Seattle Palestine Solidarity Committee
Palestine: An Introduction to History & Issues
Palestinian Heritage | Zionism | 1947 UN Partition Plan | 1948 | Refugees
1967 Six Day War | The Occupied Territories | Settlements | Refugee Camps
Life Under Occupation | Inside Israel | Law of Return
Until 1948, the place now called Israel was called Palestine.
Palestinians have been living in the area for over 5000 years.
Today's Palestinians are descended from the Kena'anu, or Canaanites, a loose collection of peoples which included the Phoenicians, the Philistines and the Jebusites.
The Canaanites founded the city of Jerusalem, originally called Jebus, as well as the city of Jericho.
Palestinians have not traditionally been bedouins or nomads. They have been an agricultural, village, and city people. By the nineteenth century, the people of Palestine had a well-established society that was recognized by other Arabs as uniquely Palestinian. It consisted of respected intellectual and professional classes, political organizations, and the beginnings of modern industry.
For several hundred years the whole Middle East was part of the Ottoman Empire, centered in today's Turkey. When the Ottoman Empire fell in 1917, the victorious European powers created artificial boundaries in the Middle East. Palestine became a mandate territory of Britain. At that time, there were about 600,000 Palestinians and 60,000 Jews in the territory. Palestine was held as a British Mandate until 1948.
The Jewish people have also had an ancient and continuous presence in the region, though not always a dominant presence.
The Zionist movement began in the late nineteenth century, as a nationalist movement among European Jews who hoped to escape from centuries of persecution, especially by European countries. The Zionist movement advocated forming a Jewish national state in Palestine. By this time in history, however, Jews had long been a small minority in Palestine, and the Zionist plan took no account of the majority of the people already living in the region.
The majority of Jews in Palestine did not favor the Zionist plan, which looked like a European colonial movement to both Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs.
On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations -- under heavy pressure from the United States Government -- adopted Resolution 181, which recommended dividing Palestine into two nations, one Palestinian and one Jewish. (Under international law, a Resolution passed by the General Assembly but not the Security Council has the legal status of a recommendation, not a binding law.)
When UN Resolution 181 was passed, there were 1,237,332 Arabs and 608,225 Jews in Palestine. Though the Jewish people made up only 33 percent of the total population of Palestine -- and owned only 6.59 percent of the land -- the UN Resolution recommended giving the Jewish state 54 percent of Palestine.
The Palestinian Arabs, having already rejected the UN's right to partition their land, now rejected the Resolution as unjust. They demanded instead the independence that the British and French had promised them after World War One. The Zionist leaders, however, accepted this Resolution as justification for declaring the Jewish state.
Since 1947, the United Nations -- both General Assembly and Security Council -- has passed hundreds of resolutions criticizing Israel. Many of these resolutions have called for the return of Palestinian refugees, and for the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli government, while insisting on Resolution 181 as legal basis for founding its state, has rejected all other UN resolutions as non-binding.
The first major assault by Zionist/Jewish forces came on December 18, 1947, when Palmach troops (the shock troops of the Zionist underground army) attacked the Palestinian village of Khissas in northern Galilee. Men, women and children were killed and wounded in the night raid.
By May 1948, Zionist forces had already captured substantial portions of Palestine outside the UN-defined Jewish state, and at least 150,000 Palestinians had been driven out of their homes. In response, neighboring Arab countries considered taking military action to stop the refugee crisis.
On May 14, 1948, Great Britain officially declared the end of British Mandate rule in Palestine. That same day, Zionist leaders declared a State of Israel.
At the meeting in Tel Aviv were thirty-seven men. One was from Palestine; one from Yemen; thirty-five had been born in Europe.
On May 15, Jordan, Syria and Egypt took military action to prevent the new state of Israel from conquering more land and driving out more Palestinians.
Israeli legend has it that the Israeli forces were far outnumbered and outgunned.
In fact, some the numbers were as follows:
The United States and most Western countries put both Arabs and Jews under a weapons embargo. This embargo had the same effect that a similar embargo later had in Bosnia: the superiority of the Israeli weaponry was maintained throughout the war.
The war lasted until January 1949, when armistice agreements began to be signed.
Most Israeli victories were accompanied by the killing or violent expulsion of Palestinian civilians.
The great majority of the actual fighting had taken place outside the territory of the UN-defined Jewish state.
By 1949, at least 750,000 Palestinians had been driven out of their homes.
Israeli historian Benny Morris has documented 369 Palestinian villages that were eradicated. At least 234 of those villages were destroyed by direct Israeli military action. At least 80 of these villages were outside the territory of the UN-defined Jewish state. Israeli towns were founded on many of the sites.
Some of the Palestinian refugees were forced elsewhere in Palestine; most were forced out of the country altogether. The United Nations set up refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and inside Israel. Many thousands of Palestinians have lived in refugee camps ever since.
The United Nations, in resolution 194, called for Israel either to allow these refugees to return to Palestine, or else to give them compensation. Israel refused to comply. The acceptance of Israel into the United Nations was in fact conditional on Israel's compliance with this resolution.
The new state of Israel spread the story that all these Palestinians had left under orders from Arab leaders. They cited "Arab broadcasts" telling people to move away so that Arab armies could "operate without interference."
In fact, both US and British intelligence services were monitoring all broadcasts during this period. Examination of those records demonstrates:
- Not a single "Arab broadcast" telling people to leave was recorded.
- Several Arab broadcasts were recorded telling the population to stay put.
- Israeli forces, meanwhile, were using threats, violence, and murder to force many Palestinians to leave their homes.
(It is no longer the official line of the Israeli Foreign Office that Arab leaders ordered Palestinians to leave Palestine.)
Today there are several million Palestinian refugees. Some of them still carry keys to the homes from which they were driven in 1948.
As soon as the fighting was over in 1949, the Israeli government started planning for the conquest of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Gaza and Sinai. In 1967, in response to threatening but meaningless behavior from Egypt, the plan was put into effect.
Monday June 5 1967
7:00 am -- Israel launches a sneak attack on Egypt: Israeli Air Force bombers destroy Egyptian Air Force planes on the ground.
8:15 -- Israeli ground troops invade Egypt's Sinai Peninsula .
8:40 -- Israel's Defense Ministry tells US government: "Egypt attacked first."
9:30 -- Israeli delegate tells the UN Security Council: Egypt attacked first.
10:00 -- In retaliation for Israel's attack on Egypt, Jordan and Syria fire artillery shells at Israel.
11:15 -- Israeli ground forces fire on East Jerusalem, held by Jordan.
Noon -- Israeli Air Force bombers attack and destroy Jordanian and Syrian Air Forces on the ground.
3:00 pm -- Israeli ground forces invade Jordan's West Bank.
-- Abba Eban, Israeli Foreign Minister, orders his UN ambassador to delay the UN vote on a ceasefire--so that Israeli forces will have time to conquer strategic objectives.
-- Israel assures US that it does not intend to expand its borders as a result of the conflict.
Five days later, Israel had conquered all its objectives.
320, 000 more Palestinians had been driven out of Palestine to become refugees.
"In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."
--Menachem Begin, Israeli Cabinet Minister (later Prime Minister)
". . . the entire story [about] the danger of extermination [was] invented of whole cloth and exaggerated after the fact to justify the annexation of new Arab territories."
--Mordecai Bentov, Israeli Cabinet Minister
The areas conquered in 1967 -- the West Bank and the Gaza Strip--have never been formally annexed into the nation of Israel, and so the Palestinians who remain there -- over three million --are not citizens of any country. Those three million Palestinians are subjects of a military occupation, and have been living under martial law for over 34 years.
Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip live under Israeli military laws. These laws closely resemble -- and in some cases are exactly the same as -- the apartheid laws which oppressed the Black majority in South Africa until recently.
-They have no right of free speech
-Their homes can be entered and searched without warrants
-They can be arrested without warrant or charge
-They can be held in jail for up to 6 months without charge or trial
-They are routinely tortured during interrogaton
-They have no freedom of movement between towns
-They can be expelled from the country for no reason
Settlements for Israeli Jews are built in the Occupied Territories on land confiscated from Palestinians.
The Israeli government subsidizes the building of these settlements and gives financial incentives to certain Israeli citizens to move to them. Palestinians are not allowed to live in settlements: they are only open to Jewish citizens of Israel. Many of these settlers are armed, and many of them come out at night and destroy the property and sometimes the lives of Palestinians.
Settlements are built for political reasons: to establish "facts on the ground" and to divide, scatter, and ultimately abolish areas of Palestinian residence. The recently-started settlement at Har Homa (Jabel Abu Ghneim), for example, is the last link in the chain of settlements surrounding Jerusalem, intended to cut off all Palestinian access to the Arab quarter of that city.
Palestinian farmland and homes are routinely confiscated and demolished to make room for Israeli settlements and special highways to connect those settlements.
The settlements are illegal under international law. Israel signed the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949. Provisions of the Convention include:
"The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."
"Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive."
There are several million Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan or within the Occupied Territories.
The camps were established in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes. The population of these camps increased when 320,000 more Palestinians were driven out by the 1967 war. More Palestinians are being expelled each year.
By suppressing Palestinian industry inside the Occupied Territories, Israel keeps Palestinians as a cheap labor force for Israeli industry. Over the past decades, Israel has tried to become less dependant on Palestinian labor by exploiting immigrant labor from Thailand, Romania, the Phillipines and other countries.
With unemployment in the Occupied Territories as high as 40% -- and climbing to 80% during the current escalating crisis -- many Palestinians live in abject poverty just outside the walls of prosperous government-supported Israeli settlements.
Since 1993, Israel has implemented massive border closures regularly and often. The Israeli government closes the borders of the Territories to all Palestinians. This not only means that people cannot go to the cities for work, but also that Palestinians are deprived of access to hospitals, social services, and cultural and religious centers. Palestinians with illnesses are routinely turned away at the many checkpoints set up around Jerusalem.
Resources are unequally distributed. 80% of the water resources in the West Bank are used by Israeli settlers, who make up less than 20% of the population.
Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories are not allowed to vote in Israeli elections. They are, however, forced to pay taxes to the Israeli government. Though they are taxed the same as Israeli citizens, they do not receive equal government services. Taxes collected in the Occupied Territories are primarily spent inside Israel, not in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
During the first Intifada, 1987-1993, many Palestinians refused to pay their taxes.
"Why do we not pay our taxes? First, the military authority does not represent us, and we did not invite them to come on our land. Second, the collected taxes are used to increase the harsh measures against our people. Must we pay for the bullets that kill our children?"
-- from a statement by residents of Beit Sahour, a West Bank town
Palestinians living inside Israel proper, although they are citizens, are also subjected to many human rights violations. They lived under martial law from 1948 until 1967.
Today their communities receive poorer municipal services than comparable Jewish cities. Their access to jobs, loans, or business permits is extremely limited. Palestinians students have not been allowed to study or celebrate their own history or culture -- though this situation is improving somewhat with the revision of textbooks starting in 1998.
Israel's Law of Return allows Jews anywhere in the world to receive instant Israeli citizenship with all its privileges, simply by setting foot on Israeli soil.
Meanwhile, millions of Palestinians outside Israel are not allowed to return to their homes; Palestinians inside Israel are treated as second-class citizens; Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have no vote and are citizens of no country.