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FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut

Rough Cut: Occupied Minds
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about the years of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel and the Palestinian Territories

After World War II, in the wake of the Holocaust in Europe, the United Nations divided what was previously known as Palestine into two states of approximately equal size, one for Jews and one for Arabs. The city of Jerusalem was placed under international control. The Arabs, who owned the majority of the land, rejected the plan and attacked Jewish settlements. The Israelis fought a war of independence and expelled much of the Arab population, an event Palestinians refer to as "the catastrophe." Both Jews and Arabs consider the disputed territory as holy homeland. In 1967, as Arab threats against Israel mounted, the Israelis launched a preemptive war against its Arab neighbors. In what is known as the Six-Day War, Israel took control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

Following an Israeli-Egyptian peace accord, brokered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Israel withdrew from the Sinai in 1982. But Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation continued. In 1993, the Oslo Accords, signed by Israeli and Palestinian officials, established Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (the Palestinian territories). It was supposed to be an interim agreement leading to creation of a Palestinian state. The Oslo Accords stipulated that Israel would be responsible for the security of the Jewish settlements within the Palestinian territories. Negotiations over the future status of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank began in 1999, only to be derailed in 2000 by an outbreak of violence known as the second intifada. (The literal translation of the Arabic word intifada is "shaking off"; it is loosely translated as "uprising.")

Widespread violence in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, the emergence of "suicide bombers" as a Palestinian tactic, and political instability within the Palestinian Authority undermined peace efforts. In June 2002, President George Bush outlined a "road map" for peace among Israelis and Palestinians, proposing a two-state solution, but the plan quickly foundered as Washington pursued the war in Iraq. Upon Yasser Arafat"s death in November 2004, many hoped that the more moderate Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected as the new leader of the Palestinians, would pursue an agenda of peace.

Israel is slightly smaller than New Jersey and has a total population of 6.2 million. The West Bank has a population of 2.3 million, mostly Palestinian but including 187,000 Jewish settlers. There are 1.3 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, from which the more than 8,000 Jewish settlers were evacuated in August 2005. Overall, about 20 percent of Israel's population is estimated to be non-Jewish.

Both Israel and Palestine claim Jerusalem -- a divided city -- as their capital. Most foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv.

According to the Palestinian Economic Council for Reconstruction and Development (PECDAR), the annual per-capita income in Gaza averages US$700. Palestine's economy, at $3 billion, is one-fortieth the size of Israel's economy, at $130 billion.

The unemployment rate among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is 35 percent; the percentage of Palestinians living in poverty (those living on $2 a day) is running as high as 65 percent. Palestinians rely heavily on being able to move across the border in to Israel to find work. Israel has said that beginning in 2008, it will stop issuing permits to Palestinians to work in Israel.

The Palestinian economy has been kept afloat in recent years with nearly $1 billion a year in foreign aid.

Sources: CIA Factbook, PECDAR, BBC, World Bank.

Related Links

"Israel's Next War"
FRONTLINE investigates Israeli right-wing extremists who were determined to prevent withdrawal from Gaza and who vow they will never surrender the West Bank.

"Shattered Dreams of Peace: The Road From Oslo"
In 2002, FRONTLINE examined the last decade of failed peace talks and growing violence among Israelis and Palestinians, particularly why the Camp David negotiations in 2000 didn't work. The Web site includes an interview with the Palestinian Authority's then-leader, the late Yasser Arafat.

"In the Line of Fire"
This FRONTLINE/World story from March 2003 explores the danger to journalists reporting from Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"Tracing Borders"
FRONTLINE/World Fellow Robin Shulman traveled through Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in 2002 to trace the official and unofficial borders in this troubled land. Shulman offers some of the best and earliest reporting on Israel's construction of the controversial "seam line," or security barrier.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The Online NewsHour's comprehensive site dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict includes continuously updated news, maps and interactive features that explain key players and peace efforts.

In Depth: Israel and the Palestinians
This BBC site includes a timeline, news and analysis, commentary on the death of Yasser Arafat and the election of Mahmoud Abbas, a photo journal by a survivor of a Palestinian suicide bomb attack, the diary of a former Jewish settler reflecting on his eviction from the Gaza Strip, and profiles of key political players in the conflict.