The words “Israel” and “Palestine”, and the multi-faceted realities they refer to, mean different things to different people, and evoke a wide variety of powerful feelings.
Coming on the heels of the Holocaust (known in Hebrew as Shoah, “Calamity”), the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1947 was a sign of hope for many Jews that “never again” would Jews be subject to the often unpredictable and violently anti-semitic will of another people. With a State of their own, Jews would be forever free to determine their own fate. For many Jews, this was the ending of a millennia-long exile from the land of their forefathers, and the re-rooting and re-flowering of Jewish culture in sacred soil. The traditional phrase ending the Seder--”Next year in Jerusalem”--had become this year.
However, because the State of Israel was established by the United Nations on part of what was called “Palestine” under British colonial control--a land largely inhabited by Arabs--the Palestinian Arabs believe they thereby lost their own right to self-determination. Thus, for Arabs, Yom Ha-atzmaut (Independence Day in Hebrew) was experienced as Yawm-an Nakba (Day of Catastrophe in Arabic). From the Arab point of view, the founding of the State of Israel was experienced as the beginning of a systematic and violent ethnic cleansing, and the beginning of a seemingly hopeless struggle of Palestinian Christians and Muslims to regain the land of their fathers and to establish a permanent and internationally recognized homeland for themselves.
For Zionist Christians--a powerful political lobby (within the United States especially)--the founding of the State of Israel was a potent sign of the End Times and the imminent return of Christ, and a clarion call to support “God’s Chosen People” in their fight to reclaim their ancient homeland.
By contrast, for many within the Islamic world, the founding of the State of Israel was seen as an aggressive European Jewish colonization of land which had been under Islamic rule for 14 centuries, and an affront to the dignity of their muslim Palestinian brothers. Secular and Christian Palestinians assert that a Palestinian connection to the land goes back even further, claiming both Christian and Jewish ancestors in the land before the Muslim conquest, and even earlier ancestry going back to Canaanite times.
For more secular and left-leaning people of the world, the founding of the State of Israel was seen as a fundamental violation of the universal human right to self-determination, and the establishment of a Western imperialist foothold in the Middle East from which to project power throughout that oil-rich and geopolitically crucial region.
Not surprisingly, then, the names “Israel” and “Palestine” have come to represent potent symbols around which opposing constellations of hopes, fears, and political agendas have coalesced.
In spite of the challenges facing them, many Israeli Jews, Arab citizens of Israel, Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and Palestinians and Jews throughout the world, have sought more direct people-to-people engagement in order to try to find a way to live peaceably together in the land.
The following groups are generally considered pro-dialogue (though from a rightwing Zionist point of view they would be viewed as leftwing, pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel):