Perspectives and history
It is difficult to write about this area without acknowledging that language carries a significant baggage of bias and misrepresentation. This inherent weakness can be ameliorated but not completely overcome only be trying to shed as much as possible of our cultural baggage to look at things with a fresh eye. For example, what is it that we mean by the Middle East. East of what? Isn't the earth round and for those in Taiwan, the US is east of them? Upon careful review, one sees that such a word is Eurocentric with an inherent bias. These words that the colonizers developed have now so inundated our vocabulary that it is difficult to even be aware of our use of them. Further, one could also clearly see that putting maps of the globe always with the US and Europe on the top is not any more correct than putting hem on the bottom. Afterall, the earth viewed from space has no top or bottom and merely depends on the position of the viewer in space.
Many books have been written claiming a struggle between "Arabs" and "Jews." Yet such a misleading terminology given without definition is accepted by many. Is an Arab someone whose mother tongue is Arabic? If so, would that then not include all those who practice the Jewish religion but whose language is Arabic (some one million people)? How about the 30 million Christians whose mother-tongue is Arabic? Is a Jew anyone who practices Rabbinical Judaism (developed in the third century AD)? Would those Jews who stopped practicing their religion count as Jewish? Would the Samaritans count as Jews (they practice an ancient Hebrew religion that predates Rabbinical Judaism). Would those who are secular and have never set foot in a synagogue be considered Jews? How does one deal with converts from one religion to another. Could Christians be considered also Jews because they ascribe also to the old testament and merely added to it. Should Muslims?
The land in question was called in history by various names, loaded terms that reflect certain ideological and political values: the Land of Canaan, Filastine, Palestine, Israel, Judea, Philistia, Bilad Al-Sham, and the Holy Land. When Israel was established, 530 Palestinain towns and villages were completely destroyed and their inhabitants expelled or fled. Israeli authorities then proceeded to rename every locality, every creek and river, and every hill and mountain. A special commissions was set-up just to do that while the Jewish agency imported hundreds of thousands of colonists in the 1950s to settle them in these renamed places. The Zionist movement made sure its educational system allowed settlers to quickly identify with the localities under the new given names, a way to tie the new immigrants to the ancient land. In struggling over control of this land, the etemiology and etiology of this conflict were intertwined.
While the burdened history mirrors that of other parts of the world, the intensity and strength of conviction of the monotheistic religions added more emotional and etemiological baggage. Some would argue that the added spirituality and public involvement of the monotheistic religions added fuel to the violence. Some would argue that religion is the best solution. But in either case, this conflict is not a religious conflict, it is a conflict which pitted a secular political movement (Zionism) against a native people whose answer to this political movement involved development of their own internal nationalism (pan-Arab or the limited Palestinian form of nationalism). Both native and outside people who ascribe to various religions supported one or the other political discourse but never along strictly religious lines. Palestinian Christians and many Palestinian Jews opposed Zionism for example. Some evangelical Christians have a dispesationalist interpretation of the Bible quite different than some more mainstream Christian theology. Some of them (like most Southern Baptists) thus strongly advocated Zionism. While one should never underestimate religious contributions, the facts of the past 55 years argue that all key decisions of war and peace were done by people with little or no religious agenda. Essentially all leaders of Israel have been secular as are the mainstream Palestinian movements (e.g. Fatah, PFLP, DFLP). Parties and groups like United Tora Judaism, Shas, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad are not but these have been more recent phenomena on the scene. Their impact is yet to be felt. In addressing how to solve the problem we must first deal with its political and social roots and these have been primarily not religious.
One could state that the history of the Palestinian conflict is a history of the Zionist program. Understanding this program and its history of successes and failures can be instructive. The Jewish population of Israel/Palestine grew from about 60,000 in 1917 at the eve of the Balfour Declaration to almost 5 million today. Land ownership in the past 60 years has been altered from 93% Christian and Muslim to now majority controlled by a supranational “Jewish National Fund” and Israel Lands Authority (both to service what is stated as the interests of “Jewish people everywhere”). Yet, west of the river Jordan, disenfrachized and ghettoized, live some 5 million Palestinians under varying degrees of Israeli Zionist control. Of the total (roughly 9 million) Palestinians in the world, over 5 million are refugees or so called "displaced persons." This picture has been the source of incredible violence whose victims have been by and large Palestinians but also Israeli. Despite all teh violence that is now almost stereotypically associated with the Midde East, people do manage to work towards peace by non-violent methods. It is these non-violent methods offering the possibility of equality, coexistence, and redress of injustice that are the subject of this book. Before going deeply into this topic, I want to review in this first chapter briefly the history and nature of the conflict. This will have to be brief as it is covered extensively in hundreds of books. For those wanting a few books to cover the issues, I highly recommend books by Edward Said, Ilan Pappe, Nur Masalha, Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, and Tom Segev. These Palestinian and Israeli authors capture history and essence of the conflict outside of the classic Nationalist Palestinian, Islamist, or Israeli Zionist discourses.
The history of this area is a history of human civilization from its dawn. Neanderthal and Neolithic humans prospered in this area as in the rest of what was known as the fertile crescent, an area stretching form Iraq to Syria, Lebanon, and to Palestine. With development of agriculture and a stable food source, city-states evolved. These city-states sometimes competed and warred over resources and sometimes cooperated and traded. The rich Sumerian and Canaanitic cultures are now regarded as the cradles of civilization. Earlier languages like proto-Aramac gave rise to Arabic and Hebrew. Canaantites first developed he alphabet. This alphabet has evolved and is now used by most of the world population in writings from European languages to later Canaantitic languages (like Aramic, Hebrew, and Arabic) to many south Asian languages. Cultural and religious developments apparently occurred in this levantine mixed environment. Biblical texts were developed but in most cases reflected religious and mythological needs rather than historical documents. Yet, people of the area, native in every sence of the word acquired new religions and submitted to new rulers as they came along. Native Canaanites thus acquired monotheistic traditions of the 'abiru (Hebrews, what later became known as the Jewish religion), Roman Pagan religions, Chritistianity (various forms of it that followed the teaching of Jesus or Yesou3), Islam, among many other traditions.
For a time line and key histrical events, visit Palestinian History.