Complete Coverage: Israel and the Middle East
Online NewsHour coverage of Middle East
Via Dollorosa:A monologue about the Middle East written and performed by David Hare.
At least 130 people have been killed in Israel over the past three weeks. Many of them were children and teens, and almost all of them were Arabs or Palestinians. Between the rock-throwing mobs and attack helicopters, the Middle East has been on the brink of all-out war. Click here for a large map of the region.
Following an emergency summit in Egypt on Oct. 16, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak were expected to make public statements demanding an end to the violence. But the violence has continued, and Barak has declared a "time-out" from the peace process.
The source of the latest fighting
The latest round of fighting -- the worst in decades -- was set off when Ariel Sharon, a right-wing Israeli politician, visited Haram al- Sharif. This sanctuary is a holy place for Muslims who have run the day-to-day operations there even though the land technically belongs to Israel.
When Sharon showed up at the shrine with a big crowd of armed Israeli soldiers, Palestinians were angry. They have never liked Sharon (who is opposed to granting them more independence and self-government) and his presence at their holy site felt like a slap in the face.
To make things even more complicated, there's a Jewish holy site, known as The Temple Mount, in the exact same spot. It's where the ancient Jewish temple once stood.
The Sharon incident set off a wave of violent protests by Palestinians. More than 100 people including children and teenagers have died and hundreds more have been injured.
One of the most shocking events was the killing of 12-year-old Mohammed Aldura by Israeli troops, an event that was captured by a French news crew and broadcast around the world.
Then a few days later, an enraged Palestinian mob stabbed and beat three Israeli soldiers to death. They dumped the bodies out the window.
A picture of the murderer making the victory sign with his blood-stained hands was the front page of many American newspapers.
The images stunned people around the globe, and suggested that years of work toward Middle East peace was slipping away.
Yours, Mine and Ours
Simply put, Israelis and the Palestinians consider the same soil their homeland.
Most of the land that is now Israel was controlled by Britain before 1948 and was known as Palestine. That year, Britain gave up control of the land in order to create an official Jewish state. The new country was called Israel.
nations, including the United States, recognized Israel as a friend
right away. Many Americans sympathized with the call for a Jewish state,
especially after the horrors of the Holocaust -- Adolf Hitler's attempt
to wipe out the Jews.
But while the state of Israel gave Jewish people around the world a home, there was still a slight problem. Some other people were already living there.
Arabs who had lived in Palestine for centuries, suddenly found themselves in the middle of what they considered an enemy state.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled to Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. At present Palestinian refugees are thought to number more than 3.5 million. Others stayed and vowed to fight the state of Israel.
Israel has remained strong and has even expanded its borders. In 1967 Israel captured the West Bank of the River Jordan and much of the city of Jerusalem.
Where o' where is Palestine?
In response, Palestinians began to call for a homeland of their own, with support from the rest of the Arab world. In 1964 the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed.
The PLO's basic principles and goals included the right to an independent state, and the destruction of the State of Israel. Hundreds of people were killed in years of guerilla attacks against Israel.
But things have improved in recent years. In 1988, Yasser Arafat recognized Israel as a legitimate nation for the first time. He publicly condemned terrorism, paving the way for a path to peace. And Israel gave the Palestinians some limited control of their own territories.
Why the U.S. cares
Many Americans have an intense connection to the Middle East. The U.S. has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel and Arab immigrants are growing in number too. These Americans view the Middle East as their homeland and monitor U.S. policy in this area very carefully.
The U.S. provides more economic and military aid to Israel than to any other ally. If Israel went to war, the United States would surely support them. But war would be a disaster for the world. Among other things, most of the world's oil comes from the region. A full scale conflict could disrupt oil production effecting economies throughout the world.
But besides the economic stakes in the Middle East, the U.S. has invested years of time, money and effort trying to stabilize the region. When it comes to brokering peace, Clinton said, "We cannot afford to fail."
Now that a cease-fire seems to be disintergrating, the world is trying to figure out how to help both sides not fail.
What do you think? Do you think the Palestinians started the violence? Did the Israelis respond too harshly? What has to happen to bring peace to the region?
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