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An historical perspective of the mess in Gaza

For almost 400 years most of the Middle East was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. This includes present day Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and other nations. World War I brought the demise of the Ottoman Empire, and following the War the Allies (predominantly the British and the French) divvied up the area. The area consisting of Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan became known as the British Mandate. As you can see from the map above, the British created the nation of Jordan from this Mandate. Previously, the British had agreed to give the region of Palestine (the entirety of the British Mandate) to be a homeland for the Jews. At this time there were about 100,000 Jews living in the land (most of whom had immigrated over the previous 40 years) and 500,000 Arabs.

Following World War II and the Holocaust, there was an almost universal sense among the Western nations that a nation state of Jews needed to be formed in the land controlled by the British Mandate. This resulted in United Nations Partition Plan of 1947. The land of Palestine (excluding Jordan) would be divided between a Jewish state and an Arab (Palestinian) state. This is the first time the issue of what becomes known as the Gaza Strip arises. In the map below you can see the yellow strip (later known as the Gaza Strip) along Mediterranean Sea, designating this area as part of the future Arab state. What’s particularly notable is its proximity to the West Bank.

325px-UN_Partition_Plan_For_Palestine_1947.svg

In the end the surrounding Arab nations and the Arabs within the partitioned area rejected the Partition Plan and instigated a war against Israel. The result was an Israeli victory, a significant increase of land under Israeli control, the absorption of the West Bank under Jordanian control and the Gaza Strip under Egyptian control. Note in the map below how the Gaza Strip is now significantly separated from the West Bank, especially in comparison to the original Partition Plan.

Armistice agreement

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced from Israel during the war. These Arabs and their descendants now are often referred to as Palestinian refugees by the Arab communities. See the map below which shows 190,000 Arabs from Israel relocating to the Gaza Strip. Today, out of the 1.9 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, one million are considered refugees.

refugees1

The 1967 Six-Day War resulted in, among other things, the Gaza Strip, the entire Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank coming under Israeli control. The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt as part of 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Gaza Strip remained under Israeli control. In 1988 Jordan renounced any rights to the West Bank. In the 1993 Oslo Accords Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) agreed on a plan of limited autonomy of PA control over much the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The hope was that over a period of time PA control would increase and possibly lead to the formation of a Palestinian state. See the map below.

67

In 2005 then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw all Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip and to hand over administrative control of the Strip to the PA. In the 2006 Palestinian elections, Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt, won a shocking victory. Hamas was considered a terrorist organization by Israel and most Western nations. In an essential civil war in the Gaza Strip in 2007, the PA was thrown out of the government in Gaza, and the PA banned Hamas involvement in the West Bank, thus creating two governing organizations over portions of the Palestinian lands. Since that period, Israel has fought several wars with Hamas in Gaza and has blockaded the Strip from almost all international trade, fearing the development of a military arsenal to be used against Israel. Unlike the PA, Hamas continues to call for Israel’s destruction and launches constant terrorist and bombing attacks against Israel. In addition, the current Egyptian government has prevented most trade going to and from Egypt through its border with Gaza. The combination of Israel’s and Egypt’s blockades against Gaza and Hamas’ allocation of its limited resources to weapons and terror against Israel has resulted in widespread poverty and unemployment in what is considered one of the most densely populated areas of the world.

Recently, Hamas decided to launch a popular protest against Israel by gathering thousands of demonstrators and busing them to the Israeli border protected by a security fence. Hamas used the events of Israel’s soon to be 70th anniversary of the state’s founding (called Nakba – catastrophe – by the Palestinians) and the anniversary of Land Day, remembering the confiscation of Arab lands in northern Israel in the 1970’s. Hamas has used the demonstrations to call for Israel’s destruction and return of the refugees from the 1948 war to their former lands within Israel proper.

Sadly, the first day of demonstrations a week ago led to a confrontation with the Israeli military on the border, resulting in several Palestinians being killed and hundreds more shot. News reports of the events are in tremendous conflict with Palestinian reports of Israeli snipers shooting peaceful protesters, while Israel reports that Israeli snipers are shooting at Palestinians that are attempting to throw Molotov cocktails and breaching the security barrier. Both sides acknowledge that some of those killed were Hamas military operatives. On the other hand, it does appear that many of the injured Palestinians simply were peacefully protesting.

The Gaza situation seems like it has no good solution. With Hamas in power, a peaceful resolution appears impossible. If Israel makes progress in peace negotiations with the PA in the West Bank, and if the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank thus improve, then perhaps the Palestinians could force a governmental change in Gaza. In the meantime, please pray for wisdom and restraint on the part of Israel’s military leadership. Also, pray for a change of heart in Israel’s government to seek real peace with Palestinian leadership. Finally, pray that Hamas would be exposed to the Palestinians in Gaza as the primary source of their misery.

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Jamie Cowen
Jamie Cowen is a Partner at Cohen, Decker, Pex, Brosh Law Offices, Petach Tikvah, Israel; Former Rabbi, Tikvat Israel Congregation, Richmond, Viriginia; Former President, Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations; Former Chief Counsel, US Senate Subcommittee 1978-1986

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