Terror + Conflicts
The Beginnings of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Before the early 1900s, Palestine was a largely peaceful, multi-faith region. But after 1917, under the British mandate, there was more violence, including terrorist attacks by both Arab and Jewish groups. Members of 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, the leaders of the Irgun, Menachem Begin, and Stern Gang, Yitzhak Shamir, would both later become Prime Ministers of Israel.
Violence from the Irgun
Palestinian-Israeli Christian Pastor Elias Chacour describes the fear Menachem Begin spread among the land in response to the Irgun in his book, Blood Brothers. He writes that, “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,” Chacour writes, “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.”
Perhaps it’s ironic that Menachem Begin of the Irgun and Yitzhak Shamir of The Stern Gang would both later become Prime Ministers of Israel but 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 and Shamir
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 past labels as terrorists, both Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir are honored throughout Israel today with main roads bearing their names. This is a tough pill to swallow for those who see them as wrongdoers in the Israel-Palestine conflict. 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.”
In Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001, Benny Morris writes that the Irgun Bombs of 1937 and 1938 “sowed terror in the Arab population and substantially increased its casualties. 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 Attacks
The first Irgun attack occurred on November 11, 1937. Morris writes that the attacks were responsible for “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).’”
Morris also describes the events on July 6, 1938, when “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 killed 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.”
King David Hotel Attacks
The Irgun attacks in 1937 and 1938 would not be the end of the violence in Palestine.
On July 22, 1946, the King David Hotel (then headquarters of the British Mandate Government) was bombed, with the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, claiming responsibility for the attacks. The group 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 to this day.
Almost forty years later, the deadliness of the King David Hotel attacks would be rivaled by the Sabra and Shatila Massacre.
Sabra and Shatila Massacre
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. This became known as the Sabra and Shatila Massacre.
Thirty years later, the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila camps is remembered as a notorious chapter in the Israel-Palestine conflict and 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.”
New York Times, Sept. 26, 1982; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: New York Times
Operation Cast Lead
Somewhat recently, operations taken on by Israel against Gaza have left numerous 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 stated goal was to end the smuggling of weapons into Gaza and rocket fire into Israel. According to B’Tselem, 1,387 Palestinians were killed. A vast number of casualties were civilians and 320 were children. Nine Israelis were killed, including six soldiers and three civilians. It was one of the most brutal attacks in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Operation Protective Edge
In 2014, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza caused the death of 2,131 Palestinians. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affiairs,1,473 were civilians and 501 were children.
The OHCA report also stated that at least 373,000 children required “direct and specialized psychosocial support” because they showed “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. It ended with the same result – a largely disproportionate number of Palestinian civilian casualties.
Dar al-Fadila Association for Orphans, consisting of a school, computer center and mosque in Rafah serving 500 children, were destroyed by the Israelis during Israel’s assault on Gaza. – Jan 12 2009
Whole sections of Beit Hanoun have been demolished, making it one of the hardest hit communities in the recent offensive, along with Gaza City, Beit Lahiya, Khuza’ah and Rafah. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem field researcher in Gaza, on 5 August 2014, in the course of the ceasefire.
The Effects of the Attacks
A human rights group in Ramallah dubbed Israel’s seizure of nearly $400m of funds belonging to Palestinians – acceding to the International Criminal Court – a “war crime” prosecutable by the Geneva-based tribunal.
A recent 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. According to Aljazeera, the report called the seizure “unlawful” and a form of “collective punishment.”
The Alpha Project
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. These loans would come from various countries, including from the United States, and would provide compensation to Palestinian refugees for their property losses.
In the report, Fischbach adds that “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.”
The Suez Crisis: Did Arabs initiate all the wars between Israel and her neighbors?
Damaged tank and vehicles, Sinai War, 1956
Instead of international compensation however, 1956 was the year of the Suez Crisis—an invasion of Egypt by Israel, Britain, and France. Its main goals were to re-establish control of the Suez Canal by Western powers and dismantle Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser because of his nationalization of the canal.
Today 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.
The Six-Day War: Did Israel attack its neighbors again?
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 through occupation of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem. It was a key event in the Israel-Palestine conflict because it drastically changed border lines.
For a better understanding 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.
In “Stuck in the Canal,” published in The New York Times in 2006, David Fromkin writes that ultimately “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.”
The Conflict Continues
Before the 1900s, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Palestinians lived in peace. However, the early 1900s was the beginning of Jewish terror attacks that would become a significant cause of the flight of Muslim and Christian Palestinians to neighboring countries, and create the backdrop for what would later become the Israel-Palestine conflict.
These Jewish terror groups were a growing problem for the British authority. The groups also conducted attacks on peacemakers, including the Swedish U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, who had expressed a desire for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their land.
Israeli terror operations have been historically called a “response” to counter-attacks. However, the question must be asked: Does Israel have a moral high ground for this massive killing, knowing that Israel was created by making and keeping Palestinian families as refugees from their homes?
Today, Palestinians suffer continuous attacks on their homes and infrastructure as seen in Israel’s recent Operation Protective Edge, which nearly mirrored the devastation caused by 2008’s Operation Cast Lead. Palestinian suffering has become as institutionalized as collective punishment by Israel.
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