Since October 7, 2023, the world has watched the government of Israel drop more than 6,000 bombs and launch more than 7,000 missiles into the territory of Gaza, causing damage the equivalent of 2 nuclear bombs. The military operation is in retaliation to a Hamas-led attack that killed approximately 1,400 and kidnapped more than 200 Israelis. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed by Israel since the start of 2023, with thousands more losing their lives over the last few years.
Since October 7, Israel’s airstrikes have killed nearly 12,000 Palestinian men, women, youth, and elderly and injured more than 27,000 others — a large percentage of which are children. In addition to air strikes in the form of missiles and bombs, Israel has been accused of using white phosphorus gas and thermobaric weapons, both of which could be considered war crimes according to legal scholars, international humanitarian laws, and treaties of war.
The Mounting Crisis in Gaza
Dozens of hospitals, schools, and refugee camps have been struck during the conflict, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Early in the conflict, Israel cut off water, electricity, and communications to Gaza. Meanwhile, foreign aid has largely not been able to reach the heavily bombard areas of northern Gaza and unprecedented numbers of injured need medical services. Israel ordered the nearly 1.1 million Palestinian people in northern Gaza to flee south and turn over Hamas leaders. However, citizens have had little capacity to move as roads and crossings are under constant fire of Israeli ground offensives. In fact, the UN head of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that safe passage would not be possible for Palestinian families traveling over roads that have been “reduced to rubble.” He added that without a pause in fighting and the dispersal of humanitarian aid, any evacuation would be “dangerous.”
Truthfully, no part of Gaza is safe, as bombing has been reported in the southern regions as well. Global calls for a cease fire are mounting. At the same time, others support Israel’s actions in Gaza. Differences in understanding of how we got here—how Palestinian families became refugees in Gaza— may explain some of the different views.
The Beginnings: A Home for Jews?
As early as 1887, the First Zionist Congress began to organize itself around the goal of establishing a Jewish state. And in 1897, the First Zionist Congress convened in Switzerland to establish themselves as an organization. At this convention, the Congress committed to the goals of their newly declared “Basel Program,” which sought to establish a home for the Jewish people in the land of Palestine. Soon after the convention, numerous Zionist colonies were established in Palestine: 19 between the conference conclusion and 1900 and another 47 popping up with the support foreign benefactors by 1918.
Palestine and Its Indigenous Population
During World War I, the “great powers,” namely France and Great Britain, made negotiations that impacted the future of Palestine without much concern for the indigenous population present in the country. This included the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which set up “the bulk of Palestine” to be “internationalized,” and the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Further, when the Allied Powers of WWI forcibly divided the former territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire, Great Britain took control of Palestine and its lands. Despite rejection of the declaration by Arab parties in Palestine, in 1922 the Council of the League of Nations approved a British mandate to facilitate Europeans interests in the region and Jewish settlement. The transition was not smooth, and Palestinian communities resisted displacement by European Jewish immigrants.
After tensions came to a head and involved causalities, the Passfield White Paper was issued in 1930 to slow the disenfranchisement of Palestinian families of their land and their economic discrimination by Jewish immigrants. For Jewish immigrants, the development of the Jewish national home appeared to be in danger. In response to pressure from the Jewish immigrant population and foreign Zionists, the British prime minister nullified the Passfield White Paper in 1931.
A swift increase in Jewish immigration to Palestine continued through the 1930s.
As the Nazis Rose, So Did the Urgency to Settle Palestine
Meanwhile, as Nazi power started to rise in Europe, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased dramatically. The rate of Jewish immigration per year doubled from approximately 30,000 in 1933 to over 60,000 in 1935. At this point, the Jewish population in Palestine had reached nearly one-third of the total populace and exceeded the standard set by the previous White Papers. Jewish settlers knew their immigration was against international agreements, calling this illegal occupation by the codename “Aliyah Bet,” or “secondary immigration.” Native Palestinian people, mostly agricultural workers in prior decades, quickly became landless due to Jewish land purchases. Palestinian communities began shifting their economic prospects to urban labor, which continues to impact the economic conditions of their descendants to this day.
In 1935, Arab political parties in Palestine collectively demanded a halt of Jewish immigration and a prohibition on land transfers. When their demands were rejected and ignored, a long-smoldering rebellion ignited in 1936, know commonly as The Arab Revolt or “the Great Palestinian Rebellion.” Fighting for the economic rights, Palestinian groups coordinated boycotts and strikes across the land. When proposals for a division of land that involved the displacement of Palestinian people were floated by international powers, Palestinian-Arab leaders responded with discontent, shock, and a renewed fervor for rights to their original lands.
British Forces Institute Martial Law
British forces instituted martial law and violently suppressed the Arab uprising starting in 1937 until its strength eroded in 1939. Over three years, more than 5,000 Palestinian people were killed; 15,000 wounded; and 5,600 imprisoned. Additionally, the economic and political toll on Palestinian communities was severe. With a second World War potentially looming, Britain offered Palestinian families some concessions in the form of yet another White Paper. This document limited land transfers and Jewish immigration, while promising an end to the British mandate in 10 years with the creation of an independent Palestine.
While both sides did not trust this agreement, there was not much time to consider it as by the end of 1939, WWII was in full swing.
After WWII: The Formation of Israel, the Destruction of Palestine
At the end of WWII, the atrocities of the Holocaust were revealed to the world, and with it came a rise in sympathy for the Jewish plight. This led to pro-Zionist statements from world leaders and renewed focus on Palestine as the home offered Holocaust survivors. In contrast, Arab countries, united under the Arab League, made their own position clear and warned Europe not to conflate sympathy for Jewish survivors with the colonial goals of Zionism. They argued that justice for Jewish survivors should not be assured through the displacement and subjugation of Palestinian men, women, and children.
Still, the primary goal of the British after WWII was to secure their strategic interests in the Middle East. In 1947, Western powers proposed and the U.N. accepted a partition plan that dismantled Palestine, yielding more than 50% of the land to create a “Jewish” state with remaining land forming an “Arab” state. Both states could continue to include diverse communities and the planned partition required equal treatment of all people regardless of religion in both states. The partition was implemented against the objection of the majority population of Palestine in 1948 with the support of the United Nations.
Palestinian Families Displaced
The violent birth of Israel was established by the displacement of Palestinian families by Zionist terrorist organizations and the proto-Israeli army. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were burned with their residents forced to flee and become refugees from their homes. More than 250,000 Palestinian people were pushed from their homes on the Mediterranean coast to what is now called the West Bank. Just under another 250,000 men, women, and children were squeezed into the narrow piece of land now called Gaza strip. Around 300,000 other Palestinian citizens were scattered into neighboring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq.
This time period is referred to by historians as the “Arab-Israeli War of 1948,” by Jews as the “War of Independence,” and by Palestinian people as the “Nakba” (meaning “The Catastrophe”). The actions during this time led to the deaths of more than 15,000 Palestinian men, women, children, and elders over the course of just one year. With an estimated 12,000 or more Palestinians killed following the October 7, 2023, siege on Gaza, many fear this crisis is a second Nakba is in the making with a goal of further displacing Palestinians from their homes.
For more information on the creation of Israel, visit our gallery, “Creation of State,” to get a detailed account augmented by photographs, artifacts, and videos.
Healing the Wound, Ending Violence
Palestine has not always been riddled with violence. Prior to WWI, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Palestinians lived together in peace. However, the start of 1900s marked the beginning of Jewish terror attacks and large-scale immigration that would become a significant cause of the current Israel-Palestine conflict. Embroiled in violence from early on, establishing a homeland for Jews has included suffering for both Jewish communities and indigenous Palestinian communities. However, the subjugation and displacement of native Palestinians continues today and creates lasting harm.
Israeli terror operations have been justified as self-defense and retaliation to Hamas attacks, framing themselves as the only victims. However, decades of violence have not brought peace to either Palestinian or Jewish communities. As many have observed, collective punishment of civilians only causes more harm.
Some Questions to Consider…
- Does the Israeli government have a moral high ground for this massive killing, knowing that Israel was created by displacing Palestinian families & keeping refugees from their homes?
- Can Israel bomb hospitals, schools, and densely populated refugee camps while claiming “self-defense” given that the victims are largely unarmed civilians and defenseless families made refugees from their homes by Israel?
- Can the media and Israeli government describe the battle against Hamas as a “war” started by Hamas when Israel killed hundreds of Palestinian men, women, and children in 2023 before October 7 and thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children multiple times in the past?
The current onslaught on Gaza and increased violence against Palestinian families in the West Bank, caused undue damage to Palestinian infrastructure, displaced just under one million Palestinian people. Many of the Palestinian people were already internal refugees. The current Israel-Hamas War continues to be one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time.
Learn more about the Israel-Palestine conflict and what you can do to support peace and justice at the PromisedLandMuseum.org.
Consider hosting a free exhibit to promote peace!