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More about the crisis in the Middle East, including a timeline, from the BBC

And more, from Scholastic, including interviews with Israeli and Palestinian kids



The Tangled History of the Middle East Crisis

The conflict in the Middle East can be traced all the way back three thousand years, to biblical times of ancient people and ancient tribes. The Middle East is the homeland to three different religions: Christians, Muslims, and Jews. This in itself can cause conflict, and has caused conflict throughout history. It seems like an uphill battle to even make sense of the uneasy Middle East. Many things have happened throughout history leading up to the current situations. Battles were fought, battles were won, and battles were lost. Throughout history, various people in the Middle East have been enslaved, have been kicked out of their homes, have wandered the desert, or have found new homes elsewhere. In these series of historical events, many different stories are told in many different ways. There are so many ways to approach the conflicts in Middle Eastern history. You can choose to view it from the angle of a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. I chose to view it as a very confused trekker just trying to make sense of it all. During all the years of unrest, there have been brief moments of peace, such as after the Camp David Accords in 1979, and the Oslo Accords in 1993. I choose to focus on the peace the was made in these very important historical events, in hopes to remind us all that peace is possible, regardless of what we see on the nightly news.


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Throughout history, the Jews have been persecuted, enslaved, and displaced. Much of the civil unrest in modern history was centered on the Jewish people's not having a land of their own. The Jews have always looked at Palestine, a Middle Eastern country, as their homeland. According to their religious beliefs, they had biblical rights to the ancient city of Jerusalem. In World War II, under Adolph Hitler and the Nazi rule, six million Jews were murdered in one of the worst atrocities ever known to man. During and after the Holocaust, the Jewish Zionist movement sought to establish a homeland. They felt that they deserved a place to practice their religion and conduct a society according to their beliefs. The Jewish Zionists believed that they were the "chosen people," and that someday they would return to Jerusalem. During the rise of the Zionist movement, they had many ideas for where to create their new nation. Some of the Zionists insisted that the Jewish state be established in Palestine; others felt an urgency to establish the state anywhere, as long as it was done quickly, to protect Jews from further persecution. They had ideas of creating the nation in Alaska, South America, Asia, but none of these made complete sense. So, they decided that it was time to have their nation in Palestine, because this was their holy place. Also, the Zionist movement was on the rise in this country. So, throughout many years, huge numbers of Jews flocked to the Middle East seeking shelter and a better life. Many of the remaining Jews in Europe after the Holocaust came to Palestine. Some came into the country legally and some came illegally.

To put things in perspective look how big the United States is compared to the image of the Middle East. The disputed area is no larger than the State of Connecticut.
Through many negotiations with the United Nations, the Jews declared themselves an independent state, which would be called the State of Israel. This was great for the Jews, but not so beneficial to the people who already lived there, who were Arabs. Neither the Jews nor the UN consulted the Arabs when making their decision to create the State Of Israel. Although the many Jews involved in creating the State of Israel just wanted a place they could call home for the first time in their history, the creation of Israel affected the Arabs living in Palestine very negatively. Almost overnight, a million Arabs found themselves refugees in their own country. Many were killed, and many were forced out of their homes and lifestyles that they had known for generations and generations. This immediately caused uproar in the Middle East. The Arab League, which was founded in Egypt, refused to let this happen. The Arab nations of the Middle East viewed this as a step to recolonize the Middle East through the hands of Israel.

This set the stage for numerous bombings, battles, and wars. One of the most famous was the Suez/Sinai War of 1956, in which the British, French and Israeli governments fought against Egypt over the Suez Canal. After that was the infamous 1967 Six-Day War. In a swift, quick, and violent war Israel defeated the Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian armies and created new borders for Israel, which included Golan Heights, West Bank, Sinai, and the Gaza Strip. These borders were debated in the Camp David Accords and are still debated to this very day.

Wars between Israel and its neighboring Arab countries took place for a number of years. The bloodbath in the Middle East seemed like it would never come to an end. The United Nations and the United States tried many times to help the Middle East solve their problems, but it was becoming impossible. In the sixties, the United States started backing Israel, giving them weapons, ammunition, and other forms of military and financial aid. Some say the United States intervened because they felt bad for the Jews after the Holocaust. Some say the reason was that the Jewish lobbying groups in America had so much power. Others say that the US wanted an ally to back them up in any foreign relations situation. For whatever reason, the US was sending millions and millions of dollars to support Israel in their fight against the Arabs.

Palestinian's march through Palestine
The sixties also brought the birth of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, also known as the PLO. The PLO was, and is, an organization that wanted the Israelis to return their land to the Palestinians. They felt that the Jews of Israel had stolen their land and made them homeless. This is a strong argument, hard to deny when there are over a million Palestinians living in refugee camps.

With Egypt and the other Arab nations in constant battle with Israel, newly-elected President Jimmy Carter would change much of the history in the Middle East. Dedicated to peace and to lessening the violence in the Middle East, Jimmy Carter did his best to resolve the situation. The result of this dedication to peace was the Camp David peace talks.

The peace talks would be between President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt, Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, and President Jimmy Carter of the United States. The talks would take place at the presidential resort at Camp David in Maryland. Carter felt that the best way to have the talks was in a peaceful setting, so he didn't let the press in. That's also why he chose Camp David, which was a safe haven. The three different parties would sleep in cabins at night and have conferences during the day.

The negotiations at Camp David actually accomplished something. Sadat, Begin, and Carter together drafted the Camp David Accords. This step toward peace said that Israel had to leave the settlements in the Sinai, which had been occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967. The Camp David Accords said that they had to withdraw from the settlements in the Sinai. Egypt and Israel would exchange ambassadors. In addition, the fate of the territories of the West Bank and Gaza would be negotiated in the future. Ultimately the Accords lead to peace between Egypt and Israel, a peace that still continues today.

Palestinians burn both a US and Israeli flag expressing their anger towards Israel and how the US is helping Israel
But this peace between Egypt and Israel didn't solve the problems in the Middle East. The Palestinian refugees were still refugees, and they continued to suffer. In the eyes of the PLO, the Camp David Accords negatively affected Palestinians because they continued to be refugees in their homeland. The PLO had also lost support from Egypt because of the Accords. Now if they ever wanted their homeland back, they were going to have to do it without the help of Egypt. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip continued to be occupied by Israel. During this whole time, some refugees from Palestine fled to other Arab countries, but many stayed to fight. The PLO felt that the only way to ever get their country back was to fight for it. They conducted bombings and assassinations to express their grief and to show that they were serious. The PLO had huge uprisings in the 80's and 90's but could never equal Israel's power, because Israel was backed by the United States. The US supplied, and still supplies, Israel with millions of dollars for military equipment and financial support of their war against Palestine.

The fighting still continues today. The occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip still remain, and over a million Palestinian refugees remain homeless. The Israelis fight with American-made Black Hawk helicopters while many Palestinians fight with stones, because they don't have the allies that Israel has. Our taxes dollars are going overseas to fight this war, whether we agree with it or not.

Mohammed Mohammed a Palestinian professor at the University of Texas at Austin
The fact is that on both sides of the spectrum there are extremists. On the Palestinian side, there are the very militant leaders who have nothing to lose and will fight to the very end, until the Palestinians retain their homeland. Some actually want to defeat Israel completely and get them out of the Middle East. Other Palestinians just want Israel out of the occupied territories on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, so that Palestine can rebuild their nation. Mohammed Mohammed, Palestinian professor for the Arabic language at the University of Texas at Austin, said "The only way for peace in the Middle East is if Israel leaves the occupied territories. Until that happens the Palestinian people will never give up. We have lost everything we ever had and we will fight as long as we are occupied by Israel." On the other end of the spectrum are the Zionists of Israel who believe that the Jewish people are the "chosen people" and that they will continue to expand their territory because they have biblical rights to it. Many Jews feel like they deserve a homeland after all they went through. There are also Jews who want to find peace. They don't necessarily agree with what Palestine is doing but they do believe that both the Jews and the Palestinians need to have their own nations, and that there is an alternative of peace rather than war. Rabbi Tilsen, a Rabbi in a Connecticut synagogue, said "I believe that there's a way to have peace, but first things first. You need to have leaders on both sides who are willing to work for peace, leaders who are willing to make sacrifices. The current leaders are too stubborn to end the stalemate. New leaders are the key to peace."

Kids are young growing up in a violent society causing them to act the only way they have ever been taught: To protect themselves.
There are many things to learn from the Middle East conflict. The main one is to never become the oppressors, no matter how oppressed your people have been. The Jewish people have been oppressed throughout history, being enslaved by the Pharaohs of Egypt in biblical times and wandering the deserts in search of a homeland, to surviving the Holocaust in Europe. There's no question that the Jewish people have survived some of the worst atrocities ever. But the big question is, now that they have survived these things, do they have the right to treat others as they have been treated throughout history? Is this a story of the oppressed becoming the oppressors? There has to be a way to find peace; the question is "How?". Should the Palestinians leave both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and move to Jordan or the other surrounding countries? Should the city of Jerusalem be an international city, not under the rule of any country? Should Israel withdraw from the occupied territories and let the Palestinians rebuild their country? The truth is I don't know; like I said before, I'm just a confused trekker trying to make sense of it all.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - America the bully? Corruption in Latin America
Neda - The after effects of Saddam's bombs
Jennifer - So what is NAFTA all about anyway?
Stephen - "Operation Just Cause" was anything but just