Following victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, the State of Israel began to occupy the West Bank (also known as Judea & Samaria), the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, as well as annexing East Jerusalem. Following a formal peace agreement with Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula was returned in 1982, while the Golan was de facto annexed in 1981. Throughout this time, Israelis were settling in the occupied territory for ideological, security and financial reasons. While the government offered financial incentives for those moving into these areas, ‘ideological settlers’ sought to repopulate areas such as Hebron with Biblical significance and realise a vision of ‘Greater Israel’.
In 1991, three years of negotiations began in Madrid and finished with the Oslo Accords (both I and II, the latter of which was signed in 1995). These accords were signed by Yasser Arafat and Yitschak Rabin under the auspices of President Bill Clinton. They established the Palestinian Authority, as well establishing a roadmap for a peaceful transition of authority over the West Bank and Gaza Strip over a 5-year period. The first step of this, established under Oslo II, was to split the West Bank into Areas A, B & C. Area A (18% of the landmass) is under full civic and security control of the Palestinian Authority, Area B (22%) is under Palestinian civic and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control, and Area C (60%) is under full Israeli civic and security control. The Israeli settlements and outposts established by Israelis were accommodated within Area C, where there has been a sharp rise in settler-related violence. The subsequent steps were never taken.
Since the end of the Second Intifada – brought about following the collapse of negotiations and escalations in political polarisation and violence – there has been more separation and an increase in checkpoints as a security measure. The result is that a West Bank Palestinian may frequently have to pass through IDF checkpoints, and is unable to travel into Israel without prior approval from the IDF. Checkpoints may be closed without notice. A Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem is able to live and travel within Israel, however their residency rights are under threat if they leave the city of Jerusalem for a sustained period of time.
In 2005, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon opted for the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. In the subsequent democratic elections that took place in the region (2006), Hamas took power in the newly-independent region and expelled the Palestinian Authority. Military confrontations between the IDF and the Islamist group have been punctuated by full-scale military operations: Operation Cast Lead (2008), Operation Pillar of Defence (2012) and Operation Protective Edge (2014).
In the 50 years since the occupation began, hope and belief in peace has given way to violence, cynicism and despair. Entrenched nationalism and extremism has meant that the will of both peoples to see two states for two people has become increasingly difficult to realise, to the point where many call it ‘impossible’.
Very often, the occupation is justified by pointing at Palestinian terror. The unwillingness to get around the table is justified by continued violent occupation. We are then told “there is no partner for peace”. We feel that this statement, which may apply to the political leadership, cannot deter us from seeking partners within Palestinian society. We believe that only by building connections will we see the end of the occupation. We believe that only by taking action will we see peace. And as British Jews, the best we can do, is to believe in and support like-minded activism on the Palestinian side.
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