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If Israeli national identity stems from historic longing and contemporary political realization, a sense of Palestinian peoplehood stems from indigenous settlement. Though Palestinian nationalism developed a generation after Zionism, Muslim and Christian Arabs who identify as Palestinian root their nationality in centuries of continued residence in the land they call Palestine, and Jews call Israel. Israelis’ and Palestinians’ conflicting claims to this land have led to mistrust and bloodshed on both sides throughout the 20th century, and now into the 21st.
History of the Conflict
In the aftermath of WWI, the European powers awarded Britain the right to determine Palestine’s fate. In 1937, desperate to separate the feuding Jewish and Arab communities, Britain recommended partition of Palestine into two sovereign states, Arab and Jewish. The Arabs rejected this proposal, unwilling to cede what they felt was Arab land to yet another colonial power.
Following the Holocaust, Jewish refugees from Europe and Arab lands streamed into Palestine, and Jewish-Arab conflicts intensified. When partition was suggested a second time in 1947, and Israeli statehood was declared in 1948 with the support of a United Nations vote, Palestinians and surrounding Arab nations were ready to go to war for complete control of the territory. Jews, by now almost a third of its population, were prepared to defend their embryonic state.
The ensuing War of Independence saw more than 700,000 Arabs fleeing the territory, becoming refugees under Israeli, Egyptian, or Jordanian rule. While the traditional Zionist narrative asserted that Arab leaders encouraged their constituents to flee (with the promise of eventual victory and return), recent scholarship has shown that Jewish fighters did, at times, forcefully evict Arabs.
Eventually, the area designated for Palestinian sovereignty was conquered by Jordan’s Arabian monarchy. Jerusalem was left a war zone, and an independent Palestinian state never emerged.
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