Israel-Palestine: 100 Years of Coverage
Reporting on a conflict that didn't begin on October 7
With Talia focused on one last book deadline, I decided to use this opportunity to try to make some kind of sense of one of the most confounding and tragic conflicts of the last century. Amidst the torrent of news coming out of the Middle East, each headline worse the last, the primary thing I’ve realized is just how little I really know. I hate being uninformed, and I especially hate being misinformed, and it’s been infuriating trying to separate truth from disinformation and propaganda. It seems as if every time I pick up a piece of new information—whether about the current conflict or the history leading up to it—I have to reframe my entire outlook.
To help me better put the current state of affairs into context, I went to archives, and spent the last few days poring over coverage of the conflict as it played out in real time. What, I wondered, did Arab critics make of the Balfour Declaration when it was initially issued in 1919? How did the horrors of the Holocaust shift public opinion about the necessity of a Jewish State? What was the role of the Western media in exposing and laundering the real stories about the ongoing violence?
I can’t promise you that this collection, however exhaustive, will clarify matters for you. It’s all far too complicated for that, and anyway, this isn’t what happened but how what happened was covered at the time. I’ve included correspondence, government memoranda, reporting by Martha Gellhorn and A.J. Liebling and Barbara Tuchman and Benny Morris, profiles of David Ben-Gurion and Yasser Arafat, editorials by Edward Said and Amos Oz. My goal was to include the major historical milestones—the British Mandate, the 1929 uprising, the declaration of the Jewish state and subsequent violence in 1948, the Six-Day War, the third Intifada, the rise of Hamas—while presenting both sides of the debate.
It doesn’t seem as if the story is going to be ending any time soon. For now, though, I’m trying to learn everything I can, from as many perspectives as possible. This felt like a good place to start.
David’s Throne: Prominent Jews Planning to Restore the Kingdom of Israel
The Buffalo News, November 16, 1896
A good deal of interest has been raised among the more orthodox Jews, both in this country and abroad, especially among the Russian Jews, by the remarkable propaganda in favor of “Zionism” which was recently started by Dr. Theodor Herzl at Vienna and has been carried by him as far as London, where it has received unexpected support…
The propaganda, of which Dr. Herzl of Vienna is the chief spirit, has assumed pressing importance on account of the alarming growth of anti-Semitism in many countries of Europe. Anti-Semitism has recently been the cause of serious demonstrations in Austria; It has gained strength in Germany; It is strong In France; It has a foothold in Italy; it is all powerful In Russia and it is not unknown in England, though it is undemonstrative in the last named kingdom. In all parts of European Christendom there exists a peculiar dislike for the Jewish people.
It is for this reason that multitudes of Jews are anxious to obtain possession of a country that they can call their own, where they may live by themselves, apart from their enemles. What country other than that which they held in ancient times can be found for them upon this earth? What city other than Jerusalem can be again raised to glory and power as their capital?
Letter to Theodor Herzl
From Yousef al-Khalidi, Mayor of Jerusalem
March 1, 1899
The idea [of Zionism] in itself is only natural, beautiful and just. Who can dispute the rights of the Jews to Palestine? My God, historically it is your country! And what a marvelous spectacle it would be if the Jews, so gifted, were once again reconstituted as an independent nation, respected, happy, able to render services to poor humanity in the moral domain as in the past!
Unfortunately, the destinies of nations are not governed solely by these abstract conceptions, however pure, however noble they may be. We must reckon with reality, with established facts, with force, yes with the brutal force of circumstances. But the reality is that Palestine is now an integral part of the Ottoman Empire and, what is more serious, it is inhabited by people other than only Israelites. This reality, these acquired facts, this brutal force of circumstances leave Zionism, geographically, no hope of realisation [...]. Jews certainly possess capital and intelligence. But however great the power of money in this world, one cannot buy millions all at once. To achieve a goal like the one that Zionism must propose, other, more formidable blows are needed, those of cannons and battleships
The Antisemitism of the Present Governement
Edwin Montagu, British Secretary of State for India
August 23, 1917
When the Jews are told that Palestine is their national home, every country will immediately desire to get rid of its Jewish citizens, and you will find a population in Palestine driving out its present inhabitants, taking all the best in the country, drawn from all quarters of the globe, speaking every language on the face of the earth, and incapable of communicating with one another except by means of an interpreter. I have always understood that this was the consequence of the building of the Tower of Babel, if ever it was built, and I certainly do not dissent from the view, commonly held, as I have always understood, by the Jews before Zionism was invented, that to bring the Jews back to form a nation in the country from which they were dispersed would require Divine leadership.
I have never heard it suggested, evenly their most fervent admirers, that either Mr. Balfour or Lord Rothschild would prove to be the Messiah.
The Balfour Declaration
From Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour, to Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild
November 2, 1917
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, or behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet
“His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for th Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enJoyed by Jews in any other country”
I should be grateful 1f you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
A Jewish Palestine
The Atlantic, July 1919
The Zionist movement dates from A.D. 70, the year of the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish State. The Zionist Organization dates from 1897, the year of the first Zionist Congress. The Zionist movement is a longing and striving to restore to the Jewish people normal national life. The Zionist Organization is a particular instrumentality for achieving that end. The Zionist movement will continue until the Jewish people are once more living a normal national life, when it will be transformed into the active expression of that normal national life. The Zionist Organization, when the particular phase of Jewish national life which called into being this special instrumentality has passed, will merge into some other instrumentality.
There are some who deny that there is such a thing as the Jewish people, but the denial is a modern innovation. Very rare is the non-Jew who thinks of Jews as merely a sect without national quality; and it is doubtful whether among the Jews themselves there could be found a single instance of such a denial much earlier than the second decade of the nineteenth century.
Zionism in Palestine
By Owen Tweedy
The Atlantic, October 1930
The tragic events of 1929, and the report which has just been issued by the Commission of Inquiry which sat in Jerusalem last fall, have undoubtedly moved British public opinion and the British Government deeply. And in one direction particularly. Palestine has drifted into such a state of nervous tension that, in all but name, it is under martial law. Until that tension relaxes, the British troops must remain. These are unpleasant but true reflections, and as unpalatable to the British taste as to those Jews whose traditional idealism is above politics, and whose conception of ‘the Return’ can hardly be in agreement with a ‘Return' sheltered and maintained by sole virtue of British military power.
The British Government has already initiated a course of action designed to ease matters. A commission has been formed to inquire into the respective rights of Jew and Arab alike at the Wailing Wall, and to draw up regulations which will establish for all time what can and what cannot be done on this site, the counter-claims to which lit the conflagration of August 1929.
By Major Edward Keith-Roach
National Geographic, April 1934
To the Jew, reared and educated in some small confined quarter of an eastern European town, the magic air of Palestine, the land above all sacred to him, is making just as revolutionary changes. Accustomed for generations to town life, sedentary oc-cupation, and work that involves the forearm only, he and his sister are finding themselves at last in Palestinian fields, developing a physique and a love for soil and agriculture that baffles those who believed the Jew would never make a farmer. Farm settlements, poultry yards, dairies, vegetable plots, and orange groves testify to the Jew's ability in his new life.
From Dead Sea to mountain top, from Dan to Beersheba, there is a communication of ideas unparalleled before.
West is meeting East. They may not mingle, but wine and water are found in the same glass.
Text of the British Government White Paper Detailing Plans for the Future of Palestine
New York Times, May 18, 1939
When it is asked what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, it may be answered that it is not the imposition of & Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole but the further development of the existing Jewish community with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, in order that it , may become a center in which the Jewish people as a whole may take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest and a pride.
But in order that this community should have the best prospect of free development and provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities, it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.
Our Stake in the State of Israel
The New Republic, February 4, 1957
Among those there was the dream of the young Jewish intellectual, turned Zionist, Theodore Herzl, who conceived of a homeland for a homeless nation; and the dream of a British Jewish scientist, Chaim Weizmann, who persuaded a reluctant British Government, holding a mandate in Palestine, to commit itself after World War I to the Balfour Declaration which promised to provide a “homeland” for the Jews in Palestine. Nationhood was not promised, but the declaration permitted a more generous Jewish immigration to Palestine though the rate of immigration was a constant source of friction between the Jews and Britain. The British naturally hoped to contain the Jewish homeland within the bounds of their imperial system and to guard the rights of the indigenous Arabs in a bi-national state. Indeed there were religious, rather than political, Zionists who thought that such a state would furnish the best solution for the problem of justice between Jews and Arabs.
The Watchman of Zion
Time, March 11, 1957
The Gaza Strip is the tiny corner of the old British Palestine mandate now crowded with 219,000 Arab refugees from Palestine (practically all of them on relief). In the 1949 armistice, Egypt won the right to administer it as unannexed territory. To the Israelis it was a dangerous center of the over-the-border commando raiding against their desert settlements, raids which Israel under Ben-Gurion avenged with ever-increasing ferocity. The Gulf of Aqaba is the north-reaching arm of the Red Sea whose use was denied to Israeli shipping more than six years ago by Egyptian guns emplaced at Sharm el Sheikh. In violation of the 1949 armistice, the guns commanded the narrow passage into the gulf.
Spelling out his justification for hanging on at Sharm el Sheikh, Ben-Gurion said:
“The straits and the Red Sea are important to us—perhaps more than the Mediterranean. We have closer cultural affinity with the West, but economically we are perhaps closer to the East. To us trade with Asia and Africa is vital. Elath [at the head of the gulf] is our doorway to the East, and nobody has the right to blockade it. We cannot rely on the good will of Nasser—forget Nasser—we cannot rely on the good will of any Egyptian government to keep it open after forcibly blocking it for so many years. Under international law we have the right to use the Suez Canal, but Egypt denied us our rights.”
Life in the Gaza Strip
By A.J. Liebling
The New Yorker, March 30, 1957
The Strip is not a forbidding prison; most of it is agreeable but unspectacular country, flat except for a low ridge, called Ali Muntar, north and east of Gaza town. From Gaza south, it is green for twenty miles, then begins to go shabby and semi-desertic, and tails off into bleakness at Rafah, the last village. It is roughly twenty-five miles from north to south, and five from west to east, but its arable width is diminished by beaches and sand dunes along the Mediterranean shore. The better soil nourishes orange groves, eucalyptus trees, cactuses, and goats. When the cease-fire caught the refugees here, the tract was already overpopulated. This was because, in addition to the peasants and fishermen it might have normally supported, it contained Gaza, the most considerable place in southern Palestine, with a pre-refugee population of forty thousand, and Gaza’s economic life depended on the hinterland, from which the war cut it off. Gaza was, of course, a famous place of old; it belonged to the Philistines and is associated with that Biblical Fanfan la Tulipe, Samson, who is locally alleged to have picked up the pillars of the Philistine temple after he had pulled it down on his head and carried them to the far end of the crest of Ali Muntar, where admiring posterity has erected a marabout as a marker. Gaza was captured at various times by Alexander, Pompey, Napoleon, and Saladin, which shows that it must have been considered worth capturing, and during the Middle Ages it was a textile center that gave its name to French gaze and English gauze. Its modern eminence may be gauged by its prison, the largest built by the British in all Palestine.
Herzl's Dream—And the Reality
New York Times, May 1, 1960
The seer of the Jewish state sprang from the Jewish group that lived in a Hungarian borderland between Eastern and Western Europe, between the Middle Ages and the modern era. This Jewry had produced two of the earliest pioneers, Stampfer and Raab, who “went up” to settle in the land of Israel in the generation that preceded Herzi. They founded the first Jewish village of our times, which bore the momentous title of Petach Tikva—the Gateway of Hope. And that same Jewry produced the two great leaders of political Zionism, Herzl and Max Nordau.
In the Exodus from Egypt, it was twin leaders who marched in the van of the Jewish people: the one, Moses, lawgiver, teacher, guide; the other, Aaron, spokesman, clarion, exponent.
But in Jewish history Moses was unique, and has no peer. In modern Jewish history, Herzl also stands alone in living and lasting greatness. Only he, by the magic of his personality, his penetrating insight, his prophetic courage, his creative and stimulating inquietude, was privileged to become the focal point of the people's love and pride, the very visage of its secret and sincere longings, the symbol of its redemption and rebirth.
The Arabs of Palestine
The Atlantic, October 1961
The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war. Alarming signs, from Egypt, warn us that the Palestinian refugees may develop into more than a justification for cold war against Israel. We ignored Mein Kampf in its day, as the ravings of a lunatic, written for limited home consumption. We ought to have learned never to ignore dictators or their books. Egypt's Liberation, by Gamal Abdel Nasser, deserves careful notice. It is short, low-keyed, and tells us once again that a nation has been ordained by fate to lead--this time, to lead the Arab nations, all Africa, all Islam. The Palestinian refugees are not mentioned, and today, in the Middle East, you get a repeated sinking sensation about the Palestinian refugees: they are only a beginning, not an end. Their function is to hang around and be constantly useful as a goad. The ultimate aim is not such humane small potatoes as repatriating refugees.
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In the Wake of War: Time and Reality in the Middle East
Barbara W. Tuchman
The Atlantic, November 1967
In the huge expanse from the Nile to the Euphrates, Palestine, in Balfour’s phrase, was a “small notch” and the Jews’ right to a homeland there, in Weizmann’s phrase, a matter of “relative equity,” but to the Arabs, who keep trying to play a role equal to that of the Caliphate at its peak, the Jews serve as the reason for their nonsuccess.
The shock to the Arabs’ ego when their combined forces failed to sweep the Jews into the sea in 1948 was profound. Their only defense was intransigence, a refusal to accept reality and an Eastern reliance on time: to wait is to win in the end. This explains their policy of attempting to isolate Israel by nonrecognition, boycott, blockade, severance of all contacts, and through intimidation, to prevent its contacts with other countries as well. Thus cut off, the Arabs believe, Israel can never put down roots; its people will eventually pack up and go back where they came from, leaving the remnant to be easily destroyed. The favorite analogy is the Crusaders. Did the Arabs not wait 200 years for those invaders to vanish? Why not again? The argument has bemused not only the Arabs but their Western partisans. It overlooks the essence: that Zionism is, after all, irredentism. Unlike the Crusaders, the Jews had been there before, which gives them a reason for staying. In their own minds they have come home.
Storm Center on the New Map: Israel
By Edward Kern
Life, October 20, 1967
If ever a spectacle moved hearts to pity and admiration in our time, it was the drama of the birth of Israel. Fleeing from Hitler's Europe, tens of thousands of homeless Jews found the hope, the tenacity and the courage to face fresh ordeals on the hostile shores of the Promised Land. On the beaches of Palestine in the 1940s, two thousand years of faith in a biblical promise found their fulfillment, two thousand years of oppression their triumphant recompense.
The emotional echoes of the Jewish homecoming are still so strong, the Israelis' success in developing their land and defending it have been so astonishing that today hardly anyone could for a moment question Israel's right to exist. Fifty years ago that right was less obvious; and the barest account of Israel's birth pangs goes far to explain why the private anguish of one small fragment of the Ottoman Empire could have embittered the whole Middle East to the present day.
The Guerrilla Threat in the Middle East
Time, December 13, 1968
With the fanaticism and desperation of men who have nothing to lose, the fedayeen have taken the destiny of the Palestinians into their own hands. Peace in the area would hurt their cause by removing the support of other Arabs. They have no brotherly concern for the ambitions of Nasser—and certainly not for, as one fedayeen communique puts it, the “slave traffickers in the U.N. lobbies” and their efforts to act as mediators in the Middle East.
In the aftermath of the Arab defeat, the fedayeen are today the only ones car rying the fight to Israel. The guerrillas provide an outlet for the fierce Arab resentment of Israel and give an awakened sense of pride to a people accustomed to decades of defeat, disillusionment and humiliation. In the process, the Arabs have come to idolize Mohammed (“Yasser”) Arafat, a leader of El Fatah fedayeen who has emerged as the most visible spokesman for the commandos. An intense, secretive and determined Palestinian, he is enthusiastically portrayed by the admiring Arab press as a latter-day Saladin, with the Israelis supplanting the Crusaders as the hated—and feared—foe.
Israel—The Seventh Day
By Joseph Judge
National Geographic, December 1972
The Arabs west of the Jordan River feel that they are a stateless people. Many are Christians, with strong ties to the West, but most are Moslems who have lived for centuries in crowded towns such as Nablus, Janin, and Hebron.
“First it was the Turks,” said Farah Gjharib, a Christian school principal. We walked over the fields where the shepherds watched by night on the first Christmas. “My father, who is now 85, was in the Turkish Army. He left the army and walked the whole way from Istanbul to Beit Sahur.
“Then it was the British. Then it was the Jordanians. Now the Israelis. Tell me, why should we pay for the sins of Europe? We want peace in our country. We want the followers of the three religions to live in peace in the Holy Land.”
Arab and Jew: 'Each Is the Other'
By Edward W. Said
New York Times, October 14, 1973
All Arabs have suffered both in the Middle East and in the West. The Arab is seen as the disruptor of Israel's existence, or, in a larger view, as a surmountable obstacle to Israel's creation in 1948. This has been part of the Zionist attitude toward the Arab, especially in the years before 1948 when Israel was being promulgated ideologically. Palestine was imagined as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom, its inhabitants minimized as inconsequential nomads possessing no stable claim to the land and therefore no cultural permanence. At worst, the Arab today is conceived of as a bloody-minded shadow that dogs the Jew. The Jew of pre-Nazi Europe has split in two: a Jewish hero, constructed out of a revived cult of the adventurer-pioneer, and the Arab, his creeping, mysteriously fearsome shadow. Thus isolated from his past the Arab has seemed condemned to being local color or to chastisement at the hands of Israeli soldiers and tourists, kept in place by American Phantom jets and U.J.A. money.
Has Israel Altered its Visions
By Amos Oz
New York Times Magazine, July 11, 1982
Israel is bound to suffer, sooner rather than later, the harsh slap of reality. The early Socialist Zionists were right in assuming that freedom was indivisible, and that if Israel became an oppressive, colonial society, it was bound to lose its soul. That an overwhelming majority of Israelis responded to Sadat's peace initiative with a burst of emotion, changing their minds almost overnight and giving back to Egypt every grain of Sinai's sands, is spectacular proof of the secret vitality of the nation's original humanitarian and peace-loving spirit. I dare to predict that if a Palestinian leader were to follow Sadat's example, break the emotional barrier and offer Israel full-scale peace and security, many of the present hard-liners would present him with an olive branch.
Who Are the Palestinians?
By Tad Szulc
National Geographic, June 1992
The ancestors of today’s Palestinians appeared along the southeastern Mediterranean coast more than five millennia ago and settled down to a life of fishing, farming, and herding. But they also endured wars with Israelites; domination from Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, and Romans; and eventually 400 years of rule by the Ottoman Turks.
By 1918, during World War I, Britain had conquered the region and indicated support—in its Balfour Declaration—for the establishment of a Jewish homeland within Palestine along with a provision that the rights of the region’s Arabs must be respected.
In May 1948, after the United Nations had voted the previous fall to partition Palestine between Jews and Arabs (the Jews accepted the plan; the Arabs rejected it), Israel proclaimed its independence. Arab states immediately attacked, but Israel won the war. That conflict, combined with confiscation of Palestinian homes and land, left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians as refugees in the neighboring Arab lands.
Lions in Winter
By Zeev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari
The Atlantic, January 1994
A small army of diplomats—some sixty people, not including spokesmen, advisers, and aides—is engaged in the Middle East peace negotiations. But whether or not those negotiations will end the long and bru tal Israeli-Arab conflict essentially rests in the hands of just three people: Is raeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (or, as he is currently called by many Palestinians, President of the State of Palestine) Yasser Arafat. All three are longtime foes. All three sense that their peoples cannot bear another war or pay the price of victory, to say nothing of the cost of defeat. All three are at the end of their politi cal careers and know that they have little time left to make an indelible mark not just on the history of the Middle East but, more to the point, on its future.
Among the Settlers
By Jeffrey Goldberg
New Yorker, May 24, 2004
In June, 1967, Israel launched successful preëmptive strikes against Egypt and Syria, which had been jointly planning an invasion. When Jordan, which then occupied the West Bank, entered the war on the side of the Syrians and the Egyptians, Israel defeated it as well, seizing the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel’s victory also left it in control of the Golan Heights, Gaza, and the Sinai Peninsula (which was returned to Egypt in 1982). Thirty-seven years later, there are roughly two hundred and thirty-five thousand settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There are an additional hundred and eighty thousand Israelis living on land in eastern Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 war. Israel’s Jewish population is about five million; more than a million Israeli citizens are Arab. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are home to more than three and a half million additional Arabs, who do not hold Israeli citizenship.
Gaza’s Grand Delusion
By Scott Anderson
Vanity Fair, February 2005
Like most truly colossal man-made disasters, what is now playing out in Gaza didn't result from a mere misstep or two; calamity on this scale requires dedication and a lot of hard work.
The signal event came in 1948, with Israel's declaration of independence and the first Arab-Israeli war this provoked. By being on the losing side of this conflict, some 750,000 Palestinian Arabs were forced from their homes in areas taken over by Israel. While two-thirds fled into the surrounding countries and the Jordanian-controlled West Bank, the remaining quarter-million crowded into the Gaza Strip, a narrow block of land some 28 miles long by 8 miles wide along the Mediterranean Sea under Egyptian rule. Ensuring that the situation in Gaza would be an ongoing phenomenon, Egypt made no effort to incorporate these newly homeless into its own population, choosing instead to maintain their “temporary” refugee status.
The Democracy Game
By David Remnick
New Yorker, February 19, 2006
Hamas, which was founded in 1987, during the first intifada, and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union, won seventy-four of the hundred and thirty-two seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Fatah won only forty-three. Hamas swept the slate in the Hebron region, taking nine of nine seats. Ever since Arafat signed the Oslo accords, in 1993, and the Palestinian leadership ended its long exile in Tunis to establish the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he had used the leaders of Fatah, men like Jibril Rajoub, to make sure that Islamists like Nayef Rajoub did not extend their influence beyond the mosque. Jibril made his bones as a resistance fighter by spending seventeen years of his youth in Israeli prisons—much of that time for throwing a dud grenade at a convoy of Israeli soldiers—but his political prospects in middle age have been dashed. As Preventive Security chief, he jailed members of Hamas and other Islamist groups. Soon it is likely that Hamas will control Preventive Security—its five thousand troops and its arms.
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post, March 11, 2007
The refugee crisis was “largely a by-product of Arab and Jewish fears and of the protracted, bitter fighting that characterized the first Israeli-Arab war; in smaller part, it was the deliberate creation of Jewish and Arab military commanders and politicians,” [Benny] Morris wrote.
His conclusion that the Palestinian exodus was not entirely voluntary pricked the Israeli national conscience and gave moral weight to the claims of about 700,000 original refugees demanding to return to their homes. For decades, Israel has fiercely resisted this claim for a right of return, fearing an influx of Arab Palestinians that would threaten Israel's Jewish majority.
“There comes a stage in any revolutionary process when the movement relaxes its hold on the official narrative,” Morris says. “The difference is that when that moment came in Israel, our long struggle with the Arabs remained an existential threat, as it still does today.”
By Lawrence Wright
New Yorker, November 1, 2009
In southwest Israel, at the border of Egypt and the Gaza Strip, there is a small crossing station not far from a kibbutz named Kerem Shalom. A guard tower looms over the flat, scrubby buffer zone. Gaza never extends more than seven miles wide, and the guards in the tower can see the Mediterranean Sea, to the north. The main street in Gaza, Salah El-Deen Road, runs along the entire twenty-five-mile span of the territory, and on a clear night the guards can watch a car make the slow journey from the ruins of the Yasir Arafat International Airport, near the Egyptian border, toward the lights of Gaza City, on the Strip’s northeastern side. Observation balloons hover just outside Gaza, and pilotless drones freely cross its airspace. Israeli patrols tightly enforce a three-mile limit in the Mediterranean and fire on boats that approach the line. Between the sea and the security fence that surrounds the hundred and forty square miles of Gaza live a million and a half Palestinians.
Every opportunity for peace in the Middle East has been led to slaughter, and at this isolated desert crossing, on June 25, 2006, another moment of promise culminated in bloodshed.
Israel & the Middle East: Bleak House
By Benny Morris
Tablet, December 2, 2010
This basic Palestinian rejectionism, amounting to a Weltanschauung, is routinely ignored or denied by most Western commentators and officials. To grant it means to admit that the Israeli-Arab conflict has no resolution apart from the complete victory of one side or the other (with the corollary of expulsion, or annihilation, by one side of the other)—which leaves leaders like President Barack Obama with nowhere realistic to go with regard to the conflict. Philosophically, acceptance of the rock-like unpliability of this reality is extremely problematic, given the ongoing military and philosophical clash between the West and various forces in the Islamic world. Perhaps the fight between America and its allies and its enemies in the Middle East and South Asia and North Africa and the banlieues of Western Europe will go on and on, until one side is vanquished?
In this connection, our age, it may turn out, resembles the classic age of appeasement, the 1930s, when the Western democracies (and the Soviet Union) were ranged against, but preferred not to confront, Nazi Germany and its allies, Fascist Italy, and expansionist Japan.
The Tunnels of Gaza
By James Verini
National Geographic, December, 2012
The region of Gaza has been fought over—and burrowed under—since long before Israel assumed control of it from Egypt in 1967. In 1457 B.C. Pharaoh Thutmose III overran Gaza while quashing a Canaanite rebellion. He then held a banquet, which he enjoyed so much that he ordered chiseled into the Temple of Amun at Karnak: “Gaza was a flourishing and enchanting city.” Thutmose was followed by Hebrews, Philistines, Persians, Alexander the Great (whose siege of Gaza City required digging beneath its walls), Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Tatars, Mamluks, and Ottomans. Then came Napoleon, the British, Egyptians again, and Israelis, though to this day there is disagreement about whether Gaza would have been considered part of the land the Bible says God promised the Jews. This is partly why expansionist-minded Israelis have focused more intensely on the West Bank than on Gaza; the last Israeli settlement in Gaza was vacated in 2005.
But Gaza is the heart of Palestinian resistance. It’s been the launching area for a campaign, now in its third decade, of kidnappings, suicide bombings, and rocket and mortar assaults on Israel by Gazan militants—much of this sanctioned, if not expressly carried out, by Hamas.