…a struggle for peace after a century of conflict
For nearly a century, the violence between Israel and the Palestinian territories has made the people of differing beliefs question their own ability to maintain peace. The conflict’s starting point is so long ago that it seems as though the unrest will never end and a solution for peace is still distant.
Also known as the Holy Land, Palestine is the geographical region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that is comprised of territories not controlled by Israel. These territories are now comprised of only one area, the “Gaza Strip,” a strip of land on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel, the country surrounding the Gaza Strip, is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and is significantly larger than Gaza.
Many Palestinians are impoverished. The area itself has a very high unemployment rate and is kept in isolation by the surrounding country’s forces—the Israeli military. The Palestinian area is ruled by Hamas, which is an anti-Israeli rallying terrorist organization. Some Palestinians live in the West Bank, but it is under complete control of Israel.
How did it all start?
In 1948 the United Nations declared that the territory previously known completely as Palestine would be broken up into two differing countries: Israel and Palestine. There was great opposition to this and Arab leaders fought for the country to stay as a completely Arab Palestine. They invaded and fought until the two were so different spatially that morale was low. The Palestinians ended up with much less land than the Israelis, and Palestine was left with the only area it still controls today—the Gaza Strip.
History of tension and violence
The group that controls the Palestinian territories, Hamas, has been notorious for vicious violent acts against Israel, but this is not to say they don’t endure great amounts of attacks as well. Hamas’ acts of terrorism against the people and their enemy’s territory itself have shown its nature of constant unrest with their current state. Hamas fires unguided and destructive rockets into Israel, often causing great distress. The Israelis control their own country along with the West Bank, and often invade Palestine to try to keep the amount of violent disrupters as small as possible. Both sides are capable of violent acts because of their dissatisfaction with each other and tensions caused by religious differences.
The constant need for Israel to go into Palestine to control the amount of violence directed against them is something that has not been resolved and continues to happen. Each time, the people wonder whether they are coming closer to all-out war. Recently, violence has escalated and the regional perils of the situation have intensified. Israel launched an air campaign on November 14th against targets associated with Hamas, causing repeated fire between the two groups—marking the first major conflict since the war between them in 2008.
Gusties take notice
Although the conflict between Israel and palestine is an ever-present issue, it has recently come to the forefront of global attention due to the recent outbrea in violence.
“The conflict is always there, but the flare-ups (hopefully short-lived this time) harden positions. They hurt moderate voices,” Associate Professor, Chair in Political Science and Director in Peace Studies Mimi Gerstbauer said. “The most recent flare-up began when the Hamas leader Ahmed al-Jabari was assassinated. Hamas lobs rockets toward civilian populated areas inside Israel, and Israeli attitudes toward Hamas and Palestinians harden. Violence hurts the potential for peace.”
Students who have studied or will study abroad in Israel are especially aware of the violence and political controversy that surrounds the area.
Being completely aware of the issue and knowing the background behind it is no easy task, but many students tackle the task in a hope that they will have a nire comprehensive understanding of the conflict.
“I was accepted to study abroad in Israel last Wednesday, and literally the next day was when the crisis hit news stands. It was everywhere. I decided to start following Israeli news stations and updating myself about the issues of the place that I’ll be studying—even more than before,” Environmental Studies Major Samuel Warburton ’14 said.
“At first walking around and seeing machine guns is uncomfortable. You could always feel the tension. I traveled there at the beginning without an understanding of it, which was nice because I got to decide for myself how I felt about it without the media involved,” Religion Major Ellen Miller ’13 said.
For Ellen and Jacob Niewinski ‘13, two religion majors who have traveled to Israel, watching the separation was both fascinating and unsettling.
“Living in Jerusalem was very interesting, but challenging at times. Jerusalem, to me, actually felt very divided, which was directly linked to the Israel-Palestine conflict. There were clear differences between the Israeli citizens and the Arab citizens, where they lived, what buses they took, what markets they shopped at, and even what quarter of the Old City they went to. Some of my friends and myself felt the need to spend time with both sides,” Religion Major Jacob Niewinski ’13 said.
Dating back numerous decades, this conflict is clearly more complicated than a simple headline—the importance of educating yourself is one of the best tools you can have towards being more knowledgeable about global issues.
“There is not a single Israeli perspective or Jewish perspective and a single Palestinian perspective. The citizens are divided and over the years the governments and their leaders have also had varying positions,” Gerstbauer said.
Gerstbauer made it clear that our definitions of terrorism, our opinions of war and our expectance of peace can be misguided because sometimes we don’t have the full story.
“What is considered just in war absolutely becomes clouded by who we think has the just cause. Clearly this is an asymmetric conflict, with Israel dominating the Palestinians. Palestinians are clearly disadvantaged and oppressed,” Gerstbauer said. “That said, just because more Palestinians die than Israelis does not mean Israel’s actions are unjust.”
“I want students to know that the conflict is so complicated, and it goes so far back—it’s hard to take a stand on it based on a couple of factors. I hold this stance about life in general because of my travels: there is so much behind everything that happens that you draw conclusions based on little knowledge. Form your own opinions when you know the complete truth,” Miller said.
“Living in Jerusalem was crazy. It was interesting because the location of the school we studied in was in an Arab area, but it was a Jewish school. I wasn’t scared the conflict would hit us because we never saw that there was a threat. It’s just as much of a holy city for the Hamas as it is to the Israeli people. But we definitely got to experience the results of the conflict,” Miller said.
Although the basics of this issue can be read and absorbed in a few short paragraphs, the extremity and seriousness of this religious war, spread across decades, shows us how many different levels there are to global issues. The fighting seems endless, and each outbreak of violence complicates the conflict further.
“To work for peace can mean to stand on the side of justice and to root for the oppressed. I think this particular conflict could use more peace voices that are able to empathize with the multiple perspectives on this complex conflict,” Gerstbauer said.
“I had to take an entire semester’s course to understand it myself. It is difficult because it is not something that I see being easily fixed/resolved. There is so much history between Palestine and Israel, started even before Israel became a nation. What is important to understand is that both sides feel victimized, and both for understandable reasons,” Niewinski said.
Both the students and the faculty hope to see peace on the horizon after the loss of so many lives and seemingly unresolvable conflict.