How did the conflict start?  Haven’t they been fighting each other for thousands of years?


  1. *This is a very brief introduction to some of the basic elements of the conflict.  For more details about the history, see the links below or try some of the recommended readings on the bottom of the information page.

Many people have the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts have been going on continuously for thousands of years since biblical times.  However, this is not an ancient conflict but a relatively recent one that began around the turn of the 20th century when Zionist immigrants began to arrive in Palestine in order to establish a homeland for the Jewish people.  After hundreds of years of persecution in Europe and as national consciousness was spreading in Europe and around the world, these Zionists (Jewish nationalists) chose Palestine as the preferred site for a Jewish homeland because an ancient kingdom of Israel had existed there 2,000 years earlier. 

The native Palestinian inhabitants of the land, who had been living there and farming the land for over a thousand years, and who had been coexisting peacefully with the small Jewish religious communities that had been living in Palestine for at least seven hundred years, were dismayed to see large numbers of European immigrants arrive in their land for the purpose of making Palestine a homeland for the Jewish people.  These Zionist immigrants first began buying up land from absentee landlords (and thus displacing local Palestinian farmers) and setting up communities that hired only Jewish labor in order to strengthen the new Zionist colonies.  As Jewish immigration increased under the period of the British Mandate in Palestine after WWI, heightened tensions between the Palestinians and the Zionist immigrants led to a series of violent riots in the 1920s which resulted in the deaths of dozens of Jews and Palestinians, including a massacre in 1929 of over 60 Jews in Hebron by angry mobs (though many Jews were also saved by their Palestinian neighbors).  The British responded by cracking down on Palestinian opposition to Jewish immigration and British policies, and by limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine.  Over the next two decades, militants from both groups began to fight against the British and against each other, with both sides sometimes using terrorist tactics, until the British eventually turned the worsening situation over to the UN in 1947. 

These early ethnic tensions were the beginning of the ongoing cycle of violence and terrorism—each side perpetuating attacks against the other, including against civilians, and each nationalism (Zionism and Palestinian nationalism) fighting for control of the same land--Jewish Zionist immigrants versus indigenous Arab Palestinian Muslims and Christians.  This same cycle has continued into recent years, though the power between the two sides is now very one-sided, with Israel maintaining an overwhelming military superiority that goes back to the conflicts in 1947-1949.  After the British turned the problem of Palestine over the UN in 1947, the UN voted to partition the land, giving the majority of Palestine to the Jewish state even though they were a minority of the total population (the Jewish state was given 56% of the land while they comprised 30% of the population).  While the Zionists accepted the UN partition plan, the Arabs (representing the Palestinians) rejected the plan as unfair, and after a few months of civil war, Israel declared independence in 1948, and neighboring Arab armies responded by invading.  When the fighting was over, Israel had defeated the Arab armies and gained possession of even more land than the UN had alloted to it (totaling 78% of Palestine).  This 1949 armistice line became what is known as today as the “Green Line”.

During the fighting that established a Jewish-majority state in 1947-1949, Israeli forces dispossessed most of the Palestinians living inside the new state of Israel in the process (the Nakba or “Catastrophe”), thus creating a Palestinian refugee crisis.  Israel later conquered the rest of historical Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank) during the 1967 war with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and imposed an occupation on the Palestinians residing there. 

By maintaining the state of Israel with a strong military force until today, the Zionist project has been very successful in its goals.  But the Palestinians have yet to realize the freedom, equality, and self-determination that they have been seeking for over one hundred years.  And today, after the failures of several peace negotiations, the Palestinians continue to suffer under Israeli military occupation.

  1. For a good primer on the history of the conflict:


  3. On the history and implications of the conflicting Israeli and Palestinian narratives by Gush Shalom:


  5. Article that examines the role of fear in motivating Israel’s military actions and policies:


  7. A short video from on the history and prospects for peace: “Middle East Peace--The Real Story”: