Israel-Palestine Background and Definitions

Israel-Palestine Background and Definitions

Written by Rev. Dr. Betty Jane Bailey

Over the years many questions have been asked about the Middle East, whether in a time of crisis or not. The truth has often suffered when the questions were answered with myths and stereotypes. Myths mix reality with untruth to create an image. They are subjective and opponents often create their own myths in response. People who question the myths or who present balanced information are seen as the enemy.

It is also true that the details of history are easily forgotten and in a situation where myths and mottos have entered the narrative, the facts are often replaced in people’s minds by these myths and mottos.  This section is an effort to get at the facts, admitting that there may be a difference of opinion based on ambiguous information.

These questions were gathered from leaders who speak about Israel and Palestine; people on many sides; and by listening carefully to the comments and questions of those who simply respond to what they read and hear.  Read through an entire section, if an answer is not quite clear.  Your question may be answered further on.  Since this piece was written in 2001, there will be new questions added that reflect the changing circumstances.  This reference is divided into categories since so many questions have been suggested and gathered.

Who’s Who?
Who are the Palestinians?
Islam and the Holy Land
Christianity and the Holy Land
Judaism and the Holy Land
Biblical Connections
Pre-1967 History
The Intifadas
Peace Treaties and Movements
The Separation Barrier
Ask Yourself

Who’s Who?

Who is an Arab?
An Arab is a person who speaks Arabic and claims the Arab culture.  Arab is not a religion but a cultural/language group.

Are all Arabs Muslims?
No.  There are Arab Christians and there were self-identified Arab Jews- those Jews who lived in Arab countries before Israel was established and whose everyday language was Arabic.   A small number of Arabs in the area belong to other religious groups (such as Druze and Baha’i) but the majority are Muslims.  In other parts of the world some Arabs belong to other religious groups as well.

Are all Muslims Arabs?
No, the country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia and there is a considerable Muslim population in Africa (both Arab and non-Arab)as well.  The large Muslim populations in Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and India are non-Arabs.  Muslim populations can also be found in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and China.  In addition to the Arab Muslim population in the United States, there are many Muslims among African Americans.  Islam came to the United States through African slaves.

Who, then, are the Palestinians?
The Palestinians are the people who inhabited historic Palestine- today’s Israel, West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Some still live in the area and others have either moved out or been made refugees.  At one time there were Christian, Jewish and Muslim Palestinians but at the present those who are Jewish consider themselves Israelis.

Back to the top 

Who are the Palestinians?

Who are the Semitic peoples?
The word “Semite” refers to a language and cultural group made up of ancient and modern people.  Semitic languages include:  Akkadian, Arabic, Aramaic, Moabite, Hebrew, Phonecian, Assyrian, and Babylonian.  (Biblically they are considered the descendants of Shem, son of Noah.) 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first usage of anti-Semitic for a person who discriminates against or is prejudiced against Jews, was in the 1880s (about the same time as the rise of Zionism.) 

If we return to the original meaning of Semitic, it is difficult to call Palestinians and other Arabs anti-Semitic, since they are themselves Semites.  Palestinian Arabs oppose the state policies of Israel that deny them legitimate human and civil rights and the right to a state.  

Have Jews and Arabs always fought?
Arabs and Jews have not always been in conflict.  Before the formation of the State of Israel there were Arab Jews as there were Arab Christians and Arab Muslims.  Many times in history Jews and Muslims were allied and worked together peacefully.  In 1492, Christian rulers expelled both Jews and Muslims from Spain, although now Spain cherishes its background of all three religions.  Most Jews who fled moved to Arab lands.

Christians, Jews and Muslims have worked together and have lived as neighbors in the Middle East for centuries and some still do.  One hears many stories from Palestinians of the friendships they had with their Jewish neighbors and vice versa. 

Why are Arabs opposed to Israel?
A review of the history shows that Israel was founded on territory that belonged to indigenous Palestinian Arabs and ever since has undertaken to expel many of them from their homelands.  Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, and its mistreatment of the Palestinian population has been the cause of much resentment and hostility as well as the focus of Palestinian resistance.  At this point in history, though, most Arabs accept the existence of Israel as a state but are concerned about the ways in which that country has been preventing the formation of a Palestinian State and the development of Palestinian society.  The UN partition plan of 1947 called for a Jewish state and an Arab state on the land known as “historic Palestine” or Mandate Palestine.

Many people other than Arabs are opposed to what Israel has done and is doing.  Human rights groups, churches, Christian and Muslim organizations, and many non-Arab countries have criticized the policies of Israel, especially with respect to the occupations.

What are the differences between Palestinian Christians and Muslims?   
Both Christians and Muslims consider themselves Palestinians with one ethnic and geographic heritage; they share the experience of living under occupation; and relative to the occupation, they are united in their attitudes toward Israel.  The difference occurs in terms of personal life and religious belief and practices.  In the Middle East, religion is much more a part of people’s identity than it generally is in the West.  Religious distinctions between Christian and Muslim Palestinians manifest themselves through celebrations, family rituals, and who can be marriage partners or even close friends.

It is said that the people in the Middle East have long religious memories and that they view the past as part of today.  Historically both Christians and Muslims have wielded power over each other, and there is still an assumption that Christians side with Western culture.

Do the Palestinian authorities deny the existence of Israel?
No.  The Oslo Accords made it clear that the PLO, as the representative of the Palestinian people, recognizes the existence of the State of Israel.  In the letters exchanged on September 9, 1993 between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Rabin, Mr. Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, stated “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” In return Mr. Rabin recognized the PLO as the “representative of the Palestinian people.” In a subsequent meeting, which was televised, the Palestinian National Council voted to uphold the agreements made in the Oslo Accords.
Do Palestinian parents deliberately put their children into danger?
Palestinian parents are human beings just like anyone else.  They love their children and try to keep them from harm.  A tactic of war called “demonizing the enemy”, this charge about children is designed to make Palestinians seem less than human and, as such, is racist.

Many Palestinian children have also been killed or wounded by Israeli soldiers while going about their normal activities, such as attending school and playing.  Parents tell of their fear that their children will not return when they go to school, to church or mosque, or to play.  The Palestinian Authority has provided some financial compensation to very poor families who have lost a child, although the amount cannot be compared to the value of the life of a child.  It is dehumanizing to imply that any financial support would be an incentive to parents to endanger their children.

It is also true that youth have always been in the forefront of popular uprisings such as in South Africa and in the American South during the civil rights movement.  Too often, in those cases as well, the authorities have responded with lethal force.

Why are the Palestinians so poor and the Israelis comparatively rich?
The occupation has prevented the Palestinians from developing economically and so they have become dependent on Israel for employment.  When those means of employment become unavailable because of Israeli military closures of Palestinian areas in West Bank and Gaza Strip, unemployment rates jump rapidly and there are few local businesses and jobs to fall back on.  Much of the Palestinian agricultural land has been confiscated and fruit and olive trees have been destroyed.

In addition, the United States government (and private citizens) have given and still give large sums of money to develop the Israeli economy.  Official aid from the U.S. government totals more than $3,000,000,000 (three billion) per year (all military aid).

Back to the top 

Islam and the Holy Land

Historical Background
Islam arose in the arid peninsula occupied largely by what we now know as Saudi Arabia.  The language of the people was Arabic, a Semitic language, and the culture was organized loosely into tribes or extended family groups with no centralized authority.  Most were nomads but there were also farmers and city dwellers.

Mohammad was born in 570 C.E. (Christian Era) in a respectable Meccan family and he became a commercial agent.  When he was about 40 he experienced revelations.  A group gathered around him but his message of socially responsible behavior clashed with that of the Meccan’s sense of economic priorities and the little group finally moved to Yathrib (later known as Medina). Some Christians and Jews lived in Arabia so Mohammad was familiar with both religions.   He believed they both had made errors of interpretation, despite a succession of Prophets sent by God.  He went back to the Abrahamic faith and an undisturbed monotheism and saw himself as the last of the God’s Prophets and Islam as the purest of the three religions. 

Mohammad taught that Islam was an umma, or community–a society based not on blood ties but on the ties of faith.  The weak and the oppressed were to be protected and liberated; women’s position in relation to man’s was elevated.  Laws of inheritance, of taxation, of warfare and of social welfare, initiated by the Prophet, all moved toward a broad and inclusive program of justice.  By 631 much of the Arabian Peninsula had been united under Islam, although Christians and Jews continued to live in the area under the social system of Islam. Refinements were introduced into the Qur’an and by the end of the first century of Islam the text was stabilized.  

The “sayings” of Mohammad were collected in the Hadith.  Interpretation and exegesis continued for the next two centuries so that at the end of the third century of Islam the first collection and critical study of explanations were written down.  Additional scholarly work has continued until this day. Islam moved west out of the peninsula into the fertile crescent and across north Africa and into Spain.  Islam also went eastward to Pakistan and Persia.  

The Muslims saw themselves as liberating cities from the Greeks and Romans by spreading their more liberal political system.  Christians welcomed them in many places as liberators and often converted freely because their current authorities, especially the church, were experienced as repressive.  By the 10th century Islam was found throughout central Asia and through India into Indonesia.  From the 12th century onward Islam was in parts of China as well.  Thus the great majority of Muslims are not in the Middle East and the largest Muslim country is Indonesia.  Immigration has raised the Muslim population in the USA to a number only second to the Christian population.

The Crusades began with a view of Mohammad as the Anti-Christ.   Because of the extremes of militarism and Crusader attacks on the Eastern Christians by the Western Christians, there was an acceleration of conversion to Islam so that by the 13th century the Middle East because predominantly Muslim. 

Christians had been converting over the centuries as well, because it was more convenient socially and economically and because the Christian world was often in chaos over theological controversies.  Islam, with its emphasis on God as one, was a simple solution to those tired of the controversies over the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ.  Up until the declaration of the State of Israel, every country in the Middle East, except Lebanon, became predominantly Muslim.  Today Lebanon is mostly Muslim and even Israel has a major Muslim population.

What connections do Muslims world wide have to Jerusalem?
To Muslims, Jerusalem is Al Quds (the Holy City).  Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad made a journey from Mecca to Jerusalem in 621 C.E. (Christian Era) where he ascended to heaven and talked with God.  Al-Aqsa Mosque is known as the farthest mosque in honor of this farthest journey the prophet Muhammad made.  Along with the Dome of the Rock, it is located on the Holy Sanctuary (al-Haram ash-Sharif) in Jerusalem.  Praying at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is a religious practice and it is suggested that it be visited in the same year as Mecca and Medina on the “long hajj”.  A prayer offered there is worth 500 prayers elsewhere.

In terms of government, Palestine, along with the city of Jerusalem, became predominantly Muslim and Arab by the end of the 7th century and was known by its Arab name, “Filastin“. During the ups and downs of history it remained a predominantly Muslim and Arab area even though various empires overran it and ruled it.  In 1516 Palestine became a province of the Ottoman Empire, but it retained its Arab culture and language as well as its Muslim majority.

The Pillars of Islam
Islam is a way of life and its laws define transactions, the economy, the society, the state, and family relationships.  The Qur’an and authoritative traditions form the guide for personal and social ethics and practices. The duties of worship are known as the five pillars of Islam.

Confession of faith  
Muslims believe in the oneness of God and confess their faith in the exclusive place of one God (There is no deity except God) and Mohammad is his Prophet (the messenger of God).  The word “Allah” simply means God in the Arabic language and is used by Arab Christians as well as Muslims.

Muslims are to pray five times a day at a minimum: dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and in the night.  The times vary with the seasons of the year and formed an impetus for the Muslims to be leaders in astronomy.   First comes the call to prayer and then the faithful person performs ablutions to purify the body.   The person then faces Mecca (formerly the person faced Jerusalem) and prays with a series of words and movements.  This can be done alone or in a group although the Friday noon prayers are said in a group along with other readings and a sermon.

Fasting during the month of Ramadan
Muslims fast from dawn until sunset during this lunar month in their calendar.  The sick, children, the elderly, menstruating women and the insane are exempt from fasting.  This is not only fasting from food and drink but fasting from smoking, sex, and forbidden words and deeds.   The fast is also not considered valid if the person observing it entertains thoughts of envy or hatred.  

Emphasis is placed on self-discipline, surrender to the will of God, purification, physically strengthening the system, and renewal of the personal relationship with God. Muslims also see themselves as living in a way that shares the hardships of the poor and deprived.  The fast is broken each evening with prayers and an Iftar, special dinner.

At the end of Ramadan the ‘Id al-Fitr (The Feast of the Breaking of the Fast) is celebrated with special prayers, family visits, renewal of friendships, new clothes, the distribution of food to the poor and the giving of gifts to children. 

Contribution to charity
Muslims believe that God is the owner of all things and, therefore, wealth involves responsibility.  Muslims are required, as an act of worship, to contribute about two and one-half percent of the value of their total wealth each year to care for the unfortunate.  This is not of their income but of their property and possessions.  They are encouraged to give it directly to the poor or to a Waqf (Islamic endowment that administers social services, mosques and religious institutions).

Pilgrimage to Mecca
Every Muslim is to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in a lifetime, if economic circumstances permit.  If any member of the family needs financial help, the Muslim person is excused from the Hajj at that time.   The Hajj (Arabic for pilgrimage) is made by people from all over the world converging on Mecca at the same time and includes a series of ritual actions including the sacrifice of an animal.  The people wear simple white garments so that there are no distinctions between rich and poor.  During the Hajj, Muslims back home commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son (Ishmael) on the  ‘Id al-Adha(The Festival of Sacrifice) with communal prayer and animal sacrifice.

Issues Often Misunderstood

Men and women
Islam does not encourage the intermixing of men and women except in the extended family, and familiarity in public is frowned upon. Both are expected to dress and behave modestly and few couples even hold hands outside the home.  Marriage is a written contract with witnesses, and the wife is allowed to keep under her own control the money and jewelry given to her by her husband as well as money and property given to her by her family.  The husband is bound by the contract to provide food, clothing and housing for the wife.

Unlimited polygamy was a part of Mohammad’s culture and he limited the number of wives to four providing they are treated equally.  This means the husband must spend the same amount of time with each and buy them the same things.  A bride can write into the marriage contract that her husband cannot marry another wife.

Jihad is an Arabic word meaning to struggle or strive in the path of God carrying the moral weight of a social responsibility.  

The Arabic word “Jihad” means exerting an effort and struggling in the path of God.  It is basically a struggle for peace and justice, and outwardly carries a moral responsibility, while inwardly conveys a devotional struggle.  Jihad calls Muslims to stand for those who are occupied and who are oppressed because of their religion.  The highest form of Jihad is the personal struggle to make oneself a better Muslim and to overcome one’s lower instincts.  

In the Western mind Jihad is equated with a war waged against non-Muslims or a Holy War (a Christian term).  Some Muslim extremists make reference to Jihad mainly in its military meaning.  Unfortunately the term has been used in the media to mean “holy war” involving Muslims.  This means that the common usage in the West has now distorted its original use.

The highest form of Jihad, according to the Prophet Mohammad, is the personal struggle to make oneself a better Muslim.

There are four kinds:
       Jihad of the tongue = the expression of the faith
       Jihad of the hand = good works and striving to express the ethics of the faith
       Jihad of the heart = the throwing over of the self to follow God’s will
       Jihad of the sword = a just war where you have to defend Islam or fight for peace and liberation.

What is the Muslim attitude toward war and killing?
Islam teaches that the military option can be used if it is the only option to stop a greater evil.  It also allows for armed self-defense if Islam as a religion is threatened.  In this sense, Jihad is more like a Christian Just War concept than a Christian Holy War concept.  Not every military campaign is a Jihad.

Religion and the State
Islam, in contrast to Christianity, does not recognize a line between religion and the state.  It is believed that God has all the power.  Therefore, the State is governed by laws of God (Shar’ia) but not by God or an individual chosen by God.  The State is in charge of seeing that God’s laws are carried out.  The  American version of the separation of “church” and “state” is based on very different principles, not just different laws.

God’s sovereignty, like God himself, cannot be divided between the political and spiritual.  Just as God cannot be divided, so God’s authority is not capable of division.  Religion and politics are one.  Muslim scholars and political leaders continue to debate the relationship of religion and the state and there is a wide diversity in the forms of government of Islamic or Muslim states.  But the nation state is now the norm and there is an examination going on over that relation of Islam and political order.

Back to the top 

Christianity and the Holy Land

Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christianity and the Holy Land is part of the birthright of Christians as well as Jews.  It is also a holy city for Muslims. Many visitors come to see the holy sites and end up running where Jesus walked.  They seldom get to know the living stones who live there today.  Christian visitors too often participate only in worship planned by their leader which is similar to that in their home countries.  They miss the diversity and richness evident in the “home town” of Christianity and, indeed, in world Christianity.  If you travel there, make an effort to meet the living stones (Christians) of the land.

The Middle East Council of Churches treats the Christians as four families of churches – Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical (the local name for Protestant).

The principal Eastern Orthodox Church is the Greek Orthodox Church with a Patriarch in Jerusalem.  The Church dates back to the apostles in Jerusalem.  In addition, Greek culture (Hellenism) predominated and Paul converted many People of the Greek cultural background.  Ever since 451 A.D. (except during the Crusades) there has been a Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.  Along with the Armenians and the Franciscans, the Greek Orthodox Church is one of the three guardians of the Holy Sepulchre.

Another Eastern Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church established itself in Jerusalem because of the large numbers of Russian pilgrims.  Russian churches in the Holy Land today include both the churches related to the Patriarchate in Moscow (so called Red Russian) and the churches related to the breakaway Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (so called White Russian) formed after the Russian Revolution.  A Romanian Orthodox Church has also been in the Holy Land since 1935 to serve pilgrims and guest workers.

The Oriental Orthodox family of churches in the Holy Land includes the Armenian Orthodox, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syrian (or Syrriac) Orthodox Churches.  The Armenian Apostolic Church was organized as a state Church in 301 and, like some of the other Oriental Orthodox Churches, has remained a national religious group.  The Armenians were not at the Council in Chalcedon in 451 and 55 years later rejected the statement on the nature of Christ from that Council in favor of an older formulation.  There is an Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem

The Syrian (or Syriac) Orthodox Church comes from the Patriarchate of Antioch and was formed by those in that Patriarchate who rejected the Chalcedonian formula of 451 because it put too much emphasis on the duality of Christ.  There is a Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem.  The word “Syrian” refers to the Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic and not the country, Syria.

The Coptic Orthodox Church originated in Egypt in the first century.  After Chalcedon, the Patriarchate of Alexandria (Egypt) split into two parts: the smaller continued as part of the Greek Orthodox Church and the larger (the non-Chalcedonians) is the Coptic Orthodox Church.  Their leader is called a Pope and resides in Egypt.  In Jerusalem there is a Coptic Orthodox Archbishop. (Copt is the term used for Christians in Egypt)

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the most African of the ancient churches and has traditions dating back to the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon.  Syrian Orthodox missionaries are credited with the development of Christian theology but the Ethiopians kept their organizational ties to the Coptic Church until the 20th century.  They have an Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem.

Mostly as a result of missionary activity on the part of the Latin Catholics (Roman Catholics), portions of the Orthodox churches have come into communion with Rome.  Many of them still use ancient Orthodox liturgies.  The Greek Catholic Church (Melkite) is a church with Eastern origins and practices but in union with the Church of Rome.  It was officially founded in 1724 after a split in the Patriarchate of Antioch and is the second largest church in the Holy Land.  The head of the church is in Damascus and there is a Greek Catholic Patriarchal Exarch in Jerusalem.

The Maronite Church also began in Antioch but traces its establishment to the mountains of Lebanon and its people to the ancient Phoenicians.  The Maronite tradition says they were always in communion with the Church of Rome. There are also small Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, and Chaldean Catholic communities as well.  The Latin Catholic Church serves many ex-patriots and offers mass in several different languages as well as Arabic.  The Latin Patriarch is himself a Palestinian and is looked to as the pre-eminent Catholic leader in the Holy Land.  Because the Franciscans were granted custody of the Holy places by the Pope after the crusaders left, the Custos of the Holy Land has status among the heads of churches.

The major Evangelical (Protestant) groups in the Holy Land are the Anglicans and the Lutherans.  The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land were founded by the Church of England and the German Lutheran Church with a single bishop in the mid-19th century.  They have had separate bishops since 1887 and are under Arab leadership today and each has a congregation of expatriates as well.

In addition to the four Church families in the Middle East Council of Churches, there are also many small Protestant churches, a result of 20th century missionary movements and the desire to serve expatriates in their own language. They include the Southern Baptist Church, Christian Brethren, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of God, Church of the Nazarene, Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), French Protestant Churches, Korean Presbyterian Church, Netherlands Reformed Church, Seventh-day Adventists, St. Paul’s Pentecostal Fellowship, Danish Lutherans, Norwegian Lutherans and Swedish Lutherans.

There are a growing group of churches known as Hebrew Christians, Jewish Believers or Messianic Jews.  The latter often see themselves in continuity with the earliest Judeo-Christian believers.

Another group related to the Holy Land are the Christian Zionists.  They are people who believe that the end of the world is near and one sign is the influx of Jews into Israel.  They are mostly from other countries and come to Jerusalem for holidays etc.  The Palestinian Christians see them as very destructive of the indigenous Christian community since their support ignores the Christians who have been there for centuries and supports the Jewish Israelis.

Because of the hardships of the military occupation, Christians are continuing to leave the Holy Land and the Christian community is endangered in the land of its birth.  Refugees fled in 1948 and 1967 as a result of the wars and Christians continue to leave because of the harsh military occupation and the second class treatment of even those who hold Israeli citizenship.

The closure of the border between Palestinian territories (Gaza and the West Bank) and Israel has caused a desperate economic situation.  Land confiscation, multi-day curfews and closures, house demolitions, the confiscation of identity cards, the building of the Separation Barrier, the closing of schools, and denial of medical treatment have caused Christians as well as Muslims to leave the area.  They want better conditions for themselves and their children and join family and friends in Europe, the Americas and Australia.  At least 25,000 Palestinian Christians live in the diaspora and there is concern that Christianity in the Holy Land will become a dead religion without the presence of living communities.

Faith Under Occupation is an excellent additional resource on this topic

Back to the top 

Judaism and the Holy Land

Historical Background
According to the Torah, the Israelites, after fleeing Egypt, entered into the promised land, much of which is Israel/Palestine of today.  Some Old Testament scholars say they were already there and were formed as a nation by overcoming the other inhabitants.  Their high point as a nation came during the reigns of David and Solomon when the country was united for about 100 years.

In 597 B.C.E. (Before Christian Era) the Babylonians conquered the territory of Judah and took the inhabitants into exile in Babylon.  Although many came back, and the story of Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem is the story of the return, many continued to stay in the diaspora, scattering throughout the eastern Mediterranean area..  During these years and even into Jesus’ day, worship was centered in the Temple in Jerusalem with its rituals of animal sacrifice.  Jews were expected to visit the Temple in Jerusalem three times a year — at Passover, Rosh Hashona, and Shavuot.  More Jews, though, remained in the diaspora than lived in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus.

After a series of conquests by strong empires, the Jews were conquered in 63 B.C.E. by the Romans.  Just after the time of Jesus, in 66 C. E., Jewish Zealots revolted and captured Jerusalem.  In 70 C. E. the Romans reoccupied the city, destroyed the Temple and laid waste to Jerusalem.  The remaining Jews were forced into diaspora along with those already there.  

Rabbinic Judaism was developing at the same time as Christianity with the concept of the community as the New Temple and no need for animal sacrifice.  This helped the Jews to maintain their religion and relationships now that there was no Temple to be the center of worship.  For a period of time Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism were “competing” sects of the same religion. Having been a highly respected religion in the Roman Empire, Judaism became a smaller minority throughout the centuries.  

There were periods, though, of a golden age, especially during the time of Maimonides (12th and 13th century) in Spain when scholarship and science flourished for Christians, Jews and Muslims.  (The Christian idea that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ also led to areas and periods of persecution.)  In 1492 the Jews and the Muslims, were expelled from Spain.  By the 18th century most of the world’s Jews were living in Europe and many had developed a liberal approach to living in modern society.

It was in the late 1800s that Theodor Hertzl published The Jewish State, insisting that assimilation was impossible and that the Jews needed a state of their own.   Hertzl was made president of the Zionist World Congress and the modern Zionist movement to make a national Jewish homeland in Palestine was begun.  

Founding a normal national state would protect Jews from anti-Semitism, according to Zionist ideology.   In 1917 England’s Lord Balfour wrote a letter saying, “His Majesty’s Government views with favor 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, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” 

It should be noted that the founding of the State of Israel was largely funded by Jews in the United States and England, especially Conservative and Reformed Jews as well as the U.S. government.  The State of Israel was declared in 1948 after the British pulled out of Palestine.

Living in Today’s Israel
For many Jews, living in Israel is a very special experience.  They are the majority and the schedule of living–weekly, monthly and yearly– follows the Jewish calendar.  Jewish holidays, not normally celebrated outside the synagogue in the West, are observed publicly there and they are celebrated with more intensity.  The school year revolves around the holidays so that school does not begin in the fall until after Succoth.  Daylight savings time (known as summertime) ends early in September so as not to interfere with Rosh HaShona (The New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).   In addition, Jews who wish to pray at the designated times of day meet no prejudice.

In addition, national holidays take on a religious or spiritual aspect.  On Remembrance  Day, the siren blows, pedestrians stand at attention and those in cars get out to join them.   On Yom Kippur in Jerusalem, a day of fasting and repentance, no cars, buses, taxis, or other vehicles are allowed on the roads.  

On the Sabbath, Ultra-Orthodox areas do not permit cars on their streets and there are sirens to mark the beginning and end of the Sabbath.  Other religious Jews observe the Sabbath (Shabbat) as a time for turning off material and work-related issues.  For six days the Jews are expected to work on perfecting the world and on the seventh, they are to celebrate the creation just as it is.

In today’s Israel there are a number of divisions within Judaism itself.  The first is among different branches of Judaism.  The official religion of the State is Orthodox Judaism, and an overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel are Orthodox.  Other branches include Reformed and Conservative Judaism.

Another way to categorize the Jewish population is based on their heritage – the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.  The Ashkenazi Jews come from Europe, especially Eastern Europe and were the dominant Jews to come to Israel in the early years of Zionism and the founders of the kibbutz movement.  The Sephardic Jews are a mixture but they basically come from Arab lands.  The word means Spanish and referred originally to the Jews expelled from Spain during the Inquisition in 1492.  The Ashkenazim and the Sephardim each have a chief rabbi in Israel who form the Chief Rabbinate.  There are now more Sephardic Jews in Israel than Ashkenazic Jews but there are power struggles noticeable in where people live, how good the schools are, and what political parties they belong to. 

Wesley G. Pippert in Land of Promise Land of Strife says that the Ashkenazi Jews were Europeans and Israel was considered a Western nation from the beginning.  The Sephardim, coming from Middle Eastern countries brought their own customs so now, “Modern Israel, in short, is a western-styled nation that acts in an eastern manner, and the result is often chaotic.”(page 155)

Some areas at issue 

1. The Sabbath.  
Although streets where ultra-Orthodox live are closed on the Sabbath, the neighborhoods have been expanding along with the demand for more street closings.   Stores, that used to be closed on the Sabbath, have been opening and cinemas and restaurants are sometimes open.  Jewish businesses in Jerusalem are more likely to close,  but Tel Aviv is more open.

2. Conversion.  The only conversions recognized are those by Orthodox rabbis if done in Israel.  Although conversions by Reform and Conservative rabbis completed outside Israel are recognized, the Reform and Conservative movements want state recognition for conversions inside Israel.

3. Yeshiva students are deferred from the draft and given a stipend because it is felt that religious learning is a patriotic act.  The study of the Torah is considered to be of supreme value in the defense of the State.  The number of students has ballooned and Israelis who serve in the army and their families feel this is unfair since over 30,000 have deferments.  

4. Other areas of contention include the marriage laws that require a ceremony by an Orthodox rabbi; adoption laws that require the parents to bring the child up as an Orthodox Jew; and the make-up of local religious councils.

Back to the top 

Biblical Connections

God’s promise and the land
The Bible contains God’s promises to a group of Hebrews in ancient times, conditioned on their obedience to sets of rules.  The main texts are found in Genesis, especially Genesis 12:1-3; 15.   In the Abrahamic Covenant, the Hebrew people are given “land,” descendents as numerous as “the stars in the sky” and eventually they become a great people and nation.  These components are the means by which the covenant people will fulfill their calling to point people to the one and only God. The Hebrew prophets were constantly calling Israel back to their need to keep the Torah (Law) and point others to Yahweh.

Many Christians believe, as did Jesus, that land is not of central importance if one is faithful to God and the ethics of the Kingdom of God.  They believe that land must be shared as the people of God live with those of differing ethnicities and religions, and that they must keep Torah and the things that make for a just peace.

In the last century, Jewish people have moved to Israel after thousands of years in other countries.  Since the promise was made to Abraham, and Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim to be descendents of Abraham, the question becomes one of where the lines are to be drawn.

What does the Bible say about Jews as the “chosen people”?
The Hebrew people of the Bible called themselves “Chosen People” and many scholars believe that they were chosen to be an example to the world of the way God wants people to live.  These scholars also say that the nature of being “chosen” does not imply superiority but chosen to be in covenant with God.  “Chosenness” is not a privilege nor does it have any hint of exclusive rights; rather, it is a responsibility of service and mission on behalf of the covenant-keeping God.  Most Christians, including the UCC and Disciples, also believe that God did not replace the covenant with the Jews but added the new covenant with the Christian community.

What is the relationship between Israel in the Old Testament and the State of Israel as it exists today?
There is little direct connection in terms of time spent living in the area or in terms of ethnic inheritance.  The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E. (Christian Era) and expelled and killed many Jews (and Jewish Christians).  After the Zealot Revolt of 131-4 C.E. the Jews were completely expelled from Jerusalem.  The Jewish community that remained in the area was very small. However, Jews always maintained a mystical connection to the land with the prayer “next year in Jerusalem.”

Some of those diaspora Jews joined Jews who lived in the eastern Mediterranean area for centuries and others subsequently moved to virtually all areas of the world.  During that time they developed a variety of ethnic expressions of the core of Judaism, differing from the Temple worship of Jesus’ day.

Meanwhile, Christianity grew and eventually became the dominant religion. After the 7th century Arab invasion, the people living on the land adopted the Arab language and culture and many became Muslims, although some remained Christians and Jews.  By the year 1900, the overwhelming majority (93%) of the population of historic Palestine was Arab Muslims and Christians, with Jews being less that 6%.

In order to keep the understanding clear, it is more correct to use the term “Israelite” for the biblical group and “Israeli” for the modern people.

Why do some Christians believe that the State of Israel is related to the second coming of Christ?  What does the Bible say?
A certain type of biblical interpretation, which gave selected scriptures a future fulfillment, began to be popular in England in the 1800s and has continued today.  Many of the texts were taken from Daniel, Zechariah, Ezekiel and Revelation.  Other biblical scholars believed that these scriptures were fulfilled when the Jews returned to Palestine after the Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BCE (before common era).  To the former group, events in the formation of today’s Israel are given theological significance as fulfilling biblical prophecy.

Jesus cautioned his followers about interpreting signs of the end times on several occasions such as in Acts 1:6-7.  In answer to the question about the time when the kingdom will be restored to Israel?  Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”

This idea is sometimes called Millenarianism and has had proponents in a number of periods of history over the centuries.  Those who focus their work on bringing Jews to Israel to fulfill their interpretation of the end times and to bring about the Second Coming of Christ are known as Christian Zionists (discussed earlier). More information can be found here: Christian Zionism: A Faithful Response

Are Palestinians the same as the Philistines?
The Philistines are members of an ancient “sea people” from Greece.  After several battles with Egypt, they landed on the eastern Mediterranean coast and conquered some of the Canaanite people.  Goliath, of the David and Goliath tale, was a Philistine and the Hebrew scripture contains many stories of the enmity between Israel and the Philistines.

The contemporary Palestinians are the indigenous inhabitants, or their descendants, of historic Palestine.  They are a mixture of many races as a result of 4000 years of invasions, and their location at the crossroad of Europe, Asia and Africa.

The majority of the population in ancient (from about 2000 years before Christ) Palestine/Israel was Jews, including the earliest Jewish Christians.  As time went on, they became an intermixture of bloodlines, ethnicities, and nationalities including Romans, Greeks, Armenians, North Africans, Persians, Indo-Europeans, Syrians and Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula.

Where and when did Palestine get its name?
The Romans called the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River “Palestine” in the Second century C.E. (Christian Era).  Earlier the people were called Canaanites, Israelites or other tribal groups, but after the Roman era they all were called Palestinians, whether they were Jews, Christians or (later) Muslims.

The exact geographical boundaries of Palestine have been fluid over the centuries.  Because Palestine is at the crossroads of Africa and Asia and had many cultures and conquerors, the population historically has included a great variety of ethnic groups.  Some people refer to the whole area, accurately, as Western Asia rather than the Middle East.

Back to the top 

Pre-1967 History

Is the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians basically a religious war?
It is a political war over a piece of land or parts of that piece of land.  Religious beliefs, usually certain extremist Christian, Jewish or Islamic ideas, have been used to justify the conflict, especially as to who owns or controls the land and resources and why.  The two parties are Palestinians (Christians and Muslims) and Israelis, not Christians and Muslims versus Jews.  There have been and still are interfaith organizations on the ground attempting to foster and nurture positive relationships.

Is it true that the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has been going on for many centuries?
No.  The modern Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political and economic conflict over land and resources.  It is not a religious conflict. Until the advent of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century there were a variety of relationships between Jews and Arabs (Muslims and Christians), many of which were positive.  Some residents of the area called themselves Arab Jews, that is Jews who spoke Arabic and considered the Arab culture to be their own.

Did Jews fare better in Christian lands than in Arab and Muslim lands?
They fared better in Muslim lands.  Islam considers Jews and Christians to be People of the Book and, although the Jews and Christians were “protected people” with fewer citizenship rights than Muslims, they were not persecuted for their faith.  During the Ottoman Empire (15th century until World War I) the Ottomans developed the millet system giving Christian and Jewish communities a certain freedom of action.  Each Church (denomination) oversaw its own personal law governing marriage, divorce, burials, etc. and they were free to worship as they chose.  The religious leaders (patriarchs, chief rabbis etc.) were to negotiate with the government and Muslim religious leaders on their behalf.

Unlike many European countries, Spain was a country where all three religions lived together somewhat harmoniously until the Inquisition. But in 1492, under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Jews and Muslims were expelled.  Many of the Jews went to Arab lands to settle, where they were treated fairly.

In Christian lands, Jews were often persecuted and condemned as “the killers of Christ”.  The Holocaust took place in a nation that called itself Christian.  It is interesting to note that after the Jews were forbidden to live in Jerusalem by the Romans it was an Arab Muslim ruler, Salah ad-Din, who, in 1187, specifically invited the Jews to once again live in the Holy City.

Are Zionism and Judaism the same thing?  What is their relationship?
Judaism is a religion and a cultural heritage.  Zionism is a political movement founded in the late 1800s largely by secular Jews   Zionism is a political philosophy calling for a Jewish homeland.  Several locations were considered for the homeland, but later Palestine was singled out and this was supported by Great Britain, especially through the Balfour Declaration.  (Lord Balfour was hghly influenced by Christian Zionism.)

The Holocaust during World War II, and the guilt of those who did not, or could not, stop it gave a great impetus to Jewish immigration into Palestine and support for the formation of Israel.  However, some deeply religious Jews (even some who live in Israel) feel that the establishment of a Jewish State should come after the appearance of the Messiah and not before, so they object to Israel as premature.

Is there truth to the claim that this area was “a land without a people for a people without a land”?
When the Zionist movement started encouraging immigration, the land of Palestine was a settled area with Palestinians living in villages, towns, cities and settled agricultural lands.  There were significant numbers of well-educated, professional people.  Contrary to popular belief, there were only a few Bedouin tribes in Palestine.

The Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) reports that, according to Ottoman records, in 1878 there were 403,795 Muslims, 43,659 Christians and 15,011 Jews in the Jerusalem, Nablus and Acre districts of the Ottoman Empire.  There were also several thousand Bedouin and about 10,000 Jews with foreign citizenship.  By 1914 the population of Jews had risen to about 60,000 and the Arab population (Christians and Muslims) was around 683,000.  Other sources give comparable population figures.

Did the Israelis make the desert bloom?
Making the dessert bloom is a biblical concept coming from Isaiah 35.1-10.  It describes a time when Israel is restored and renewed.  It was used in the early years of the founding of Israel to illustrate two things.  First, to show that the cultivation of the land by the Jews was fulfilling the Bible and, second, to put forth the idea that Palestine was an uncultivated desert. The term is rarely used any more.

Considerable land in Palestine was under agricultural cultivation by the indigenous Arab population before the State of Israel was founded, much of it in crops and trees that required little water beyond what was provided by rainfall.  Some desert areas were irrigated.  Deserts are generally fertile places if water is made available, but water in the whole area is limited.   For that very reason, throughout the Middle East, water is a political issue.  Water diversion and water access were major causes of ongoing conflict between Israel and its neighbors in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.

At the present time there is an increasingly severe water shortage in Israel and Palestine, largely the result of the amount of water being used by Israel for agriculture and to support the settlements-for example, green lawns in the dry season.

What was the British Mandate?  
After World War I, the defeated Ottoman Empire was carved up by the European powers and the League of Nations.  Various areas became “mandates” and the British were given the mandate for Palestine.  Mandates were a type of protectorate (some called it colonialism) to move indigenous people to political independence by giving them administrative advice and assistance.   In the case of other mandates, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Syria, it was assumed that the indigenous Arab people would form their independent states “under guidance.”

On November 2, 1917, the British Government announced the so-called Balfour Declaration that favored the Zionist plan of making a homeland for the Jewish people in unspecified parts of Palestine.  Throughout the British Mandate (1921-1948) Britain was aware of the conflict between the indigenous Palestinians and the immigrant Jewish people but continued to favor the Zionists, even training soldiers and giving them equipment.  When British Mandate troops became the targets of terrorism, especially by organized Zionist militias, Britain decided to end its mandate and the matter was handed to the United Nations.  After a commission of inquiry was conducted, the UN passed a plan to partition the area.

What was the United Nations Partition Plan?
The United Nations, on November 29, 1947 by a vote of 33 to 13 with 10 abstaining, passed Resolution 181.  It divided the former Palestinian Mandate into three parts-a proposed Jewish state, a proposed Arab state, and an international zone to include Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  

Why did the Arabs reject the United Nations Partition Plan?
The 1947 United Nations Partition Plan (Res. 181) gave 55% of the land to the Jews even though they owned only 7% of the land in Palestine and comprised only 33% of the population.  The land that was designated for the Jewish state included prime agricultural and coastal land and would have had a large Palestinian population under the Jewish state control. The Arabs considered this unfair.

Is this when the Arab countries invaded Israel?
No, the Arab countries only came in later and after other events occurred.  The British announced in December 1947 (a month after the Partition Plan was announced), that they would withdraw and give up the Mandate by May 15, 1948.  More intense fighting broke out between the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs. Jewish fighting groups, such as the Irgun conducted military operations in a number of cities and villages and many Arabs fled or were forced out of their homes.  As a result, approximately 300,000 Palestinians became refugees before the war started.

The day after the British withdrew, the State of Israel was founded.  It was then that the Arab armies joined the fight.  In 1949, when the armistice was signed, the State of Israel held about 77% of the territory; Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem while Egypt held the Gaza Strip.

Wasn’t Israel a poorly equipped force faced with overwhelming Arab armies?
The revisionist school of Israeli historians (the so-called “New Histories”) has raised doubts over who started the war, but it has become clear that Israel had the overwhelming force, not the other way around.  Zionist militias had been trained and armed by the British during the Mandate period.

The book, Righteous Victims, (page 217) by Benny Morris, an Israeli, reports that by early spring of 1949, the Israeli Defense Forces were fielding 115,000 troops while the combined armies of the Arab Legion reached no more than 40,000 troops in Palestine.  The Israeli Defense Forces had trained manpower, weapons, a large young adult population and a centralized command based on former fighting organizations.  The Arabs were far less organized, subject to rivalries and lacked both modern weapons and training. 
Why are there so many Palestinian refugees?
The first group of Palestinian refugees resulted from the war in 1948.  Palestinians claim that they fled their homes in fear after the massacre in Deir Yassin and other towns, or because Zionist militia forced them to leave at gunpoint.  They expected to return to their homes within days or weeks, and for that reason many still have their house keys with them.  Recent scholarship has shown that there were no appeals to evacuate and that Arabs urged the Palestinians to stay put.

According to Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (p. 147) by Charles D. Smith, 133,000 (others put the figure at 156,000) of the approximately 860,000 Arabs who lived in the area of Palestine that now is called Israel remained, and 470,000 entered camps in what is called the West Bank and Gaza.  257,000 fled to refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan with a smaller number going to Egypt and Iraq.  Other books give similar figures.

In addition, 100,000 Palestinian refugees were created in 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and Gaza.  Some of these people, already refugees from 1948, were displaced a second time.

Why don’t the Arab nations simply absorb the Palestinians into their own countries?
Approximately 3 million Palestinians live in diaspora, outside the country they claim as their homeland.  Many still live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.  Many have moved to Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries; some have moved to other parts of the world.

Many Palestinian refugees want to return to Palestine, and their children and grandchildren want to live there.  They have no interest in settling in another country, and numerous UN resolutions state the right of the refugees to return to their homelands. Other Arab countries back them up.

The economic, social and political impact of absorbing such a large number of people from another place would present a tremendous burden on countries as well as change the demographics of the country.  Politically, absorbing the refugees would relieve Israel of its responsibility toward them.

Isn’t Jordan really a Palestinian country?
At the end of 2000, Palestinians constituted more than half of Jordan’s total population.  Jordan has given citizenship to the Palestinian refugees who entered the country in 1948 and 1949, and they have partially assimilated into Jordanian society, although most still consider themselves to be Palestinians.  Those Palestinians who fled the Gaza Strip in 1967 are called displaced persons and they are not allowed to vote or hold public-sector jobs in Jordan.

About 20% of the refugees live in refugee camps of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  If Jordan were to absorb all these refugees it would also have to take over the renovation of schools, hospitals, public buildings and housing, and pay for other services now provided by UNRWA.  During UNRWA’s 1999-2000 reporting year, Jordan spent $380.4 million on behalf of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons.  That financial burden would increase without UNRWA’s presence.

Jordan’s October 1994 peace treaty with Israel created fear among Jordanians that, because of the number of Palestinians in Jordan, the kingdom would eventually be transformed into a substitute state for the Palestinians.  This has increased the climate of suspicion between native Jordanians and Palestinians and the fear that Jordan would not remain the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  There is also concern because some Israeli government officials talk about “transferring” the Palestinians to Jordan and Egypt.

Is there a “right of return” for refugees?
International laws and resolutions state a just settlement for refugees, which involves repatriation or resettlement, and compensation for material losses.  These provisions apply to refugees of any conflict or situation anywhere in the world. The 1948 General Assembly Resolution 194 (concerning Palestine) states that refugees should be permitted to return; The 1967 Security Council resolution 242 (concerning the acquisition of territory by war) affirms the necessity “for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem”; The UN Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13) states that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

There is a Law of Return in Israel that allows any Jew (except those with criminal records) to immigrate into Israel from any part of the world, even if they have not previously visited Israel. The Israeli Nationality Law automatically grants citizenship to all Jewish immigrants to Israel.   Since 1970, the right to immigrate under this law has been extended to include the child and the grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of the grandchild of a Jew.  This process is called “aliyah.”

Palestinians – Muslim or Christian – are not given any right of return by Israel.

Back to the top 


What are the “Occupied Territories?”
The areas known as the Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) compose the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  In 1967 Israel seized the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.  Some parts of the West Bank were annexed by Israel into Jerusalem, an action considered illegal in international law.  Similarly, Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. It returned Sinai back to Egypt with the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979. The occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) is the longest military occupation in modern times.

What is the difference between the terms “occupied” and “disputed?”
The Israeli government prefers to call the area “disputed” territories, while keeping military occupation forces and rules in place.  In that way it avoids conforming to international laws and conventions governing occupation of territory.  When it is disputed it can be segmented in the negotiations.  The 2004 International Court of Justice advisory to the General Assembly of the United nations declared the area was occupied.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, effective August 12, 1949, governs the treatment of people in occupied territories.  This Convention, on “The Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War”, states, among other things, that an occupier is forbidden to move its own people into the territory occupied.  Israeli settlements are forbidden in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza if they are occupied territories.  Territories that are “disputed” do not fall under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Conventions were put into place by the nations of the world as a response to the Holocaust and were signed, among other nations, by Israel and the United States. The Fourth Geneva Convention deals with “protected persons” meaning those persons taking no active part in hostilities.  It forbids hostage taking, violence to life and person, outrages on personal dignity, and extra-judicial executions.  Nations who have signed the conventions are expected to conform to them and to see that other signatories conform.

What does the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 actually say?
The resolution includes a call for the withdrawal of Israel’s armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict; the right of all States in the area to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries; a just settlement of the refugee problem; freedom of navigation; and the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area. The resolution was adopted unanimously.

Didn’t Arabs in Israel and the occupied territories only begin to identify themselves as Palestinians after 1967?
Nationalism in Palestine and the whole Middle East far preceded 1967.  Prior to World War I the area was a part of the Ottoman Empire.  In 1516, when Palestine became a province of the Ottoman Empire because of its religious significance, there was a growing Palestinian self-identity.

Palestinians, like other Middle Eastern groups, identify themselves by their nation, their culture, their city, their family or clan, and their religion.  Their identity from 1890 on, was defined in relation to the growing Zionist movement on their land. In addition, since 1948 Palestinians have had to grapple with the hundred of thousands of refugees who claim Palestinian identity but live in diaspora.  The year 1967 marked a revival of Palestinian nationalism but it did not mark the beginning.  

What is meant by “closure” and “curfew”?
Following the 1967 war, the Israeli military issued orders that the West Bank and Gaza were closed military zones.  At first, West Bank and Gaza residents were allowed to move freely into and out of Israel and East Jerusalem and between Gaza and the West Bank.

Individual exit permits were instituted in Gaza in 1989, and throughout the Occupied Territories in 1991 at the time of the Gulf War.  In March 1993 Israel set up permanent checkpoints and an overall closure “until further notice”, limiting severely the number of Palestinians who could go to Jerusalem or parts of Israel. When the closure is enforced, the West Bank and Gaza are sealed off from the rest of the world as well and Palestinians are unable to cross into the adjacent countries of Jordan and Egypt or any other part of the world without a special permit.  A full closure is sometimes declared invalidating all permits and requiring everyone to obtain a new permit.  Often this was used to reduce the number of permits.   Some closures prohibited Palestinians going from town to town and additional checkpoints were set up. A comprehensive closure has been imposed continuously since the second week of the current intifada.

During curfew, residents of neighborhoods or cities in the West Bank and Gaza are confined to their homes.  In many cases, the curfew goes on for days or weeks at a time.  Curfews may be lifted for two hours every few days so people can shop, but during curfew children cannot go to school and no one can go to mosque or church or get medical attention.  Food and medical supplies cannot get to Palestinian areas.

How has this changed since the beginning of 2001?
In March 2001, a new approach to a full “internal closure” was imposed additionally restricting the movement of Palestinians.  Some call it a “siege.”  The siege imprisons entire populations within their communities and severs them from the external world. The IDF enforces the closure by blocking access roads. To do this, it uses concrete blocks, dirt piles, deep trenches, or roadblocks staffed by soldiers.

The closure policy severely affects access to medical treatment for Palestinians since vehicles cannot cross the barriers even if the soldiers will let people pass.  This approach also severely damages the already depressed Palestinian economy: many workers are unable to reach their place of work; manufacturing processes are stopped because of the shortage of inputs; and merchandise cannot be marketed.  Children and teachers cannot get to school.

The internal closure policy, which Israel imposes only on the Palestinian population, constitutes flagrant discrimination.  Its destructive human consequences make this a clear case of collective punishment, which is prohibited by both Israeli law and international law.

Is a “settlement” the current name for a “kibbutz”?
The kibbutz movement was a “back to the land” movement based on the belief that Jews who worked the land would become more closely tied to it.  Kibbutzim (plural) were originally established on a socialist model: possessions were held in common; there was a common purpose for the group, living arrangements were often quite simple, meals were shared.  Over the past two decades many kibbutzim have voted to adopt more individualized and privatized systems of family life and livelihood. Kibbutzim now operate as vacation resorts, manufacturing plants, and museums, among other things.

Settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are like suburbs in that there are individual homes and apartments for families and each family cares for itself.  Some look and feel like middle-class American suburbs, complete with shopping centers, schools, swimming pools, and offices.  However, settlements are built on Palestinian land occupied and confiscated by Israel.  Often the government provides significant incentives for people to move to settlements.  These include rebates and low interest loans, free infrastructure services and employment of a high percentage of settlers in the public sector.

Israel has maintained its ongoing policy of establishing settlements in disregard of international prohibitions. Between 1967 and November 1999, Israel established 145 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These settlements contained 172,000 Israeli residents. These figures do not include Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem on land annexed by Israel although this land, too, is occupied territory, whose status is the same as the West Bank.

Current reports, were that in addition to the 145 official settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem),  as of December 2008, there were also 130 “outposts” located away from main settlements.  They also say that there were approximately 490,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and 19,000 settlers living in the Golan Heights. 

Why have the settlements become such a difficult issue?
The international community, including the members of the European Union, the members of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Russian Federation agree that the Israeli settlement system is illegal and an obstacle to peace. This is based on the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War that prohibits, in all cases, the transfer of parts of the civilian population of the occupying Power into the territory it occupies.  The U.S. position as stated up through President Reagan was that the settlements were categorically “illegal.” Due to domestic political pressure since then, U.S. administration rhetoric has gradually moderated from calling settlements “obstacles to peace” to labeling the presence of settlements “not helpful” to prospective peace negotiations.  Most recently, the U.S. administration has advocated for a freeze in settlement construction until a peace agreement is reached and the issue can be resolved.

There are three types of settlements. The largest are the economic settlements located closest to the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice Line demarcating the boundary between Israel and the occupied territories). The second category is the ideological settlements, inhabited by those who claim that the land was promised them (and only them) by God.  The third kind are the private settlements, built by land developers.

The Israeli settlement system has been characterized by illegal acquisition of Palestinian land-initially on the grounds of “military necessity.”  Then when that was challenged, Israel proclaimed thousands of acres of Palestinian land to be “state lands.”  The declaration was based on a disputed interpretation of the Ottoman Land Law of 1858 that was in effect at the time the occupation began. The Israeli settlements have been accompanied by exploitation of natural resources, especially water resources, and construction of substantial by-pass roads, built to bypass Palestinian towns and villages in order to increase settler security.  Palestinians are not allowed to drive on most of these roads and must take older (sometimes dirt) roads.

The Palestinians protest that their human rights are continually violated and their proposed state is further reduced in size and divided into small enclaves surrounded by settlements and by-pass roads protected by Israeli soldiers. Because of this situation, the settlements have become the focus of constant friction and spiraling violence.  Settlement activities defy not only the basic logic of the peace process, but also the mutual recognition between the parties and the goal of achieving a just and comprehensive peace.

Living on occupied territory is an aggressive political statement for some residents, so some settlements are the home of armed right-wing residents who frequently harass and shoot Palestinians.

How do the settlements affect local Christians?
It is time (or perhaps past time) to look at the Israeli settlement issue and, indeed the entire Israeli/Palestinian issue, from another line of reasoning. That is the historical perspective of Christianity and the place of indigenous Palestinian Christians in the land where Jesus lived his earthly life. I ask whether the future of the land is only for tourists who come and go, or for people to live where Jesus lived.

I believe that I am unusually and uniquely placed to discuss this issue. I am a seminary-trained ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and for 3 1/2 years lived in both Jerusalem (at Tantur Ecumenical Institute owned by the Vatican) and later in the Old City of Bethlehem. A settlement named Gilo was across one street from Tantur and Jebel Abu Ghneim was denuded of trees and built as a settlement named Har Homa (Mount Wall) across the other street. Some of the land for each of them had been owned by indigenous Christians and Jebel Abu Ghneim contained ruins of Christian monasteries.

I highlight Christianity, not to ignore Muslim issues, but to remind people that this is the land where Jesus lived and where Christianity was born. I have Muslim relatives, including my grandchildren who count themselves as American and Arab and both Christian and Muslim, since their mother is an American Christian and their father is a Jordanian Muslim. I also have Muslim friends and neighbors.

I am not opposed to Jews building housing units, but I ask the question of WHERE these units are being built. Why are they on land taken from Christians (and Muslims) rather than on land which is already part of Israel – land owned by Jews. Settlements have been driving out the population of indigenous Palestinian Christians by depriving them of their own land along with Israel placing various restrictions on their lives and work.

Even when pilgrims and tourists come to visit, it is the indigenous Palestinian Christians who have welcomed them and helped them understand the land of Jesus. As a Christian minister I ask again, “Is this land to be a witness to the place where Christianity was born or just another tourist destination?”

What is the basis for Israel’s claim to a unified Jerusalem?
From 1948 to June 1967 Jerusalem was divided in two.  Israel controlled West Jerusalem and Jordan ruled East Jerusalem, including the Old City.  After its occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, Israel illegally annexed 70 square kilometers to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem and declared the newly expanded West Jerusalem unified with East Jerusalem the “eternal and united capital of Israel.”

There is now one municipal government for the whole city.  Palestinian residents are required to pay taxes like everyone else.  However, the level of government services provided in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem is far inferior to those provided in Jewish neighborhoods.  Many Palestinian neighborhoods do not have sewage systems, paved roads, sidewalks, parks, libraries or recreational facilities, all of which are standard in Jewish neighborhoods.  Visitors have noted that it is similar to the racial segregation in the USA prior to the time of the civil rights actions.  Jerusalem Palestinians are not citizens of Israel; their documentation is a blue identification card.

Why don’t all countries move their embassies to Jerusalem if it is the capital of Israel?
When Israel occupied the territories in 1967 and declared the whole of Jerusalem its eternal capital, most countries refused to recognize the occupation of East Jerusalem as valid.  The acquisition of territory by occupation is against international law and was specifically dealt with in UN Resolution 242.  Most countries believe that moving their embassies to Jerusalem would signify their acceptance of the whole of Jerusalem as a legitimate part of the State of Israel, would undermine respect for international law, and would compromise future peace negotiations.  While the U.S. Congress has repeatedly approved of this ideological move to Jerusalem, the executive branch has exercised its waiver option not to move.  Tel Aviv had been the capital.  Embassies still reside there; consulates have been placed in Jerusalem.

Why do Israelis demolish Palestinian homes?
When a Palestinian family needs to build a new house or expand an existing building, the owner of the home is required to apply for a permit and pay a fee, often more than the cost of the renovation itself.  Permits are rarely granted to Palestinians and so the people repair and renovate without the permit, knowing that they may lose everything by demolition.  In 2004, a report stated that permits cost $20,000 (in American dollars) and are not refundable if the owner is turned down.

Permission to build or repair a building includes proving ownership of the land through documents that the owner may not have, since different laws governed previous land ownership policy.  Obtaining a permit also requires that the land must be under a land plan that allows building houses for Palestinians.  In some places, Palestinian residential areas have been designated as “green spaces” where building is illegal.  In other Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, Israel has never developed land usage plans, and it is prohibitively expensive for a homeowner to have a land plan drawn.

Some Palestinian homes are demolished because a member of the extended family is considered a threat to Israeli security and home demolition is a method of punishment.  This is a form of collective punishment, illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Other homes are demolished because the Israeli government has deemed the land public land and has confiscated it for Jewish settlements, the separation barrier or by-pass roads.  Since there is a rule that no Palestinian homes or farms can be left within 500 meters either side of a by-pass road, agricultural land and houses are both destroyed.

How has the occupation impacted Palestinian access to water?
Water for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is controlled and heavily restricted by Israel.  Mekorot (Israel’s water company) controls the flow of water to communities connected on the pipelines.  In the summer, Mekorot increases the flow of water to Israeli settlements in the West Bank to meet increased demand; however, it does not increase and even reduces the supply to Palestinian towns connected to the water pipelines.  It is not unusual for Palestinian families to suffer from inadequate amounts of water for drinking, cleaning, and bathing and for farmers to have insufficient water for their crops while Israelis settlers in the West Bank and Gaza are able to water their lawns in the dry season (summer) and keep their swimming pools filled.

Approximately 215,000 Palestinians in 200 West Bank villages are not connected to running water.  During the winter they obtain water by collecting rainfall; in the summer they must obtain water from springs or purchase it from water vendors for storage in tanks on the roofs.  The wall that is being built often blocks water tankers from delivering water to those without access.

Per capita water consumption by Palestinians in the West Bank for domestic, urban, and industrial use is 26 cubic meters a year- 70 liters per person per day.  For domestic and agricultural and industrial use, the average Israeli consumes approximately five times as much and the settlers use 20 times as much per day.  The World Health Organization and the United States Agency for International Development recommend 100 liters of water per person per day as the minimum quantity for basic consumption.

In the Gaza Strip, the primary problem is the poor quality of the water coming from the Gaza Aquifer.  The main reasons for the pollution of the aquifer are the penetration of untreated sewage, and penetration of pesticides and fertilizers.  Additionally, the water in many areas has become so saline that it cannot even be used for animals, no less drinking water for children and adults.  The heavy water demands by the large population and the Israeli settlers has meant that the aquifers have been lowered to the point that water seeps in from the Mediterranean Sea. Wells that tap the same aquifers have been dug just outside the Gaza to supply water to Israel.

Why don’t the Arab nations do more to help Palestinians economically?
While Israel has been supported economically and militarily by the United States, the world’s wealthiest and militarily most powerful nation, the Arab countries remain politically disunited and economically undeveloped.  The richer oil exporting Arab countries have not yet achieved the political and economic reforms necessary for their own development.  Only a small number of people are wealthy and many people continue to suffer from pervasive poverty.

Arab countries also experience a “catch 22” situation in which substantial aid to the Palestinians, with whom they have strong sympathies because of their shared Arab and Muslim identity, risks angering the U. S.  It is something Arab nations don’t wish to do. The Palestinian Authority, for its part, has not been very responsible fiscally and lacks civic and political structures of accountability. Arab countries also know that Israeli weapons, purchased from or provided by the United States, could devastate them easily in a war.

Does Israel permit Christians and Muslims to go to religious sites?
Israel restricts visits to religious sites by Palestinians although they generally allow foreign tourists to visit.  Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, including Christians, seldom get a permit to visit Jerusalem and the holy sites there.  On special holy days when tradition brings Christians in procession to special sites, Palestinian Christians have been restricted in their free access to Jerusalem.  At the present time, Muslim men under age 40, even residents of Jerusalem, are denied access to Al Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock.  When Israel institutes internal closures, Christians and Muslims cannot travel to any religious sites, churches or mosques outside of their own city, town or village.

Why are the occupied territories compared to South Africa?
Many people, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, consider Israeli policies in the occupied territories to be worse than structural discrimination that exists against Palestinians.  Apartheid is the term used in South Africa before its restructuring to describe its policy of strict racial segregation and political and economic discrimination.  Within the state of Israel there are differences between the rights of Israeli Arabs (Christians and Muslims) and Israeli Jews.  Palestinian towns and villages have fewer and poorer civil services and some are not even recognized by the government as existing. 

In the occupied territories, the Palestinian cities, towns, villages and farms have been separated from each other by land appropriated as Israeli state land, areas for settlements, and by-pass highways.  The Israeli Knesset has made a series of legal modifications that, in practice, have brought Israeli settlers living in the Occupied Territories under Israeli civil law and eligible for various liberties, services, and budget allocations.  Thus, Palestinians and others consider the Palestinian areas to be similar to “bantustans”, the reserves established in the 1970’s for Black South Africans. 

What is the significance of Hebron in the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians?
Hebron is located in the West Bank south of Jerusalem and contains the tombs of biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, including Abraham and Sarah.  Although Hebron has had a large Arab population for thousands of years, Muslims, Christians and Jews all claim it because the tombs are sacred for all three.  (Its name in Arabic is Al-Khalil, which means “the friend” since Abraham was considered the friend of God.)  It was the site of a massacre in 1929 and again in 1994.

The city is home to about 120,000 Palestinians.  It is the only Palestinian city with a substantial presence of Israeli settlers: some 500 live in four small settlements in the Israeli-controlled old city center of Hebron and some 7,000 others on the edge of the city.   In 1997 an agreement was reached to divide the city into an area under the Palestinian police and another under Israel.  The Israeli sector, housing 500 right-wing settlers, also contains a large number of Palestinians who are subject to curfews and other Israeli actions.

Palestinian gunmen fire on the settlements in Hebron and its surroundings while Israeli settlers and right wing vigilantes have fired on Palestinians, thrown garbage on them, stopped their children from going to school, closed their markets and generally harassed them physically and verbally.  The settlers have also attacked humanitarian workers, independent observers and journalists. The IDF protects the settlers, but seldom makes any effort to stop or prevent attacks by the Jewish settlers on Palestinians.

Back to the top 

The Intifadas

When was the first Intifada?
The first Intifada began in 1987.  Some date its ending to the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993 through which the Palestinians expected to achieve a State of their own. The word Intifada is Arabic and means “shaking off”, because the Palestinians were trying to shake off the occupation by Israel.  It was largely a non-violent movement with such expressions as tax revolts, home education when schools were closed, etc. it also included rock throwing on the part of the Palestinians and gunfire from Israelis. 

What about the second Intifada?
The second Intifada began in September 2000 after Ariel Sharon’s appearance on the Haram ash-Sharif along with about 1000 armed soldiers and policemen.  It is sometimes called the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

What caused the second (or Al-Aqsa) Intifada?
The underlying reason is the continuous 30-year Israeli military occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza.  The Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (Oslo Accords) signed in 1993 had raised hope.  Palestinians anticipated a state and the end of occupation, but it was constantly delayed while the situation on the ground worsened.  Israel expanded settlements and by-pass roads and confiscated more Palestinian property.  Israelis continued to demolish homes and to uproot or burn olive and fruit trees, leaving people without sources of income.  Checkpoints, closures and other signs of a tighter occupation were imposed; Israeli soldiers detained or turned ambulances back from checkpoints and Israel constantly reduced the number of permits to enter Israel to work.  Israeli soldiers humiliated Palestinians at the checkpoints.  Frustration, rage and despair mounted as Palestinians’ human rights were infringed and their dignity ignored.  Many Palestinians became disillusioned with the Oslo Accords and felt betrayed by them.

When Mr. Sharon with about 1000 armed soldiers and police visited the Noble Sanctuary (Haram ash-Sharif), a site sacred to Muslims, on September 28, 2000, it was like throwing a match into a pile of dry tinder.  The following day, Palestinians protested and seven were killed by the IDF.  This was the immediate reason for the intifada.  The underlying conditions that caused the uprising still exist and were made worse by a siege imposed in early March 2001 isolating cities, towns and villages and by the building of the “Separation Barrier.”

What do we know about suicide bombers?
Many families of Palestinian suicide bombers have indicated that the bomber was depressed and fed up with life under occupation.  Under those circumstances, bombers volunteer.  Many Israeli analysts have recognized that life under occupation breeds extremism and they see this as a reason to change conditions in the occupied territories.  All such attacks against civilian targets, no matter who carries them out, are considered inexcusable by churches and international humanitarian agencies as well as by those who uphold international law.

Do the Palestinians actually want to eliminate the State of Israel?

Part of the original PLO charter called for the elimination of Israel, but it was subsequently rescinded in a public vote and witnessed by the world in 1996 when the Palestinian National Council (representing all Palestinians everywhere) voted to accept the Oslo Accords.  The letters between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Rabin at the time of the Oslo accords (1993) identify the Palestinian area as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.  This amounts to about 22% of the original Palestine of the British Mandate period and is the area on which the Palestinians want to establish their state.

The Palestinian Authority does not want to eliminate the State of Israel and, in fact, the Palestinian economy has become interdependent with Israel.  Most Palestinians have accepted the existence of the State of Israel and are willing to live with Israelis.

What was the outcome of the Second Intifada?
The Palestinian situation became worse.  As of October 2004, 1017 Israelis and 3549 Palestinians were killed (621 Palestinian children below the age of 17 are included in that number).  30% of Palestinian children suffer from chronic malnutrition and 298 Palestinian school have been shelled or broken into by the Israelis.

Median monthly income has decreased from 620 US$ to 355 US$.  Forty-three percent of Palestinian households report problems in gaining access to health services and 38.4% report a need for food. (Caritas International, 2004)

2005 General Assembly: Suicide Bombing and Our Commitment to Peacemaking

Back to the top 

Peace Treaties and Movements

Why don’t Israelis and Palestinians just end the conflict and come to the negotiating table?
The two groups have come to the negotiation table many times and the various statements and accords they have agreed upon have been broken by one side or by both.

This is a conflict between an occupying power and the occupied people and not a conflict between two equal and sovereign countries.  Israel exercises massive military, economic, political and diplomatic advantages and there exists a strong Palestinian resistance movement.  Negotiations are difficult under such circumstances.  In addition, the United States has disproportionately supported Israel and has not been truly neutral or even- handed as a mediator, even when it claims the status as negotiator.  In 2004, President George W. Bush declared his support of the settlements in the West Bank, reversing the stance of the United States.  President Barack Obama stated that negotiations toward resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict area a priority.

Why did the Oslo Peace Process (Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements in 1993) fail?
The Oslo Accords defined a process and established a time line to resolve the outstanding issues but it was not a peace treaty in itself.  Jonathan Kuttab, a well-known Palestinian human rights lawyer, suggested that there were flaws in the Accords themselves: they neutralized international law; they failed to provide a meaningful method of resolving disputes; they divided the Occupied Territories into three types of areas without contiguity; they left the most serious issues until last; there were no means of enforcement or monitoring; the Palestinian leadership was expected to enforce Israeli decisions on the Palestinian people.  (Witness Magazine, September 2001)

What is more, between 1993 and 2000, Palestinians experienced a continuation of the military occupation, further settlement expansion, closures of towns or large areas, home demolitions, land confiscation and human rights violations.  In signing the Oslo Accords, Palestinians made the compromise to accept the State of Israel on 78% of the original land of Mandated Palestine and their own State on 22%.  The Peace Process left the Palestinians worse off than before and with even less land.

What is the meaning of Areas A, B, and C in the Oslo Process and beyond?
Since the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, the West Bank is divided into areas with alphabetic designations.  “A” areas contain densely populated communities such as Bethlehem, Nablus, Ramallah, and Jenin and they were to be under Palestinian civil and security control.  The “B” areas have Palestinian civilian authority but Israeli “security control” (military) and are located around Palestinian villages.  Area C is under Israeli civil and military control and comprises what is left after areas A and B are designated.  Since areas A and B are not contiguous, Israel can and does separate them from each other, leaving the West Bank cut up into isolated areas.

Why did Yasir Arafat turn down the “generous offer” made in July 2000 at Camp David?
At the time, each side blamed the other and the most vocal rhetoric included the idea that Mr. Arafat turned down a generous offer.  Subsequently the fact-finding committee led by Senator George J. Mitchell did not find either side responsible for the violence that followed the breakdown of negotiations.  Lost in the conflict that ensued in September 2000, were a number of facts about the Camp David meeting:

  1. There had been prior peace meetings and negotiations that spring and this was not a one-time meeting;
  2. Mr. Arafat had been reluctant to engage in a major summit meeting at that time before he had chance to deal with other internal issues but President Clinton insisted.  Mr. Arafat, in stating his reluctance, received President Clinton’s promise not to blame him if the negotiations were unsuccessful, but Mr. Clinton broke that promise.
  3. The exact dimensions of the “generous offer” were not disclosed at the time but have been since.  The offer would have left Palestine with a non-contiguous state on significantly less than 22% of mandated Palestine.  The West Bank itself would have been divided into three main non-contiguous areas, along with Israeli control over the internal borders and water supplies as well as the external borders. (The Palestinians had already conceded that they were dealing only with the 22% of mandated Palestine in the Oslo Accords.)  Settlement blocs, to be controlled by Israel, would incorporate Palestinian villages with about 90,000 inhabitants and much of the West Bank’s fertile land.  Mr. Arafat did not see this as a generous offer. The status of Jerusalem and refugees was not resolved.

In the summer of 2001 a number of articles were published by respected people about the 2000 meeting at Camp David.  See the July 26th front page story in The New York Times and the August 9, 2001, New York Review of Books article on”Camp David: Tragedy of Errors” by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley.  These articles brought to the fore a broader consensus on the Camp David failure and indicated that all parties, not just Mr. Arafat, were to blame.

What was different about the Taba (Egypt) meeting in 2001 and why did it fail to bring an agreement?
After Camp David, negotiations continued.  In late December 2000, President Clinton presented a new proposal that included Palestinian control over nearly 96% of the West Bank,  the guaranteed right of refugees to return to Palestine and a negotiated possibility of living in Israel, Palestinian control of Arab sections of Jerusalem, and Israeli control of Jewish section of Jerusalem.  Israel would have sovereignty over the Western Wall and Palestine over the Noble Sanctuary (Haram ash-Sharif).  This did not take Jerusalem back to the pre-1967 borders but conceded parts of the Old City and the new Jewish “neighborhoods” to Israel.

Both Israelis and Palestinians felt that the session in Taba was positive and that tangible steps were taken.  The discussions were suspended because of the impending elections in Israel.  After Mr. Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister on February 6, 2001, Mr. Barak repudiated Clinton’s offers and Mr. Sharon has never renewed negotiations.

Were their other initiatives toward peace in 2001 and beyond?
Yes, there are several: the Zinni Plan, the Tenet Plan, the Arab Peace Initiative, the Road Map and the Geneva Accords.

What is the Arab Peace Initiative?
The Saudi Crown Prince proposed a peace plan, which was endorsed by the Arab League.  It promised recognition of Israel and normalization of relations by Arab League states in exchange for ending the Israeli occupation

What is the Road Map?
A group of four entities called the Quartet (United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations) set out a Road Map calling for a negotiated settlement to result in a democratic, independent and viable Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel by 2005.   It is not a final status plan but a series of steps for the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel designed to calm the conflict, create a provisional Palestinian state and allow for negotiation of a final status agreement.  It is a performance-based plan. 

What is the Geneva Accord (Geneva Peace Initiative) ?
The Geneva Accord is an agreement made in 2003 between an Israeli delegation led by Yossi Beilin, who had major responsibility in negotiating the Oslo Agreement, and a Palestinian delegation led by Yasser Abed Rabbo, former Minister of Information of the Palestinian Authority.  Although they were not actually representing their governments, the leaders had been involved in previous negotiations and wanted to prove that negotiations were possible.  Unlike the Oslo Agreement, this plan did not call for confidence building measures but an immediate settlement of many of the outstanding issues. It has no relation to the Geneva Conventions signed in 1949 other than the location of the city.

What Does the Geneva Accord call for?
Some of the major points are:

  1. There will be a two state solution.
  2. The Palestinians will recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
  3. Israel will recognize the state of Palestine and withdraw settlers from inside it.
  4. The pre-1967 border will be the border between the states with some adjustments.
  5. Adjustments will be made to allow parts of the settlement population to be annexed to Israel in exchange for comparable Israeli land.
  6. Palestinian refugees will be entitled to compensation for their refugee status and loss of property, but they will not have rights to return to Israel.  They may return to  Palestine or remain in diaspora.
  7. Sovereignty over Jerusalem will be divided.
  8. An international peacekeeping force will be invited in to help in its implementation.

Is there an Israeli peace movement?
Yes, there are a number of organizations working on peace and human rights within Israel.  There are branches in other countries as well.  Some groups are Rabbis for Human Rights, Coalition of Women for a Just Peace (Israeli and Palestinian), Gush Shalom, Yesh Gvul, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Bat Shalom, Women in Black, B’Tselem, and Peace Now, Machsom Watch, Bereaved Parents Circle (with Palestinians), Physicians for Human Rights, and others.

Is there a Palestinian peace movement? 
Yes, but the Palestinians are under occupation and want justice, human rights and their independence in a peace settlement so those issues dominate the agenda.   It can be described as a Just Peace movement.  Some groups are Sabeel Liberation Theology Center, Palestinian Center for Rapproachment Between People, Al Haq: Law in the Service of Man, Bir Zeit Human Rights Action Project, Palestine Human Rights Information Center, Wi’am (Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center), BADIL, the Association of Arab Students, Defense for Children International and the International Center of Bethlehem.

Are there Arab groups in the U.S. supporting an Israeli/Palestinian peace?  
Arab organizations include the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the American Committee on Jerusalem, Al-Awda Palestinian Right to Return Coalition.  Many Christian denominations working on this issue include Arabs in their staff and have Arabs in their congregations.

Are there Christian or Muslim Groups in the U.S. supporting an Israeli/Palestinian peace?
Specific groups include the National Council of Churches of Christ, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, American Friends Service Committee, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Americans for Middle East Understanding,  Friends of Sabeel North America, and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine and Israel (sponsored by the World Council of Churches) are Christian organizations.  The Muslim Peace Fellowship, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are Muslim organizations.

The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative is a coalition of Jewish and Muslim organizations and Christian churches advocating for a two-state solution and a robust U.S. involvement in bringing that about.  Many Christian denominations support peace through resolutions passed at national meetings, special groups of churches and parishioners, and through staff working on the issue.

Back to the top 

The Separation Barrier

What is the Separation Barrier? 
In the name of security, the Israelis are building a barrier on West Bank land east of, and along, the armistice line (called the Green Line).  This land, in most people’s mind is the future state of Palestine.   It is sometimes called a wall, a fence, an apartheid wall, a security barrier, etc.  The International Court of Justice has used the term “wall” in its decision.

What is the Israeli’s stated goal in building this barrier? 
The Israeli reasoning is that it will prevent Palestinian terrorism from reaching Israeli citizens, particularly those living in Israeli settlements.  Many other people believe it is a plan to confiscate more land from the Palestinians or to make them flee the area.  Since the barrier goes deep inside the West Bank in some places, they also believe it undermines the viability of a future Palestinian State.

What is the route of this barrier?
The wall is built along the Green Line in some places with much of it on West Bank land. It weaves in and out of the West Bank “attaching” settlements to Israel.  It will be close to 700 kilometers long and will prevent Palestinian access to about 55% of the West Bank and 65% of the water resources. According to past agreements the final border between Israel and the Palestinian Territory was to be negotiated. The Israeli government has also announced that another barrier will be built to the east separating the Palestinians lands from the Jordan River.

The current Wall is a wide expanse (60 to 100 meters wide) of concrete walls, trenches, roads, razor wire and electronic surveillance.  It also includes guard towers and gates at intervals.  See map at

What is the effect of this wall on the Palestinian people? 
The wall partly separates Palestinians from Israelis but in many places it separates Palestinians from Palestinians.  It separates Palestinian children and teachers from schools, villages from clinics and hospitals, farmers from their farm lands and sources of water, etc.  In some cases it goes right through convents and monasteries or down the middle of a street.

What is the “Seam Zone”?
One-half million of the three million Palestinians in the West Bank will be trapped between the Green Line and the Separation Barrier.  Palestinians, whose homes are in the so called “Seam Zone,” will have to get permits to live in their own houses, farm their own land, pick their own olives, etc.  These permits have to be renewed every few months and there is no guarantee that a permit will be renewed.  There is also no promise that the permit will be appropriate to the harvest or planting time.

For example, The Mennonite Central Committee reports on farmers in Jayyous who rely on agriculture for their livelihood.  “Seventy percent of Jayyous’ farmland, including all seven village wells needed for crop irrigation, ended up on the other side of the barrier.  There are gates, but Israeli soldiers determine when they are opened and for whom.”  (page 7, A Common Place, September/October 2004)

What is the result of the court case brought before the Israeli high court? 
In late July, 2004 the Israeli High Court ordered the rerouting of a segment of the barrier and froze construction on another part of the barrier.  In its first decision the court ordered the Israeli government to reroute about 20 miles of the barrier northwest of Jerusalem.  The court did not determine a new route.  In the second decision the court put a temporary suspension on construction near Har Homa, a settlement in the Bethlehem district.
How did the United Nations react to the barrier? 
The General Assembly, in 2003, asked the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on the barrier.  The Court issued its opinion on July 9, 2004 saying that “the 450 mile-long system of walls and fences in the occupied territory ‘gravely’ infringed on the rights of Palestinians, could not be justified by military needs or national security, and violated international law.” (Press Release GA/10248 from the UN) 

The Advisory said that the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip were under military occupation by Israel and that the Fourth Geneva Convention applied.  It also declared that it is the location of the wall, not the concept, that is illegal and that Israel owes reparations for its destruction of Palestinian land and buildings.

The Court recognized that Israel had suffered from violence and has the duty to protect its own citizens.  On the other hand, it stated that the route of the wall gravely infringes on Palestinian rights.  The Court also stated that the policy of building settlements in occupied territory is illegal under international law.  All Nation States who are party to the Fourth Geneva Convention have an obligation to ensure compliance by Israel.

What has been the follow up to the ICJ decision? 
The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on July 20, 2004 to demand that Israel comply with its legal obligations as in the advisory opinion issued by the ICJ (150  in favor with 6 against and 10 abstentions.).  It also called on all United National Member States to comply with their obligations as outlined in the advisory opinion.  Switzerland, as the depository of the Geneva Conventions, has been asked to report back to the General Assembly on the matter.

The United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have both adopted resolutions on the Separation Barrier.

2005 General Assembly: Breaking Down the Dividing Wall
2005 General Synod Resolution: Tear Down the Wall

Back to the top 

Ask Yourself

What can I do to help make peace?
You can pray individually or as part of a vigil for peace.  Try to get more balanced information and write to people in power about your insights.  Some groups, such as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, sponsored by the World Council of Churches, and the Christian Peacemaker Teams affiliated with the historic peace churches, are going to the West Bank and Gaza and standing in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis.  Others go as observers and report back in the United States and other countries.   Non-profit agencies have requested money to develop small businesses and to provide work stipends for the unemployed and food for the hungry.  You can also join an advocacy network sponsored by your local church, denomination, CMEP (Churches for Middle East Peace) or other organizations.

Where can I get balanced information if not from the media?
Some of the media give balanced information but much of it is couched in terms that bias the reader’s perceptions of Palestinians and the occupation.  For example, Israelis who are killed are reported with names and data about their families.  Historically, Palestinians were reported as statistics unless they were well-known persons.  Incidents usually are reported out of context and almost always Palestinians are described as instigators when they respond to Israeli actions.  Military actions and violent provocations by Israelis are almost always described as retaliations.   Few reports show the great disparity in weaponry being used.  More frequently now, the media remind people that the Palestinians have been occupied by Israel for over 35 years and are resisting that occupation.  Many people are now turning to the Internet and emails from church representatives and agencies in the Middle East for their information.

References used directly in text:
 “The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict” third edition, published by Jews for Justice in the Middle East, P.O. Box 14561, Berkeley, California 94712. 
 Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999 by Benny Morris (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999).
“Land for Peace? An Analysis of what went wrong” by Jonathan Kuttab, The Witness, September 2001, Episcopal Church Publishing Co., Tenants Harbor, Maine 04861.
 Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Charles D. Smith, St. Martin’s Press, 1992 and Bedford Press, 1995. (Reprinted 2001)

Back to the top