Arab-Israeli Conflict



The Arab-Israeli conflict came about from the notion of Political Zionism. Zionism is the belief

that Jews constitute a nation (or a people) and that they deserve the right to return to what they consider to

be their ancestral home, land of Israel (or Palestine). Political Zionism, the belief that Jews should

establish a state for themselves in Palestine, was a revolutionary idea for the 19th Century.

During World War I, Jews supported countries that constituted the Central Powers because they

detested the tyranny of czarist Russia. Both the Allies and Central Powers needed Jewish support, but

Germany could not espouse Zionism due to its ties with the Ottoman Empire, which still controlled

Palestine. British Prime Minister Lloyd George & Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour, favored Zionism and

supported their cause in a letter that became known as the Balfour Declaration, ensuring that the British

government would control Palestine after the war with a commitment to build the Jewish national home

there, promising only to work for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine and not harm the civil and

religious rights of Palestine’s "existing non-Jewish communities".

After the Great War, Britain’s Forces jointly occupied the area known as Palestine with Faysal’s

(Iraq) Arab army. The British set up a provisional military government in Jerusalem that soon became a

struggle between Jewish settlers and the Arab inhabitants. In April 1920, the Palestinian Arabs revolted,

killing Jews and damaging property, opening the Arab nationalist revolution in Palestine.

The League of Nations awarded the Palestine mandate in 1922, charging Britain with carrying out the

Balfour Declaration, encouraging Jewish migration to Palestine and help create the Jewish "national home".

But the Arabs suspected the British mandate would hold them in colonial bondage until the Jews achieved a

majority in Palestine.

Winston Churchill issued a white paper denying that the British government meant to give

preferential treatment to Jews with a proviso for restricting Jewish immigration to conform with Palestine’s

"absorptive capacity". Another action that seemed to violate the mandate was the creation of the Emirate of

Transjordan, removing two-thirds of Palestine that lay east of the Jordan River from the area in which Jews

could develop their national home, claiming the partition was only temporary.

During the first civilian governor of Palestine, it looked as if Jewish-Arab differences would be

resolved when more Jews emigrated out of Palestine than immigrated and with the presence of a

complementary relationship among the two peoples, but the hopes dissipated during the 1929 "Wailing

Wall Incident". The Wailing Wall (a.k.a. the Western Wall) is a remnant of the second Jewish Temple,

symbolizing the hope that one day the Temple will be rebuilt and the ancient Jewish rituals revived; but the

Wall also forms a part of the enclosure surrounding the Temple Mount, which the Dome of the Rock and

al-Aqsa mosque stand atop; Muslims feared that Jewish actions before the Western Wall could lead to their

pressing a claim to the historic site.

In 1928, Jewish worshipers brought some benches to sit on. The police took them away several

times, but the Jews kept putting them back. To Muslims, this activity was an attempt by the Jews to

strengthen their claims to the Wall and retaliated by running a highway past it to distract the worshipers.

Several fights broke out that escalated into a small civil war. Arabs perpetrated massacres in other places

in Palestine. The British constabulary was inadequate and Britain sent a commission of inquiry; later

issuing a report that justified the Arab position. The colonial secretary, Lord Passfield, placed blame on the

Jewish Agency and the Zionists, and Britain tightened restrictions on Jewish immigration. Due to domestic

embarrassment, the British government issued a letter explaining away the Passfield condemnation, hardly

appeasing the Zionists, but angering the Arabs.

As Arab animosity increased, the Arab Higher Committee in Palestine called for a general strike,

paralyzing the country for several months. The British sent another commission of inquiry, headed by Lord

Peel, which recommended partition, giving a small area of northern and central Palestine to the Jews, while

leaving the most to Arabs. But the Palestine Arabs opposed the partition, fearing its’ acceptance would be

a step toward their loss of Palestine. Britain scaled down the offer and eventually retracted it.

Seeking a peace plan that would