The arab-israeli conflict

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CURRENT SITUATION: Perspectives on Violence

Efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have repeatedly reached a dead end. As Israeli novelist Amos Oz put it, there are "two peoples and one land" caught up in "a clash between right and right."


The documents below relate to a violent clash in Gaza between Arabs and Israelis. Israelis have a right to be free from indiscriminate rocket and mortar strikes from Gaza. Palestinians in Gaza have a right to be free from Israeli blockades and bombings.

After a 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip, Israel removed most of its settlers and army. A Palestinian election resulted in a victory for Hamas. "Hamas" is an acronym in Arabic for the "Islamic Resistance Movement" and a division of Palestinian Authority. Hamas was founded in the 1980s with, ironically, Israel's help. Israel saw the Islamic group as a way to counter Fatah *. Hamas states in its charter that it "strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine" from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean and so continues to see the fight with Israel as legitimate. They want to live free of blockades and they want their own independent state. Israeli officials said their main goal was to end rocket and mortar fire from Gaza that hits nearby towns or cities. Another goal was to destroy Hamas-built tunnels running from Gaza to the Egyptian border. Through them come weapons, food and other supplies.

(* In another Palestinian territory, the West Bank, Fatah, a reverse acronym for "Palestinian National Liberation Movement," is the leadership group. Fatah, the older of the two organizations, has recognized Israel's nationhood and participated in an Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" for years.)
On December 27, 2008 waves of Israeli warplanes bombed security compounds in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, killing more than 200 and wounding more than 400.

Document 1

Collection of Press Cuttings

"The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion in Gaza, as black clouds of smoke rose above the territory, ruled by Hamas for the past 18 months. Some of the Israeli missiles struck in densely populated areas as children were leaving school and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children….The Israeli army said Palestinian militants had fired some 300 rockets and mortars at Israeli targets over the past week." (Associated Press, 12/27/08)

On January 3 Israeli tanks and thousands of troops invaded Gaza, a 25-mile-long strip of territory along the Mediterranean Sea. Fierce fighting, Israeli bombings and Hamas rocket attacks continued. By January 11 Israeli troops were fighting on the outskirts of Gaza City. Israel's attack followed the end of a six-month truce between Israel and Hamas that was not fully observed by either side. Hamas agreed to end rocket fire into southern Israel but did not end it completely. Israel agreed to ease an economic embargo that kept out of Gaza full supplies of drugs, medical equipment, food, commercial goods and money but did not meet its commitment completely. (, 11/25/08)

"There is no clear understanding of what constitutes a military target. Palestinians argue that because Hamas is also the government in Gaza, many of the police officers who have been killed were civil servants, not hard-core militants," reports Taghreed El-Khodary in the Times. "The ambiguity was evident in the intensive care ward in Shifa Hospital….There were 11 patients. One was a pharmacist…who had a shrapnel wound to the head. Several were police officers. It was impossible to know the identities of many of the others. But there were several children in another intensive care unit….Among them was Ismael Hamdan, 8, who had severe brain damage as well as two broken legs, according to a doctor there. Earlier that day, two of his sisters, Lama, 5, and Hayya, 12, were killed." (Taghreed El-Khodary, "In Dense Gaza, Civilians Suffer, New York Times, 1/1/09)

After 22 days, Israel and Hamas agreed to an uneasy truce. In Israel, 13 were dead, including three civilians, and some buildings were damaged. In Gaza more than 1,400 were dead, hundreds of them children; 5,500 were wounded; thousands of homes, schools, and government buildings were destroyed; 50,000 were left homeless. Almost $2 billion in damage had been suffered in Gaza. (, 1/22/09)

Document 2

President Obama’s Response
Two days after his inauguration, President Obama declared, "Let me be clear. America is committed to Israel's security and we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats."

Responding to the Gaza conflict, he said, "I was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent days and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza. Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clear water, and basic medical care, and who've faced suffocating poverty for far too long."

The president also said, "The outline for a durable ceasefire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire. Israel will complete the withdrawal of forces from Gaza. The U.S. and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot re-arm. As part of a lasting ceasefire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime…." (, 1/22/09)

Document 3

Israeli Response
Dore Gold wrote in the Jerusalem Post: "The attack becomes a war crime when it is directed against civilians (which is precisely what Hamas does) or when the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage."

But Gold wrote that even if the Palestinian casualties increase, "the numbers reported indicate that there was no clear intent to inflict disproportionate collateral civilian casualties….Numbers matter less than the purpose of the use of force. Israel has argued that it is specifically targeting facilities serving the Hamas regime and its determined effort to continue its rocket assault on Israel: headquarters, training bases, weapons depots, command and control networks, and weapons-smuggling tunnels. In this, Israel is respecting the international legal concept of proportionality." (, 12/30/08)

Document 4

United Nations Resolution 1515 (2003)

19 November, 2003 - Resolution 1515 (2003)

The Security Council,

"Recalling all its previous relevant resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and the Madrid principles,

"Expressing its grave concern at the continuation of the tragic and violent events in the Middle East,
"Reiterating the demand for an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction,

"Reaffirming its vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders,

"Emphasizing the need to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks,

"Welcoming and encouraging the diplomatic efforts of the international Quartet and others,

"1. Endorses the Quartet Performance-based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (S/2003/529);

"2. Calls on the parties to fulfil their obligations under the Roadmap in cooperation with the Quartet and to achieve the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security;

"3. Decides to remain seized of the matter."

Document 5

Palestian View
Gideon Levy wrote in another Israeli newspaper, Haaretz: "Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom. What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime. The pictures that flooded television screens around the world yesterday showed a parade of corpses and wounded being loaded into and unloaded from the trunks of private cars that transported them to the only hospital in Gaza worthy of being called a hospital. Perhaps we once again need to remember that we are dealing with a wretched, battered strip of land, most of whose population consists of the children of refugees who have endured inhumane tribulations….The line of thinking that states that…abusing the population and killing its sons will sear this into their consciousness; and that a military operation would suffice in toppling an entrenched regime and thus replace it with another one friendlier to us is no more than lunacy." (, 12/28/08)

Document 6

Perspectives on the Arab Israeli Conflict

United States

United Nations



Other Arab Nations


(Based on what you have read, what are your own thoughts?)

Complete the chart below using evidence from the documents, your prior knowledge and previous class materials. Summarize the perspective of each nation/international body/population pertaining to the Arab Israeli Conflict. Cite specific examples from the documents whenever possible to support each perspective.

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