While Palestine was a largely peaceful, multi-faith region, the early 1900s would see far more deaths, including by terrorist attacks–by both Arab and Jewish groups. Jewish terror groups, like the Irgun and the Stern Gang, were labeled as terrorists by the British government and even by Jewish leaders.
David Ben-Gurion, a founder and later Prime Minister of Israel, called the Irgun an “enemy of the Jewish people.” However, leaders of the Irgun (Menachem Begin) and Stern Gang (Yitzhak Shamir) would become Prime Ministers of Israel.
Palestinian Israeli Christian Pastor Elias Chacour describes the fear Begin spread among the land in his book, Blood Brothers:
“Throughout the winter months and into spring 1949, we heard of more terror, of villages blown up by barrel-bombs while others narrowly escaped the flaming ruins of their homes. Thousands were now uprooted, living in the hills and arid wastelands.
Most especially, we came to fear one name—the highly-trained and single-minded Zionist organization called the Irgun. One of its leaders had been among the ten terrorists most wanted by the British for his part in bombing the luxurious King David Hotel in Jerusalem. His name was Menachem Begin and his proclaimed goal was to ‘purify’ the land of the Palestinian people.”
Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, both later to become Prime Ministers of Israel, were once universally recognized as terrorists by the British government and even by leaders of the nascent Jewish state. The Wanted poster below includes Menachem Begin.
The rise of Begin’s party in Israeli politics was called “the most disturbing political phenomena of our time” in a 1948 letter published in the New York Times, which was cosigned by Albert Einstein.
Despite their terrorist past, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir later would become leaders of Israel and are honored throughout Israel with main roads bearing their names. Just last year, Israeli leaders dedicated Jerusalem’s Highway 9 entrance to Shamir. Meanwhile, Highway 50 in western Jerusalem is officially known as Begin Boulevard and also called the Menachem Begin Expressway. Similarly, a major thoroughfare in Tel Aviv is known as Begin Road.
The Irgun bombs of 1937-38 sowed terror in the Arab population and substantially increased its casualties. Until 1937 almost all of these had been caused by British security forces (including British-directed Jewish supernumeraries) and were mostly among the actual rebels, but from now on, a substantial proportion would be caused by Jews and suffered by random victims. The bombs do not appear in any way to have curtailed Arab terrorism, but they do appear to have helped persuade moderate Arabs of the need to resist Zionism and to support the rebellion.
The first Irgun attack occurred on November 11, 1937, killing two Arabs at a bus depot near Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, and wounding five. Three days later, on November 14, a number of Arabs were killed in simultaneous attacks around the country-a day that the Irgun thereafter commemorated as the “Day of the Breaking of the Havlaga (restrain).” On July 6, 1938, an Irgun operative dressed as an Arab placed two large milk cans filled with TNT and shrapnel in the Arab market in downtown Haifa. The subsequent explosions killed twenty-one and wounded fifty-two. On July 15 another bomb killed ten Arabs and wounded more than thirty in David Street in Jerusalem’s Old City. A second bomb in the Haifa market-this time disguised as a large can of sour cucumbers – on July 25, 1938 kill at least thirty-nine Arabs and injured at least seventy. On August 26, a bomb in Jaffa’s vegetable market killed twenty-four Arabs and wounded thirty-nine.
– Excerpt from Benny Morris’s Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 1881-2001
King David Hotel attacks
On July 22, 1946 the King David Hotel, then headquarters of the British Mandate Government, was bombed. The Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, took responsibility for the attacks, and claimed that they had made phone calls to the hotel as a warning before the bombs detonated. The bombing, which killed 91 people including British, Arabs, and Jews, remains the deadliest attack in Israel.
“On the night of Sept. 16, 1982, the Israeli military allowed a right-wing Lebanese militia to enter two Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. In the ensuing three-day rampage, the militia, linked to the Maronite Christian Phalange Party, raped, killed and dismembered at least 800 civilians, while Israeli flares illuminated the camps’ narrow and darkened alleyways. Nearly all of the dead were women, children and elderly men.
Thirty years later, the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila camps is remembered as a notorious chapter in modern Middle Eastern history, clouding the tortured relationships among Israel, the United States, Lebanon and the Palestinians. In 1983, an Israeli investigative commission concluded that Israeli leaders were “indirectly responsible” for the killings and that Ariel Sharon, then the defense minister and later prime minister, bore “personal responsibility” for failing to prevent them.”
Cycle of Violence
Gaza 2009 & 2014
Recent operations taken on by Israel against Gaza have left disproportionate casualties and immense destruction. In 2008, Israel carried about Operation Cast Lead, also known as the Gaza War or the Gaza Massacre. The operation’s goal was stated to be an end to the smuggling of weapons into Gaza and an end to rocket fire into Israel. According to B’Tselem, 1,387 Palestinians were killed—a vast number of casualties being civilians, including 320 children. Nine Israelis were killed, including six soldiers and three civilians.
Under the Rubble
More recently in 2014, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza caused the death of 2,131 Palestinians, with 1,473 being identified as civilians, including 501 children according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The OHCA report also stated that at least 373,000 children required “direct and specialized psychosocial support” because children were “showing symptoms of increased distress, including bed wetting, clinging to parents, and nightmares” as a result of Operation Protective Edge.
Operation Protective Edge was said to be carried out for nearly exactly the same reasons as 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, with the same result – a largely disproportionate number of Palestinian civilian casualties.
A human rights group in Ramallah has dubbed Israel’s seizure of nearly $400m of funds belonging to Palestinians – for acceding to the International Criminal Court – a “war crime” prosecutable by the Geneva-based tribunal.
A new report by al-Haq, the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, outlined the devastating effects of Israel’s withholding of taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, calling the seizure “unlawful” and a form of “collective punishment”. – AlJazeera
Michael R. Fischbach writes in Records of Dispossession: Palestinian Refugee Property and the Arab-Israeli Conflict that on August 26, 1955, “U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles delivered a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in which he stated that ‘compensation is due from Israel to the refugees.’” The compensation plan (confidentially called the Alpha Project) would pull international loans, including from the United States, to provide compensation to Palestinian refugees for their property losses. But, adds Fischbach, “the years 1955 and 1956 witnessed tremendous turmoil in the Middle East and the worsening of Western relations with the Arab world. Project Alpha fell victim to these events, and yet another plan for compensation failed to reach fruition.”
Instead, 1956 saw the Suez Crisis—an invasion of Egypt by Israel, Britain and France, with the main goals of re-establishing control of the Suez Canal by Western powers and dismantling Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser due to his nationalization of the canal. The war is also called the Tripartite Aggression because it interfered with armistice lines established between Israel and Egypt when Israel occupied the Sinai until March 1957. Armistice lines between Israel and several of its neighbors were eventually broken in the Six-Day war in 1967. It was in this war that Israel tripled its land by occupying the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem.
For more on the decades of war between Israel and its neighbors, view this CNN interactive which provides briefs of several conflicts beginning with the founding of Israel in 1948.
“Israel compromised itself through its partnership with European imperialism — providing evidence to enemies who had asserted all along that Israel was no more than a European imperialist itself. And its victory in the Sinai campaign — one of many dazzling triumphs — illustrated the paradox that the more Israel won on the battlefield, the further it got from achieving the peace that it sought.”
– David Fromkin, Stuck in the Canal, New York Times, 2006