Citation for Arab-Israeli Conflict

Citation styles are based on the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Ed., and the MLA Style Manual, 2nd Ed..


"Arab-Israeli Conflict." In The Islamic World: Past and Present. Ed. John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Jan 27, 2022. <>.


"Arab-Israeli Conflict." In The Islamic World: Past and Present. , edited by John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Jan 27, 2022).

Arab-Israeli Conflict

The conflict pitting Palestinian Arabs against Israelis has been simmering, and often boiling over, for nearly a century. It is a conflict that has political-historical, socio-economic, and psychological dimensions. Jewish communities have existed throughout the Mediterranean world since the days of the Roman Empire. In medieval times, large communities of Jews emerged in Muslim societies and in European countries. In Europe, the Jews lived mainly in ghettos and were subject to persecution and discrimination. In the 1800s, with the development of movements for national self-determination, some European Jewish intellectuals and activists decided that the time had come to establish a homeland for the Jews. Disagreement existed concerning the location of a Jewish state, but many eastern European Jews favored the establishment of a Jewish state (Israel) in Palestine, their historic homeland. The movement to establish a Jewish state is called Zionism.

The Arrival of Settlers.

Jewish settlers began to arrive in Palestine in the late 1800s. In 1917 British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour issued a statement favoring the creation “of a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. Although their leaders welcomed the Jews as refugees, many Palestinians (the indigenous Arab population of Palestine) viewed the arrival of Jewish settlers as a threat to their security and to their land. To justify the creation of Israel, Zionist leaders convinced the British government that Palestine was “a land without people” for the Jews to settle, serving both Zionist aims and British imperial interests.

During World War II ( 1939 – 1945 ), Jews had been the main victims of Nazi genocidal policies and more than six million had perished in the concentration camps of central Europe. This tragic annihilation of European Jewry, referred to as the Holocaust, led to the acceleration of Jewish immigration to Palestine. This, in turn, provoked clashes with the local Palestinian population. British forces armed both sides—Arabs and Jews. For the Palestinians, the British had betrayed the promises they made to the Arabs after World War I ( 1914 – 1918 ) to create an independent confederation of Arab states.

Opposition to Statehood.

By the end of World War II, Israeli statehood was gradually becoming a reality. In fact, in November 1947 , the United Nations General Assembly adopted U.N. Resolution 181 to partition Palestine and establish a Jewish state on 55 percent of the territory belonging to Palestinians. At the time, the Jews represented only one-third of the population in Palestine and owned only 6 percent of the land. The Arab countries and the Palestinians rejected the U.N. resolution and war erupted between Palestinians and Arab armies on one side and Israeli forces on the other. Britain declared its intention of withdrawing from the region in April 1948 . A month later, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion (one of Israel's founders and the country's first prime minister) announced the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel. The following day, the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen attacked the new nation.

Despite overwhelming odds, Israel prevailed and by January 1949 , Israeli forces controlled about 20,000 square miles of Palestinian land. The remaining portions—the West Bank and Gaza Strip—came under the control of Jordan and Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to leave their homes by Israeli forces. A significant number, however, stayed behind in Galilee, a hilly region in northern Israel, and were absorbed into the Israeli state. These Palestinian Israelis constitute 17 percent of the Israeli population.

Refugee Problem Begins.

The Arab-Israeli war marked the beginning of a Palestinian refugee problem. Those who left their homes became refugees in neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where they were treated as foreigners and confined to refugee camps along the borders.

The loss of Palestine, a critical event in Arab-Palestinian history, led to several armed conflicts between Arab and Israeli military forces. Between the wars, a pattern of guerrilla attacks began. With the help of Egypt and other Arab governments, the Palestinians trained and armed themselves to harass the Israeli military, which they regarded as the occupier of land that legitimately belonged to them. The Arab defeat also inspired Palestinians to take their fate into their own hands, and in 1964 they founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Headed after 1969 by Yasir Arafat , the PLO asserted itself as an independent organization focused on Palestinian nationalism, rather than on Arab nationalism.

Nearly a decade after the first major Arab-Israeli conflict, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt took control of the Suez Canal, which had been under joint French-British administration. With the support of Israeli troops, France and Britain invaded Egypt in October 1956 . President Dwight Eisenhower of the United States pressured France, Britain, and Israel to withdraw their troops from Egypt. Israelis and Palestinians, involved in attacks and counterattacks, kept tensions high in the Middle East. Then in 1967 , the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched a preemptive strike against the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. In just few days, Israeli forces had destroyed the air power of the three Arab countries. This third Arab-Israeli war, known as the Six-Day War, resulted in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (under Jordanian control) and the Gaza Strip (under Egyp-tian control). In addition, Israeli troops occupied the Golan Heights, which belonged to Syria, and more Palestinians (around 250,000) became refugees.

On November 22, 1967, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which emphasized the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and called for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and for the “acknowledgement of the sovereignty … of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.” This resolution became the basis of several diplomatic efforts based on the premise of “land for peace.” Israel would have to withdraw from the land it occupied in 1967 and in exchange the Arabs and the Palestinians would establish peaceful relations with the Jewish state.

Peace Process Begins.

Peace did not last, and in 1973 , another war broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Known as the October War (or the Yom Kippur War in Israel because it began on Judaism's most important holiday), Egypt and Syria mounted a surprise military attack against Israeli forces occupying Egyptian and Syrian territories. The early stages of the war went well for the Arab armies, but Israel rallied and ultimately defeated them. Although both sides suffered heavy losses, the October War paved the way for the beginning of a peace process in the Middle East. Egyp-tian president Anwar el-Sadat realized that the conflict with Israel was taking its toll on his country's economy. With support and encouragement from the United States, Sadat initiated a dialogue with his Israeli counterparts that eventually led to normalization of relations. In 1977 Sadat took the dramatic and unprecedented step of traveling to Israel where he addressed the Israeli people.

The trip was a major breakthrough, but further peace talks reached an impasse in 1978 . To break the stalemate, U.S. president Jimmy Carter invited Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. After arguing for nearly two weeks, both sides reached an agreement known as the Camp David Accords on September 17, 1978. For this historic agreement, both Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But peace was still elusive. Arab demands for the return of the occupied territories and for the creation of a Palestinian homeland remained unmet.

Beyond the Peace Process.

Arabs generally opposed the Camp David Accords, which they perceived to be a sell-out of Palestinian rights in Israel. The PLO had established bases in southern Lebanon, from which it conducted attacks against Israel. These attacks led to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 . The aim of the invasion, under the leadership of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon , was to destroy PLO bases in southern Lebanon, defeat the Syrian army (which had entered Lebanon in 1976 ), and install a pro-Israeli government in Lebanon. Israel achieved only its first objective and the Israeli army remained in southern Lebanon until 2000 .

Following this latest military action in the Middle East, peace efforts between Arabs and Israelis resumed under the guidance and supervision of the United States. A major boost to the peacemaking efforts occurred in the aftermath of the Gulf War ( 1990 – 1991 ), which began when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein H. W. Bush had formed a coalition of countries that included some Arab countries to defeat Saddam Hussein's troops. Following that war, the United States and Russia sponsored an international conference in Madrid, Spain, to bring a permanent peace to the Middle East.

Meanwhile, some Palestinians and Israelis were holding secret meetings in Oslo, Norway, where they reached an agreement on some principles for the first stage of conflict resolution. Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin , and PLO chairman, Yasir Arafat , signed the agreement in Washington, D.C., on September 13, 1993. One of the issues to be decided was, and still is, the status of Jerusalem, the spiritual capital of both Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) and Israelis. One solution, which has been part of previous peace plans, has been to internationalize the holy city, providing equal access to the holy sites for Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Political or Religious Struggle.

Although the Arab-Israeli conflict has generally been viewed as a national struggle, religion and politics cannot be entirely separated. The majority of people in the region continue to see the situation as a dispute over territory and self-determination. But as the political leadership fails to bring a just and lasting peace to the region, many have turned to their religious authorities for a solution to the conflict. See also Israel; Palestine; Palestine Liberation Organization.

© Oxford University Press 2007-2008. All Rights Reserved