Media outlets are saturated with news of ongoing violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, one of two geographically disconnected Palestinian territories. Thousands have lost their lives, with countless others injured or held captive. While the uptick in aggression is deeply rooted in historical contexts, it’s crucial to remember that humans are at its core.
The complexities of the situation might leave you feeling hesitant to form an opinion. Here, we offer a brief rundown of the context behind the current situation. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that humans are the focal point of this crisis.
Reports indicate a growing prevalence of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the UK.
Central to The New Feminist is the concept of intersectionality: each individual has a unique lived experience shaped by various identities, all deserving of respect. There is no room for hate.
As Afua Hirsch eloquently puts it, “The only binaries we acknowledge are humanity and inhumanity.”
The Spiritual and Historical Roots that Fuel the Conflict
Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip aren’t just points on a map; they’re sacred ground for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other Abrahamic religions. These areas hold immense religious significance, deeply intertwined with the core tenets of these faiths. This part of the world is closely linked to key events in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history, with the city of Jerusalem housing some of the most sacred sites for each religion.
What is now Israel and Palestine existed as the British Mandate of Palestine for decades before the conclusion of WWII. During this time, and before British control of the area, the region was religiously pluralistic with a Arab Muslim majority but sizable populations of Mizrahi Jews, Arab and Coptic Christians, and smaller groups such as the Druze community and Bahai community.
Amid anti-semitic tensions in Europe and rising conflict in European controlled areas of the Middle East the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration. In 1917, the UK Foreign Secretary made a pledge to the Jewish community to create a ‘national home’ for the Jewish Community in Palestine. This was a public pledge made by the British Government to establish a home state for the Jewish people, something they were encouraged to do by the League of Nations.
To some in the Jewish community the land that is now divided between Israel and Palestine is their rightful and spiritual home, this belief is known as Zionism. Zionism is a movement amongst some in the Jewish community seeking the return of Jewish people to this ancestral home. To Palestinian Arabs (of both Muslim and Christian religious heritage), the land that comprised the British Mandate of Palestine is their ancestral home and they see their continued habitation there as evidence of that. Many, particularly on the Palestinian side, saw the agreement to earmark historically Arab land for Jewish settlement, as an act of colonial strongarming.
Addressing Anti-Semitism and Its Historical Context
During World War II, amid increased anti-semitic violence in Europe, many Jewish people fled from persecution to Palestine. Between the 1920s and 1940s the British Government had allowed free Jewish emigration to the area, maintaining their pledge made in the Balfour Declaration. Violence against the British began to rise in the area in response to colonial actions. Tensions also rose between those arriving in Palestine and those already living there.
In 1947, it was agreed at the UN that Palestine would be split into a Jewish state and an Arab state to prevent the tensions. The city of Jerusalem was intended to be a unique ‘international city’ under this plan, under special UN administration. While Jewish leaders accepted this plan, the Arab community, and the Arab League, did not.
In 1948, following the British withdrawal, the State of Israel was established as a sanctuary for Jews. Soon after, five Arab nations launched an attack. In the ensuing conflict, thousands of Palestinians were displaced, an event known as Al Nakba, or “the Catastrophe.” A ceasefire was called the following year, leaving Israel in control of the majority of the land.
The Plight of Palestinian Refugees and Ongoing Settlements
Amidst the conflict, numerous Palestinians sought refuge in neighbouring countries like Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. In the fallout of Al Nakba Palestinian control was restricted to Gaza and the West Bank. Israel has consistently refused to permit these refugees and their descendants to return, citing the need to preserve a Jewish majority Israeli State. Israel also excerts large control over both Palestinian territories, restricting movement of Palestinians and controlling Gaza’s energy and water supplies..
In the past five decades, Israel has expanded its settlements into the West Bank and East Jerusalem, regions that were not initially part of the agreed-upon State of Israel. These areas are now home to over 700,000 Israeli residents.
So, Who are Hamas? And What is Their Role in the Conflict?
Gaza is ruled by Hamas, an organisation designated as terrorists by Israel and many Western nations including the United States and United Kingdom.
Hamas won elections in 2006 in Gaza and has since periodically fired rockets into Israeli cities. In retaliation, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, restricting the movement of people and goods.
Hamas continues to reject the two-state solution offered in peace talks by global organisations. Meanwhile, Israel has increasingly built new Jewish settlements on the land outside of the original agreement. It is important to note that the West Bank and Gaza are neither geographically or politically contiguous currently, meaning that while both territories are Palestinian, they have individual politicial and social stances on ongoing issues in the region.
As simplified in this article, Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The area holds significance for Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. However, Israel maintains that Jerusalem is an “indivisible” capital of the country. Tensions escalated in the region when the Trump Administartion asserted to relocate the American Embassy of Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Most countries locate their embassies in Israel in Tel Aviv to avoid taking a stance on Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital.
Over the years, both Hamas and Israel have carried out violent attacks.
Why the escalation?
On Saturday 7th October, violence escalated.
According to the United Nations, 2023 has been one of the deadliest for Palestine, with over 700 attacks from Israel.
Hamas’ attack on Israel last weekend was one of the biggest ever launched and a complete surprise to Israel.
Israel has taken retaliatory action with airstrikes. They have since launched a bombing campaign over North Gaza, instructing all 1 million residents to flee to South Gaza. Designated ‘safe’ channels for fleeing to South Gaza have reportedly been bombed by Israeli military.
There remains no peace agreement in place. Protests across the world, including in London, by representatives from both Jewish and Palestinian communities are increasing. Hate is growing.
The loss of human life is felt across communities and the world. The complexities rooted in intersectional issues make the violence especially difficult to comprehend.
We can all commit to stand for inclusion and against hate and send love to all those impacted by the tragic loss of lives.
The conflict continues to unfold. Below are a sample of resources to follow events and to hear from others.
Director for Freedom at London King’s College speech transcript
The Rest is Politics podcast – Rory Stewart and Alistair Campbell