History is replete with conquests, empires taking over kingdoms and imperialists inheriting colonies. The formation of a nation-state as a psycho-cultural entity as well as territorial entity follows this uni-linear scheme. The longing of a scattered diaspora for a state of their own as prophesied in the Old Testament, culminating into the dispersion of millions of people, was a relatively new dimension added to the repertoire of state formation. The birth of Israel which was the manifestation of the Zionist movement emerged as the first homogeneous Jewish nation-state on the political map of the world.


The Zionist juggernaut that rolled through Europe and later went across Atlantic had larger than life ramifications. Post-1948 (UN’s partition of Palestine and creation of Israel), west-Asian politics stood polarized into two camps. The Arab world led by Egypt and Syria stood for the imminent repulsion of the Jewish state of Israel whereas America and its allies vehemently supported the new born state. The decisive defeat of the Maghreb at the hands of the Haganah in 1948 lent political-military credibility to the state of Israel. In January 1949, armistice negotiations between Israel and the Maghrebbegan. Israel gained the lion’s share as it increased its territory by 21 percent compared to the partition resolution affected by the UN. The Palestinians were left in the wilderness as an estimated 150,000 came under Israeli rule; between 550,000 and 800,000 became refugees scattered across the Arab world.


The war was a prelude to a new epoch in world politics. Parsimonious reference of Israel as the “rabiba”, i.e. step-daughter of imperial power and regarding Israel as an” imperial outpost” of America became sine qua non in the Arab world(Barari,2009). Pan-Arab hegemonic discourses had long marred Arab scholarship on Israel. Viewing Israel through the conflict prism has distorted the vision of Arab academia. The history of Zionism consisted of both reactionary and gradualist undercurrents. The former attracts more attention because of the radicalism which it harbored whereas the latter receives no scholarly attention as it remains relegated to the pages of antiquity. The rise of new historians has, however, given a ray of hope by acknowledging the need for re-examining the Israel’s history. The paper seeks to go beyond the binaries of peace and conflict and explore the socio-political and historical nuances of the Israel-Palestine issue.


The term Zionism was first used by Nathan Birnbaum at a discussion meeting in Vienna on 23rd January 1892. Like any other movement, Zionism was the result of steady accumulation of years of discontent and statelessness. The Jewish diaspora which was scattered all around the world shared a common history. According to the Old Testament, Egyptian pharaohs held the Jews under permanent servitude until their exodus under the leadership of Moses. Modern historians no longer certify the manifestations of such occurrences. Nevertheless, this became the most potent argument for the orthodox rabbis to claim their stake in Palestine. Physical contact between the Jews and their promised homeland was never broken; throughout the Middle Ages sizeable Jewish communities existed in Jerusalem and Safed. Attempts by Don Yosef Nasi, and Duke of Naxos to promote Jewish colonization near Tiberias failed but individual migration to Palestine never cease. The Protestant tradition set in motion by the sixteenth century Reformation is also characterized as ‘Judaising revival engendering a new view of the Jewish past and present and particularly its future’. Under the motto ‘Return to the scriptures’, a new interest developed in the bible as God’s very own word. The translation of the bible into vernacular, the Old Testament served to familiarize the Western mind with the history, tradition and laws of the Hebrews and the land of Palestine. Jesus himself became known and thought of not so much as the son of Mary but as one of a long line of Hebrew prophets.


To the Christian mind in Protestant Europe, Palestine became the Jewish land. The Jews became the Palestinian people who were foreign to Europe, absent from their homeland, but in due time were to be returned to Palestine. According to Colin Shindler, “Zionism was a progeny of early 19th century European nationalism- when nationalism belonged to the Left rather than the Right. In part it took as the paradigm the national revolutionary movements that arose in the post-Napoleonic Europe which sought their independence from the great empires that were restored after Waterloo.” There was a cross-fertilization between movements, spawning an internationalism which appeared to the Jewish sense of universalism. Napoleon Bonaparte’s pan-Zionist intentions flourished on the eve of his oriental expeditions. The Zionist idea appealed to Napoleon’s romantic concept of nationality, as well as to his personal political interests in using the Jews for his imperial designs. In his Memoires, Napoleon wrote “Jews are scattered over Europe, 30 million Frenchmen, 15 million Spaniards, 15 million Italians and 30 million Germans. My intention was to make each of these people into a separate national state.”


Jewish exemplars such as Moses Hess and Adam Mickiewicz were the initial forerunners of Zionism. Hess published a book titled The Revival of Israel in 1862, wherein he argued that the state was needed both as a spiritual center and as a base for political action. For Hess, a Jewish state was not an end in itself but a means towards a just social order to which all people aspired. In 1950s, the Polish national poet Adam Mickiewicz proposed the establishment of a Jewish legion which would liberate Palestine. Zionism as a political movement, argued Alan Taylor, grew in the late nineteenth century. The Love of Zion movement (1882-1895) which originated in Russia as a reaction to the repulsion of Jews on charges of assassinating Tsar Alexander II in 1881. Leon Pinsker who was one of the founders of the movement forwarded the idea of a Jewish national home. Opposition to this nascent political Zionism soon became apparent. Ahad Haa’m came out in opposition to political Zionism, advocating a spiritual revival which came to be known as cultural Zionism. His primary problem was not the saving of Jews by ameliorating their physical existence but the preservation and development of the Jewish spirit. According to him, Jews were to stay in the diaspora and only a small, select group was to be settled in Palestine. Soon Haa’m and his followers lost their erstwhile credibility with the publication of Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) in 1896. Herzl, a Hungarian Jew advocated the establishment of British-sponsored colonization of Palestine with a view to the eventual creation of a sovereign Jewish National State. England, under Lord Salisbury in 1885, sought to change the geopolitical realities and revision Britain’s eastern policy. In a desperate bid to contain and bring about the imminent downfall of the Ottoman Empire, acquisition of Palestine assumed a significant role in Britain’s foreign policy. Lord Kitchener called upon the British government ‘to secure Palestine as a bulwark to the British position in Egypt as well as an overland link with the East’. At last, Zionism was not merely in tune with British imperialism, but had developed into a unique branch of it. The meeting between William H. Hechler, the Anglican minister and British embassy Chaplain in Vienna, and Theordor Herzl in 1896 was a watershed development in establishing an ideological camaraderie between England and the Zionist movement. The Gentile support along with the promising reception of his seminal book (Der Judenstaat), Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress at Basle in August, 1897. He declared that Zionism had united the scattered limbs of Jewry upon a national basis and thus, brought about the return to Judaism even before the return to the Jewish land. The Basle Congress brought about into existence the World Zionist Organization. There were only five more congresses in Herzl’s lifetime all of which culminated into the creation of the Jewish National Fund for the acquisition of land in Palestine as the inalienable possession of the Jewish people. The Jews who arrived in Palestine during the first Aliya (immigration wave), through emoluments and assistance from Jewish National Fund, by 1910 became owners of plantations employing mainly Arab workers.


Till 1914, colonization of Palestine continued gradually, at the outbreak of WWI, 59 Jewish colonies which some 12,000 inhabitants existed in Palestine During the WWI, the Zionist world was divided into three parts: the countries of the Allied Powers, those of the central powers and the neutral colonies. The Turkish involvement in the region and the ruthless oppression of the Jews at the hands of Jamal Pasha, made the Zionists realize that acquisition of Palestine had become an irreducible strategic requirement. In July 1917, the Zionist leaders submitted to the British government a formula embodying the “principle of recognizing Palestine as the National Home of the Jewish people” as essential for the realization of the principle, the grant of eternal autonomy to the Jewish nationality in Palestine. Consequently on November 2, 1917, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour released a policy statement in the form of a letter to Lord Lionel Rothschild. This came to be known as the famous Balfour Declaration. It was only a statement of British policy, but became legally relevant when it was written into the British mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations. He spoke of a “National Home”, not a state; it was to be in “Palestine”; and the rights of the non-Jewish population were to be respected (in the Jewish and British readings, this meant the individual rights and not Arab national rights. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine became a British mandate. After the disposition of Faysal, would be ruler of Syria, Britain organized the territory east of Jordan River between Egypt to the south and Lebanon and Syria to the north, as the final Palestine mandate. There were vocal elements within the Zionist camp who objected that the biblical land of Israel had also included the east bank of Jordan, there were also Palestinian Arabs who criticized the securing of trans-Jordan from Palestine.


The new Palestine was the signal for the pandemonium, the British in order to contain the simmering discontent, issued three consecutive White Papers (1938-39) to pacify both sides. However, this failed to keep illegal immigrant infiltration at bay. Such influx culminated into frequent skirmishes which degenerated into riots, for instance, the Western Wall massacres. Reeling under immense pressure, the British crown appointed the Peel Commission to determine the future of Palestine. Its report recommended for the first time the Partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states and a cap on Jewish immigration. The plan was rejected by both the sides. In 1939, with the outbreak of the WWII, the head of the Jewish agency for Palestine, David Ben Gurion gave the clarion call that “we will fight the White Paper as if there is no war, and fight the war as if there is no White Paper” .Conclusion of the war and the displacement of Britain from its erstwhile seat of dominance prepared the ground for the trans-Atlantic movement of Zionism. The American Zionist Emergency Council was formed to garner the support of American Jewry. American Jewry which was assimilationist by tradition became overwhelmingly concerned for the establishment of a Jewish nation-state. The first step for the eventual conversion of the US Congress to the Zionist cause was taken in December 1942 when 67 senators and 143 representatives were enrolled in the American Palestine Committee. The Zionist also found a messiah in the form of President Harry S. Truman. His pro-Zionist stance was mainly because of his natural sympathy of the Holocaust. Truman stated that he had always felt that the Balfour Declaration went hand-in-hand with the Wilsonian Doctine of self-determination on August 31, 1945, President Truman asked Prime Minister Clement Attlee of Britain to admit 100,000 Jewish refugees into Palestine. He also assured that the financial responsibility of transporting the refugees to Palestine would be assumed by the U.S. Inspite of this, illegal immigration continued and Haganah began to organize it after the Second World War. For instance, Exodus 1947 carried some 42,000 illegal immigrants who were deported in the high seas by the British.

On April 2, 1947, the British requested the UN to place the question of Palestine on its agenda. On October 11, 1947, the US delegation at the UN gave the formal backing to the plan for partition of Palestine. The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, by a vote of 33 to 13, calling for the partition of Palestine into two states- one Jewish and one Palestinian with Jerusalem under international mandate.Finally, on 14th May, 1948, President Truman extended de facto recognition to Israel. The President’s action paved the way for the Israeli state.


Post-1948: Major Developments


From the Dier Yassin massacre of 1948 perpetrated by the Stern Gang during Yom Kippur war of 1973, terrorism in Israeli-Palestine conflict was conducted mostly through Palestinian cross border raids and the Israelis targeting civilians and non-combatants and in the second period .i.e. during 1973 -1974, PLO aligned itself with a host of left wing groups. Terrorism in this period changed considerably, it became international. This period also witnessed something that can be termed the high water mark of Jewish terrorism. For instance, blowing up of the dome of the rock. During 1994 -2009, a new form of religiously motivated terrorism began to assert itself. Hamas, Fatah and Palestinian Islamic Jihadi group became best known in this regard.

Palestinians hold a flag and throw a stone during clashes with Israeli troops at Qalandiya checkpoint

The Arab World

For considerable period of history, the Palestinian struggle against Zionism/ Israel was headed by non-Palestinian Arab leaders. Specially post 1948, the Palestinian leadership remained largely marginalized. The first round of Arab Israeli conflict in 1947-48 exposed the internal schism among various Arab leaders. For instance Jordanian annexation of the west bank under the pretext of the Jericho Conference in December 1948. Territorial ambitious of the Jordanians not only ran counter to the Palestinian aspirations but also went against the resulted prevailing Arab consensus. Palestinian dependency resulted in the Arab states in using and misusing the Palestinian problem for their respective national interest. Lastly, the prolonged presence of Palestinians has at times resulted in domestic turmoil and violence in the host countries. For instance, the 1970 rebellion against the Hashemites led to a near civil war situation in Jordan and King Hussain almost lost his throne. Since the early 1990s, the Arab countries, especially Egypt, have been more actively involved in the Middle East peace process. Cairo has been using its political and diplomatic capital to narrow down difference between the two sides following the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000. Hosni Mobarak took the initiative to forward peace talks. The Mecca Agreement between PLO and Hamas was the result of Saudi desire to reconcile the two sides.


To conclude, the birth of Israel was a result of a prolonged diplomacy of European Jewry. The early Gentile support by Britain and later by America ensured the creation of Israel in 1948. As British authority debilitated worldwide, America became the sole repository of power and influence who supported Israel. Pro-Israel groups within America most notably American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, continued to influence American foreign policy in the middle-east. The AIPAC is the behemoth among the pro-Israeli groups. The bills supporting Israel that it drafts or promotes often receive almost unanimous support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. America is the perennial source of diplomatic and military support to Israel. From Truman to Kissinger and Jimmy Carter to Bush Jr. American policy towards Israel has been highly ubiquitous. Since the Oslo accords America has provided considerable support to the Palestinians, but the failure of the Oslo agreements mainly due to the intra-state disagreements within Palestine (Hamas and PLO) and lately the Arab Spring has made peace in the region a far-fetched dream. With the Jewish-nation Bill on the anvil which like the Nuremberg laws of Hitler’s Germany seeks to establish a homogeneous Jewish state, Gentile response to it would be awaited. The passing of the laws could be detrimental to the peace building measures and aggravate the refugee problems in the region.