Up to 1967 and afterward
In general, when discussing Israel, we tend to focus on the events after The Six Days’ War when Israel defeated the combined forces of the Arab armies again and acquired Sinai, Gaza, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the area that had been part of the nation of Jordan and was west of the Jordan river, the West Bank. But to understand Israel well, one has to return to the years after the emergence of the state and the ingathering of the refugees from the Holocaust in Europe.
The War of Independence had been traumatic. Over 6,000 Israelis were killed and 15,000 wounded in the War of Independence. The number sounds rather small, but in a population of 806,000, it was not. A friend of mine once told me that her mother had informed her that half of her high school class was gone. My former wife’s uncle was killed, as well. In short, especially among certain groups, it was likely that either a relative or an acquaintance was no longer alive.
After the war, the nation was in a precarious state. It was surrounded by enemies. It had little money, and, although the foundations of a government had been established well beforehand, buildings and bureaucracies and chains of command had to be established. Furthermore, the survivors of the Holocaust had to be absorbed. They had to be taught Hebrew and given a decent standard of living (more or less). By 1949, Israel had added close to 300,000 civilians and had a population approaching 1,200,000. Europe was busy recovering from the war, and the U.S. State Department, which regarded the Jewish state as a temporary nuisance that would eventually disappear in the Arab landscape, offered little if no aid. Food was rationed, and with the rationing came a black market, as well.
Israel was born in trauma, to which the horror of the Holocaust was added. The country never forgot its origins, never forgot that it succeeded out of self-sufficiency with the aid of Jews in the United States—and the willingness of Czechoslovakia to sell it arms. Never forgot that when it finally had earned its right to be one among the nations, no one came to its aid, and it was often regarded as a momentary pain in the neck. Throughout the 50’s, when John Foster Dulles, who courted Arab heads of state, led the State Department, Israel was persona non grata there and had to look elsewhere for allies.
This is useful to remember when considering Israel’s current political positions, which often seem to be based on distrust of outside interference.
After the Six Days’ War, Israel utterly changed. There were three causes for this: the nation became less socialist and more capitalist, which ushered in an influx of money and a change in the American State Department’s attitude. The poor, struggling country became rather wealthy. With Jerusalem and, at the time, Bethlehem, and “space to breathe,” the country became a popular tourist spot, which it hadn’t been beforehand. And, of course, the fact that Jews had returned to Jerusalem and won (another miracle) awoke messianic hopes.
There were, more or less, two camps in Israel after the conquest, although to some degree both encouraged Jewish settlement in the West Bank. As is known, Israel relinquished Sinai to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty but kept Gaza, probably because Egypt did not want Gaza either and did not regard it has historically part of Egypt. Gaza was afterward abandoned. Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan and agreed to the establishment of two states: Israel and Palestine, and the Palestinian Authority was established.
The two camps:
The Israeli left
What became known as the Peace Camp and afterward as “irresponsible leftists” by those on the right.
- This camp was made up primarily of Ashkenazim and the inheritors of the socialist, more universal traditions of the Israeli founders. Its position was that the secular Zionist aspiration has been realized with the formation of a State, and any additions had to be minor and generally connected to military considerations. It accepted the legitimacy of a Palestinian state. Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres were its most prominent representatives – Rabin was killed and Peres would join a government where Netanyahu was prime minister, where he would serve as a convenient poster-boy of Israel to the West.
The Israeli right
- Curiously, although Arabs will often talk about the good relations between Arabs and Jews, the Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu has always had a large proportion of Israelis from Arab countries who on no uncertain terms despise Arabs. The right has grown stronger over the years. It combines two basic views, a secular view that regards all of Greater Israel as part of the State of Israel and a religious view that regards Jews as having a natural, God-given right to the lands on the West Bank. The right today—and especially the religious right—no longer refers to the State of Israel but to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. The religious right, among the settlers in the West Bank has become increasingly more violent—and racist.
It’s difficult to describe Palestinian positions, especially as I am not a Palestinian. In some respects, the Palestinian position has undergone the greatest change.
The religious position
- I will begin with the religious position, primarily because it has essentially not changed—nor can it. If anything, it has adopted the al-Husseini conviction that the Jews are the scourge of the world. Today’s representatives are Hamas and Hezbollah, and, at a distance, Iran—and ISIS. The religious embodiments of the Palestine are all intolerant, military dictatorships.
The secular position
- The history of the secular Palestinian movement is quite complicated in this period. To a great extent, the Palestinian national identity was created in exile, and, as a result, it has never has had a state to which it might refer to. Its national identity is—to its own disadvantage—amorphous and inevitably nostalgic for a condition that no longer exists. In addition, the Palestinians never established the foundations of a state while in exile. Their national movement was always a military one.
- The Palestinian Charter was created in 1964, during the Arab League summit in Cairo, three years before the Six Days’ War. In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the charter established numerous obstacles to any peace process. At the time, Jordan ruled the West Bank of the Jordan, and the charter explicitly states that no harm will come to Jordan’s rule. Much of the rhetoric of this charter, however, remains among the most fiercely anti-Israeli.
- The Jews are a religion and not a nationality and therefore can have no historic claim on Palestine. “Furthermore the Jews are not one people with an independent personality because they are citizens of the countries to which they belong.” “Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goals, racist and segregationist in its configurations and fascist in its means and aims.” In Article 17, the charter claims that the partitioning of Palestine and the establishment of Israel “are illegal and false, and in another article, “the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate system were frauds.” As I’ve written above, the Palestinian position often returns to the absolute certainty of post-WWI, as if not nearly 100 years have passed.  Someone else must analyze the irrefutable force of illusion in the Palestinian vision of a nation, since it is, objectively speaking, a belief without much connection with a reality other than nearly 70 years of oppression.
- In addition, the charter calls upon all Arabs to participate in the liberation of Palestine as a “national duty.”
- The charter would subsequently be altered after the Oslo Accords.
- From 1968-1974, the PLO and its various arms performed a number of terrorist acts against innocent civilians. A partial list follows:
22 November 1968 Bomb at Jerusalem market kills 14, including two Arabs.
6 March 1969 Bomb at Hebrew University injures 28 students.
13 February 1970 47 killed when Swissair plane blown up.
22 May 1970 Eight children killed when school bus shelled.
10 May 1972 Japanese “Red army” kill 27 Christian pilgrims at Lod airport.
5 September 1972 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Olympic Games in Munich.
29 October 1972 Lufthansa plane hijacked. Munich killers released by Germany.
11 April 1974 PFLP machine-guns 18 men, women and children in an apartment house near Lebanese border.
15 May 1974 PFLP invades a school at Ma’alot in Northern Israel, killing 20 children.
- From September 1970-July 1971, Jordan experienced a civil war brought about by Yasser Arafat’s attempts to undermine King Hussein’s government. In the end, about 3,000 Palestinians were killed and the armed forces of the PLO, including Arafat, were exiled to Lebanon.
- From December 1987 until the Madrid Conference in 1991, though some date its conclusion to 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accords, there was an armed uprising in the occupied territories marked by civil disobedience—this was the First Intifada.
- On 13 September 2016, the Oslo Accords were signed. The Israeli government recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, while the PLO recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist and renounced terrorism as well as other violence, and its desire for the destruction of the Israeli state. A Palestinian Authority was designated for the Palestinian enclave. Future negotiations were to set a permanent agreement between two states, while deciding on the future of Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements on the West Bank. These negotiations were never successful.
- The Second Intifada started in September 2000, when Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, which was regarded by Palestinians as highly provocative, was greeted by Palestinian demonstrators throwing stones at the police.
- “Both parties caused high numbers of casualties among civilians as well as combatants: the Palestinians by numerous suicide bombing and gunfire; the Israelis by tank and gunfire and air attacks, by numerous targeted killings, and by harsh reactions to demonstrations. The death toll, including both military and civilian, is estimated to be about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis, as well as 64 foreigners.” Wikipedia, “Second Intifada.”
For many Israelis, the Second Intifada was the major blow to any belief in the desire of Palestinians for peace.
 A friend told me about a meeting between Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, and Jews, where the Palestinians spoke ardently about returning to their lands, and the Israeli Arabs told them there was nothing to go back to—the land has changed beyond recognition.