By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

Historical contextualization of the past and present Israel-Palestine conflict

Photo taken at Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Layla Taha.

History continues to be written in Palestine. With the growing topic of conversation surrounding the Israel-Palestine War, the history that led to today is integral to societal understanding of the topic.

The year 1516 marks the beginning of Ottoman control over Palestine. This rule would last for over 400 years until the Ottoman Empire fell to the British Empire in 1918 at the Battle of Megiddo. This period would be known as the 400 years of peace. As mentioned by TRTWorld, under Ottoman control, harmony between Palestine’s multi-religious society (Muslims, Christians and Jews) was a result of the Ottomans’ attempt not to colonize the region. The Ottoman system, while flawed in some respects, allowed for a degree of religious autonomy for religious minorities. Ottoman rule over Palestinian land provided Palestinians the autonomy to develop a distinct culture and historical memory for each village, town and city. 

British forces entered Palestine in 1917 and by 1918, the Ottoman rule over Palestine ended, according to the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem. Then till 1920, the British Civil Administration was established in anticipation of the granting of a formal League of Nations Mandate to the United Kingdom, which was approved in July 1922. It came into effect in September 1923 and made Palestine a British Mandate. It is under these circumstances that a movement known as the Zionist movement would ramp up its efforts in Palestine. 

An Austro-Hungarian thinker known as Theodor Herzl was the founder of the political Zionist movement. As stated by Decolonize Palestine, the Zionist movement called for a Jewish nation-state in Palestine and to begin coordinating the settlement of Zionists there. The first Zionist Congress which took place in 1897, included over 200 delegates. It was the first to organize and marshal the colonization efforts in a centralized and effective way. Zionism is a settler-colonial movement aimed at establishing an ethno-state with a Jewish majority in Palestine. 

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The Balfour Declaration, issued in 1917, is a statement from Zionist leaders in London for support of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” according to Britannica. The declaration was issued with hope of gathering Jewish opinion. This also sought to protect the approaches to the Suez Canal in Egypt through the settlement of Zionists in Palestine. 

In 1947, the United Nations (UN) proposed a partition of Palestine: part of Palestine would be Jewish and the other part would be Arab-Palestinian, with Jerusalem internationalized. According to the University of Michigan, this partition plan would allocate more land to the Jewish state than it did to the Arab-Palestinian state: 56% would go to the Jewish state and 43% of the land would be Arab-Palestinian. 

The Palestinians refuted this plan, as they were being asked to give up more than half of their land to a minority that had been inhabiting the area for 20 or fewer years at the time. Days after the adoption of the UN partition plan, fighting broke out between the Arab and Jewish residents of Palestine, starting what is now known as the Arab-Israeli War which lasted from 1947 to 1949. The Arab military forces were poorly organized, given the fact that they were receiving no support from foreign entities. 

On May 14, 1948, a date selected by the British for their mandate in Palestine to end, the Zionist forces hastened their efforts to seize more Palestinian land. It is on this day that Israel established itself on the ruins of what was once Palestinian land. This day is known as the Israeli day of independence in the Israeli state, but is known in Palestine, and the rest of the Arab world, as the Nakba (the Catastrophe). Over 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes, according to Palestine Remix. The villages and towns once inhabited by Palestinians would either be repopulated or destroyed by Jewish residents and be given Hebrew names. 

Today, only two areas in Palestine are considered Palestinian territories: the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. According to the Human Rights Watch, the system imposed by Israel in the West Bank is an apartheid system. In the West Bank, citizens are forced to go through dehumanizing military checkpoints that sometimes can take up to hours to get through. A report done by Amnesty International has found that there are 175 military checkpoints in the West Bank that have restricted the Palestinian’s right to freedom of movement. Palestinians living in the West Bank are at risk of having their homes, villages and cities stolen from them by Jewish settlers. 

The military occupation the West Bank is subjected to has left the Palestinian Authority (PA), operating with no legislature and an expired presidential mandate. The PA has partial jurisdiction over the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are directly governed by Israel, while only few of them hold Israeli citizenship.

Gaza was under similar rule as the West Bank, until 2005 when the group known as Hamas came into power through a democratic election. It is important to note that Hamas only gained such prominence because they’re funded by Israel, as said by the Times of Israel

Since then, Israel has pulled its physical presence out of Gaza but still is in control of Gaza. Israel has built a blockade around Gaza that has heavily restricted the Gazan’s free movement, which is a violation of international law. Gaza is only 25 miles long and five miles wide but is home to over 2 million people. It is known to be one of the most densely packed areas in the world and the UN has deemed the area uninhabitable. All resources coming in and out of Gaza are controlled by Israel. As mentioned by Reuters, Israel counts the calories of the food coming into Gaza to make sure the Gazans avoid malnutrition, but only allows a minimum amount of food to enter. Gaza is known as the world’s largest open-air-prison, and all of the aforementioned conditions were prior to the ongoing genocide.

Oct. 7, 2023, marks the starting point of the ongoing genocide, as labeled by the UN, and when the situation was catapulted into the public eye. According to Al Jazeera, the attacks started at about 6:30 a.m. with Hamas launching a reported 5,000 rockets into Israel, with at least one woman reported killed. Al Jazeera also reported that Mohammed Deif, the head of Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, said “We announce the start of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and we announce that the first strike, which targeted enemy positions, airports, and military fortifications, exceeded 5,000 missiles and shells.” Hamas militants then entered Israel through breaches in the retaining wall as well as by motorboat, and by at least one soldier flying over the walls via a powered parachute. It was reported by the Israeli government that Hamas took 250 Israeli hostages back to Gaza with them. Blasts were heard in Gaza by 9:45 a.m., and 15 minutes later, an Israeli military spokesperson announced that the air force was carrying out attacks in Gaza. On Oct. 9, in response to the attacks, Israel declared a “total siege” on Gaza, cutting them off from food, water, fuel and medical supplies, according to the United Nations Human Rights. UN human rights experts report that as of Jan. 16, Gazans now make up 80% of all people facing catastrophic hunger and famine worldwide.

As of Feb. 3, the death toll in Gaza has climbed to 27,238, with some 8,000 bodies estimated to be buried in the rubble by Palestinian authorities, according to EFE.  Palestinian state news agency Wafa reported the massacres of 12 families within 24 hours, resulting in the deaths of 170 civilians and leaving at least 165 wounded. This contrasts with the 1,139 people killed in Israel since Oct. 7 according to Al Jazeera.

“Even the dead are not spared by the war raging in the Gaza Strip,” said news outlet Al Jazeera, as more than 2,000 graves were destroyed within Gaza. This comes along with the accusation from Gaza officials that organs are being harvested from the bodies of dead Palestinians before their return, as mentioned by Ya Labinin. Reports from inside Gaza, including from the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, say that bodies returned through the Karam Abu Salem border crossing on Dec. 26 showed significant signs of organ removal. This has a historical precedent, as in November 2023, medical professionals examining returned bodies reported “evidence of organ theft, including missing cochleas and corneas as well as other vital organs like livers, kidneys, and hearts.” (Ya Labinin)

It is unknown exactly how many Palestinians are currently imprisoned by the Israeli government. As of September 2023, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) held over 5,696 Palestinian prisoners–many of whom are children–according to B’tselem.

In recent news on the genocide, Rafah, a city in Gaza that used to house 250,000 people, as reported by The Guardian, now holds an estimated one million Gazan refugees since its designation as a “safe zone.” On the night of Feb. 11, Israel was reported to have “unlawfully” sent in airstrikes to Rafah, killing over 95 civilians, 42 of those civilians being children. 

Regarding all four air strike attacks, Amnesty International found that none of the residential buildings hit in these attacks could be considered legitimate military objectives, nor could they find any of the people killed or injured in these attacks as legitimate military targets. Given this, there have been rising concerns that these strikes were direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects and must be investigated as war crimes. 

This is just one of the many brutal attacks committed by Israel on the civilian population of Gaza since the beginning of the war on Oct. 7. While many in our community have expressed their solidarity with Palestine, this piece will help contextualize key information from both the past and the present in an effort to inform those who are still unaware.

Gaza after October 7. Photo courtesy AP News.

Since Oct. 7, 79 journalists have been killed. According to
Al Jazeera, journalists are supposed to be protected under international law as they are civilians. As civilians, they are not supposed to be targeted, even when reporting in dangerous areas. Despite this, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), of the 79 killed, 72 were Palestinian, four were Israeli and three were Lebanese. In addition to the deaths, it’s reported that three journalists have gone missing, 21 have been arrested and 16 have been injured. “Journalists in Gaza face particularly high risks as they try to cover the conflict during the Israeli ground assault, including devastating Israeli airstrikes, disrupted communications, supply shortages and extensive power outages,” CPJ said.

Journalist killed in Gaza. Photo courtesy Al Jazeera.

Due to the United States and the majority of the West’s silence on calling for a ceasefire, on Jan. 11, South Africa made its case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing Israel of genocide. According to The Guardian, South Africa called for this on many bases, including the bombing of hospitals, the vast civilian casualties, and the language used by Israeli officials. Two examples of this include Netanyahu’s references to the story of King Saul and the Israelites being commanded to destroy all men, women, children and animals of the Amalekite people and Israel’s defense minister calling Gazans “Human animals.”

On Jan. 26, the ICJ issued an emergency ruling in regard to South Africa’s case against Israel. The court, located in The Hague, ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures. “Among these, the court ordered Israel to take all possible measures to prevent genocidal acts, to prevent and punish direct and public incitement to genocide, and to take immediate and effective steps to ensure the provision of basic services and humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza,” according to Al Jazeera.

As conditions in Palestine have grown more dire since the genocide, we’ve seen CWU students and the Ellensburg community alike display their solidarity with the Palestinian people through demonstrations, informational workshops, passing out of informational flyers, vigils for Gaza and documentary viewings. On Feb. 5, the Associated Students of CWU (ASCWU) student government passed a letter showing their support for Palestine.

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