Palestine: The Basics

The Historical Basics

  PHOTO: Haganah fighters ( Jewish paramilitary organization in the British Mandate of Palestine) expel Palestinians from Haifa. May 12, 1948. (AFP/Getty Images) 

 The following is a very short synopsis of the history of this conflict. We recommend that you also read the much more detailed account, "The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict." 

 For centuries there was no such conflict. In the 19th century the land of Palestine was inhabited by a multicultural population – approximately 86 percent Muslim, 10 percent Christian, and 4 percent Jewish – living in peace.


 In the late 1800s a group in Europe decided to colonize this land. Known as Zionists, they represented an extremist minority of the Jewish population. Their goal was to create a Jewish homeland, and they considered locations in Africa and the Americas, before settling on Palestine.

 At first, this immigration created no problems. However, as more and more Zionists immigrated to Palestine – many with the express wish of taking over the land for a Jewish state. In many places Zionists manipulated local Jewish populations into going to Palestine/Israel, in some cases using subterfuge and terrorism. – the indigenous population became increasingly alarmed.  Eventually, fighting broke out, with escalating waves of violence. Hitler’s rise to power, combined with Zionist activities to sabotage efforts to place Jewish refugees in western countries], led to increased Jewish immigration to Palestine, and conflict grew. 

UN Partition Plan

 Finally, in 1947 the United Nations decided to intervene. However, rather than adhering to the principle of “self-determination of peoples,” in which the people themselves create their own state and system of government, the UN chose to revert to the medieval strategy whereby an outside power divides up other people’s land. 

1947-1949 War

 While it is widely reported that the resulting war eventually included five Arab armies, less well known is the fact that throughout this war Zionist forces outnumbered all Arab and Palestinian combatants combined – often by a factor of two to three. Moreover, Arab armies did not invade Israel – virtually all battles were fought on land that was to have been the Palestinian state.

Finally, it is significant to note that Arab armies entered the conflict only after Zionist forces had committed 16 massacres, including the grisly massacre of over 100 men, women, and children at Deir Yassin. Future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, head of one of the Jewish terrorist groups, described this as “splendid,” and stated: “As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, Thou has chosen us for conquest.” Zionist forces committed 33 massacres altogether.

By the end of the war, Israel had conquered 78 percent of Palestine; three-quarters of a million Palestinians had been made refugees; over 500 towns and villages had been obliterated; and a new map was drawn up, in which every city, river and hillock received a new, Hebrew name, as all vestiges of the Palestinian culture were to be erased. For decades Israel denied the existence of this population, former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once saying: “There were no such thing as Palestinians."  Sunday Times, June 15, 1969, quoted widely. 

1967 War & USS Liberty

 In 1967, Israel conquered still more land. Following the “Six Day War,” in which Israeli forces launched a highly successful surprise attack on Egypt, Israel occupied the final 22% of Palestine that had eluded it in 1948 – the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since, according to international law it is inadmissible to acquire territory by war, these are occupied territories and do not belong to Israel. It also occupied parts of Egypt (since returned) and Syria (which remain under occupation). Also during the Six Day War, Israel knowingly and deliberately attacked a US Navy ship, the USS Liberty, killing and injuring over 200 American servicemen. President Lyndon Johnson recalled rescue flights, saying that he did not want to “embarrass an ally.” In 2004 a high-level commission chaired by Admiral Thomas Moorer, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, found this attack to be “an act of war against the United States,” a fact few news media have reported.  This attack has in fact largely been covered up in the US media and by the NSA. Fifty years later, one of the worst attacks in history against a noncombatant U.S. naval vessel, remains shrouded in secrecy.

Additional information can be found at: and the BBC documentary "USS Liberty: Dead in The Water" can be located in the recommended video section above.

Current Conflict

 There are two primary issues at the core of this continuing conflict. First, there is the inevitably destabilizing effect of trying to maintain an ethnically preferential state, particularly when it is largely of foreign origin. The original population of what is now Israel was 96 percent Muslim and Christian, yet, these refugees are prohibited from returning to their homes in the self-described Jewish state (and those within Israel are subjected to systematic discrimination).

Second, Israel’s continued military occupation and confiscation of privately owned land in the West Bank, and control over Gaza, are extremely oppressive, with Palestinians having minimal control over their lives. Thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children are held in Israeli prisons. Few of them have had a legitimate trial; per B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, physical abuse and torture are frequent. Palestinian borders (even internal ones) are controlled by Israeli forces. Periodically men, women, and children are strip searched; people are beaten; women in labor are prevented from reaching hospitals (at times resulting in death); food and medicine are blocked from entering Gaza, producing an escalating humanitarian crisis. Israeli forces invade almost daily, injuring, kidnapping, and sometimes killing inhabitants.

According to the Oslo peace accords of 1993, these territories were supposed to finally become a Palestinian state. However, after years of Israel continuing to confiscate land and conditions steadily worsening, the Palestinian population rebelled. The Barak offer, widely reputed to be generous, was anything but. This uprising, called the “Intifada” (Arabic for “shaking off”) began at the end of September 2000. 


Video Resources

 Recommended Viewing:

How Palestine Became Colonized

 Abby Martin’s on-the-ground investigation in Palestine, The Empire Files looks at the long history of Zionist colonization, expansion and expulsion of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants. (22 mins)

AIPAC & Stealth Israel Political Action Committees


Janet McMahon of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs explains the history and impact of "stealth PACs." Why has the American Israel Public Affairs Committee spawned a network of PACs across America? Shouldn't they be consolidated to have reduced total contribution limits like other PACs? How has the American Israel Public Affairs Committee secretly coordinated stealth PACs, and what has been done about it? 

 Recommended Viewing:

 John Mearsheimer - Changes in the Israel Lobby 

Full speech given by John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago professor and co-author of "Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy") discussing how the lobby has changed since the original publication of the book he co-authored with Stephen Walt and the future of the lobby under the new administration at the "Israel Lobby and American Policy" conference on March 24th, 2017 at the National Press Club. 

 John Mearsheimer: Inevitability of the One State Solution 

 John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago professor and coauthor of "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," give a speech entitled "The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs the New Afrikaners" at the Palestine Center in Washington DC on April 29, 2010. 


Palestinian-Israeli Conflict For Beginners

 The CORE issues of the Palestinian-Israeli are the collective dispossession and ethnic cleansing (compulsory population transfer to achieve political objectives) of the Palestinian people for the past six decades. In our opinion, the conflict would have been at the same level of intensity even if both parties had been Jewish, Muslims, or Christians. 


We have compiled the following articles to introduce the reader to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:  



Bibliography of Books on Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

Books by Jewish Authors

  • Witness in Palestine, by Anna Baltzer, available at
  • Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, by Tanya Reinhart, Second Edition
  • 1949: The First Israelis, by Tom Segev
  • The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Crisis, 2004 edition, by Benny Morris
  • Image and Reality of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, by Norman Finkelstein, New Ed.
  • The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent, by Tom Segev
  • Reporting from Ramallah : An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land, by Amira Hass
  • Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, by Norman Finkelstein
  • The Lemon Tree An Arab, A Jew, and The Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan
  • Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel, by Benjamin Beit-Hallami
  • The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians, by Ilan Pappe
  • Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation, by Mark Ellis


  • Arna's Children
  • The Children of Shatila
  • Peace, Propoganda and the Promised Land
  • Salt of the Earth (About Palestinian Christians in the West Bank)


Books by Others

  • Palestine & Palestinians: A Guidebook (ISBN No. 9950-319-011-3). Published by Alternative Tourism Group in Beit Sahour, West Bank
  • Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on Middle East Policy, by Kathleen Christison
  • Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, by Naim Ateek
  • Deliberate Deceptions: Facing the Facts About the US-Israeli Relationship, by Paul Findley
  • They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby, by Paul Findley
  • Blood Brothers, by Father Elias Chacour
  • We Belong to the Land: The Story of a Palestinian Christian Who Lives for Peace and Reconciliation, by Father Elias Chacour
  • I Am a Palestinian Christian, by Mitri Raheb (Fortress Press)
  • Whose Land? Whose Promise? by Gary Burge (Pilgrim Press)
  • Bethlem Beseiged: Stories of Hope in Times of Trouble, by Mitri Raheb
  • Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, by Jimmy Carter
  • When the Rain Returns: Toward Justice and Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel, by an International Quaker Working Party on Israel and Palestine. Published by the American Friends Service Committee.
  • Once Upon a Country a Palestinian Life, by Sari Nusseibeh



  • Arna's Children
  • The Children of Shatila
  • Peace, Propoganda and the Promised Land
  • Salt of the Earth (About Palestinian Christians in the West Bank)
  •  JVP Boston has 60+ films to lend for free in its ever-expanding film library. They have some unforgettable films—both documentaries and fiction. Their films are licensed for personal use and to show to small groups.

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