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Israel and the Arabs

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Atlas of the World’s Religions, Second Edition What is This? Depicts the historical development and present state of the world's major religions

    Israel and the Arabs

    IN 1947 , the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to set up an Arab and a Jewish state in Palestine (then under British mandate) and establish their respective borders. While Jews accepted the Partition Plan, Arabs rejected it and attacked Jewish settlements in Palestine. The greater part of Palestine became the independent state of Israel on 14 May 1948 , but was invaded the day after by a coalition of Arab armies. By 1949 armistice agreements were signed between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Transjordan. The western area of old Palestine was amalgamated with Transjordan (to be renamed Jordan in 1950 with the annexation of the West Bank), the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt. The Arab countries refused to recognize the existence of the state of Israel.

    In 1956 , Egyptian President Jamal Abd al Nasir (Nasser) seriously disrupted Israel's sea trade by blockading the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aqaba. In October 1956 Israeli forces, secretly backed by France and Britain, occupied Sinai and the Gaza Strip and defeated the Egyptian army. However, as a result of international pressure, Israel withdrew from Sinai and a UN peace-keeping force was stationed in Gaza and took position along the Israeli–Sinai border.

    Arab-Israeli Conflict

    By 31 May 1967 Egypt, supported by Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, deployed troops across Sinai and declared the Strait of Tiran closed to Israeli shipping. This, combined with Syrian attempts to divert the headwaters of the River Jordan, Israel's main water source, led Israel to a pre-emptive strike. On 5 June , Israel destroyed Egyptian air-bases in Sinai and beyond, attacked the Golan Heights, captured the area and entered El Quneitra. The Jordanian West Bank was occupied and the Old City of Jerusalem annexed as Israel's capital.

    Israel and the Arabs

    1. The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1949-73

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    The Six-Day War ( 5 – 11 June ) destabilized Egypt, paving the way for future agreements between Egypt and Israel. Another result of the 1967 war was the increasingly active role of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

    After Nasser's death ( 1970 ) and Anwar Sadat's succession, the conflict resumed. On 6 October 1973 , the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Egypt and Syria attacked the Golan Heights and Sinai. Despite initial Arab victories, Israeli counter-attacks resulted in further territorial expansion. Negotiations eventually brought an end to the war and in 1977 Sadat made the first visit by an Arab head of state to Israel. The Camp David Accords marked an end to over thirty years of conflict. Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1982 . Israel's invasion of southern Lebanon in 1978 , to counter Palestinian guerrilla activity, opened a new front. Despite partial withdrawal in 1985 , a nine-mile buffer zone is still held by Israeli troops.

    Israel and the Arabs

    3. Jerusalem since the Six-Day War

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    Jewish settlements continue to be built on the land occupied by Israel in 1967 . This, coupled with Israeli discrimination against the Palestinians, culminated in December 1987 in the intifada (uprising). PLO support for Iraq during the 1990 Gulf War alienated the Arab Gulf states, and eroded its credibility, nevertheless further Israeli-Palestinian agreements were signed (the Declaration of Principles in 1993 and the Wye Accords in 1998 ) as progress towards a complex solution.

    Of an estimated population of five million Palestinians, more than two million have fled from Israel to adjacent Arab lands since 1948 . In addition, more than one million migrated to other Arab countries and to the USA and South America.

    The Religious Dimension

    The formation of the state of Israel and the 1948 , 1956 and 1967 wars were seen as humiliations for Muslims worldwide. Two pan-Islamic organizations, supported by Saudi Arabia, were established to assert international Muslim solidarity: the World Muslim League (est. 1962 ) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference ( 1969 , 1971 ). The latter was a direct response to the 1967 Arab defeat, Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem and an arsonist attack against the al-Aqsa mosque. However, these pan-Islamic organizations were at times seen as serving political and national (Saudi) interests. In fact, as the active role played by Christian Palestinians in the intifada suggests, the fight for recognition and liberation can be perceived as national rather than purely religious.

    Israel and the Arabs

    2. Jerusalem 1949-67

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    One of the issues where religion and politics cannot be separated is the dispute over Jerusalem. For Muslims, the city is the third holy place, after Mecca and Medina. The first Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem before the qiblah (direction of prayer) was changed towards Mecca, and Muhammad was believed to have ascended to heaven from Jerusalem. Moreover, its centrality in Judaism and Christianity was inherited by Islam with its acknowledgement of the monotheistic message of the Biblical prophets. To this day, the status and control of the city are major issues of contention.

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