This is Part II of a two-part article attempting to lay out “the basics” of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Before reading the text below, I strongly encourage you to start out by reading Part I (click here).

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Modern History, continued…

Part I of this article ended with the fledgling nation of Israel going to war against her neighbors in what Israelis call their “War of Independence.”  This turned out to be the first of many such wars between Israel and the Arab countries nearby.

When the dust finally settled from one of these conflicts, the 1967 “Six Day War,” the borders of modern-day Israel and Palestine were pretty much how they are today, with Israel in control of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Now, as with most wars, civilians here have tended to suffer the most.  Through decades of fighting, many Palestinian villages have been abandoned, destroyed or forcibly evacuated.  Palestinian refugees have spread across the world, many still unable to return to their homes.

Over the years, a very tiny handful of these refugees, frustrated by their helpless situation and fueled by militant fundamentalist groups from neighboring countries, have turned to terrorism.  Believing that they are following the will of God, they have set off bombs at bus stations and crowded restaurants, killing hundreds of Israelis.

With such a war-torn past, the Israeli Defense Forces are always adding new recruits.

Every time suicide bombers kill Israeli civilians, however, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) cracks down even harder, leading to even more pent-up frustration among the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world which often leads to even more terrorist attacks.

This spiral of cause and effect, which has gone on for decades, has led the region into what many people call an “intractable conflict.” Everyone feels like the victim and nobody wants to make concessions to their enemy.

The Options

So that brings us to today… Israelis, feeling surrounded and vulnerable, continue to build their defenses while Palestinians, feeling subjugated and oppressed, continue to cry out for justice.

On the table are four major options for how to move forward.  As you’re quickly see, none of the options satisfy everyone.

Option #1: Israel Only. Favored by hard-right extremist Zionists, this plan would call for the complete annexation of all land promised to the Israelites in the Bible, along with the removal of non-Jews.  Clearly, this is not a viable option from the perspective of the Palestinians who live here.

Bethlehem, a thoroughly Arab town, feels worlds away from downtown Jerusalem, just a single bus ride away.

Option #2: Palestine Only. Several hard-left fundamentalist groups (and even some Arab governments) are calling for the absolute removal of the nation of Israel from the land.  Again, Israelis will never accept such a plan.

Option #3: A One State Solution. Quite a few reformers in recent decades have suggested the merging of Israel and Palestine into a single country.  However, because there are so many non-Jews living on the land, this option would mean that Israel would cease to be a Jewish state, a possibility that is unacceptable to many Israelis.

Option #4: A Two State Solution. Finally, the option that seems to hold the most sway right now is that of creating two separate nations, Israel and Palestine.  Although it would ease many tensions, there are still many on both sides who do not want to see a significant part of “their” land given away.

And that’s about it.  Other than continuing today’s volatile status quo, there are few viable alternatives to work with.

Obstacles

Many, many people have tried to bring an end to the conflict here.  European, North American and Middle Eastern leaders have been intervening for almost a century.  But despite all their hard work and good intentions, there are several major obstacles standing in the way of peace.

A Jewish settlement built just on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

First of all, there is terrorism.  The deeply rooted fear that a bomb could go off at any time has put a colossal wall between Israel and its perceived enemies (both literally and figuratively).  Even though the vast majority of Palestinians are peaceful, Israelis still legitimately fear what would happen if they let their guard down.

Second, there are the settlements.  For decades, the Israeli government has given the go-ahead for construction of Jewish “settlements” within the West Bank and Gaza.  These neighborhoods, often built on land claimed by Palestinians, have created a lot of tension as they use up local resources like water and electricity and cut Palestinians off from areas of the country once accessible.

Finally, there is theology.  Simply put, extreme views on both sides have made reform very difficult.  Fundamentalist Muslims have no place for Israel in their worldview, and Jewish and Christian Zionists will not be satisfied until Israel owns every square inch of the land.

Hope?

With so many obstacles in the way, it may seem like the situation is truly hopeless.  But while many people have given up on the Holy Land, I’m starting to see why the folks at Musalaha believe things here will really change.

An Israeli girl in Jerusalem. Will her generation see change?

Through their Desert Encounter and reconciliation ministries, Musalaha has seen time and time again the beginning stages of reconciliation taking place on both sides of the conflict, something that would seem impossible if not for the powerful work of the kingdom of God.

Israelis learning to look past stereotypes, Palestinians beginning to forgive…

Are they all going home and making radical changes to the systems and hatreds all around them?  No.  But seeds of reconciliation are being planted across this land and against all odds the impossible is starting to happen.

Those seeds are starting to grow…

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Well, there’s my stab at condensing vast amounts of emotionally charged ideas, volatile political stances, generations of societal injustices and a complex international conflict into a tiny, two-part article.

I’m gonna guess I missed a thing or two.  :-)

If there is something you want to learn more about, by all means leave a comment below.  If you think I got some facts wrong, let me know!  My goal is to help us all understand the situation better, so please tell me what you want to learn.

Otherwise, get ready, because it’s time to dive in a bit deeper…

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Next Steps
    • One of the most helpful books I read to prepare me for this trip was The Israelis, by Donna Rosenthal. History, culture, humor… It’s all in there!
    • Consider supporting the work of Musalaha by helping to cover the cost of an Israeli or Palestinian student going on a “Desert Encounter.” Click here for more information.
    • The other day I heard a great line from Dr. Salim J. Munayer: “Apathy is the biggest sin of the church… not hatred.” Pray that we would be roused from our apathy regarding these issues!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Chuck Easton said... 

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    April 24th, 2011 at 9:09 am  

    Great stories and perspective. Reconciliation is all of our responsibility, reconciling all of us to God and each other. May their work increase. Thanks for telling us about Musalaha. Bring me back a stone from Jerusalem.

  2. Jessica said... 

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    April 24th, 2011 at 9:50 am  

    Praying against apathy and for courage to keep digging into this…thanks Barry!

  3. Jo said... 

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    April 24th, 2011 at 10:01 am  

    Barry, I really appreciate this quick lesson. From my media-laced view as my basic education, it has been nearly impossible to understand what the real issues are. What is interesting to me ABOUT me is that now that I have a tiny and basic understanding, I’m much more interested in “the whole story.” If I get the opportunity to get past the “war” and terrorism and the “news” and look at the people and the loss and frustration, I do care more about the whole story. So thanks.

  4. Jim.M said... 

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    April 24th, 2011 at 12:06 pm  

    OK my friend, good,… but not enough. Part III please. These stories are about the territory and the cry for a home, and the “I want my share” solutions to the territorial conflict.

    You touched on it with “Simply put, extreme views on both sides have made reform very difficult”…Opening the door I hope for Part III.

    I know in this “comments” section we do not usually ask for more, and it may be difficult to articulate what the people you are with think, and feel, and the opinions they hold.

    What fuels this conflict? What is the thing standing in the way of the desire of the human heart for community .

    What are the people like, and how is Musalaha effecting change of heart,… reconciliation.

    So many questions after reading this. Yes, I saw the next steps reading assignment but don’t let the story stop here.

    Like a good concert…if we stand on our feet and clap long enough, will there be an encore?

    Hope all is well :) Happy Easter.

  5. Maeven said... 

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    April 24th, 2011 at 5:41 pm  

    Barry- you are helping those of us thousands of miles away wake up to the injustices of our world. I learned a ton from your little article and it only illuminates how much I don’t know and we as North Americans DON’T KNOW and don’t make time to know.
    Thanks for your noble attempt at educating us here in the States. You’ve taken on a huge challenge, but it’s worth it.
    Keep going…

  6. Dave Rod said... 

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    April 24th, 2011 at 8:12 pm  

    Barry, great overview. Don’t know if you tackled a more complicated issue of justice. We’re anxious for more.

  7. Sharon said... 

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    April 24th, 2011 at 10:19 pm  

    As I see it, WND is on the frontlines of the fight against apathy–dragging us away from the comfort and easy answers of the bird’s-eye-view into the complex hardships of other peoples’ lives. Putting a “face” on the soundbites we hear from the media. Thanks.

    BTW–love the picture of the little girl!

  8. Cal said... 

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    April 25th, 2011 at 11:56 am  

    Keep writing. Keep sharing. Keep on doing what you’re doing. Keep on keeping on. Can there be a Part III ? I hope so !

  9. Penny Rodriguez said... 

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    April 26th, 2011 at 11:10 am  

    i too am voting for Part III!

  10. Lindsay Helmbock said... 

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    April 26th, 2011 at 6:45 pm  

    Part I and Part II- really needed the overview, thanks! I was wondering, have the people you’ve talked with mentioned their views and opinions about outside/international (specifically the United States) intervention? It seems to me the United States has had a hand in the matter and been involved for quite a while (well, in my lifetime at least) and I’m interested to see if those you’ve been around have said anything about that. Just curious… looking forward to more!

  11. Rob said... 

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    April 27th, 2011 at 6:44 pm  

    Since the demand is clearly in view for Part III I will do my part in prodding the writing of additional volumes.
    For example, one could be through the eyes of children. Another might be “person on the street” responses to filling in blank statement likes:
    (a) Peace will come only when _______.
    (b) I want the world to know ____________ (c) “Reconciliation and peace will come only when I __________”.
    Woe. I’d best stop or you might have to live there…

  12. Jane VanOsdol said... 

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    May 18th, 2011 at 10:37 pm  

    How courageous of Musalaha to be doing God’s work here. Because He is the only one who can bring change in this thousands-year conflict.

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