Israel and Palestinian Territories: An Ethnic Divide
Palestine and Israel share a history plagued with hostility and conflict. During the nineteenth century, many European Jews emigrated to Palestine under the influence of a Zionist movement that called for a homeland for Jews in Israel. This exodus continued in full force during the first half of the twentieth century in the face of World War II and the Holocaust. From the start, the arrival of the Jewish people in Palestine caused strife. The native Palestinians were often displaced due to land purchases made by the immigrants, and tensions increased because Islam and Judaism historically share the same Holy Land. In 1948, after World War II ended, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, thus establishing the State of Israel. The partition also demarcated Jerusalem as an international zone, where neither Jewish nor Arab authority would exist, in an attempt to avoid further religious conflicts. The plan failed, however, as Israel’s Arab neighbors were vehemently opposed to surrendering the land. After a period of ever-increasing tension the Six Day War broke out in 1967, resulting in Israel’s seizing control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights — areas heavily populated with Palestinians. The resulting “occupation,” as it is perceived by the Palestinians, has been a continuing source of contention and bitter hostility. The decades since the war have been punctuated by suicide bombings committed by radical Palestinians, and the Israeli government’s subsequent retaliations.
One such retaliation is the extremely controversial “security fence” that Israel began erecting in 2002 to separate it from the predominantly Palestinian West Bank. The stated purpose of the security fence is to keep Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers out of Israel, although critics say the fence unfairly annexes Palestinian territories into Israel, further exacerbating the land dispute in the West Bank.2 The security barrier, which is already 170 miles long and is planned to stretch to 440 miles when finished, is a prisonlike fence complete with sensors, watchtowers, sniper posts, and barbed wire. Palestinians who wish to cross it must obtain permits from the Israeli government. Many of the permit solicitors — including some who have homes, jobs, or family within the fence’s boundaries — have been rejected, resulting in further unrest. The wall was deemed a violation of international law by the International Court of Justice in an advisory opinion in 2004, but the opinion was rejected by the Israeli government in September of 2005.3 Today the construction of the controversial barrier continues.
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2. Tyche Hendricks, “Border Security or Boondoggle: Walls Around the World,” San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 26, 2006.
3. “Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories: Land and Settlement Issues,” Global Policy Forum (accessed Sept. 7, 2006).