Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.While Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the move, the statement has set off a wave of denunciation from the surrounding Arab countries. As the Palestine problem threatens to embark the world on a bigger conflict, let us examine the reasons why Israel has become such a flashpoint as we take a look at the Past and Present of Palestine and Israel.
President Trump’s statements on Israel have resulted in clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli security forces, leaving 2 dead and 770 injured. The United Nations Security Council has convened an emergency assembly as various countries condemn his statements.
At the heart of Israel lies the Holy Land for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is an important area that connects Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa, and has been ruled by many different countries and races. How did this area become such a hotbed of religious tension? Let’s take a look at the historical factors that have led to the situation in the region today.
In the19th century BC, Abraham, who was said to have heard the voice of the deity Yahweh, led the Jewish people to the land of Canaan (present-day Palestine)
In the 17th century BC, famine spread throughout Canaan. The Jewish people fled to Egypt but did not integrate with Egyptian society. Furious, at their faith in Yahweh, the Pharoah enslaved the Jewish people.After 400 years, the prophet Moses was said to have led the escape of 600,000 people through the miracles of Moses and received the 2 tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written.
In 1006 BC, the Jewish king Soul united the ancient tribes of Israel. David, the 2nd king, designated Jerusalem as the capital. His son, King Solomon, was said to have built the Temple of Jerusalem.
The area was subsequently conquered and ruled by various kingdoms until it came under the control of the Roman Empire in 4 BC. The temple built by King Herod, the ruler of the time, is the current Wailing Wall. It is the holiest structure of the Jewish faith and is a reason why Jerusalem is the Holy Land for Jews.
At the same time, Christianity was born in Palestine. While Christianity was originally an offshoot of Judaism, it gained widespread acceptance through its less strict doctrines, and eventually even became the official religion of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, the leaders of Judaism were accused of treason and crucified.Since then, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher situated at the top of the hill of Golgotha where Christ was crucified, became the holiest site in Christianity and is why Jerusalem is the Holy Land for Christians
At the end of the 6th century, Mohammed was said to have ascended into heaven under the guidance of the archangel Gabriel right above the Wailing Wall and a mosque was constructed on the site to the event when Jerusalem was conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate in 638. The mosque has since been revered by Muslims as the third holiest site in Islam.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all monotheistic religions that believe in only one creator deity, and their holy sites have overlapped in the city of Jerusalem.
The crusades that began in 1099 aiming to reclaim the Holy Land temporarily succeeded in conquering Jerusalem. They were responsible not only for the massacre of Muslims and Jews under the banner of purification, but were also responsible for the spread of anti-Semitism in Europe, and the subsequent persecution of Jews throughout the globe.
In 1517, the area came under the control of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. World War I broke out a few hundred years later. which pitted the Central Powers (including the Ottoman Empire) against the Triple Entente of the British, French, and Russians. The British promised the Rothschild family (under the Balfour Declaration) to declare Palestine as a national home for the Jews, in exchange for covering British war expenditures. They also promised Hussein of the Hashemite Family in Mecca to help build an Arab kingdom in return for instigating a revolt within the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, the British also agreed to equally split the Ottoman lands the other members of the Triple Entente.
Palestine eventually became a British mandate in 1920. Exasperated by the continuous revolts by the Arab and Jewish residents, the British relegated the Palestinian problem to the United Nations, which divided Palestine between the Arabs and Jews and placed Jerusalem under international control through a UN resolution in 1947. The Arabs, which comprised 2/3 of the population in Palestine (197,000) opposed this, resulting in civil war.
In 1948, David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel one day prior to the withdrawal of British forces in the region, with acknowledgment from the United States and the Soviet Union.
As soon as British forces withdraw from the region, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan (present-day Jordan), Iraq, and Egypt invade Israel. Britain requests an armistice from the UN, and Israel subsequently signs a cease-fire agreement with its neighboring countries, gradually bringing hostilities to an end.
As the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union intensifies, Egypt aligned itself with the Soviet Union. Subsequently, the United States ceased funding the construction of the Aswan High Dam. In retaliation, Egypt that it would annex the Suez Canal (which until then had been controlled by the British and French) and use its revenue to finance the dam. England and France attempt to reclaim the Suez, triggering the second Arab-Israel War as Israel joins the fray.
In an attempt to gain an advantage over the United States, the Soviet Union leaks false information to Egypt’s Nasser that Israel was preparing to go to war. Nasser seals off the Gulf of Aqaba with a blockade, and Israel, deprived of its gateway towards the Gulf of Persia, retaliates by launching an attack against Egypt in 1967.The war ends in 6 days in the face of Israel’s overwhelming firepower, culminating in Israel’s control of East Jerusalem (the Old City) and expansion of its land area to 3 times its former size.
Amidst the formation of guerilla groups and labor organizations by the Palestinians, the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) is born, with Yasser Arafat as its leader.
Egypt withdraws from Israel-occupied territories and proposes a peace accord by recognizing Palestine’s right to self-rule. Israel rejects these terms, which results in the beginning of the Fourth Arab-Israeli War.
Through President Jimmy Carter’s mediation, Egypt agrees in 1978 to acknowledge the existence of the State of Israel, in exchange for the withdrawal of Israeli forces in the Sinai Peninsula, and Israel’s acknowledgment of the right to self-rule for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and the west coast of the Jordan River. However, believing that Palestine was sold off to Israel, Islamic extremists assassinate Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat. Attacks against Israel by Islamic extremists have since continued, along with civil uprisings called Intifada.
In 1993, a peace agreement between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yasser Arafat was established, in which Palestine’s right to self-rule was acknowledged. In 2000, negotiations began to determine the specifics of administrative control and management of the area, but have yet to be agreed upon.
In 2001, 9/11 happened. Sympathizing with America’s “War on Terror”, Israel’s Prime Minister Sharon began a campaign to invade the Gaza Strip. They cross the Green Line into Palestinian territory, and a separation barrier (Israeli West Bank barrier), as a security barrier against terrorism.
In response to the critical public opinion, Israeli forces and settlers withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005. However, the 2007 elections transferred the core of the Palestinian government from PLO to Hamas, an Islamic extremist organization, prompting Israel to launch a massive military invasion. As pressure grows within Israel’s political scene to eliminate Palestine, President’s Trump’s Jerusalem declaration will likely further inflame the tensions between Palestine and Israel.
What’s going on now?
Trump characterizes his declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “…finally acknowledg[ing] the obvious…This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality”. However, he is facing a great backlash from the European and Arab countries. As the civil war in neighboring Syria rages on, the tensions in Palestine can potentially conflagrate into a bigger conflict involving the Middle East. As countries all over the world call for a cessation of hostilities, President Trump’s statement not only places the security of Israel at risk but also contributes to America’s isolation from the international community.