“Discovering the humanity that lies behind slogans and barriers”

It’s constantly on the news. It’s buzz words are firmly rooted in our heads: Palestine, Israel, Gaza, West Bank, Refugees, Militants…. We see images of it everyday; grainy stills of mortar acts, buildings turned to rubble, tiny bodies shrouded in a flag that they were too young to know as their own. Yet, as a nation, the topic hardly graces our lips. Why? Perhaps it is because it’s so far away or because it doesn’t have a big enough impact on our lives. Maybe, we just don’t know enough about it. 

I have no idea where start, or rather when. The beginning would be good, but that’s harder to find than you’d think. The amount of fighting that has happened in such a small area over so many centuries is difficult to comprehend. From Biblical feuding and Jewish persecution BC, to the birthplace of Christianity, and hundreds of years of Islamic rule right up to WWI. This area of the middle east experienced so many cultural conflicts and different types of rule, well before living memory.

In 1920, the British and other big powers at the time decided that they would create a Jewish homeland that would be under British rule, called Palestine, in the area of land they had just captured from the Ottoman empire. This area was already populated by the Arab people but the British rule allowed the immigration of 100,000s of Jews in the Inter-war period and, as Nazi rule dominated Europe, approximately 6 million Jews were murdered meaning a huge number of refugees fled their homelands for Palestine. This created huge numbers of Arabian Refugees, evicted to make room for the Jews. The UN tried to divide country into three states, an Israeli state for the Jews, a Palestinian state for the Arabs and a separate state for the city of Jerusalem as it is the Holy City for more than one religion. Neither side was happy with the conditions of this plan so with the help of the US, the Jews took over the country and called its self Israel.

From that moment on, there have been hundreds of incidents and near constant fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with greater Israeli firepower resulting in the Palestine losing more and more land. In 2000, with help of the US, an attempt was made at peace but this fell through when the Palestinian leader didn’t agree to the terms and failed to produce an alternative. More recently the Arab Peace Initiative proposed a new set of plans to resolve the conflict, suggesting ways to tackle the issues with security and borders.

So why isn’t there peace? Jerusalem is a particularly delicate point as it is an important city for Christianity, Islam and Judaism. All sides worry about the safety of their pilgrims if ruled by the others, as well as their wish for the holy city to belong to them. Refugees are another issue. In trying to find a home for the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees were created. The Arabs believe they have a right to return to their homeland in a similar way that the Jews did at the turn of the century. But if all the Arab refugees returned, there would be no room for the Israelis. You can see the predicament. To add insult to injury, each side has to cope with the extremist factions within its own state, whose actions have caused further strain on the peace process. Palestine applied to be recognized by the UN as a country in 2011 but recognition was denied so its fight for identity grows stronger.

On 14th November 2012, a new conflict began mostly due to nationalist militants from both sides. At the moment, Palestine are severely underfunded and the number of refugees is growing. A total 158 Palestinians have died in recent conflicts, of which 103 were civilians  30 of them children. The Israelis have a new “Iron Dome”, a system which detects rocket fire and destroys them before they land on the city. It has been very effective according to the Israeli government, destroying 90% of the projectiles. The Israeli death toll is 6, 4 of which were civilians but the system is very expensive and mostly funded by the US. On 21st November a cease fire was created agreeing to the ending of hostile fire by either side and to increase road access from Gaza. This a small success in what is the unbearable slow movement towards peace.

My attempt at understanding this conflict is grossly simplified and fails to do justice to the numbers of people who have been killed in the long-running crisis. Even with the constant news coverage and brave journalism happening everyday, thousands of people have already been forgotten. The word Peace seems far away in a conflict with so many variables to consider. For the people living in Gaza or the refugee camps, these deaths are very real and very close. They can’t turn the sound down on the mortar fire.

But, for us, so far away from it all, I think the statement by Roger Cohen, an American Journalist, is worth bearing in mind,

The beginning of the end of conflict is discovering the humanity that lies behind slogans and barriers.

Further reading:

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