Six long decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict

Published: December 11, 2011

Many of my Palestinian friends speak of utter hopelessness when they talk about the recent failure of Mahmoud Abbas to secure the elusive nine votes at the Security Council. PHOTO: REUTERS

It has been more than 60 years now since the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Before the start of the First Intifada in 1987, the Palestinians knocked at every door of the international world for someone to address their issue. No one lent an ear. A total of 42 Security Council resolutions were vetoed unilaterally by the United States alone.

The Intifada — imbued in shreds of violence and counter-violence both on the part of Arabs and Israelis — made the world realise that there was, indeed, a problem to be addressed in the Middle East. Arafat had to be listened to. He was speaking on behalf of nearly 11 million people. In the 1990s, Hamas also came to the fore, to challenge the PLO’s sway over Palestinian votes.

Alienation led to radicalisation seeping into the Palestinian youth. They became hyper-aware of their situation, due to a world where the UN was powerless to do anything about changing the status quo in the Middle East and where the rule of international law was that whoever had the power called the shots.

Mandela, in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, writes at length as to why he adopted the tactics of militancy, as opposed to Gandhi’s principles of non-violence. He makes it clear he wanted the apartheid regime to ‘hear’ him. The Palestinians, unfortunately, had no other option but to increasingly rely on militancy to make the world hear them.

It is 2011 now: the Gaza strip is held by Hamas and the West Bank is under the control of Fatah. Many of my Palestinian friends speak of utter hopelessness when they talk about the recent failure of Mahmoud Abbas to secure the elusive nine votes at the Security Council.Abbas had eight, including China and Russia. Britain and France abstained. Bosnia remained undecided.

They talk about the failure of diplomacy to guarantee them statehood. They mention Mandela and the right to oppose the oppressor – militarily. No amount of cajoling works over here since they have six long decades as a constant reminder of their helplessness.


In terms of the changing Middle East geopolitical posture, analysts now project the increase in power of militant Hamas, even in the West Bank, after the recent failure of Palestinians to gather sufficient votes for statehood at the Security Council (SC).

Although the General Body will favour them heavily, Palestinians know that the ‘observer status’ and entry into UN subsidiary organisations cannot be taken as a replacement for full statehood.

In resolving this dispute, the world must pull its act together now. The Middle East conflict has the potential to flare up into a major regional war, if happenings on ground are not taken into account.

Arab Spring will eventually knock on the doors of Jerusalem and only add to Israel’s insecurity while allies are no longer there with the coming of power of Islamists in the region.

Also, Turkey is supplementing its regional clout and Turkish PM Recep Teyyip Erdogan has made his stance clear time and again, most glaringly in the World Economic Forum in 2009. Friends are gone as Mubarak is imprisoned and Ben Ali is wanted for crimes against humanity by his own nation. More importantly, Iran is on a nuclear trajectory.

For Israel, the siege mentality would have to give way to pragmatism by recognising that there is indeed a problem to be addressed. A military posture would only increase the radicalization of Palestinian youth who feel increasingly isolated by growing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Even America, a long term ally, resents Israel’s refusal to halt these.

What must the world do? It must recognize that the archaic ‘status-quo’ is no longer possible to maintain in the region. Hollow negotiations would never solve the problem. They never worked in South Africa. They would not here.

Israeli and Palestinian children both deserve a secure future-a future without fear of Katyusha rocket or an aerial bombing. That is only possible if Palestinians are granted what they set out to achieve six decades back- a homeland.

Mahmud Darwaish, Palestine’s national poet, once said that a grand revolution will occur in the Middle East. It was bound to occur and it will challenge the dictators and strip away their powers.

He also prophesized that Palestine will be granted freedom at this point in time.

I sincerely hope that he is proven right.

Six decades of a forced exodus are a very long time indeed.

Taimur Arbab

Taimur Arbab

A former sub-editor at The Express Tribune, college teacher of Sociology and English Language and a graduate student at Aga Khan Institute for Educational Development, who leans toward the left side of the political spectrum and looks for ideas for his short stories and poems in the everyday happenings of life.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://india khalis

    some dispute can never be solvedRecommend

  • narayana murthy

    The Arab Israeli dispute is a sheer manifestation of Islamic mentality.

    Jews are and were the original inhabitants of the land, before Muslims started persecuting them, like they did with Hindus, Buddhists, Zorostrians, Christians and all other tribes of Arabia and beyond.

    So, Palestinians should learn to live in Israel as Israelis or choose to go to other Arab countries, where they are treated as dirt.


  • Atheist

    Unless the Islamist Militants especially Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist there will be no solution.Military solution is ruled out because Israel has nukes and will probably use them if her own survival is threatened.The Arabs probably seem to have realised after successive military humiliations that they are no match for the Israeli military and though they will continue to morally support the Palestinians,no sane person can risk his own house being burnt down to save someone else’s.And I’m not too worried about Iran’s nuclear program either,barking dogs seldom bite and the Persians probably know that they will be annhilated if they use a nuke against Israel.Recommend

  • Talha

    Both have lunatics and fundamentalists at helm but lets get one thing straight.

    Jews bought barren land of their forefathers back from Arabs under the Ottoman Empire.

    They turned that land into a technological and modern marvel, compare Tel Aviv today to what they had before.

    The stupidity, and lack of skills on part of Arab meant that the Israeli’s become aggressive in their posture and took more land after war.

    The first and only country to put a note worthy case for the Palestinians was Pakistan, Sir Zafarullah Khan led a highly commendable movement against Israel but due to the lack of leadership in the Arab world, the momentum dropped.

    With the introduction of violence and terrorism, the Palestinians have lost most if not all support. Even though Muslims support them, the lack of clout in Muslim countries means that they cannot achieve anything.

    The only way forward is reconciliation, and both sides have to make compromises.

    Pakistan must and should recognize Israel, after all Gen. Zia took weapons from them for the war in Afghanistan.

    Israel is a reality, we must accept it.

    Too much damage has been done, and to correct this course of failure, all Muslims need to recollect and come out better.

    There is no success in emotional write ups and spreading terror.Recommend

  • adeleke akeem abiola

    WA INNA JUNDANA LAOMULI GALIBUNA! victory will soon come over isreal d way it happened when the great HIZBOLLHA was attacked by isreal in 2006,my dear people of PALESTINE exercise a little more patient.Recommend

  • Natasha S.

    Narayanan Murthy,

    You seriously need some lessons on the history of the conflict. Dragging ‘Islamic mentality’ while discussing a political conflict only proves how prejudiced you are, not how ‘informed’ you are.Recommend

  • Natasha S.


    If America ‘truly’ resented anything , Gaza would not have been the world’s largest open air prison today. Let’s not blame the world. Unless ofcourse you mean America when you say world

    Nice read.Recommend

  • Not Kidding


    America is Great. They can do all they can, for their citizens & the country.

  • narayana murthy


    It’s not a political issue at all. Though Muslims want to make it a political issue. Like I said before, it’s an issue created by Muslims.

    Technically, anything can be turned into a political issue. Ideally, it’s not. You need some history lessons. Not about the last 60-100 years. Look into history 2000 years and beyond.

    You will see that Jewish tribes and Zorostrians came to India (Hindu land), seeking refuge to save themselves from Muslims. These are facts. I can also point out Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) conquests of Jewish tribes in Arabia. How their men were murdered, women and children were enslaved.

    How do you think, Islam became the fastest growing religion and also with second highest number of followers in such a short period of time. In case you didn’t know, Islam is the youngest of all major religions in the world (Judaism, Hinduism, Xianity, Buddhism and Islam).Recommend

  • G. Din

    @Natasha S.:
    “. Dragging ‘Islamic mentality’ while discussing a political conflict only proves how prejudiced you are, not how ‘informed’ you are.”
    To Muslims all conflicts boil down to religion. Even the concept of “ummah” and “Khilafah” is religious and political at the same time. There is no prejudice shown here, merely a good knowledge about Islamic modus operandii worldwide. He seems to be quite well-informed to me. Because Muslims frame every question pertaining to them in framework of religion, it is but natural all non-Muslims will band together to support the victim of such aggression as some or all of them have encountered the same modus operandii. I am not a Jew but I can see how they are being victimized by the Islamic world! If you would like to exchange notes, I will be quite glad to.Recommend

  • William Bilek

    This article completely ignores history, in favor of some imagined fable. The issue is not, nor has ever been the establishment of yet another Arab state. It was, and remains, the frustration of the Arabs at their inability to destroy the single Jewish state on earth. If a state were the goal, it was available in 1948, 1967, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009, and even today.

    No children, Israeli or Arab, need to die. Simply negotiate a mutually agreed peace that will give the Israelis the security they need, to defend themselves by themselves, and the Palestinians a state where, for the first time in history, they can determine their ow future, without threatening, or being threatened.Recommend

  • Adil

    Creation of Israel itself seems baseless. Jews were living in Persia,Iraq and different other nations for a long time while retaining their faith,culture and heritage.After Second World War,Nazis were gone, so why should Palestinians pay for the crimes they didn’t commit. OK there was anti-semetism but after the defeat of fascism, why Jews didn’t get rehabiliated in Germany,Poland,France and other European nations? As simple as thatRecommend

  • Mumbaikar

    extending your logic further, similarly why can’t palestinians accept wherever they are living NOW and even call it a state. Also read up on the muhammed and his companions raids on jewish settlements during the early islamic history to enrich themselves for the final journey to mecca and the expulsion of jews during successive caliphates using force in the arabian peninsula to get a better understanding of this dispute.Recommend

  • V

    @Adil: Will you accept that creating Pakistan was baseless as Muslims were and are still living in India? And yes, they are still maintaining their faith. Israel is just “ONE” jewish state in the whole world and you guys still have problem with that? Why cant they be left alone?Recommend

  • Faust

    @Natasha S.

    “Gaza would not have been the world’s largest open air prison today”emphasized text

    Spare us the angst, as soon as Israel withdrew from Gaza (dragging it’s fundamentalist Settlers with it) the immediate reponse from Hamas was to destroy any useful ‘Jew’ infrastructure left behind and start launching rockets into Israel proper. Leading to the election of the most right wing Israeli government yet.

    And let’s examine the Hamas charter

    “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews [and kill them]; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: Oh Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him”

    Wonderful, so this is not a political battle, but a racial/theological one.

    Frankly, until I see a mass of Muslims protesting the persection of minorities in their country, the acjknowlegement of Dafer and their one colonisie past…..I’m with the Israelis

    At least they have a functioning democracy, and don’t tend to slice womens noses off or hang gays from cranes.Recommend

  • Atheist

    hypocricy at best.Going by your logic India also shouldnt have been divided.We all know how muslims treat their minorities.Here go to this link

    as i said there can be no conflict resolution unless muslims give up their obsession of destroying Israel.They need to come out of their delusions of grandeur(ghazwa-e-hind,chin etc etc),you are no longer living in the middle ages.Recommend

  • Faust

    Haj Amin al-Husseini was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, During World War II he actively collaborated with both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, meeting Adolf Hitler personally and asking him to back Arab independence. He requested, as part of the Pan-Arab struggle, Hitler’s support to oppose the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish national home. He was promised the leadership of the Arabs after German troops had driven out the British.[4] He helped recruit Muslims for the Waffen-SS. At war’s end, he came under French protection, and managed to slip away to Cairo to avoid eventual prosecution.

    I know many in the Islamic world have a lot of time for Nazism, others…do not.Recommend

  • William Bilek

    You ask why the Jewish People did not continue living in Diaspora. Because as a Nation and a People, they are as deserving of a nation state as are the French, the Estonians, the Lebanese, the Pakistanis, or the Angolans. Why would you extend the right to nationhood to all, EXCEPT the Jewish People?Recommend

  • alicia

    This is stupid. At one point all of our ancestors came from Africa(at least according to science) so can I go to Africa and say since my grand grand grand… parents were born on this land I own it. The world highlights Hamas attocrities not Israeli ones. If what hamas does is wrong than so is Israel.Recommend

  • William Bilek

    The Israelis don’t “own” the land because their Nation and People came into being in that land, but because the Jewish People have lived there for 4000 years, and because of the legitimacy conferred on their claim on the land they legally purchased, by the League of Nations, the San Remo Conference, and their successful defense against attack. Yet you would deny them (and only them,) a nation state, while accepting the legitimacy of an artificial Lebanese state or a Libyan one.

    To equate Hamas and Israel is to deny there is good and evil, right and wrong; to equate the intentional targeting of civilians (a war crime), with self-defense; the exultation and dancing in the streets at the murder of a sleeping 3 month old baby and the public expression of deep regret and subsequent self-examination of an entire society, at the inadvertent deaths of innocents behind which the cowards of Hamas hide.

    You equate pursuit of the publicly expressed goal of genocide with stubborn insistence on survival.Recommend

  • Faust

    ‘If what hamas does is wrong than so is Israel’

    No Alicia, what’s stupid is the worlds Obession with Israel when so much, so very much worst, happens in the world.

    And if you want to talk in realpolitck, what nation state would withdraw from an occupied territory to be rewared by bearded idiots firing rockets at your civilian population?

    Well..Pakistain might of course allow a larger more wealthy nation to overide is soverinety, but that’s because the 10% like the 10%

    PS I agree that Israel should withdraw from the occupied terrieties, but reading the Hamas charter, I undrestand why they can not.

    PPS Hamas doesn’t just want to kill Israelies, it wants to kill Jews. Sometimes that’s enough to make you choice your sideRecommend

  • dexter

    @Natasha S: you must be sleeping through the history, do you know how many people(Palestinian) killed between Hamas and FATA clashes,i haven’t seen any Muslim talking about Hamas and fata violations, just like Pakistani’s chest thumping,heart pumping nationalism over flows only when there is a drone strike otherwise scarcely available commodity of pakistan.

    even if US kills worthless scum in the world who happens to be living in a land of pure for quite a sometime with his family and friends,pakistan turns that into a fraudulent,awe inspiring, jaw dropping, hog washing ceremony of sovereignty.Israelis are the only people who know how to treat the terrorists,which makes them more perpetual than any other race.Recommend

  • Maheen Hassan

    I really wish that Mahmud Darwaish is proven right! However, the so-called major powers or the problem-solvers do not seem to come to the point of raising, let alone solving, the problem. Israel has deep roots not only in the U.S. but is also influencing others as depicted in France and Britain’s abstinence. I guess for a while, one can only predict more of hollow negotiations and nothing more, although I sincerely wish and pray that the sixty-year jinx gets over soon!Recommend

  • G. Din

    Time to settle Palestinians in some other country. Every Arab country, even Palestinian leadership, are playing havoc with them. They are making empty promises to them which they have no way of honouring or keeping or realizing. In the meanwhile, generation after generation is going to dogs, living in squalor no human being ought to live in. Shame, utter shame for Arabs. World, much less Israel, will not bow to Muslim demands no matter where you make them. Sooner they realize that, sooner these eyesores dotting across the world shall disappear!Recommend

  • Abdullah Lak

    a very well written article. author maintains a balanced approach. the link that he develops between arab spring and the arab-Israeli conflict is interesting.
    @William Bilek: do you really think Arabs are anywhere near committing genocide???Recommend

  • a 54321

    @everything Narayana Murthy has said —
    jews have historically been consistently ‘kicked out’ of countries, such as england. once they are ‘kicked out’, they move onto a new place. i agree that the arabs should have allowed them to coexist peacefully in their land, but they didn’t. we can’t go back and change history. that doesn’t mean that the zionists should forcefully take over palestine and kill its people even if the area of palestine = used to have many jews living there before. incase you have not noticed, palestine is fighting. it has been more than 5 decades. palestine is still fighting. do you really think they will give up soon? they speak of hopelessness, yet they haven’t given up. they have the right to fight for their rights. now i don’t care who the original inhabitants of the land are or were, but every one in palestine regardless of who they are has the right to a peaceful life — jews, muslims, israelis, palestinians and the like. but your theory is flawed. first of all, why should palestinians give up their cultural and religious identity as palestinians and (majority) muslims, and become israelis? no. it’s their choice. you can be an expat in a country and you may never ever willingly take a passport for that country. it’s up to them.
    second, no, they shouldn’t go to other arab countries ‘where they are treated like dirt’. are you palestinian? do you live in an arab country, as a palestinian? are you even ARAB in the first place? i highly doubt it. unless you are a palestinian living in another country, you can not just generalize and be like yeah, they are treated like dirt. even if you were a palestinian in an arab country being treated like dirt, it would still be wrong to generalize because of how inaccurate generalizations can be.
    third, sorry man but jihad kind of took place. i doubt the hindus, buddhists, zoroastrians christians and so on went down without a fight. islam states clearly that muslims should go to jihad and fight only to defend themselves, esp if some wrong was done to them. if the muslims who ‘persecuted’ those people did it for no reason ie not in self defense, then im sorry but your argument is invalid because they are not following an islamic law. infact they are disobeying an islamic law. therefore, they are just individuals persecuting others wrongly, who happen to me muslim.

    also, re the prophet’s conquests – if you actually read a good book written by a muslim about these conquests, if you even RESEARCHED about the prophet’s wives [written by a muslim author] then you would realize that the prophet married a jewish woman because her entire family had died in a war. she converted willingly and he married her to protect her. women and children taken captive in wars could buy their own freedom. infect, many captives who were literate would teach illiterate people of the muslim community and then they would be set free. of course conquests occur. isn’t israel trying to take over a plestine a conquest too?
    btw your last thing doesn’t make sense. islam is the fastest growing religion with the second highest number of followers in a short period of time because it’s becoming very widespread and a large amount of people are accepting islam. what does its ‘newness’ have to do with it.

    israel: crying about ‘being wiped off the map’ by iran. currently wiping palestine off the map. so palestinians cant fight back (WITHOUT NUKES, WITHOUT TEH SUPPORT OF POWERFUL COUNTRIES EG USA) against israelis who are constantly oppressing them, denying them the right to a peaceful existence, etc. but israelis can fight back USING NUKES? if israel can fight back, then palestinians should be able to fight back, because they are the ones being oppressed.

    israel is not real. it’s called the occupied state of palestine =)Recommend

  • Abhi

    So palestine is a nation! What happened to ummah concept? why can’t palestinian live as equal citizen in say egypt or iraq or iran? I heared that Islam know no boundry, and all these nation states in Arab land are actually conspiracy of USA and western powers?
    So palestanian can happily move to neighboring area and start a new life. Israel has a very tiny land, why make so much hue and cry about it?Recommend

  • logical_atheist

    Actually, there can be no conflict resolution until and unless Israel gives up its dream of oppressing and destroying the Muslim world. And if the Israelis want a place to live in, they should go back to the place from where they were originally kicked out. There is no need whatsoever to live in someone else’s house forcibly.Recommend

  • G. Din

    “And if the Israelis want a place to live in, they should go back to the place from where they were originally kicked out.”
    Precisely. They were kicked out a few thousand years ago from exactly the lands thay have returned to. History, my friend, does not start when Muslims want it to start. They lived and prospered for centuries, before Islam was even born. Palestinians, by any definition of law, are squatters on this land. Sooner or later, they will have to vacate that land. The wise amongst them have already left or are leaving to settle down in various Arab countries.
    “So palestanian can happily move to neighboring area and start a new life. “
    That would be commonsense. But, let commonsense be damned. No one gives a damn what happens to Palestinians. Not their leaders, not their brethren in faith. The best they do for them is to give them a weekly dole because they are to be held out as an unhealable sore for the world to see, to perpetuate the victim mentality. The real reason they will never be taken in by other Arabs is simple. No Muslim can tolerate any diminution of khilafah when they are supposed to spread and cover the whole world. Ummah has no use as a concept other than providing a large pool from which Muslims draw to multiply. If Ummah had any other meaning at all, would there be as much internecine killing as we have seen?Recommend

  • Williambilek

    @a 54321:
    I have never heard of a distinct Palestinian culture. But why would you think that Palestinians living in a Jewish state would have to give up their, vulture, language, religion, or anything? 1.2 million Arabs live in Israel, and have not had to give up anything.

    Jihadists do carry out acts of violence against Muslims and non-Muslims, using Islam as their excuse. The proble is that those who call themselves “moderate” don’t speak up loudly enough against such violence.

    You say Israel is wiping Palestine off the map. The never was a country called Palestine. Palestinians were never able to vote for their own leadership until the ISRAELIS agreed to help them set up the Palestinian Authority. Israel has offered to help establish a Palestinian state in 1948, 1967, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009, and today, as Netanyahu has offered 2state for 2 people. Yet the Palestinians refuse to negotiate.Recommend

  • Williambilek


    So, according to you the conflict can only end if Israel surrenders completely, and disappears. ONLY the Jewish People are to be denied their own nation state.

    You suggest the Jewish People go “back to the place from where they were originally kicked out”.

    Great news! The have come back, exactly to where they came into being, and from where they were “kicked out” 2000 years ago. And where they live now has not been “someone else’s house” since the Ottomans, and the the Brits left the “house” that only they legally “owned”.Recommend

  • MM

    Why do Pakistanis get so riled up about the Palestine issue? Pakistanis care more about the issue than nearly all Arabs (who frankly don’t give a damn what happens to the Palestinians – they even kicked them out of Jordan, and they are treated as second class citizens in the rest of the Arab world). Egypt, Jordan and Turkey all recognize Israel. Why does Pakistan have to adopt a holier-than-Arab stance on the issue?

    Everytime something happens in Palestine, Pakistanis are the first to cry foul. Pakistani Facebookers post links of the event and insult Israel/America, media covers it all day, street protests happen (there’s even an annual anti-Israel protest all across Pakistan on the last Friday in Ramzan).

    But how many Arabs give a damn when anything happens to Pakistan? How many Arab Facebookers posted links when 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed? Or for any other unfortunate thing that happens in Pakistan, whether now or over the decades? Pretty much zero. But Pakistanis are the first in line to defend Palestine and the Palestinians, and Arabs in general. It’s part of Pakistan’s identity crisis – trying to be Arab rather than embracing their proud South Asian culture.Recommend