Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An Abridged History of Israel

It's kind of embarrassing, but until recently, I've only had a pretty rudimentary understanding of Middle East history. Though to be fair, I don't know much about string theory either, and that's probably less complicated. But I figured it would be a good idea to brush up before I actually moved there. I've been reading a bunch of stuff. So in the interest of future blog posts making any sense, I figured I'd give y'all the rundown as well. The following is a chronological summary of everything* that has happened in/around Israel for the past dozen or so centuries.

*where "everything" = stuff I didn't think was boring

It all begins in the
17th Century BC
Abraham, patriarch of Judaism, Islam and Christianity is born and starts talking about “One God”, as opposed to “Lots of Gods”. According to his Wikipedia page, he lived to be 175... which is totally plausible for a guy who didn't know what soap, medicine or science was.

13th Century BC
Moses does the stuff with the pharaohs and the plagues and the rocks. This time period also marks the height of Deistic badassitude.

The Moses People (henceforth ‘Jews’), invigorated by all the fire hail, blood water, baby-slaughtering and face-boiling, systematically conquer most of Israel.

1020 BC
The Jews consolidate power under a monarch – Saul. First major defeat of the people called Philistines (henceforth ‘Palestinians’).

1000 BC
Jerusalem made capital by Saul’s successor, David.

930 BC
Something really confusing about a Jewish insurrection and two separate states. But this is about the time when Assyrians and Babylonians start kicking the living shit out of everyone, so it really doesn’t matter.

722 BC
Aforementioned Assyrians and Babylonians have rolled into Israel and totally wrecked stuff.

It was at about this time that the Jews got together and decided that they should begin developing a religious framework to underpin their nationhood. This would irrevocably bind the Jews and their descendants to the land of Israel... So no matter where they went, that would be where they were meant to be. No future conflict anticipated.

23 AD
Jesus stuff. Does some preaching and is eventually found guilty of being a dangerously subversive loud-mouth that too many people were paying attention to. Accordingly, the Romans execute him in the most nondescript way they can think of: On top of a mountain during a lightning storm/earthquake.

536BC – 1576AD
Israel is militarily steamrolled in quick succession by Persians, Babylonians, Seleucids, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Persians again, Ninjas, Pirates, Mamluks, Arabs and Crusaders. This was all a part of someone’s plan to make the (already) arid terrain more hospitable by soaking it in nutrient/mineral-rich man blood for 1,000 years straight. There’s about 30 totally awesome screenplays in there somewhere. Epic battle sequences wooooo!

1517 – 1917
Ottoman rule. Still paying attention? Me neither.

The Ottomans are reasonably open-minded and let the Jews kind of do their own thing. Israel undergoes large-scale Jewish immigration. Mostly from the sort of awesome places where people could reasonably say, “Know what would be a more peaceful place to live? Israel.”

First World War. Ottomans chose the side that wasn’t with America and Great Britain (oops); subsequently get their shit ruined. Brits roll into Israel and pledge to establish “a Jewish national home in Palestine”. No future conflict anticipated.

1918 – 1948
British rule.

1918 – 1948
Inexplicable upswing in British people everywhere being totally fucking stressed out.

1939 – 1945
Holocaust in Europe. :(

State of Israel proclaimed into existence by the Brits. War erupts between Israelis, Palestinians, and pretty much everyone else in a 2 country radius. Britain backs slowly out of the room going, “ehhhhhhhhh”.

Though numerically and geographically overwhelmed, Israel has the support of something called America. Needless to say, Israel wins the war (after creating a little thing called the Israeli Defence Force – henceforth ‘IDF’) and sets about consolidating its borders.

Armistice agreement signed with Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon (all of Israel’s neighbours). Israel is inducted into the United Nations – which Arab states also got super pissed off about.

Sinai Campaign. The IDF captures the Gaza Strip and the whole of the Sinai Peninsula, constituting much of what is modern-day Israel. The UN declared a Whoa Shit Emergency, but the entire operation only lasted about a week, so whatever. In addition to “reconstituting the ancient Jewish homeland”, the Israelis also succeeded, coincidently, in procuring access to the Straits of Tiran and an open trade route to Asia.

Adolf Eichmann, who was a jerk, is tried and executed in Israel.

1967 – 1973
The Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War. Two more short conflicts between Israel and Egypt/Syria. Israel proves just how scrappy they are by winning both (mostly) decisively (kinda). Numerous disengagement, ceasefire and armistice agreements are signed.
Egypt also signs an agreement that closes its borders with the Gaza strip, a volatile Israeli-controlled area of Palestinian territory. This is seem as an abandonment of Palestinians by other Arab states.

Camp David Accords are signed. They are essentially the plans for general peace and the formation of an autonomous Palestinian government. But that latter doesn’t really happen. ...Nor does the former.

A bunch of Jews immigrate to Israel from Ethiopia. This isn’t really relevant to anything – I just thought it was interesting that there were Jews in Ethiopia.

Palestinian self government installed in the Gaza strip and Jericho. Expands over the next few years into different areas of the West Bank. “Palestinian territory” essentially consists of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The West Bank is an area surrounding Jerusalem (which is Israeli) to the North, South and East. Everything West of that – from Jerusalem to the Mediterranean coast – is Israeli. The heavily militarized Gaza Strip is the tiny piece of land connecting Israel to Egypt. It is essentially a fortress, totally encapsulated by the IDF. Even its border with Egypt is closed (save the network of caves that connect the two).

This is where it gets (more) complicated.


1987 – 1993
The First Intifada [Arabic: “Uprising”]. With no clear origin or central leadership, the First Intifada grew out of a general unrest, centered primarily in Palestinian refugee camps. The best description of the discontent I have heard is due to a perception amongst Palestinians of a “creeping process of de facto annexation”.

Sparks for conflict were abundant and unrest was rampant (the official containment policy of the Israelis was codenamed “Iron Fist” – go figure), so once hostilities began, they spread quickly. Casualties, for such a historically significant uprising, were low – 163 Israelis and 2,162 Palestinians (1,000 of whom were killed by other Palestinians as “collaborators”). The truly significant outcome was the shifting power structure within Palestine.

Up to this point, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had been weak and not particularly influential. During the intifada, however, it emerged as the only obvious source of central leadership for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, it was also known as a terrorist organization by most of the world. After the Six Day War, Palestinians lost a great deal of faith in their Arab neighbours and began to radicalize. A dude named Yasser Arafat and his Fatah political party, which had connections to a number of paramilitary (“fedayeen”) groups, used this radicalization to take control of the PLO.

Even though the PLO was taken largely by surprise by the First Intifada, the world began to recognize it as the de facto leadership organization of the Palestinian people.

Another group that’s worth taking note of at this point is Hamas. It's based in Gaza and is a radical Sunni Islamic organization with a long history of doing horrible shit (suicide bombing civilian targets, using human shields, recruiting child soldiers).

Oslo Peace Accords. The PLO and Israeli government secretly negotiated the Oslo Peace Accords as the First Intifada was winding down.

The Accords granted Palestinians the right to self-government. It also created the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was dominated by Yasser Arafat’s PLO and Fatah party. This marked a promisingly civilized turn in the PLO’s mission statement. From this point on, the PLO “officially recognized the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”. Others did not agree.

2000 – 2005
Second Intifada. This one started for pretty much the same reasons as the first: people on both sides who were generally pissed off. Technically, this one is still ongoing, but violence began to ebb in 2005.

This one resonates in memory a little better that the older stuff due to the wave of Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli military incursions that were all over the news for about half a decade.

Remember Hamas? Palestine held its first legitimate series of municipal elections in 2005. And Hamas won them, taking 74 of 132 seats – ousting the more moderate Fatah party, which Palestinians saw as being corrupt, ineffectual and overly-bureaucratic.

Hamas has openly backed down from its previously (and emphatically) stated goal of “obliterating” Israel, but the core of its charter remains unchanged. The full ramifications of their new, and legitimized, leadership position remain to be seen. Needless to say, Israel was not pleased when they won the elections.

2005 – 2010
Hamas and Israel are still at each other’s throats. Israel, and just about every Western power that matters, still views Hamas (and by corollary, the PLO?) as a terrorist organization. Low-level violence simmers (if you can call Hellfire strikes, gun battles and mortar attacks “low-level”).

Just now
Israel and Palestine resolve their differences. Disney Holy Land is opened, the Jonas Brothers add a few Gaza tour dates, and Israeli and Palestinian musicians join forces to record an uplifting new rendition of ‘We Are the World’. All good, mom!

Glossary of terms I didn't necessarily use but are still important:

Hezbollah: An Islamist political and paramilitary party based in Beirut. They, like Hamas, are generally viewed as terrorists (probably because they've got a pretty strong track record of blowing up buses with suicide bombers and shelling civilian neighborhoods). They're important because they've managed to set off the odd full-scale war between Israel and Lebanon.

Settlers: Israeli civilians who "settle" in Palestinian territory. Their placement is a huge point of contention because they basically set up shop wherever they damn well please and are protected by the IDF.

Terrorist: Something that has become exponentially more difficult to define over the past decade. While organizations like Al Qaeda fall safely within the distinction, others have started to blur as they move away from paramilitary activity and into politics. Hezbollah, for instance, is known to the US as a terrorist organization, but the Brits recognize their political wing as legitimate and the EU doesn't say anything at all.

SPF 40: It is going to be very sunny when I get there. Best be prepared.

Zionism: In the broadest sense, it is the notion that Jews deserve control over the State of Israel by merit of ancestory, historical persecution and religious affiliation. Hard-line Zionism is typically the stance held by right-wing Israelis - particularly Settlers.


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