The names “Israel” and “Palestine” encompass a profound complexity of narratives about the past, present, and future of one of the world’s most contested regions with deep-rooted political and religious implications.
Supporters of Israel
Many Christians believe that God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people (Genesis 12:7-9, Deuteronomy 26: 1-11), and that the return of the Jews to Israel is a sign of the End Times and a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Because of this, some Christians believe there is a call to aid God’s “Chosen People” in the efforts to reclaim their homeland. Supporters of Israel include Zionists, many of whom believe there is a deep historical connection between the land of Israel and the Jewish people and that the Jewish people have a right to a self-determined homeland.
Regardless of religion, conservatives in the United States are generally strong supporters of Israel. They believe that Israel is a strategic ally of the United States. Conservatives also tend to be more sympathetic to the Israeli perspective on the conflict, often blaming violence on the Palestinians, citing many Israeli attempts to achieve peace in the region. Conservatives have also participated heavily in the fight against anti-semitism, and look to the state of Israel as a safe haven for Jewish people and a strong response to global anti-semitic trends.
Critics of Israel
While a majority of Christians support Israel, other Christians are more critical of Israel and feel a spiritual calling to denounce injustice unconditionally. Many Palestinian Muslims believe that their displacement from what they believe to be their holy land is a violation of their religious rights.
Liberals and progressives are also more likely to criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, the occupation of the West Bank, and restrictions in the Gaza Strip. Some humanitarian organizations have claimed Israel’s treatment of Palestine is equal to that of apartheid, referring to the ongoing discrimination against and domination of the Palestinians – a fundamental violation of the universal human right to self-determination, and the establishment of a Western imperialist foothold in the Middle East. These critics question the role of international actors such as the United States, who provide significant military and financial support to Israel. They claim that this support can and does enable and perpetuate actions they view as detrimental to peace efforts. They are also more likely to support a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine could, hopefully, exist in peace.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is a highly complex tapestry of perspectives, with both support and criticism of Israel rooted in a web of historical, religious, political, and human rights issues. While supporters highlight Israel as a beacon of democracy and a sanctuary for the Jewish people, critics emphasize the need for addressing human right concerns and international law, while working to achieve a two-state solution for a lasting peace. It is in this complex and enduring conflict that the struggle for a just and lasting peace persists, reflecting the intricacy of the global debate on this crucial issue.
History of Israel
About 3,000 years ago, the Israelites lived in an area that is known today as Israel and Palestine. The Israelites were then conquered by the Roman Empire in 70 AD, marking the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora in which the Jewish people were scattered from their homeland across the world. With the Jewish people thrust into foreign communities, they had no choice but to adapt, often due to discriminatory pressures and persecution. Notable periods include the Fatimid Caliphate and Byzantine Empire, the expulsion from Spain in 1492, and the struggle for emancipation in Europe during the Enlightenment.
Just as Palestinians began to form a national identity in the early 1900s, successive waves of Jews migrated to the colony to flee persecution in Europe. During this time, the Zionist movement gained traction, advocating for an internationally-recognized Jewish homeland in response to growing anti-Semitism. In 1917, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, which expressed their support of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. The end of WWI marked the beginning of the British occupation of Palestine; however,attempts by British colonial authorities to limit Jewish migration and preserve peace with the Palestinians proved ineffective, particularly as a surge of Jews fled the Holocaust.
Following the Holocaust, the UN voted to split Palestine into two parts – one Jewish and one Arab. Though the Arabs rejected this plan, the State of Israel was created on May 14, 1948. For the Jews, this signified a glimmer of hope that they would no longer be subject to the often unpredictable and violently anti-semitic oppression by other nations. With a state of their own, Jews would be free to determine their own fate and re-root Jewish culture in sacred soil, ending a millennia-long exile from the land of their forefathers.
For the Arabs, this meant displacement from a land they had called home for centuries. Arabs experienced the founding of the State of Israel as the beginning of a systematic and violent ethnic cleansing. Palestinian Christians and Muslims struggled to regain the land of their fathers – and to establish a permanent and internationally recognized homeland. For many within the Arab world, the founding of the State of Israel was seen as an aggressive European Jewish colonization of land which had been under Arab rule for 14 centuries.
This persistent state of turmoil led to many conflicts, of which Israel often gained the upper hand. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel’s occupation grew to include the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, which fueled conflict for the Arab people. In the 1990s, an attempt to suppress the flames of conflict led to the Oslo Accords, which allowed for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. Smoke and heat still lingered, and the Second Intifada (2000-2005) brought with it renewed violence. As a result, in 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, opening the door for the election of Hamas in 2006. With a new Arab leader on the scene, a power struggle commenced in 2007, with Hamas gaining control of Gaza and the PA retaining control in parts of the West Bank. This division between Hamas and the PA, alongside ongoing disputes over borders, Jerusalem, and the rights of Palestinian refugees, continues to fuel conflict today.