Tag Archives: Israeli Palestinian confict

Liberators or Terrorists? The Origins and History of Israel and Hamas

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on, much of the focus lately has been on Hamas.

Critics say the group is a terrorist organization that wants nothing but to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

Supporters say Hamas, which represents the only organized Palestinian military force, is a coalition of freedom fighters and liberators defending the Palestinian people.

But where did the organization even come from? And how has is it become what it is today?

Hamas militants in training. Click to enlarge

Thinking you can understand the current conflict by looking at only the past few years of its history is like thinking you understand calculus because you passed freshman algebra.

Hopefully, this quick piece can be a pre-cal of sorts for people wanting to really understand the history between Israel and Palestine.

In 1917, Great Britain occupied Palestine during a period of British expansionism. Assisting in the conquest of Palestine was a Jewish military volunteer group known as the Jewish Legion.

This group was comprised primarily of Zionists, Jews who believed that it was God’s will for them to one day return to their ancient homeland (Mt. Zion is located in the heart of Jerusalem).

“Jewish Legion soldiers at the Western Wall after British conquest, 1917.” Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1920, Palestinian riots led to the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah. The militia was formed by Jews who felt that Britain had no interest in confronting the Arab populations in the region who were expressing their disapproval for the ongoing British occupation.

Between 1919 and 1929, 100,000 more Jews migrated to Palestine. This led to an Arab revolt in the late 1930s, which prompted Britain to pass legislation limiting Jewish migration to the territory.

But World War II and the Holocaust displaced millions of Jews in Europe, and many of them sought a new life in the primarily Jewish British-held areas of Palestine.

Britain found itself in a conflict with the Haganah, who wanted to establish an independent Jewish state, while also trying to deal with the Arabs and Palestinians who were still upset that their traditional lands had been occupied in the first place.

So Britain basically gave up. They said they couldn’t solve any of the problems between the Jews and the Arab Palestinians and pulled out of the area in 1947.

General Sir Evelyn “Bubbles” Barker led the occupying British forces in Palestine between 1946 and 1947. Click to enlarge

Later that year, the UN passed UN Resolution 181, splitting up the Palestinian territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states.

The resolution was signed without the agreement of the Palestinian Arabs in the region. The United States had promised the Palestinian Arabs that they would be consulted before any decision was reached, but that promise was broken.

So as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.

Israel won that war, thanks in part to weapons acquired secretly from western countries like the United States and France who were sympathetic to the Jewish cause but didn’t want to become publicly involved.

Not only did they hold onto their own territory, they captured 50% of the territory that had been given to the Palestinians under the UN resolution.

The change of territory following UN Resolution 181 and the resultant war. Click to enlarge

In 1964, a number of Arab countries sent representatives to Cairo for the Arab League Summit. The goal of the summit was to resolve inter-Arab conflicts in the region so that the Arab countries could unite in their struggle against what they saw as western imperialism and Israeli aggression.

It was at this summit that the idea for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, was born. The stated goal of the PLO was to “liberate Palestine through armed struggle”.

Although the dominant religion in these Arab countries was Islam, the PLO was comprised mainly of secular Palestinian factions (the largest being the Fatah party), who were actually wary of the rise of Islamic extremism.

Arab leaders in front of the Nile Hilton Hotel in Cairo during the Arab League Summit in 1964

Historically, Palestinians have been a religiously tolerant people. For hundreds of years, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike lived peacefully together as fellow Palestinians. The PLO wanted to make sure that this tolerance was preserved.

In fact, the Islamic extremism which is now considered the backbone of Hamas was actually encouraged by Israel itself.

In 1967, Israel fought the Six-Day War against an Arab federation led by Egypt. At that time, the PLO was quickly becoming popular among Arabs in the region, and this worried Israel.

So using PLO guerilla activity as a pretext, Israel took over the Palestinian territory of Gaza and began systematically hunting down members of the PLO and the Fatah party.

To combat the PLO’s secular influence in the region, Israel began encouraging Islamic activism in Palestine. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this Israeli policy was a man named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza at the time.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin

In 1973, Yassin established the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya. The organization was officially recognized as a charity by Israel  in 1979.

Yassin used the organization to establish mosques and Islamic schools in Gaza, as well as a library. But Yitzhak Segev, an Israeli official who served as governor of Gaza in 1979, says that he had no illusions about Yassin’s real intentions.

Segev had personally witnessed an Islamist movement in Iran which eventually led to a military coup that toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. The coup cleared the way for the Shah of Iran (the country’s highest-ranking Muslim cleric) to take power.

Men celebrating the military coup in the streets of Iran’s capital city of Tehran in 1953. Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

He and other Israeli officials worried that the same would soon happen in Gaza, but because of the tensions in the region at the time, they were reluctant to speak out, fearing they would be accused of being enemies of Islam.

So Segev said nothing. In 1984, Israeli intelligence got word that Yassin’s group was stockpiling weapons in a Gaza mosque. They raided the mosque and arrested Yassin, who claimed the weapons were meant for use against secular Palestinian groups like the PLO, not for use against Israel.

He was released from jail a year later, and continued to spread Mujama’s influence in Gaza. Then, in 1987, he established Hamas with six other Palestinians as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The first leaflet they distributed blamed Israeli intelligence for undermining the social fabric of young Palestinians in order to recruit Palestinian “collaborators”.

But despite this harsh language, Israel continued to focus on the Fatah party and the PLO, even meeting with senior Hamas officials as part of “regular consultations” that they held with Palestinian officials not linked to the PLO.

Mahmoud Zahar was one of the Hamas leaders who met with Israeli officials in the early days of the organization’s existence (Photo: AFP)

It wasn’t until Hamas kidnapped and murdered two Israeli soldiers in 1989 that Israel started to pay attention to the group.

In response to the kidnappings, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) arrested Yassin and deported 400 Hamas activists to an Israeli-occupied region of South Lebanon.

During its time in South Lebanon in the early 90s, Hamas built a relationship with the Lebanese jihadist group Hezbollah and established its military division, the al-Qassam Brigades.

Throughout the early 90s, the al-Qassam Brigades carried out numerous attacks and suicide bombings on Israel. However, Hamas was centered in Lebanon and Jordan at the time, making it hard for Israel to eliminate them.

In 1993, Israel and the PLO agreed to the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority as a governmental body to represent the Palestinians. This helped stem some of the violence the region experienced in the early 90s.

Isreali Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat agree to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The U.S. played a major role in brokering the deal. Click to enlarge (Photo: AP)

Then, in 1997, a failed Israeli assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan and the resulting political fallout led to the release of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who had been put in jail for life for the murders of the Israeli soldiers in 1989.

2000 brought about a renewal of the bloody conflict, with a surge in Hamas suicide bombings prompted by the growing number of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian-controlled territory of the West Bank.

In 2004, Yassin offered a military truce to Israel, asking for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in exchange. Israel turned down the truce, and Yassin was killed by a targeted air strike two months later.

In 2006, Hamas became entrenched in the Palestinian government. Though the group had boycotted the Palestinian presidential election a year before, they decided to take part in the legislative elections in 2006. They did remarkably well, wining 76 of the 132 available seats (Fatah won 43).

Results from the 2006 elections. Click to enlarge

The relationship between Hamas and Fatah has always been rocky. Skirmishes have broken out between the two factions on countless occasions. At one point, Israeli intelligence even informed Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas was planning to assassinate him.

Despite their past differences, however, Abbas announced in March of 2012 that Fatah and Hamas were on the same page. He told Al-Jazeera,

“We agreed that the period of calm would be not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank… We also agreed on a peaceful popular resistance [against Israel], the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and that the peace talks would continue if Israel halted settlement construction and accepted our conditions.”

Feb. 23, 2012: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) at a meeting between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo. Click to enlarge (Photo: UPI/ Mohame Hams)

But this declaration of unity is seeming pretty hollow now.

Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah have proposed a number of ceasefires between Israel and Palestine during this latest flare-up of the conflict, but Hamas has refused the deals, demanding that Israel move its citizens out of settlements in Palestine if they want a ceasefire.

One of the reasons that Hamas was able to gain so much political power in the mid-2000s was that Palestinians had become fed up with the corruption of the Palestinian Authority (led by the Fatah party) by the time the 2006 elections rolled around.

Unfortunately, the added political power that Hamas gained when they took over Palestinian politics that year led to the same corruption that the Palestinian people had tried to get rid of by voting the Palestinian Authority out of power.

Dorothy Peskin is an Israeli analyst who recently released a detailed report about Hamas corruption in Gaza. She put it this way:

“With multi-million land deals, luxury villas and black market fuel from Egypt, Gaza’s (Hamas) rulers made billions while the rest of the population struggles with a 39 percent poverty level and 40 percent unemployment.”

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal is rumored to be in control of more than $2.6 billion dollars of Hamas assets, according to a source in Jordan

The average Hamas fighter today may truly believe in the Palestinian liberation cause, but power and influence almost always lead to corruption.

In my opinion, the leaders of Hamas have shown that they are more interested in maintaining their own power, influence and wealth than in actually helping the Palestinian people. Their strategy of maximizing civilian casualties by firing rockets from heavily-populated areas is just one example.

However, we must also recognize that Israel played a big role in establishing Hamas in the first place because of their fear of the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization.

An American intelligence report discussing relations between Israel and Hamas was recently published by the news leak website Wikileaks.

In the leaked document, dated September 23, 1988, U.S. intelligence officials say,

“Many in the West Bank believe that Israel actively supports Hamas, in its effort to split the Palestinian nation and weaken the Intifada.”

The document also notes that although Israel was arresting a number of Palestinians at the time, very few were members of Hamas. The document went so far as to say,

“We believe that not only does Israel turn a blind eye on Hamas activity, but even supports it.”

You reap what you sow. There are countless examples of countries supporting groups that end up coming back to bite them in the ass (the U.S.-trained mujahideen are a good example).

The bottom line is that there are no clear cut good guys or bad guys in this conflict, just lots of historical wounds that are still festering today. I just hope this history helped you make a little more sense of it all.

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Journalists Record Footage of Hamas Assembling and Firing Rockets Right Next to Their Hotel

As the conflict rages on between Israel and Hamas, one of the biggest criticisms of the militant group is their strategy of embedding themselves within the civilian population in Gaza so as to force Israel to incur civilian casualties when they retaliate.

There have been reports that Hamas has launched rockets from crowded apartment buildings, hospitals and schools, though every report comes with another denying Hamas’ responsibility.

Earlier today, however, Indian journalists working for the New Delhi TV broadcasting company got at least one piece of irrefutable evidence: footage of Hamas militants assembling and firing a rocket just a stone’s throw from the hotel they were staying in.

According to NDTV, the rocket was fired just before the start of the 72-hour ceasefire which began this morning.

The team said that yesterday, a small blue tent was erected next to the hotel. Three men made a number of journeys to and from the tent for about an hour before breaking it down and disappearing.

Then, this morning, the team watched the tent be erected once more. The men quickly assembled the rocket launcher and fired the rocket, leaving the area quickly afterwards.

A picture of the tent taken by NDTV. Click to enlarge
A picture of the tent taken by NDTV. Click to enlarge

Obviously, one isolated video doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of civilian casualties are on the Palestinian side. As of this morning, over 1,800 Palestinian civilians have lost their lives, with another 10,000+ injured. Israel has lost just three civilians, along with 64 soldiers.

However, we can’t let these numbers keep us from criticizing Hamas when it’s clear that maximizing civilian death is a large part of their PR campaign.

NDTV put it this way:

“Hamas has not taken very kindly to any reporting of its rockets being fired. But just as we reported the devastating consequences of Israel’s offensive on Gaza’s civilians, it is equally important to report on how Hamas places those very civilians at risk by firing rockets deep from the heart of civilian zones.”

We can argue about whose actions are more “justified” (whatever that even means), but we cannot deny that both sides must be held somewhat accountable for the growing loss of life stemming from the renewal of this conflict.

Read the original report from NDTV here.

Make sure to check back later this week for a more in-depth look into the creation and history of Hamas.

EDIT: A talented blogger put together this post in which he identifies where exactly the rocket was launched from, based off of the NDTV footage.

No Borders in Space: An Astronaut’s Perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A German astronaut named Alexander Gerst recently created a lot of online attention earlier this week with a picture he posted of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from space.

These photos were taken from the International Space Station as it flew over Israel last week. Below is the image that went viral, getting over 39,000 re-tweets after Gerst posted it on Twitter.

As you can see, from space, borders are indistinguishable…

Gerst also added that the crew could actually see the rocket explosions as they passed over the region at night.

Gerst, a German astronaut is still currently aboard the International Space Station with American Reid Wiseman and Russian Maxim Suarev.

The crew has had some fun since they departed Earth on May 28th, even playing some zero gravity soccer and making friendly wagers on the recent World Cup.

But the mood has become a bit more somber with the end of the Cup and the resurgence of the conflict in the Middle East.

In a blog post he wrote for the European Space Agency’s website, Gerst gave insight into the astronauts’ perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His introduction is very powerful:

“Some things that on Earth we see in the news every day and thus almost tend to accept as a ‘given,’ appear very different from our perspective. We do not see any borders from space.

We just see a unique planet with a thin, fragile atmosphere, suspended in a vast and hostile darkness. From up here it is crystal clear that on Earth we are one humanity, we eventually all share the same fate.

What came to my mind at the time of this photo was, if we ever will be visited by another species from somewhere in the universe, how would we explain to them what they might see as the very first thing when they look at our planet?

How would we explain to them the way we humans treat not only each other but also our fragile blue planet, the only home we have? I do not have an answer for that.”

Despite All the Depressing News, The World Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Much, Much Better

Today, I woke up and skimmed the world news headlines. 80% of the stories were about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or the Malaysian aircraft shot down in Ukraine. The other 20% was mostly news on the Air Algerie flight which disappeared earlier this morning and ISIS’s exile and persecution of the Christians in Mosul.

It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.

What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.

Click to enlarge

It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.

Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.

And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better– much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.

First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.

The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:

We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.

(h/t Think Progress)

Israel’s Government Is Paying College Students to Spread Pro-Israel Propaganda on Social Media

A lot of the discussion and debate about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been taking place on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sources.

In light of that, I think it’s important for people to know that social media is by no means immune to government propaganda. Far from it in fact.

Back in August of last year, a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that the Israeli government would be giving scholarships to college students who, “engage international audiences online” by posting pro-Israel tweets/statuses etc. online.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: AP)

“This is a groundbreaking project aimed at strengthening Israeli national diplomacy and adapting it to changes in information consumption,”

the statement said.

Students at each university are organized into units. At the top is the chief-coordinator, who gets a full scholarship. Under the chief-coordinator are three “desk coordinators” in charge of language, graphics and research who receive lesser scholarships. Then there are student “activists” who receive, “minimal scholarships”.

The program is run by Danny Seamen, an Israeli public diplomacy official who drew the ire of Muslims in the region when he posted the following status on his personal Facebook page:

“Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan mean that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?”

Danny Seaman, who is in charge of the program (Photo: Flash90)

Despite the fact that Israeli officials condemned the status, calling it “unacceptable” and saying that it didn’t, “reflect the position of the Israeli government,” Seaman somehow still ended up in charge of the social media propaganda campaign.

Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the volunteer social media recruits in a video conference shortly after the announcement. He said,

“We are (operating) on four fronts: The military front, the home front, the diplomatic front and the public diplomacy front… We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold … refuting the industry of lies.”

It’s not the first time that the Israeli government did something like this. Just a year earlier, a Palestinian blog reported that Israeli students were being paid $2,000 for posting pro-Israel messages online for five hours a week.

I agree whole-heartedly with Netanyahu that we must “fight for the truth” and “refute the industry of lies”. But you don’t do that by bribing college kids to post pro-government sound-bites, and you definitely don’t do it by putting a man in charge who has proven he cares more about inciting anger and hate than he does about spreading truth.

Read the original story from the AP here.

The Quickest Possible Explanation of the Current Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

For all of the coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it’s come to my attention that very few people actually understand what’s going on there.

This is by no means a complete history- it’s “the quickest possible explanation”. So if you think I’m missing an important piece of information, please don’t attack me, just add it to the comments section at the bottom! 

It all started after World War II.

With millions of Jews being displaced during the Holocaust, the United Nations was looking for a good place to establish a Jewish state.

At the time, Palestine was actually a British colony, and the UN figured that Palestine (which included Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith) was the best place to establish the new Jewish state of Israel.

So, in late November, 1947, the UN passed Resolution 181, which divided the Palestinian territory into Jewish and Arab states.

Israeli politician Eliahu Elath presents President Harry Truman with a ceremonial ark after Truman recognized Israeli statehood in 1948

The Palestinian Arabs who were living there at the time refused to recognize the agreement. They had been told (by the United States) that no decisions would be made without consulting them. They also felt that the agreement was too favorable to the Jews, at the expense of the local Palestinians.

So, as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.

The fighting intensified when Israel declared independence a year later. The Arab-Israeli of 1948 ultimately displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs.

The fighting has pretty much been on and off since then. Israel, better funded and better equipped, has slowly been shrinking the Palestinian territory through settlement programs, which urge Israeli citizens to go settle in Palestinian territory, making it harder for Palestine to legitimize a claim on those areas.

Click to enlarge

In John Kerry’s first year as Secretary of State, he took a total of 14 trips to the region in an effort to broker a peace settlement. While he was unable to broker a deal, the talks did succeed in stopping the violence for a while.

But recently it started back up, as tensions over three Israeli teens kidnapped and murdered in Gaza sparked a heavy-handed response from Israel, who sent in military troops to scour Gaza for the perpetrators (killing five Palestinians in the process).

It’s important at this point to understand the Palestinian political scene.

The remaining Palestinian territory is made up of the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

A map of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Click to enlarge

The Palestinians in the West Bank (which make up the bulk of the Palestinian population) are led by Mahmoud Abbas, who is actually quite moderate and has been very much in favor of trying to broker peace deals with Israel in recent times. Just this past Monday he wrote this op-ed piece explaining his vision of a peaceful relationship between Palestine and Israel.

The problem is Hamas, a militant Islamist group founded in 1988 with the sole purpose of destroying Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian state.

Militant groups like Hamas know that their power is rooted in the fear and anger of the people, so they do everything they can to keep Palestinians scared and mad. How? Launch a few missiles at Israel to provoke a response.

Hamas doesn’t want a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine because it will mean the loss of most (if not all) of Hamas’s power.

Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip

Hamas needs people to hate Israel, so they launch just enough rockets to get Israel to start air-raids which are disproportionately more deadly than the rockets fired from Gaza. There are even reports of Hamas encouraging people to go out onto their rooftops during Israeli strikes so as to increase the civilian death toll.

However, many media outlets are misrepresenting the conflict, making it seem like Palestine is raining down rockets on Israeli civilians while Israel is responding by carrying out precise and strategic targeted air raids.

Israel has an extremely advanced missile dome system to shoot down rockets, and almost all of the buildings there were built to withstand these kinds of attacks. Since the conflict ramped back up, there hasn’t been a single casualty on the Israeli side.

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Palestine, on the other hand, is ill-equipped to do anything about Israeli air-raids. To make matters worse, Palestinian territories are extremely densely populated, meaning lots of collateral damage when Israel bombs a target. Air raids have killed 89 Palestinians and injured another 600+ so far since the fighting resumed.

Let’s be real here: both Israel and Hamas want conflict. For Israel, the ultimate goal is to eventually take over all of the remaining Palestinian territory and make it part of Israel.

Hamas rockets allow Israel to justify air strikes which inflict serious damage to the remaining Palestinian territories. They also allow Israel to justify their refusal to stop creating new settlements in Palestine.

On the other hand, Hamas would cease to be relevant if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ended, so they do everything they can to provoke harsh military responses from Israel. The more innocent Palestinians get killed during Israel’s air strikes, the easier it is for Hamas to recruit angry young men to their cause and garner support from Arabs in the region.

The only people really losing are the average, moderate Palestinians who are simply trying to make it in one of the world’s poorest and most violent regions.

History courtesy of the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian.

Most other un-cited information came from interviews from a recent episode of NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook about the resurgence in the conflict. You can listen to that interview in its entirety here.