The Israeli-Palestinian Problem
Timeline of the Conflict, the Legal Situation – and what the Bible says!
The Land of Israel pre-1948
During the seventh century Arab armies conquered most of the Middle East, including the land now variously called Israel, Palestine and the Holy Land (some 10,000 square miles). This area, including Jerusalem, became part of the Ottoman Empire and was largely under Muslim control until the early 1900’s. Significantly, Jerusalem became holy to Muslims as the site where tradition says Mohammed ascended to heaven (although some claim he never set foot in Jerusalem). Over this period most of the population gradually accepted Islam and so by the mid 19th century the area was occupied by some 400,000 Muslims, 75,000 Christians and 25,000 Jews [World Vision].
Despite the strong Muslim presence, by the early 20th century the land was a mix of many peoples representing some 50 languages [1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica]. According to historian Richard Hartmann, prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 these communities were ‘ethnologically a chaos of all the possible human combinations’, and so did not share a common Arab identity. They included Balkans, Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Germans, Afghans, Bosnians, Sudanese, Algerians and others. The land was not a ‘country’ and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries [Prof. Bernard Lewis].
This strong ethnic mix meant there was no distinctive Palestinian people at the start of the 20th century, although there were stirrings for nationalism in response to Zionism. The term ‘Palestine’ seems to have come to prominence after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, when shortly after this the British were given a ‘Palestine Mandate’. Is was only really after WWI that we find an emergence of Palestinian nationalism and an identifiable ‘Palestinian People’ [James Gelvin][Rashid Khalidi]. Some see this as a response to the threat posed by Zionism, when waves of Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine between 1919 and 1939.
Timeline for the Partitioning of Palestine
- 1917: Under the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain supported the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine, without violating the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities. Initially the mandate defined ‘Palestine’ as spanning both west and east of the Jordan
- 1922: The British Mandate was formalised in 1922 and this redefined the boundary of Palestine as west of the river Jordan, including Judea and Samaria – an area now called the West Bank. The area east of the Jordan was called ‘Transjordan’, which subsequently became Jordan. The Arab communities wanted as little to do with the mandate as possible
- 1920’s: During the late 1920’s Jewish immigration and investment benefited the indigenous people and Arab standard of living in the area increased
- 1937-38: The Peel and Woodhead commissions of 1937 and 1938 recommended partitioning Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab state, but this was rejected by the Arab leadership (which included Saudi Arabia)
- 1947: Nearly half the land of Palestine was owned by Arabs, nearly half was “Crown Lands”, and about 8% was owned by Jews. In 1947 a UN Special Commission on Palestine recommended that this area be divided equally, with open borders, into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Jerusalem was to be ‘internationalised’. The UN General Assembly adopted this plan as UN Resolution 181. The Jews accepted the UN resolution but the Arabs rejected it
- 1948: The Jews proclaimed an independent State of Israel and the British withdrew from Palestine
- 1948-49: Arab nations, notably the Egyptian and Syrian armies, invaded Israel. During this war the Israel Defence Force (IDF) was formed. At the end of the war Israel held territory beyond the boundaries set by the UN plan (approximately 78% of the area west of the Jordan) and Jerusalem was divided between Jordan and Israel, Jordan holding east Jerusalem. Egypt held Gaza and Jordan held the West Bank (Judea and Samaria)
- 1967: In the Six-Day War of June 5–10, 1967, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon (and later Iraq) attacked Israel. Their goal was “to wipe Israel off the map”. Israel defeated the attack even though the Arab armies had huge superiority in armour, aircraft and troops. After the war Israel held the Sinai, the Golan Heights, Gaza, the West Bank and all of Jerusalem. The area controlled by Israel after this war was the same area allotted to Israel for Jewish settlement under the 1922 Palestine Mandate
- 2005: Israel no longer controls Gaza. It withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and handed over the territory to the Palestinian Authority (which lost it to Hamas in June 2007 in a military coup-d’etat)
Israel’s Legal Case for the West Bank
In 1949 the Arab countries refused to sign a permanent peace treaty with Israel and so the UN Commission proposals never received legal international recognition. Instead, Israel’s borders were re-established along the ‘Green Line’ of the 1949 UN armistice agreements. This is a line excluding Israel from the West Bank and Gaza (see map). The fact that these borders were not recognised by Arab states (since they refused to recognise Israel) underscores Israel’s legal case for the West Bank.
Jordan occupied both Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1948-49 war and only gained these areas via war and the ‘Green Line’ of the UN armistice. These areas had never formally been allocated to Jordan and so were strictly unallocated Palestine Mandate territory. It follows that since there is no legal ownership of Judea and Samaria, these areas cannot be regarded as ‘occupied’ lands. Between 1949 and 1967 Jordan simply attempted illegal annexation of this newly gained territory.
Eminent legal scholars, such as Eugene Rostow (Undersecretary of State to Lyndon Johnson and Professor Emeritus at Yale Law School) therefore maintain that Israeli settlers have as much right to live in the West Bank as non-Jews. The Israeli Government follows this argument and denies that the occupation of the West Bank is illegal on the grounds that the land was not previously occupied lawfully by any other state.
Many Israelis identify the territory not as the “west bank” of the Jordan River, but rather as the biblical heartland of the Jewish people. They do not call it the West Bank, but rather by its traditional biblical name – Judea and Samaria.
For more detail see Israel’s Legal Rights.
West Bank Settlements
Under the 1995 Oslo Accords II, the West Bank was divided into areas A, B, and C. Areas A and B tend to be relatively small and isolated regions within area C, see map. The Palestinian and Israeli authorities have different levels of control within these three areas. Area A is under full civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority, Area B is under full Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control, and Area C (62% of the West Bank) is under full Israeli control over security, planning and construction.
Political Objective: Jewish Supremacy
Israel argues that she has the legal right to settle anywhere west of the Jordan, see Israel’s Legal Borders. And in 2018 Israel passed a new Basic Law – the Nation-state Law. – which formally declared that Israel was a Jewish state, link. So, it is claimed, Israel strives to promote and perpetuate Jewish supremacy in the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, link (an area which clearly include the West Bank).
As of 2021, the relatively lightly populated Area C in the West Bank was home to an estimated 180,000-300,000 Palestinians and to an Israeli settler population of some 440,000 [excluding East Jerusalem], link, link. Israel encourages the development of Jewish settlements in Area C, but practically bans Palestinian construction and development, link. New settlements operate as agricultural farms and enable extensive takeover of Palestinian farmland and pastureland.
The Palestinian Refugee and West Bank Problem
- 1949: At this time around 700,000 Arabs fled to neighbouring Arab countries, whilst over 800,000 Jews were forced to leave Muslim countries after their property was confiscated. Israel offered to repatriate 100,000 Arab refugees in April 1949 but this was rejected
- 1952: The UN offered $200m for the refugees but this was also rejected by Arab governments
- 1967: The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon (and later Iraq) attacked Israel. Their goal was “to wipe Israel off the map”. Israel defeated the attack even though the Arab armies had huge superiority in armour, aircraft and troops. After the war Israel held Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and all of Jerusalem. Some 1 million Arabs were now under Israeli rule. It seems each time Arab countries attack Israel, their end state is worse than their first. Are we seeing the hand of God protecting Israel (Isa 54:15-17)(Zech 2:5-8)?
- 1973: In October 1973 Egypt and Syria launched another attack on Israel (the Yom Kippur War). Israel withdrew from Sinai in 1982
- 1996: Israel withdraws troops from Gaza and most cities and towns of the West Bank. Palestinians authorities take control
- 2002: Israel reoccupied all of the West Bank following waves of Palestinian suicide attacks
- 2003: Israel erected security barriers along the Green Line to prevent more suicide attacks, and made unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. From 2000 to 2003 there were 73 attacks from Samaria killing 293 Israeli’s, but after construction of Israel’s Security Fence attacks have declined by over 90%. This is, of course, at the expense of severe hardship for many Palestinians
- 2003-2004: In response to Palestinian attacks, the IDF recaptures parts of the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presents a Disengagement Plan from Gaza and the northern West Bank, which met with intense opposition from fellow Likud members and from settlers. To aid Israel in this withdrawal, President Bush stated that, in his view, “Israel should not have to withdraw to the 1949 Armistice borders”
- 2005-2008: Knesset ratifies Sharon’s Disengagement Plan. Government announces August 15 as the day disengagement is set to begin. Passionate, nationwide anti-disengagement protests begin. Israel withdraws unilaterally from Gaza on August 15. After the election of Hamas in 2006 there was a steady increase of rocket attacks against Israel’s citizens. Between 2001 and January 2009, over 8,600 rockets had been launched from Gaza, leading to 28 deaths and widespread trauma
- 2008: Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians an independent state in all of Gaza and over 93.5 percent of the West Bank. He offered them land swaps from Israel to make up for the less than 6.5 percent of the West Bank they would not receive. He also offered them half of Jerusalem. By some accounts, the Palestinians turned this offer down. By other accounts, they simply never responded to it. [Christians United For Israel]
- 2008-2012: On 27 December 2008 Israel launched a wave of airstrikes against targets within the Gaza Strip, with the stated aim of stopping rocket fire from and arms import into the territory. In a continued attempt to stop frequent rocket barrages, Israel assassinated two more of Gaza’s leaders in October 2012. This resulted in the 8-day conflict between Gaza and Israel in November 2012 – a conflict which saw Palestinian rockets strike the outskirts of Jerusalem
The Two-State Solution is Unworkable and Unbiblical
As stated above, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem was proposed in 1938 and 1947, and each time it was rejected by the Arab leadership. Today it is still under discussion, but again it is unlikely to succeed given the Arab position. To date, the Palestinian Authority maintains the following position:It does not recognise Israel as a Jewish StateIt maintains that Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank are Palestinian TerritoriesIt maintains that East Jerusalem is the capital of the future Palestinian StateIt maintains that no Israeli should be living in Palestine
All four of these positions are currently totally unacceptable to the Israeli leadership. For example:
The Jewish people have been in existence for 4,000 years. Why do we not deserve recognition? Jerusalem is the indivisible capital of IsraelBinyamin Netanyahu, 2013
But even more significantly, any sub-division of the land covenanted to the nation of Israel by God goes against God’s will. Who’s land is it really? It belongs to the God of Israel – it is His land:
I will enter into judgement with them … (because) they have divided up My landJoel 3:2
The Future – a Biblical View
We have tried to ascertain how the Palestinian problem arose. Our brief analysis suggests it has been fuelled partly by a combination of so-called Zionism (returning Jews with a vision for Zion or Jerusalem), and repeated Arab refusal to recognise Israel and to accept both an Arab state and an Israeli state.
But deeper analysis suggests that the root cause of the conflict with Israel is less of an Arab-Israeli conflict, and more of a conflict with the ideology of political Islam. It can be argued that, in general, the Bible does not support the idea of long-term Arab aggression against Israel – in fact God blesses the emergence of the Arab nations (Gen 17.19-21). But, as Islam took over these nations from the 7th century, a spiritual battle between truth and error has emerged, with the Arab nations being used as a vehicle for practical expression of this battle.
We have also seen that what the media describes as ‘occupied land’, cannot be described as occupied from a legal point of view.
Now let’s summarise the big picture as described in the Bible (see Israel for a fuller explanation):
- God promised by covenant that He would give all the land of Canaan (modern Israel) to Abraham and his descendants. This was ‘forever’ (Gen 17:7-8)
- The covenant was established through Isaac and not through Ishmael. So the Jews are the true descendants of Abraham in the covenant sense and they keep this covenant through circumcision (Gen 17:10,20-21)
- The covenant people (national Israel – the twelve tribes) have been chosen by God to be His witnesses and servant in the world. They are a special people through whom God will make a name for Himself (Isa 43:1,10)(2 Sam 7:23)
- Through this people all the nations of the earth will be blessed – a reference to the Messiah, Jesus (Gen 22:18)(Acts 3:25)
- In the last days God will take scattered Israel (the 12 tribes) from among the nations and bring them into their own land (Jer 30:3)(Ezek 37:21)(Zech 8:7-8)
- Israel returns in unbelief in that they do not acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and Lord, but God will speak to them (Zech 12:10-14) (Rom 11:26-27)
- When Israel returns, the land itself will be blessed and become more fruitful (Isa 35:1-2)(Ezek 36:8-12)
- Close to the end of this age, Israel will experience a brief time of false peace (Dan 9.27), and then severe persecution from the end-time world ruler (Jer 30:7)(Mat 24:15-25)
- At the very end of this age, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ, all nations will gather against Jerusalem for war (Zech 14:2)
- The remnant of Israel that survives these attacks come through into the millennial reign of Christ (Zech 13:8-9)
- During the millennium the whole world will live in peace and security as Christ rules from Zion (Jerusalem), and the world acknowledges Israel as God’s servant and witness (Zech 8:22-23)(Zech 14:9-21)
What of the Palestinians?
The Bible instructs the people of Israel how they should treat foreigners (non-Jews). Old Testament Israel was commanded to love foreigners and to let them live normal lives amongst them (Deut 10:19):
When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong … (he) … shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourselfLeviticus 19:33-34
This instruction is timeless and applies to future Israel. Once Israel has returned to her land, the land is divided up amongst the tribes of Israel and the stranger amongst them is also ‘allotted an inheritance’:
And they (strangers) shall be to you as the native-born among the sons of Israel; they shall be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of IsraelEzekiel 47:22
And of course God’s timeless instruction applies now. It applies to Palestinians today. During an interview in 1989, Arial Sharon was asked: “Do you think of Arabs as your friends, neighbours, your enemies?” He replied:
From my childhood, I have believed Jews and Arabs can live together, and I believe now they should live together. All the rights to this country, to the land of Israel – especially Judea and Samaria – are Jewish … but everyone who lives in the country should have all the rights of the countryAriel Sharon, TIME, April 1989
Unfortunately, as long as Arab countries refuse to recognise Israel and continue to attack her, such cohabitation would seem to be impossible.