The Official Student-Run Newspaper of California High School

The Californian

The Official Student-Run Newspaper of California High School

The Californian

The Official Student-Run Newspaper of California High School

The Californian

History needed to understand Israel-Palestine conflict

Learning history and how to interpret it helps inform our worldview. Think about what this statement means for a moment. Our unique backgrounds and experiences lead us to interpret historical events differently, even if the facts remain the same. 

My worldview has been informed by both the history I have studied my whole life as well as my Jewish upbringing. Through several years of Hebrew school and family influence, Judaism has instilled in me so many traditions and values, especially the idea of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world. To improve our world, we need to understand its past. My interpretation of this concept coupled with all the history I’ve read on the conflict in the Middle East have led me to openly defend the right of Palestinians to live in their homeland with dignity, human rights, and without fear. If I commit to work towards repairing the world, then supporting those who are oppressed is my only choice. One way I can do so is by providing a factual and brief history of the past 100 years.

The end of World War I resulted in remarkable global change. New nations were created, others reduced in size, and once dominant empires fell. One of those to fall was the historic Ottoman Empire. Europe’s colonial heavyweights, England and France, had their sights set on this largely Middle Eastern empire. By 1916, two years before the end of the war, the two colonial nations had made a secret agreement to divide the region amongst themselves. The French would receive a mandate, or authority to govern, over Syria and Lebanon, while the British received a mandate over Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine. While these two nations made plans to rule over the final region to escape colonialism, a small movement gained momentum in Europe: Zionism. 

Started in the late 1800s amidst heightened violence against Jews, Zionism began as a movement to establish a homeland exclusively for Europe’s Jews. It remained a small, fringe group during World War I while gaining powerful supporters within the British government, including Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary. In a 1917 correspondence with leaders of Europe’s Zionist movement, Balfour had promised to establish a “national homeland” for the Jewish people in Palestine. This document, called the Balfour Declaration, would formally establish the British government’s support for the Zionist movement in the decades to come. One group was left out of this discussion – the Palestinians. 

Palestinians were viewed by British colonial authorities through an explicitly white supremacist lens. Similar to other colonial occupied regions, the indigenous inhabitants were exploited for their labor and resources. Palestinians were not going to accept the confiscation of their land, so they decided to fight back. The Palestinian Revolt of 1936 was brutally crushed by the British, which sent Palestine’s leaders into exile throughout the empire and killed nearly 10 percent of Palestinian men aged 20 to 60. While this revolt occurred, Jewish migration to the region reached its peak with nearly 60,000 people arriving that year. 

Jewish migration to Palestine had been facilitated by the British authorities on and off since 1918, but when World War II began in 1939, this migration paused. During the Holocaust, from 1941 to 1945, six million Jews had been systematically murdered by the Nazis and their allies. When the war ended and the extermination camps were liberated, thousands of survivors had no place to go. With a weary Europe unwilling to deal with its own refugee crisis, hundreds of thousands of Jews arrived in British Palestine, which resulted in the Jewish population of Palestine surging to over 500,000 by 1947. These drastic population shifts and the desire to end British colonial control led to violence between the Zionists, the British, and the Palestinians. In 1947, the British, exhausted from World War II, relinquished the responsibility to a new international organization, the United Nations. 

In one of their first decisions, members of the United Nations voted to pass Resolution 181, which divided former British Mandate Palestine into a Jewish State with 56 percent of the land, and an Arab State with 42 percent of the land. The Palestinians and their allies rejected this plan as they were being pressured to surrender a majority of their most productive land despite the Arab population being numerically superior. Palestinian leaders and their Arab allies were not united or organized enough to combat this within the UN. Many had just become independent nations themselves and were in some ways still subservient to former European colonial powers. 

Meanwhile, the Zionists were ready for this. They were involved in lobbying nations to support the UN decision, but also knew that in order to have a viable Jewish state, they needed a significant majority of the population to be Jewish. As it stood, Palestinians comprised nearly 46 percent of the population of the proposed Jewish state. With their superior weaponry and British training, the Zionist militias initiated a strategy, Plan Dalet. Starting in 1947, Zionist militia groups, such as the Irgun and the Haganah, began to ethnically cleanse Arab neighborhoods in major cities like Jaffa (Tel-Aviv) and Haifa. 

The main focus of Plan Dalet was to clear the roads and areas around Jerusalem, take control of the fertile farmlands of the northern valleys, and relocate Palestinians from these lands to reside within the borders of the proposed Arab State. Some of the more extreme Zionists wanted, if possible, to take all of historic Palestine. One of the most infamous events of Plan Dalet was in the village of Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem, where a massacre of unarmed Palestinian men, women and children took place. This massacre was not covered up. Instead, it was used as propaganda to strike fear in the Palestinians who had not fled their homes, encouraging them to leave or suffer a similar fate. When hostilities ceased, Israel had seized nearly 78 percent of historic Palestine while leaving the remaining 22 percent to Egypt (Gaza) and Jordan (the West Bank). 

The events of 1947 to 1948 are known in Arabic as the Nakba, meaning “catastrophe” in English. By the end of 1948, roughly 15,000 Palestinians had been killed and nearly 750,000 had been forced to flee their homes. Immediately after the war, they were denied from going back to their homes and villages in direct defiance of the United Nations Resolution 194, which gives refugees the right to return to their property. Still to this day, Palestinian refugees and their descendents cannot return to the places they left in 1948, one of their main grievances and demands. Many families still keep the keys to their former homes with the hope that one day they may return.

While circumstances were not ideal, there was relative calm until 1967. Due to warmongering between the Israeli government and its powerful neighbor, Egypt, Israel launched a surprise attack on Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. In a skirmish that lasted six days, Israel expanded its borders to include all of historic Palestine (the West Bank & Gaza), the Sinai Peninsula (given back to Egypt in 1982), and the Syrian Golan Heights. More than one million Palestinians lived within these territories. They were placed under a military occupation that has lasted ever since. Unlike the West Bank, the Gaza Strip ceased to be under direct military occupation and was instead blockaded in 2005. 

Today, the military occupation in the West Bank continues to have a disabling effect on the Palestinian population. Checkpoints, concrete walls, permits, poor infrastructure, and arbitrary road closures restrict the movement of Palestinians there. Military occupation also means any Palestinian in the West Bank can be imprisoned without reason for any period of time. This occupation has lasted so long and been so debilitating that many of the youth see no hope for the future. 

The numerous attempts at peace have resulted in various outcomes. The closest the two sides have come was during the Oslo Accords beginning in 1993. This took place at the end of a mostly peaceful uprising by the Palestinians called the First Intifada. The Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were willing to sit down and discuss what peace could look like. Considering they had been sworn enemies, getting them to meet was a feat in itself. Sadly, Rabin was assassinated in 1996 by an Israeli extremist opposed to peace, more or less ending the process. The new compromising form of occupation negotiated during these talks made daily life for Palestinians nearly impossible, one of the many reasons a second Intifada erupted in 2000. The failure of the peace process and the continuation of military occupation and blockade has led to exchanging violence between Palestinians and Israelis in the decades since. 

I was driven to understand this ongoing conflict more deeply. When I researched these events, I felt angry and disappointed. How could this history be hidden from me for so long? How can so many around me feel this occupation is justified? I became one of the few members of my synagogue who supported Palestinian freedom, but I was scared to speak out for fear of being ostracized. It almost came to the point where I was ready to move on from the faith I had been raised in. 

As I got older, I slowly came back to my Jewishness and realized that my religion aligned perfectly with my ideas of justice and I would never allow anyone to push me away from an important aspect of my identity. This brought me back to the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam. I knew that standing up against injustice was one way that I could help to repair the world and that is what I set out to do. If my religion has taught me one thing, it is that saving one life is equal to saving the entire world. Therefore, my Jewish faith does not allow me to stand by and watch as thousands of human lives are killed with impunity. I must use my ability to stand with those who scream out for solidarity.

Today, Feb. 14, is day 131 of the current war on Gaza. The official death toll is around 28,340 with many thousands more beneath the rubble. Nearly the entire population of the Gaza Strip is huddled in the border town of Rafah, where they were promised safety only to be bombed while many of us enjoyed the Super Bowl this past Sunday. 

I fear that many of us will move on to the next big thing, the new fashion trend, the new song, the new TikTok dance trend. I am already starting to see attention wane. 

  I want to end by urging you to learn about the histories that have been kept from you, so you too can develop and evolve your own worldview. Let us all take part in Tikkun Olam and work to repair the world we share by demanding a ceasefire, the return of Israeli and Palestinian hostages to their families, and a genuine attempt to right the wrongs of the past. 

Ben Andersen teaches Global Studies at Cal High. 

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  • J

    Jamile ShiraziFeb 15, 2024 at 7:57 pm

    Excellent and historically accurate article! I commend you for having the courage to stand up against the aggressive treatment the Palestinians have been subjected to for the past 75+ years. Every human deserves to live IN PEACE

  • N

    Nada KaissiFeb 14, 2024 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you for speaking up the truth and for standing with the righteousness! Our kids are so lucky to have such a teacher in their lives.

  • T

    Tasneem KhanFeb 14, 2024 at 12:41 pm

    Thank you for sharing an insightful and self reflective article to help us better understand the horrors that are being subjected on the people of Gaza. I too, strongly encourage people to investigate the facts and explore the truth beyond what is hidden from us in the mainstream media. It’s out there and it’s disturbing. The fundamental principle should be respect for all of humanity, regardless of culture, race, or religion. Every human being deserves to be treated with compassion and dignity. We should all agree to put an end to this human disaster.