The eyes of the world turned to Israel and Palestine on Oct. 7 after the attacks by Hamas, but the two had been in conflict for over a century before this.
The State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, and prior to that, there were efforts by Zionists to create a Jewish state in Palestine. In 1897, the first Zionist Congress was held which identified what is now known as Palestine as the chosen location for a Jewish State.
Though it is popular belief that the land the Zionists aimed to occupy was empty, that is not true, according to Ruby Dagher, professor in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa.
“I think a lot of us have accepted the version that basically says that there weren’t many Arab Palestinians there…and the land was empty, and there was nothing there. And then the Israelis, or the Jews at that time, because they only associate that with the Jews, even forgetting the Arabs in the region, declared and built Israel for what it is,” Dagher told CHEK News in an interview.
“There was a lot [on the land]. there were industries, there were a lot of olive groves, a lot of orange groves, a lot of agriculture.”
Dagher notes that prior to this, the land was occupied by Arabs of various religions, including Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Martin Bunton, professor of history at the University of Victoria and author of Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Very Short Introduction, says many people think this conflict between Palestine and Israel has been going on for much longer.
“I’ve always been troubled with the extent to which people dismiss it as kind of an ancient conflict, built of religious tensions and religious rivalries,” Bunton said. “It’s not an ancient religious conflict. There’s a start to this. In terms of the origins. Britain has a lot of responsibility for setting this conflict up in the first place. Germany has tremendous responsibility for the Holocaust, which contributed to the 1947 international plan. So I don’t think one can overstress the extent to which the international community should step up and take responsibility.”
Prior to the Holocaust, there was some interest from the international Jewish community to move to the region, but it wasn’t gaining the momentum leaders were hoping for. That changed with the Nazi rule in Germany and the Holocaust, when Jewish people were looking to flee to safety.
In the midst of that, the British government made competing promises to both the Arab and Jewish communities.
“What the Brits did, and we have documentation on that by the Brits, is that they promised the Arab leaders that there would still be a Palestine, and that the Arabs will not be removed from that area,” Dagher says. “But at the same time, they were talking to the Haganah, and they’ve promised them an Israeli state, and they had armed them.”
“And so for the Arabs there’s a very difficult trust issue with the international community,” she said.
Haganah was the military organization representing Jews in Palestine from 1920 to 1948, according to Britannica.
Fatah and Hamas: major political parties in Palestine
With the two parties having opposing views on the future of the region, Fatah was in charge of Palestine from 1996 until the 2006 election, when Hamas won over Fatah.
In the lead up to the election, Dagher says there had been a local presence, the Palestinian Authority, that was providing aid to the Palestinian people. However, the international community was providing non-government organizations (NGOs) funding to provide aid in the region. This led to the people believing that the Palestinian Authority, and as a result Fatah, was not doing anything for them.
“So what Hamas did…is they actually were actively working on taking care of the basic needs of the population that they were supporting that was around them. So they were providing price controls over certain items, they were providing free medical, free this, free that,” Dagher said.
“Whether they wanted to do it out of the kindness of their heart or there was an agenda behind that, that you can dispute, we can talk about that, but the difference was that they were actually providing an alternative in many ways to the Palestinian Authority for the people who were suffering in that area.”
Both Dagher and Bunton say while some did support Hamas, many people voted for the group as a protest vote.
“[Before the election], the international community jumped in, started supporting the Palestinian Authority and what we did, and how we did it in supporting the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Authority became more responsive to what the international community wanted, which was based on what Israel wanted and less responsive to what its people wanted. I’m not saying not responsive at all, I’m saying less responsive,” Dagher said.
“And so what ended up happening is with time, the Palestinian population started to see the Palestinian Authority which was controlled by Fatah…[the two] were starting to be seen as pawns of the West, and as pawns of Israel, because of Western approach of is, ‘You’re not capable, you don’t know you’re violent and aggressive here, let’s teach you type of approach.’”
This resulted in a loss of faith in Fatah and for some to gain trust in Hamas due to the measures it was visibly taking to help people.
After the election, Israel imposed more sanctions on Palestine and especially the Gaza Strip, as Hamas does not govern the West Bank.
Blockades around the Gaza Strip
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, a blockade was set up around the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt following a coup by Hamas.
“Ever since the imposition of the blockade in Gaza, you’ve had total control over, they often refer to it as the whole Gazan envelope,” Bunton said. “So anything crossing from sea, from air, from the land borders, is controlled by Israel, and anything coming out or coming in.”
“Egypt should have more of its own control over that, but Egypt and Israel and the United States, they have some very closely guarded international agreements and treaties. And Egypt is loath to cross America and compromise those agreements, and also Egypt does not want to be held responsible for Gaza. So they’ve actually maintained their blockade on that border.”
Bunton says he believes there has been a failure of the international community to not step in to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
“In the failure of these negotiations over the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, you have Gaza under siege since 2007, although it had been closed off in various forms well, before then, and then in the West Bank, the other territory which is meant to constitute the emergence of Palestinian state after, however, many decades now, since the United Nations came up with this plan,” Bunton said.
“You’ve had the ongoing settlement of larger areas by Israelis, and so that’s really complicated the situation, some would suggest undermined the situation completely in terms of asking whether or not an independent Palestinian state could even emerge in the West Bank. But they’ve undermined that by the building of these settlements, these illegal settlements against international law, and leaving many Palestinians to wonder, ‘How do you settle an area that is meant to be leveraged and traded for Palestinian state at the same time?’”
Bunton says the attacks of Hamas on Oct. 7, as well as the bombings following the attacks do not justify one another, and Dagher says she does not agree with Hamas or the Israel government.