Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Public Awareness Key to a Solution

June 9, 2015

The conflict in Israel and Palestine is one of the most controversial and emotional issues in the United States and in the entire world, and yet probably the least understood, particularly to the younger generation to which I belong to. Before I enrolled in this class “Israel-Palestine: A Washington, D.C. dialogue,” I had the least knowledge and understanding of the conflict and the initiatives many governments, organizations, and individuals have taken to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. This is of no surprise considering that the conflict is a century old conflict, which started with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, saw two world wars and a number of regional wars, and continues with a destructive and painful armed struggle.

Background

Prior to World War I, the Israelis and Palestinians did co-exist in the same land where the concept of existence today is “either or.” Initially, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. When the Ottoman Empire fell at the end of the World War I, the Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed, in which the Arab land controlled by the Ottoman Empire was divided between the British and French. The British took control of Palestine and the French took control of Lebanon, Syria, and Tunisia. In 1917, the Balfour Declaration was signed, in which Britain supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. This originated in the concept of Zionism, founded by Theodor Herzl. Zionism is the national liberation movement of Jewish people.

World War II was the turning point in the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though Nazi Germany was defeated during World II, it did make an unrepairable damage to humanity. In the Holocaust committed by the Nazis during World War II, millions of Jews were massacred and displaced. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, many political Zionists felt that Europe was a dangerous place for Jews. They felt that there should be a safer place for the Jewish people. There were many possibilities of placing those displaced Jewish people in different parts of the world. Ultimately, the Western nations felt Palestine would be the best place to settle them. In 1947, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly planned to divide Palestine into three parts: an Arab State, a Jewish State, and an independent City of Jerusalem to be governed by an international governing body. This UN resolution also ended the British control of Palestine. The plan was accepted by majority of the Jewish people, which led to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. However, the plan was rejected by the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab nations arguing that the UN charter has the provision of national self-determination where the people of that land have the right to determine their destiny.

The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was the start of a formal war between Israel and a number of Arab nations. The outcome of this war was that Israel captured most of the territory that was earlier controlled by the British. A portion of the territory, West Bank, was taken by Jordan and another portion, Gaza Strip, by Egypt. In 1964, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) came into existence with the intent to have a Palestinian State, which was original Palestine under British control. However, before they could have any opportunity to govern, another war started and that was the six-day war of the 1967. In this war, Israel had further territorial gains and took control of West Bank from Jordan and Gaza Strip from Egypt. These conflicts continued and included the 1982 war in Lebanon. The outcome of these conflicts never changed, Israel maintained the control of all the territories, including West Bank and Gaza Strip after 1967. The most devastating consequence of these conflicts is that millions of Palestinians have been displaced since 1948, either confined in West Bank and Gaza Strip or living as refugees in neighboring countries.

Public Awareness and Media

Understandably, there is a lack of public awareness of Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to its long and complicated history. Many Americans often rely on the media as source of their information, without understanding the historical context. Many have criticized that the major news outlets in the U.S. are pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. Those who argue that the media is political leaning toward Israel is no surprise, since Israel is an important ally of the United States and they share strategic political and commercial interests. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that practices democracy, and the aid that United States provides is critical to the national security of the country. This helps Israel provide useful military information and intelligence to the United States. According to a representative of USAID, Israel is the largest recipient of foreign aid received from the United States.

Despite their political inclinations, the job of the media is to truthfully report to their viewers. Both sides of the story must be heard. Yet, many times the media is censored from telling the truth, either by their employers or outside influences. There have been numerous cases where reporters have been prevented from fully reporting the situation in Palestinian territories.

In other situations, reporters have been horrendously accused of bias when telling the truth. For instance, in his comedy show, when Jon Stewart expressed his sympathy towards the residents of Palestinian territories, where more than 500 people were killed, he was accused of being pro-Hamas and was forced to shut up. However, as Jon Stewart says in the clip “merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel policies is not the same as being pro-Hamas.” I believe he is correct. Though this video is satirical, it is a realistic representation of what happens when someone in the media tries to speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The media must end its inflammatory rhetoric and realize that no matter who acts and who reacts, the ultimate outcome is the loss of human lives.

 

Conclusion

The responsibility of public awareness lies on the shoulders of Palestinians or those who care for their cause, for example Arab Americans. They need to frame their issue in a clear, simple, and understandable manner and present it to the world. This is particularly true for the United States, which has so much stake in the region and has done so much to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They can use social media to their advantage in spreading their message. If they are able to have the public opinion on their side, they would be able to get the support of the politicians and the media as well. Based on current awareness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, politicians and media in the U.S. might not have too much interest in Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but their opinions can be swayed by the right approach.

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