The Middle East Today
– discussion of events of the 20th Century leading to the
In this first study we will look at:
the current status of the conflict;
some terms currently used in the reporting of Middle East events;
geography of the Middle East; and,
20th Century History of the Middle East focussing on Israel.
It is very hard to be precise about the current status of events in the Middle
East because the situation is so volatile. However, there is almost constant
conflict. The violence that commenced in September 2000 still continues.
Israelis and Palestinians blame each other. There has been little progress in
peace negotiations, despite the efforts of former President of the United
States, Bill Clinton, and subsequently, Defence Secretary Colin Powell. The
current US President spends little time on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
There is constant violence between Israeli troops and Palestinians, with both
sides accusing each other of starting each incident.
Problems with the peace negotiations led to the resignation of former Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Barak and for him to instigate elections. This was been seen
by many to be a political ploy to stop former Prime Minister Edward Netanyahu
from being able to contest the election to become Prime Minister at that time.
At the same time, Mr Barak wished to gain a mandate for his position in the
peace negotiations. The subsequent election of Ariel Sharon led to an escalation
of violence that still continues.
In effect, negotiations have reached a stalemate. Palestinians are renewing
their sniping and continue to carry out various forms of terrorist activity
against Israelis. Israelis respond with more sophisticated weapons. An
undercurrent to all of this is the delayed unilateral declaration of the state
of Palestine, despite Gaza now being in the hands of Palestinians.
What have been the events that have led to this current situation? Why is there
such contention over various parcels of land, specifically, the West Bank, Gaza
strip and Jerusalem? Why is there absolute hatred between Palestinians and
Israelis, and between Israelis and many Arabs?
We will now look at the geographical, historical and cultural issues, mostly in
the 20th century, that have led to the current situation.
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – This was formed in 1964 to bring
together a variety of Palestinian resistance groups that had existed previously
and which had conducted guerrilla style activities against the State of Israel.
Two of these groups are Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation
Fatah – This is the dominant terrorist group within the PLO. It has members on
the PLO executive and generally controls the PLO’s finances. It was formally
established in 1965 with its leader Yasser Arafat. It joined the PLO in 1968 and
became the dominant group in 1969 with Arafat being elected as the Chairman
until he died in 2004. Fatah was replaced by Hamas in the January 2006
- A resistance movement created by Palestinians in 1987. The group is listed as
and is banned in
– This is an Arabic word meaning "uprising" and refers to the strikes, riots,
demonstrations and violence carried out against Israel in the Gaza strip and the
West Bank of Jordan. It is an activity embraced by a number of organisations
including the PLO and the Hamas or Islamic Resistance Movement. The
uprising was instrumental in pressuring Israel to grant self-rule to the Gaza
strip and to the West Bank town of Jericho in 1993 and later extended to other
towns and refugee camps in the West Bank in 1995.
– This is a religious war waged by Muslims against unbelievers.
– This is one of five Israeli intelligence organisations whose activities
include intelligence gathering, espionage and covert political operations in
foreign countries. It has been involved in such activities as the rescue of
hostages in the highjacked airliner in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976, and the bringing
to trial of various war criminals.
- This is an Arabic meaning "Party of God". Initially, it was a guerrilla group
modelled on the Muslim fundamentalism of Iran and committed to promoting Islamic
activism in Lebanon and thwarting Western influences. While it still maintains
some guerilla activities against Israel, it is now a political party striving to
achieve its aims in Lebanon through political means.
Geography of the Middle East
What can be readily noticed when looking at a Map of the Middle East (see
below) is the nearness of Israel’s neighbours/potential enemies to its sovereign
land. Frequent artillery assaults on villages in the north of Israel was the
reason that Israel took the Golan Heights some years ago. Its belief in an
improvement of relations with Syria, and an attempt to be conciliatory led to
the partial withdrawal from that region during 2000.
What kind of relationship does Israel have with its neighbouring countries?
has become increasingly more closely involved with America, particularly with
respect to trade and military exercises. King Hussein facilitated Israel’s
withdrawal from Hebron in 1997. Relations deteriorated when Mossad agents were
captured when they tried to assassinate a Hamas leader in Jordan. Jordan,
however, recognises the existence of Israel in that it accepted the credentials
of a new Israeli ambassador in October, 1997.
Syria, once a hard-line Arab country, has changed its stance towards the West
since the Gulf War. Mr Barak probably reflects at least in a superficial way,
current thinking of some Israelis towards Syria when he stated that President
Assad was "a great leader, a man of his word and the shaper of modern Syria".
Some current international thinking is that President Assad is not the great
leader for which he was earlier recognised.
has supported the Middle East peace process through President Mubarak.
Specifically, in 1998, the President met with the then Prime Minister of Israel,
Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss ways in which peace may be further pursued and
President Mubarak also tried to revitalise peace discussions between Israel and
There is currently significant trade between Egypt and Israel.
has continued its conflict with Israel, largely due to the influence of the
Hezbollah and the antagonism of Islamic fundamentalism to Christianity. Part of
the problem has been the 1989 accord that Lebanon has a Maronite (an
Eastern-rite community of the Roman Catholic Church) Christian president, a
Sunni Muslim Prime Minister and a Shi’ite Muslim speaker of the National
has often been criticised by other Arab countries for its support of the United
States. As an American ally, it has little relationship with Israel and seems to
avoid an overt position in relation to the Middle East peace process.
has relaxed a previous antipathy towards Israel since the Gulf War and the
overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
remains the most contentious of Middle Eastern countries in its
relationship to Western and Arab worlds. Iran is committed to the total
destruction of Israel and, in terms of potential military involvement, Israel is
very concerned about the threat Iran poses. Israel has voiced fears that Iran
has the missile and nuclear technology (purchased from Russia) to wage attacks
20th Century History of Middle East events focussing on Israel
Theodore Herzl founded the Zionist movement in Basle, Switzerland. In a pamphlet
published in 1896, The Jewish State, he argued that the displaced Jews
throughout the world should be able to form a Jewish State in Palestine and that
this was best accomplished by a council consisting of many of the world’s
Lord Balfour, the then British Foreign Secretary, proposed that the British
Government should establish in Palestine "a national home for the Jewish
people". At the same time, the Declaration made the point that nothing should be
done to prejudice the rights of non-Jewish communities.
Map 1: British Division 1922 - 1946
The council of the League of Nations, approved a British mandate over Palestine
that assisted in facilitating immigration for Jews wanting to take part in the
development of this state. The provisions of the Balfour Declaration
specifically excluded immigration to the east of the Jordan River.
Large numbers of European Jews began to immigrate to Palestine legally and
illegally, many to flee Nazi persecution. In 1936, Palestinian Arabs opposed to
the Jews formed an Arab High Committee. Many discussions between Britain, Jews
and Arabs followed with no satisfactory outcome. The outbreak of World War 2 in
1939 caused a lull in further discussions.
1946 and 1947
In 1946, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry recommended that 100,000 Jewish
refugees from Europe be admitted to Palestine. Britain did not accept this
recommendation and requested that the United Nations decide on the issue. The UN
adopted a plan dividing Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. Fighting
broke out between Jewish groups favoring the plan and Arab groups opposed to it.
Map 2: British Mandate, 1946
On 14 May, Israel officially became an independent state. Armies from Egypt,
Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Transjordan (now Jordan) immediately invaded in an
attempt to destroy the Jewish state. Jordan annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Israel defeated the Arab invaders and acquired much of Arab Palestine, including
Map 3: Israel Before and After the 1948-1949 War
Israel invaded Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula along with French and British forces in
retaliation for Egypt’s blocking of the Strait of Tiran. The troops were forced
to withdraw by the United Nations.
In many ways, the six-day war that erupted in June was a repeat of the war of
1948 and 1949. Syria claimed that Israel was massing troops on its border. This
provided Egypt and Jordan with the excuse needed to sign a mutual defence pact.
Fearing an Arab invasion, Israel attacked and defeated the forces of its Arab
neighbors. Israel gained complete control of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the
Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and the West Bank.
Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. After
initial setbacks, Israeli forces repulsed the invasion and captured additional
President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, and Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin
with the arbitration of US President Jimmy Carter signed a peace treaty known as
the Camp David Accords. Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula.
Israeli forces mounted a large invasion of Lebanon in retaliation for attacks on
northern Israel by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon. The
PLO had to withdraw from Lebanon.
Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began a
series of uprisings known as the intifada against Israeli rule.
Israel and the PLO signed a historic peace agreement paving the way for limited
Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under a new ruling body,
the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho came under the administration
of the PA. The leaders of Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty.
Israel and the PLO signed a second peace agreement extending limited Palestinian
self-rule to many Palestinian areas of the West Bank. An Israeli opposed to the
peace agreements assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The election of a conservative government and continued Palestinian terrorist
activity stalled further peace agreements.
2000 - 2002
Leader of Right Wing Likud Party visited Temple Mount, Jerusalem on 28th Sept.
He said, "Jerusalem is a symbol that kept the Jews together for thousands
Jerusalem is a symbol. You don’t touch it." This sparked another
intifada by the Palestinians that has continued ever since. Considerable,
unproductive discussions have been held over two years between President
Clinton, President Bush, Prime Minister Barak, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and
Yasser Arafat. Key issues, still unresolved, are:
the existence of the State of Israel;
the borders of the Palestinian State;
status of Jerusalem; and,
Of these the most important was the future of Jerusalem. Some points to consider
in relation to Muslim claims over Jerusalem are:
it has never been an imperial or provincial Capital under the Muslims;
no Islamic school of note has ever been established there, although it is
the site of Moslem holy places;
it is insignificant next to Mecca and Medina, the twin cities where Muhammad
it is not the place to which Muslims pray, and it is not once mentioned in
the Qur’an or in prayers.
In relation to Israel’s claim, Yitzak Rabin said:
"We remember - and we know that Jerusalem is the very heart of the Jewish
people, and the one and only united capital of the State of Israel. … And we
know that this is the place to which every Jew turns in his prayers, and of
which generations dreamt and poets wrote. Thus, from our perspective, Jerusalem
is ours - it was and will be ours."
In terms of modern history, it can be seen that there has been continual
conflict between Jews and Arabs. Arabs have generally resisted the establishment
of a separate Jewish State and have actively, but unsuccessfully, tried to
obliterate Jewish people. Britain initially supported the concept of a separate
State but reduced this support in the time leading to its establishment. The
United States has consistently supported Israel politically and militarily
although it is now expressing some concerns about its current policies.
In Study 2 we will show that the basis of this conflict extends back some 4,000
years and is carefully chronicled in the Bible’s Old Testament. In Study 3 we
will draw to your attention a number of prophecies that show that God is in
control of Israel’s destiny – that, broadly speaking, many of the events that
have already taken place were prophesied many years ago. In Study 4 we will
analyse some prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled and that we believe
will be in the not too distant future.
to Study 2