June 09, 2010

So what is with Israel anyway?

Israel has figured prominently in the news as of late and I thought it might be a good idea for a bit of a refresher course on why Israel exists, where it is, the ramifications of that, why we should (continue) to support it and also just how small of a place we are talking about.  Suffice it to say that this area has been in turmoil since the beginning of recorded history.

First let’s get some scale on the area we are talking about. 

middle-east-mapHere is a map of the Middle East as the borders currently stand.

Saudi Arabia is the big yellow part of the map, is just above that in pink, to the left of Iraq in brown is Syria and below that is Jordan. The little strip in orange to the left of Jordan…That is Israel.



Israel is a small country. How small?  This should put it in Perspective:   

new_jerseyIsrael and Great Britaincalif 





To put it as bluntly as possible, Israel is the only philosophical ally the United States has in the region.  The U.S. has economic interests in oil and gas deposits in many of the Muslim countries, and we have to keep a wary eye on the more radical of the Muslim nations for our National Security interests, but Israel is truly a friend to the United States or any western society.  Strategically it is an island of freedom in a vast sea of varying levels of tyranny.  But how did it get there?

Even if you do not believe in the bible as a religious document some weight must be given to it as a historical document so this is what we know:  Jews around the world descended from the ancient Hebrew people of Israel who settled in the land of Canaan, located between the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River about 1451 BC.


The Israelites left the land of Canaan (the land we would most commonly call Israel) during a severe famine and settled in northern Egypt where they were eventually enslaved by the Egyptians. After 400 years of slavery,the Israelites (miraculously) emigrated out of Egypt and returned to their ancestral homeland in Canaan. This


event marks the formation of Israel as a political nation in Canaan, in 1400 BCE.  During the time of King David, Jerusalem became the national and spiritual capital of Israel.  Upon King Solomon’s death a civil war erupted between the ten northern Israelite tribes (creating the Kingdom of Israel), and the tribes of Benjamin and Judah (from which we get the word “Jew”), creating the kingdom of Judah. Together the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were quite a bit larger than modern day Israel. 

israel_hist_1973 The Babylonians (Iraq), Persian (Iran) and Greeks each took turns ruling the area from 586 BC—140 BC.  The Babylonians Conquered Israel and Judah, the Persians conquered the Babylonians and then the Greeks defeated the Persians.  Later,the Greek empire began to crumble and they ceased to control Israel. The Jews actually ruled themselves from 140 BC—64 BC, and were then taken over by the Roman Empire.  Jews were a part of the Roman Slave trade, that, and the all-encompassing nature of the Roman Empire led to the dispersal of the Jews out of Israel and throughout the Roman empire which stretched into northern Europe. 

In the fourth century  Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and it eventually split into a Western Empire and an Eastern Empire. The Eastern Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire, was dominated by the (Greek) Orthodox Church and ruled Palestine/Israel.  In 631, the Arabs defeated Byzantine Emperor Heraclius and conquered the area. Over the next several centuries, Islam became the dominant religion in the region and Various Arab factions ruled it from 636—1099 AD.

During the Crusades, (1099-1291) Christians from Europe invaded the Middle East and  Jews in Israel were massacred and/or sold into slavery. From 1260 to 1291 Israel became the frontier between Mongol invaders and the Egyptians.  Egypt eventually expelled the Mongols and eliminated the last Crusader Kingdom in 1291, thereby ending the Crusades.  In 1453 the Byzantine capital fell to the Ottomans (Turks), signifying the end of Christian rule in the Middle-East.  The Turks ruled the region until the outbreak of WWI.  

By the 19th century, the Land of Israel was populated mostly by Muslim and  Christian Arabs, as well as Jews, Greeks, and other minorities. In 1844 (while still part of Syria and controlled by the Turks), Jews constituted the largest population group in Jerusalem and by 1890 an absolute majority in the city, although as a whole the Jewish population made up far less than 10% of the region

israel_hist_1973During World War I, the British sought Jewish support in the fight against Germany. This led foreign minister, Lord Balfour creating the Balfour Declaration of 1917, stating that the British Government "view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people"..."it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".

When the British conquered the Middle-East in 1917, they created two states, the first called "Palestine" (biblical Philistines) was in an area including modern Israel, the West-Bank and Gaza and Jordan. The second state called "Mesopotamia" was made out of several Ottoman regions around Baghdad. It was later renamed "Iraq".

After World War I, the League of Nations formally assigned the Palestine mandate to the United Kingdom; endorsing the terms of the Balfour Declaration and additionally requiring the creation of an independent Jewish Agency that would administer Jewish affairs in Palestine.  Britain signed an additional treaty with the USA (which did not join the League of Nations) in which the USA endorsed the terms of the mandate.  Following Arab rioting in 1921, the British mandatory authorities enacted a system of immigration quotas to ensure that Jewish immigration did not disrupt Palestine's economy.

Arab attacks on isolated Jewish settlements and British failure to protect the Jews, led to the creation of the Haganah (Defense) a Jewish militia dedicated to defending Jewish settlements. Jewish immigration grew slowly in the 1920s. However, the increased persecution of European Jews by the European Fascist powers (such as the Third Reich) resulted in a marked increase in Jewish immigration. This led to a large-scale Arab rebellion in Palestine from 1936-1939. 

In 1939, fear of massive Jewish migration and a desire for Arab goodwill led Britain to try and end Jewish immigration. The result was the 1939 White Paper which limited Jewish immigration to 75,000 over the next five years and a promise to establish an independent Palestine under Arab majority rule within ten years. Both the Jewish and the Palestinian-Arab leadership rejected the White Paper.

The Second World War left the surviving remnant of Jews in central Europe as refugees; a survey of their ambitions found that 97% wanted to migrate to Palestine.  In September 1947, the UN (UNSCOP) recommended partition in Palestine, a suggestion ratified by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947. The result envisaged the creation of two states, one Arab and one Jewish, with the city of Jerusalem to be under the direct administration of the United Nations.

Fighting between the Arab and Jewish communities of Palestine began in November 1947, immediately after the UN decision to create a Jewish state. The Arab States declared they would greet any attempt to form a Jewish state with war.  Arab League members Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq declared war and announced their rejection of the UN partition decision. They claimed the right of self-determination for the Arabs of Palestine over the whole of Palestine. Saudi-Arabia and Sudisrael_hist_1973an also sent forces. When the fighting resumed, Israel gained the upper hand.


In March 1949, after many months of battle, a permanent ceasefire went into effect and Israel's interim borders, later known as the Green Line, were established. At the end of the war, Egypt remained in occupation of the Gaza Strip and Jordan annexed the "West Bank" and eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City. Jordan and Egypt did not establish an independent state for Palestinian Arabs and made no effort to facilitate the establishment of Palestine. In 1950 the Knesset passed the Law of Return which granted all Jews and those of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses, the right to migrate to and settle in Israel and gain citizenship. From 1948 to 1958, the population rose from 800,000 to two million.

In 1956 Egypt blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba, and closed the Suez canal to Israeli shipping. The canal was then nationalized, to the dismay of its British and French shareholders. In response, France and the United Kingdom entered into a secret agreement with Israel to take back the canal by force.

In accordance with this agreement Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula in October 1956. Israeli forces reached the Suez canal and then French and British forces stepped in on the pretext of restoring order.

On June 5, 1967, the Israeli air force launched pre-emptive attacks defeating(almost successively) Egypt, Jordan and Syria. By June 11 the Arab forces were routed and all parties had accepted the cease-fire called for by UN Security Council Resolutions 235 and 236.  Israel gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the formerly Jordanian-controlled West Bank of the Jordan River. East Jerusalem was immediately annexed by Israel and its population granted Israeli citizenship.

On November 22, 1967, the Security Council adopted Resolution 242, the "land for peace" formula, which called for the establishment of a “just and lasting” peace based on Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967 in return for the end of all states of belligerency, respect for the sovereignty of all states in the area, and the right to live in peace within secure, recognized boundaries. The resolution was accepted by both sides, though with different interpretations, and eventually provided the basis for peace negotiations.

In September 1970  the King of Jordan drove the Palestine Liberation Organization out of his country. On 18 September 1970 Syrian tanks invaded Jordan, intending to aid the PLO. At the request of the USA, Israel moved troops to the border and threatened Syria, causing the Syrians to withdraw.  The center of PLO activity then shifted to Lebanon, where the 1969 Cairo agreement gave the Palestinians autonomy within the south of the country.

The Yom Kippur War (also known as the October War) began on October 6, 1973 (the Jewish Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and a day when adult Jews are required to fast. The Syrian and Egyptian armies launched a well-planned surprise attack against the unprepared Israeli Defense Forces. For the first few days there was a great deal of uncertainty about Israel's capacity to repel the invaders, however the Syrians were repulsed and, although the Egyptians captured a strip of territory in Sinai, Israeli forces had in turn crossed the Suez Canal and were 100 kilometers from Cairo.

Following the war, both Israelis and Egyptians showed greater willingness to negotiate. On January 18, 1974, a peace agreement was signed with the Egyptian government, and on May 31 with the Syrian government.

On the international scene, the war led the Saudi Government to initiate the infamous oil embargo of the 1970’s, in conjunction with OPEC, against countries trading with Israel. In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke 30 years of hostility with Israel by visiting Jerusalem at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. This created a new  era of good feelings in the Middle East making peace seem possible. Sadat recognized Israel's right to exist and established the basis for direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel.

In September 1978, Jimmy Carter invited President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to meet with him at Camp David, and they agreed on a framework for comprehensive peace in the Middle East.  Sadat was then assassinated in 1981 by Islamic fundamentalist members of the Egyptian army who opposed peace with Israel.

On September 13, 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed a Declaration of Principles to begin the establishment of a Palestinian state. Prime Minister Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on September 28, 1995. The agreement was opposed by Hamas and other Palestinian factions which launched suicide bomber attacks at Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu continued their implementation, but the Peace Process began to bog down.  In January 1997 Netanyahu signed the Hebron Protocol with the Palestinian Authority, resulting in the turnover of civilian authority in much of the area to the Palestinian Authority.

In the Fall of 2000, talks were held at Camp David to reach a final agreement on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Israeli faction agreed to most of the Palestinian points; however, Arafat abandoned the talks without making a counterproposal.  The failure of the peace process, increased Palestinian terrorist activity, and occasional attacks by Hezbollah from Lebanon led much of the Israeli public and political leadership to lose confidence in the Palestinian Authority as a peace partner. Most felt that many Palestinians viewed the peace treaty with Israel as a temporary measure only. Many Israelis were thus anxious to disengage from the Palestinians.

482px-West_Bank_&_Gaza_Map_2007_(Settlements) In December 2003, Ariel Sharon announced he would consider a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the occupied territories creating a plan for total withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.  In 2005, all Jewish settlers were removed from Gaza. Following the withdrawal, Israeli communities near the frontier became subject to constant rocket and bomb attacks from Gaza. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was interpreted by the Palestinians as a Hamas victory and the January Palestinian legislative election, 2006 was won by Hamas, which rejected all agreements signed with Israel, refused to recognize Israel's right to exist, and claimed the Holocaust was a Jewish conspiracy.

In 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran; since then, Iranian policy towards Israel has grown more confrontational. It is believed that Ahmadinejad has worked to undermine the peace process with arms supplies and aid to Hezbollah in South Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and is developing nuclear weapons, possibly for use against Israel. Iranian support for Hezbollah and its nuclear arms program are in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1747. Iran also encourages Holocaust denial.

Following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah had mounted periodic attacks on Israel which did not lead to Israeli retaliation. Similarly, the withdrawal from Gaza led to incessant shelling of towns around the Gaza area with only minimal Israeli response.

Which brings us to the Blockade by Israel of the Palestinians in Gaza.  Israel is blockading Gaza to prevent Turkey, Iran, Syria, and others from shipping weapons to the Palestinians, which would enable them to continue to fire rockets and missiles into Sovereign Israeli territory not currently in any dispute.  Israel has agreed to allow Egypt to inspect aid shipments to Gaza to ensure that there are no weapons on board.  Egypt does not want to support the Palestinians.  This peace flotilla is a bunch of nonsense.  IF they were only supplying aid then they would consent to either Israeli or Egyptian searches.  But they are using this as a PR stunt to force Israel’s hand.


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