “death to the Arabs” march on April 22.
It was organised by a far-right group of Jewish extremists, in response to the growing spate of attacks against Jews by Palestinian youths which has recently seen several of its members elected to the Israeli Parliament.
That march went through occupied East Jerusalem and was seen as extremely provocative.
Violence followed and more than 100 Palestinians were injured as well as 20 Israeli police.
Adding to the uncertainty in the region, Israel has had four elections over two years, none with clear results, and the Palestinians in the West Bank have not been to the polls since 2006.
What are Israelis saying?
Israelis believe the aerial bombardments of Gaza are justified responses to rocket attacks on Israel launched by Hamas, a group many countries recognise as a terrorist organisation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been very clear, insisting Israel will not back down and saying “this is just the beginning”.
“We’ll hit them like they’ve never dreamed possible,” he said.
Overnight on Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu also had a warning for Israelis.
“Citizens of Israel, what is happening in the towns of Israel in recent days is intolerable. We’ve seen Arab rioters torching synagogues, torching cars, storming policemen, hurting peaceful and innocent citizens. This is something we cannot accept. This is anarchy. Nothing can justify it,” he said.
“And I will tell you more than that — nothing can justify a lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing can justify a lynching of Arabs by Jews.
“We will not accept it. This is not us, not this violence, not this savagery. We will bring back governance to Israel’s cities everywhere, in all cities.”
What are Palestinians saying?
Palestinians argue they are not the instigator of the violence, and their rockets are in reaction to Israeli oppression and are part of the ongoing resistance to occupation.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said: “The confrontation with the enemy is open-ended.”
The Hamas Charter is expressly committed to the violent destruction of Israel and its Jewish population.
The head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK, Husam Zomlot, gave an interview to BBC in which he said “this isn’t about Hamas”.
“This is about Israel. Israel provokes. Israel commits every crime you can imagine. Israel injures more than 300 worshippers, peaceful worshippers,” he said.
“Israel evicts people from their homes, continues with its sheer violations of the very basic rights of people and then they try to blame the react, rather than the act. This must stop.”