The beginning of wisdom is the admission of one’s ignorance.
No one alive today has experienced a world without conflict in the Middle East. The region has suffocated, seemingly forever, in a miasma of suffering, despair, hatred and war. For many observers, Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world seem to take turns wearing the villainous black hat. Many others chose sides long ago, even before birth, and have no interest in objective truth… if that even exists anymore.
In the hot, dry summers of the American West a single bolt of lightning or a spark from a campfire can cause a staggeringly destructive conflagration. And so we have seen in recent weeks: the horrific murders of children – Israeli and Palestinian – have sparked a massive explosion of violence, like a wildfire… out of control… and with a seemingly endless supply of fuel: hatred.
There is a corresponding explosion of public opinion and personal expression in all the social media channels. I’ve engaged with a couple of friends on Facebook, and one of them challenged my lament that “this is a thousand year old religious feud”. I respect this woman’s views (even when I disagree with her), so I googled around to try to find an objective a source of information on the history of this land and its people. Easier to look for the Holy Grail, right?
Did I succeed? I don’t know. But as far as I can tell, the people behind the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) appear to be committed to their independent and unbiased presentation of fact and analysis. Here are the opening paragraphs from what I would call “The Conflict – 101” followed by a link to the complete piece on their website. I would strongly encourage anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of how we got here to read this. For those who feel secure in their views, this should be required reading.
Whether you strongly favor one side or the other, or have a vague notion that everyone’s to blame, it can never hurt to be a little better informed. This certainly helped me to understand some of the complexities that I wasn’t aware of, or that I hadn’t fully appreciated. And while firing off an angry tweet or comment may feel good… if we’re just throwing more kindling on the fire, we help no one.
The conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Zionist (now Israeli) Jews is a modern phenomenon, dating to the end of the nineteenth century. Although the two groups have different religions (Palestinians include Muslims, Christians and Druze), religious differences are not the cause of the strife. The conflict began as a struggle over land. From the end of World War I until 1948, the area that both groups claimed was known internationally as Palestine. That same name was also used to designate a less well-defined “Holy Land” by the three monotheistic religions. Following the war of 1948–1949, this land was divided into three parts: the State of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and the Gaza Strip.
It is a small area—approximately 10,000 square miles, or about the size of the state of Maryland. The competing claims to the territory are not reconcilable if one group exercises exclusive political control over all of it. Jewish claims to this land are based on the biblical promise to Abraham and his descendants, on the fact that the land was the historical site of the ancient Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judea, and on Jews’ need for a haven from European anti-Semitism. Palestinian Arab claims to the land are based on their continuous residence in the country for hundreds of years and the fact that they represented the demographic majority until 1948. They reject the notion that a biblical-era kingdom constitutes the basis for a valid modern claim. If Arabs engage the biblical argument at all, they maintain that since Abraham’s son Ishmael is the forefather of the Arabs, then God’s promise of the land to the children of Abraham includes Arabs as well. They do not believe that they should forfeit their land to compensate Jews for Europe’s crimes against Jews.
– from “A Primer: Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict”
The Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP)
The End (so far)