History and Background













First Zionist Congress meets at Basel. Interestingly in the early years there was debate as to where they would set up their Jewish state. The term ‘Zionist’ refers to those who want a Jewish ethnocracy. Not all those who have emigrated to Israel are by any means Zionist. A small contingent of Jews (who spoke Arabic) have lived among their Moslem neighbours in Palestine way back in history in decidedly good relationships.

Nov. Balfour Declaration passed by the UK government supporting the establishment in Palestine of ‘a national home for the Jewish people, …it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’. The following month the British army under Lord Allenby enters Jerusalem. With the Turkish surrender, Palestine comes under British rule. At the end of WWI the League of Nations formally approves a ‘British Mandate’ over Palestine (at a time when many Arabs wanted an independent state).

Increased emigration to Palestine. (Note the plaque at Tel Aviv airport celebrating ‘Immigration under the British Mandate’!)

Revolt of the indigenous population against the large number of basically European Jews now among them. Britain becomes wary and tries to restrict Jewish immigration and land purchase.

Financially insolvent after the war and unable to solve the fractious situation, Britain says it will withdraw. The UN partitions the land of Palestine, giving 55% to a Jewish state and 45% to an Arab state; this despite the fact that the Jews constituted only one third of the population and owned only 6.5% of the land (largely bought from Palestinians). Palestinians held 91% of the land. The Jews accept but the Arabs (not unnaturally) do not.

War of Independence/Foundation of the Jewish state of Israel. On the Arab side, the Nakba (catastrophe), or ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestine, in which 750K native Palestinians (more than 80% of the indigenous population) are driven out of the land that became Israel.
More than 418 villages as well as towns and neighbourhoods are systematically destroyed so there is nowhere to return to. Those attempting to return are summarily shot. Israel now holds 78% of the land (a 50% increase on what the UN had designated). Many left expecting to return, taking their keys with them: these keys have become a Palestinian symbol for their aspiration

Wikimedia Commons

Palestinian Refugee Camp , 1948

to return. Refugee camps are created which endure to this day. Many flee to Jordan, the Lebanon and Gaza. About 1 million remain, becoming Arab Israeli citizens. The remaining 28% (the ‘West Bank’, being the land West of the Jordan river) comes under Jordanian rule. The 1948 boundary is known as the ‘green’ line. Dec. UN Resolution 194. Article 11: ‘Refugees wishing to return … should be permitted to do so; … compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return’. Calls for a demilitarised UN-controlled Jerusalem. 

4th Geneva Convention. Prohibits collective punishment, cruel treatment & torture, and deportation of civilians under occupation; right of return of displaced persons; outlaws annexation of territory and resettlement by an occupying power of its own civilians on territory under its military control.   

Israel refuses to fully withdraw from Sinai in exchange for Egypt’s offer of a peace treaty. Leads to:

Six-day war between Israel and Egypt/Syria. Had been conflict with Syria, Israel shooting down Syrian planes in response to Syria shelling from Golan Heights, annoyed at displacement of Arabs in villages close to border. Israeli attack on Syrian forces prompts Nasser (whom Syria had accused of doing nothing) to act; sending forces into Sinai. UN Gen.Sec. U Thant proposes 2-wk moratorium over Straits of Tiran. Egypt agrees;
Nasser to send Vice-Pres. to W’ton by end of week to explore diplomatic settlement. Israel attacks Egypt to forestall agreement being reached. Was no evidence Egypt intended to attack Israel. CIA had estimated late May that in a war with one or all the Arab countries Israel would win in roughly a week and Israel was told this. Israel reads US as not looking unfavourably on attack. UN condemns Israel.
Israel occupies the W. Bank including East Jerusalem (taken from Jordan), thus unifying Jerusalem; Gaza and the Sinai (taken from Egypt); the Golan Heights (taken from Syria). The occupation of the W. Bank and Golan Heights continues to this day, having many aspects illegal under the Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a signatory. Unlike in the ‘48 Nakba, the Palestinians basically did not flee; so Israel came to rule over a large

Pikiwiki Commons

An Israeli family visiting the Temple Mount shortly after the 6-day war, 1967

unwanted Palestinian population together with the land it grabbed. UN Security Council Resolution 242: ‘emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’ calls for Israel’s withdrawal from the Arab territories it occupied during war. US initially supports this consensus resolution.

Oct. Yom Kippur war, in which Egypt shows surprising strength; leading to peace treaty with terms similar to what Egypt had offered before the war.

Starting under Nixon/Kissinger, US sole veto of Security Council resolutions affirming a two-state solution. Repeated, 1980; also 1989/2002 General Assembly resolutions. (1967-2008 US casts its veto 42 times to protect Israel.)

First Likud (right wing) govt. Israel.

Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, followed by 1979 peace treaty.

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General Sir Edmund Allenby enters Jerusalem through the Jaffa gate 1917, famously on foot out of respect for the city.


6 June. Israel intervenes in Lebanese civil war, invading Lebanon where PLO HQ situated. UN mediates ceasefire and PLO evacuated. Sharon says 2K ‘terrorists’ remain in refugee camps and when Israeli-allied Phalangist militia leader + Lebanese president-elect assassinated, IDF encircles Sabra & Shatila camps. On 16 Sept. Israel allowed Lebanese militia to enter camp and a massacre ensued leaving hundreds, if not thousands, dead.


First intifada (means literally ‘shaking off’) insurrection by the Palestinians. Starts in Gazan refugee camps, which together with those in W. Bank house 850K refugees. Very much a grass-roots movt. centred on the villages; farmers crucial; boys throw stones at Israeli tanks; one third of casualties are women. First yr. 400 refugees killed, tens of thousands wounded, by ammunition, rubber bullets, systematic beatings by Israeli soldiers; mass arrests, torture during interrogation.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin founds Hamas. Military wing formed 1992.


PLO ‘Declaration of Independence’; recognition of Israel within 1967 boundaries.

Madrid conference between Israel and a range of Arab states breaks the ice but had few concrete results. Led to Oslo.



Oslo Accords (1993 Oslo I; 1995 Oslo II). A weakened and corrupt PLO signs interim agreements; promised a state by 1999. Interim agreements exonerate Israel for all crimes committed, Israel to cease to bear financial responsibility for acts or omissions and Palestinians must reimburse Israel for any award made against Israel for its past crimes. Israel retains responsibility for external security and for overall security of Israelis; thus free to pursue any Palestinian anywhere. Palestinian police, while having to protect (illegal) settlers and settlements ‘shall under no circumstances’ apprehend, or place in custody any Israeli. Israel has right to close crossing points. W. Bank divided into area A (full Palestinian control), B (joint control), C (all the rest, sole Israeli control). Thus Palestinians left with small non-contiguous, ‘Bantustans’. Edward Said comments Israel ‘achieved all of its tactical and strategic objectives at the expense of the Palestinians’. It gave official Palestinian consent to continued occupation; the PLO agreeing to serve as Israel’s enforcer. PLO grants legitimacy to idea Israel possesses rights in W. Bank, whereas previously international consensus had denied this. W. Bank now becomes ‘disputed territories’. US had undermined Palestinian aspirations for their own state. Meanwhile Oslo allows for rehabilitation of Israel as a ‘peacemaker’. Oslo is but a declaration of principles; all the important points for the Palestinians (right of return of refugees/status of E. Jerusalem/settlements/ water/borders) are to be agreed in ‘final status’ negotiations. So Palestinians gain nothing. Nevertheless many Palestinians initially excited, seeing Accords as a first step to peace and the creation of some kind of a Palestinian state on the W. Bank.

1995 Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Prime Minister who had signed Accords, assassinated by right-wing Israeli Jew.

In flagrant violation of their signature (Article 31, clause 7: ‘Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.’) Israel accelerates settlement building on W. Bank; illegal under 4th Geneva Convention. An utterly disillusioned Palestinian population increasingly deserts the PLO  in favour of Hamas. 1994 terror campaign of suicide bombing starts, but reluctance of people to commit themselves; had first been used by Hezbollah in successful campaign to liberate southern Lebanon from IDF control.

Election of Likud government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Oslo process finally doomed. 



July: Camp David. Clinton + Barak deliver Arafat ultimatum that PLO must formally acquiesce in Bantustan situation (see ‘Solutions?’), or must bear responsibility for collapse of peace process; Arafat refuses, speaking for a Palestinian state based on Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders.

Sept.: ‘Second’ or Al Aqsa intifada.  Uprising in response to Clinton/Barak humiliating offer and fear that Arafat might sign some such. Spark that ignites: Ariel Sharon together with a large number of soldiers enter/raid the Al Aqsa mosque, the most provocative action possible. In first few days of the intifada, Israeli soldiers in the territories fire 1,300,000 bullets. Intent was to score a winning blow against the ‘consciousness’ of the Palestinians (Jeff Halper).  

After 9/11, US in effect gives green light to Sharon plan to crush Palestinians. 



22 March: Saudi Peace Plan. 21 members of Arab League offer normalisation of relations with Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders and a ‘just solution’ to refugee problem. Israeli lack of response.

29 March: Operation Defensive Shield. Largest Israeli incursion into W. Bank since 6-day war; occupies Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus. Curfews. 500 Palestinians killed, 1,500 wounded; over 4,258 detained. Over $360 million damage to Palestinian infrastructure; 13,000 left homeless. Demolition Jenin refugee camp by armoured bulldozers. Arafat’s compound besieged. B’tselem:
‘The total picture is one of a vengeful assault on all symbols of Palestinian society and Palestinian identity. This is combined with what can only be described as

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Montage of pictures from the second intifada.

hooliganism:the result of thousands of teenage boys and young men in uniform allowed to run wild in Palestinian cities with no accountability for their actions.’ Humanitarian workers not able to reach people; international outcry. Operation supported by at least 90% Israelis; IDF explaining killing civilians has ‘deterrent value’. About 15,000 people detained, some 11,000 still being held, 760 without charge or trial (B’tselem).

March/April: massive increase in suicide bomb attacks on Israel. In the course of the intifada more than 3,300 Palestinians killed, at least 85% of them civilians; 50,000 injured, 20% of them children and youth.

April. Arafat’s compound bulldozed; Arafat put under siege. 

June: Israel starts to build the wall, known by Israelis as the ‘Separation’ wall; by Palestinians as the ‘Apartheid’ wall (means the same thing). Watchtowers and cameras everywhere.



Israel lobbying for invasion Iraq. As condition for supporting US, UK insists on peace plan for Palestine as part of new Middle East world order. ‘Road Map’ endorsed by the ‘Quartet’: US, EU, Russia, UN. Sets out steps to lead to establishment of an ‘independent, democratic, and viable’ Palestinian state by 2005 in return for promise to end terrorist attacks.


Jan.: Hamas offers 10 year truce in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in Six Day War and the establishment of a Palestinian State.

March:  Israel assassinates Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yasser.

April: Bush-Sharon exchange of letters, in which the U.S. signals that Israel will be allowed to keep the settlements in any future peace agreement, thus breaking the international consensus that, in accordance with the 4th Geneva Convention, land-grabbing in war is inadmissible. Endorsed by Congress, the House Resolution (passed 405-7), omitting any reference to a negotiated settlement on a Palestinian state; the Senate Resolution (passed 95-5) asserting it was ‘unrealistic’ for any settlement to require Israel to return to ’67 borders. Condemned by other Quartet partners.

July: International Court of Justice rules that the Wall (separation barrier) violates international law and must be removed. 

Nov.: Arafat dies of mysterious illness. His food had to be inspected by Israelis blockading his compound; Palestinian sources suspect he was slowly poisoned.

Mahmoud Abbas elected to replace Arafat as President PA (Hamas boycotts election).

Sharon pulls out of Gaza; about 8,000 settlers leave. But in the following months 30,000 more settlers move to the illegal settlements in the W. Bank. Israel keeps control of Gaza’s borders, land, air and sea, making it a giant prison.



Jan. Hamas landslide victory (76 of the 132 seats; Fatah 43) in free and fair Palestinian parliamentary election and, March, sets up administration. Repeats 2004 offer to Israel. Israel refuses to recognise the democratically elected govt., arresting the speaker of the parliament and all duly elected Hamas members.  This meant that the Palestinian legislative assembly could not function, not having a quorum as so many of its members were in prison. 

May: US and other govts. impose sanctions on Palestine. ‘It is a bitter irony that Hamas was encouraged, especially by Washington, to participate in the elections to show its commitment to a political process (as an alternative to violence) and then was badly punished for having the temerity to succeed.’ (Richard Falk). ‘A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.’ (Avi Shlaim).

June: Subsequent to an explosion on a Gaza beach (responsibility subsequently denied by Israel) Hamas Qassam rocket attacks; Hamas captures Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit; Israel captures 64 Hamas officials. 

July: second Lebanon war. Some observers think that IDF’s failure resulted in a determination to deliver a crushing blow on Hamas to recover their reputation.

Sept. In Gaza strip violence erupts between Fatah and Hamas. Oct. Mediation conferences held leading to 13 Nov. both sides agree to form a unity govt.


Feb. Hamas and Fatah form coalition, hoping it will lead to lifting of sanctions.

June. President Mahmoud Abbas dismisses Hamas government; Hamas takes over Gaza to pre-empt an Israeli and American-backed Fatah coup there also. Israel imposes economic blockade on Gaza.

Nov. Annapolis peace conference between PLO and Israel brokered by USA in presence other Quartet members; Hamas boycotts.



June: Egypt brokers ceasefire, to last at least 6 months with hope of extension, between Hamas and Israel, the terms of which were not formally written down. Associated Press reports it as (i) all violence to stop (iii) in stages, starting 3 days later, Israel to ease blockade (iii) in final stage also an exchange of prisoners. Israeli intelligence notes that Hamas careful to maintain ceasefire and is persuading other groups to do so. During course of autumn Israel eases blockade, but very little, in declining amounts. There was a marked reduction in rockets (only 20 rockets were fired at Israel, 3 of which fell inside the Gaza strip, between 19 June and 4 November), and they were fired largely by rogue terrorist organisations in defiance of Hamas. The military expert on the Goldstone commission, Col. Desmond Travers, has commented that in the month preceding Israeli operations the number of rocket that had been fired into Israel was ‘something like two’. Even Israeli intelligence (in a publication ‘The Six Months of the Lull Arrangement’ commented that ‘Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire’.

4 Nov. Israeli incursion into Gaza in which 6 Hamas members die. Hamas responds with rocket attacks; Israel virtually closes border. Hamas agrees to extension of truce but on condition Israel cease violating its obligation to lift the blockade. Israel informally proposes 15% of normal supplies; less than the inadequate July level.

18 Dec. UN Gen. Assembly resolution: reaffirming right of the Palestinian people to self-determination including the right to an independent state. Passed 173 in favour, 5 opposed (US, Israel, 3 tiny US-dependent Pacific islands), 7 abstentions.  

27 Dec.: full-scale Israeli assault on Gaza. (Gaza). (For a timeline on Israel’s treatment of Gaza click here.)

3 Jan. Israeli land invasion of Gaza. A poll published in Ha’aretz on 15 Jan. showed 82% of Israelis (that it to say almost the entire Jewish population) didn’t think the IDF had ‘gone too far’. 18 Jan. both Israel and Hamas unilaterally declare ceasefire. Hamas (through Damascus branch) repeats offer to Israel of 10-year truce. Around 2,800 Gazans killed; 5,450 injured. 21,000 homes, schools, shelters, a UN warehouse, 219 factories destroyed. Amnesty International charges Israel with ‘reckless conduct, disregard for civilian lives and property, and a consistent failure to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects’. Israel denies staff of NGOs entry. Retains embargo on opening crossings.

Feb. Israeli elections; no clear victory; Netanyahu forms a hard-line coalition govt.

28 May. Israel snubs Obama, rejecting his call for an end to settlement construction. The Guardian remarks (29 May) that the row ‘reflects the depth of the shift in US policy away from accommodating Israel’.

4 June. Obama Cairo speech urging new beginning between US and Muslim

Flickr Commons, Peter Casier’s photostream

Humanitarian cargo waiting at the Gaza/Egyptian border. 9Jan. 2009.

world. George Mitchell appointed US Middle East special envoy. US brings pressure for a halt in Israeli settlement building.

15 Nov. Publication of the ‘Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’ (Goldstone Report) commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council. (Goldstone Report)



Jan. News begins to filter through of Israeli preparations for a further onslaught on Gaza. 67% of Israelis are said to favour this.

19 Jan. Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh is murdered in his hotel room in Dubai, the work of a group of persons who have flown in using forged passports of a number of European countries. The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad is generally held to have been responsible.

9 March. During a visit of the American Vice-President, Jo Biden, to Israel/the OPT the Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the right-wing Shas Party, announces 1,600 new housing units to be built for Jews in East Jerusalem. Visiting the White House, Netanyahu is left to his own devices, Obama saying, re the settlements issue, ‘let me know if there is anything new’; no photographs.

10 May. Israel invited to join the OECD, to which it acceeds 7 Sept. 2010.

30 May. Israel announces that it will be deploying three German-built submarines with nuclear cruise missiles in the Gulf near the Iranian border.

31 May. At 4.00 a.m. Israeli commandos storm the Mavi Marmara, the lead boat in a Free Gaza international humanitarian fleet heading for Gaza, while the convoy is in international waters. The boats, which had been inspected by the Turkish authorities before departure, were carrying medical supplies, construction materials and things for children’s playgrounds. The Israelis employed four battleships, three helicopters, two submarines and 30 zodiac speed boats. From the autopsy evidence, from which the trajectory of the bullets could be deduced, shots came from the helicopters before the Israeli soldiers had landed on the deck; this despite the fact that a white flag had been raised on the top deck. In the ensuing fracas nine passengers, all of them Turkish, lost their lives and many were wounded. Some of the passengers (not unnaturally) tried to defend themselves using cutlery and staves, part of the ships equipment, but they otherwise had no weapons. There follows international outrage. Under intense international pressure, Israel announces (20.06.10) that it will in future allow ‘civilian’ but not ‘dual use’ materials into Gaza, though construction materials will be allowed under international supervision.

Summer. Presumably with the up-coming mid-term elections in view, Obama makes moves to re-assure Jews in Israel and in the US.  Visiting the White House on 6 July, Netanyahu ‘was given all the bells and whistles usually afforded to close friends’
(The Washington Post 09.07.10). On the eve of the meeting the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem publishes a report showing that Israel has now taken 42% of the West Bank. Commenting that there is not a shred of evidence that Netanyahu is willing to give up the occupied

(Israeli) Government Press Office

Meeting of Obama and Netanyahu

Washington DC 06.07.10

land needed for a viable Palestinian state The Financial Times remarks: ‘The time never appears ripe on the US domestic political calendar, and yet the clock is running out in the Middle East.’

2 Sept. Peace negotiations finally get underway in Washington, but by 9 Sept. it is reported that Netanyahu envisages that the peace process will take place over a number of decades! On 26 Sept. the moratorium on settlement building expires.

11 Nov. Astonishingly, in a bid to extend the moratorium for a mere 60 days, the Obama administration in the person of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offers the Israeli government a package of incentives: long-term Israeli occupation of the Jordan Valley, fighter jets, and the promise not to extract any further freeze on settlement building before the discussions surrounding final negotiations. Netanyahu turns down the proposal.



23-28 Jan. Al Jazeera and The Guardian jointly publish papers from the cache of 1,684 documents leaked to Al Jazeera, clearly coming from the (Palestinian) Negotiations Support Unit (for the talks with the Israelis). The documents, from 1999-2010, make evident the depth of the concessions offered by the PA negotiators, the intransigence of the Israelis, the extent of American bias and thus the untenability of the ‘peace process’ given the disparity of power. 

8 Feb. PA announces it will hold elections by Sept. 14 Feb. PA cabinet resigns; Abbas expected to form new team of ministers shortly. Moves seen by many as attempt to quell any potential uprisings. Hamas announces it will neither participate nor recognise the outcome, citing suppression of freedoms by the PA security forces and collaboration with the occupation ‘which doesn’t create a proper atmosphere for holding fair elections’.

19 Feb. The US alone vetoes a UN Security Council Resolution declaring Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal and calling for an immediate halt to settlement building, all 14 other Security Council members voting in favour. The UK Ambassador to the UN, speaking also on behalf of France and Germany, says that the three largest European states hope to welcome an independent Palestine as a new member to the UN by Sept. 2011.

15 March. Thousands of Palestinians demonstrate, demanding reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Some go on hunger strike vowing not to eat until unity is achieved. On 27 April, after prolonged secret meetings in Cairo, Egypt succeeds in brokering a deal between the two sides. The previous Egyptian government’s bias against Hamas had made such a deal impossible. Under the agreement: both parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in one year; there will be reform of the security forces and release of prisoners on both sides. In response Israel threatens to withhold the Palestinian taxes which it collects and calls for a suspension of EU aid to the PA.