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World Development book case study: Gaza and the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict


I thought it was very important to include a case study that reflects some of the issues involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The conflict has had a profound impact on development on the whole region. It is not easy to write a concise case study because there are so many factors that need to be considered. There is a relatively long history which takes up a large proportion of the case study but it is needed to begin to understand what is happening today.

As this case study is being written a captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, has been returned to Israel in return for the release of over a thousand Palestinian prisoners. Two weeks before, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinians, presented a bid for the recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. The return of the prisoners was greeted by huge celebrations in Gaza and a similar outpouring of emotion in Israel. Abbas’s speech was greeted with thunderous applause from delegates but, although supported by the overwhelming majority of member states, the US let it be known that it would exercise its veto to ensure that the Palestinian bid for statehood was rejected.

Reporting these events is rarely impartial because interpretations of the events that have led to the dispute underlying these issues is so complex and deep-seated. More than any other global issue, understanding why Palestinians feel such a deep sense of grievance and Israel feels it has to act to reinforce its national security requires careful consideration of all of the evidence – and there is a lot of it. The state of Israel did not exist before 1947 but its own justification for its modern existence goes back 3,000 years.

A short history of Israel and the Palestinian Territories

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides an information site containing ‘facts about Israel’. Its explanation of the existence of the state of Israel is succinct.

"The birthplace of the Jewish people is the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael). There, a significant part of the nation’s long history was enacted, of which the first thousand years are recorded in the Bible; there, its cultural, religious, and national identity was formed; and there, its physical presence has been maintained through the centuries, even after the majority was forced into exile. During the many years of dispersion, the Jewish people never severed nor forgot its bond with the Land. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish independence, lost 2,000 years earlier, was renewed." - Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

This simple statement shows that the Israeli government believes the modern state’s existence to be based on historical ties and religious traditions linking the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. This link is associated with Zionism, which has no uniform ideology but lays claim to ‘Eretz Yisrael’ as the national homeland of the Jewish people and the legitimate focus for Jewish national self-determination. As far as Zionists are concerned, Jewish people are reclaiming land that was historically theirs. That direct link is, however, contested.

"Hebrews did not appear in the region until 1800 BCE. ‘Between 3000 and 1100 BCE, Canaanite civilization covered what is today Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and much of Syria and Jordan... Those who remained in the Jerusalem hills after the Romans expelled the Jews [in the second century of the Common Era] were a potpourri: farmers and vineyard growers, pagans and converts to Christianity, descendants of the Arabs, Persians, Samaritans, Greeks and old Canaanite tribes." - Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright, Their Promised Land.

The united Kingdom of Israel existed during the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon from 1020 BCE to 930 BCE. The old kingdom is the basis of modern Zionist territorial claims to land in the Middle East and an important factor in Israel-Palestine disputes. Jewish tribes were expelled from Palestine in 586 BCE and the area became predominantly Arabic and Islamic after the seventh century of the Common Era. The old largely agricultural way of life continued after Palestine became a province of the Ottoman Empire (1301) but in 1858 a change in land registration was introduced that had profound implications for the Palestinian people.

‘[The Ottoman Land Code of 1858] required the registration in the name of individual owners of agricultural land, most of which had never previously been registered and which had formerly been treated according to traditional forms of land tenure, in the hill areas of Palestine generally masha’a, or communal usufruct. The new law meant that for the first time a peasant could be deprived not of title to his land, which he had rarely held before, but rather of the right to live on it, cultivate it and pass it on to his heirs, which had formerly been inalienable... Under the provisions of the 1858 law, communal rights of tenure were often ignored... Instead, members of the upper classes, adept at manipulating or circumventing the legal process, registered large areas of land as theirs...The fellahin [peasants] naturally considered the land to be theirs, and often discovered that they had ceased to be the legal owners only when the land was sold to Jewish settlers by an absentee landlord... Not - Rashid Khalidi, in Blaming The Victims, edited by Said and Hitchens.

A steady flow of Jewish colonists started to arrive in Palestine after 1882, largely as a result of the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia and difficult global economic circumstances. The Land Code enabled the immigrants to buy land from absent Arab landlords through bodies such as the Jewish National Fund and the Anglo-Palestine Bank and work towards the Zionist aim of a Jewish National Home. Land bought by the Jewish National Fund was held in the name of the Jewish people and could never be sold or even leased back to Arabs (a situation which continues to the present). Despite the steady arrival of immigrants, the population was still overwhelmingly Palestinian. In 1931 the Jewish population was 175,000, compared to a Palestinian population of 1,033,000.

Britain became the first major country in the world to support the setting up of a Jewish state with the publication of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. It came in a letter from Adam Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, to Lord Rothschild (President of the British Zionist Federation) informing him of Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This Declaration was accepted by the League of Nations in 1922 and embodied in a mandate that gave Great Britain temporary administrative control of Palestine. The period of British control was an increasingly troubled period as large numbers of Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine and tensions with the Arab population increased. By 1945 over 30% of the Palestinian population were Jewish compared to 15% in 1920. As far as the Arab population was concerned, the Zionists were not interested in sharing Palestine with the native Arab population but were intent on dispossessing them to create a new Jewish state. There is a significant amount of written evidence to support that view. Palestinian Arabs responded to the perceived injustice of losing their land to Jewish immigrants by taking part in an armed revolt.

‘In 1936-9, the Palestinian Arabs attempted a nationalist revolt... David Ben-Gurion, eminently a realist, recognized its nature. In internal discussion, he noted that “in our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us,” but he urged, “let us not ignore the truth among ourselves.” The truth was that “politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves... The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside”... The revolt was crushed by the British, with considerable brutality.’ - Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle.

In 1939, Great Britain reneged on the Balfour Declaration by issuing a White Paper, which stated that creating a Jewish state was no longer a British policy. It was this change in policy toward Palestine and attempts to control the numbers of Jewish immigrants that prevented millions of European Jews from escaping from Nazi-occupied Europe to Palestine.

In 1947 the UN agreed, under pressure from the US, to the partition of Palestine. The partition was not welcomed by Jews or Palestinians for very different reasons. Jewish immigrants were unhappy that the boundaries of the proposed Jewish state did not meet their Zionist demands and Palestinians were unhappy at the loss of their right to self-determination.

‘Arab rejection was... based on the fact that, while the population of the Jewish state was to be [only half] Jewish with the Jews owning less than 10% of the Jewish state land area, the Jews were to be established as the ruling body — a settlement which no self-respecting people would accept without protest, to say the least... The action of the United Nations conflicted with the basic principles for which the world organization was established, namely, to uphold the right of all peoples to self-determination. By denying the Palestine Arabs, who formed the two-thirds majority of the country, the right to decide for themselves, the United Nations had violated its own charter.’ -  Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest.

In December 1947, the British announced that they would withdraw from Palestine by 15 May 1948. Palestinians in Jerusalem and Jaffa called a general strike against the partition and fighting broke out in Jerusalem’s streets. Violent incidents mushroomed into all-out war and both sides claimed that atrocities were carried out by the other side.

‘For the entire day of 9 April 1948, Irgun and LEHI soldiers carried out the slaughter in a cold and premeditated fashion... The attackers “lined men, women and children up against the walls and shot them”... The ruthlessness of the attack on Deir Yassin shocked Jewish and world opinion alike, drove fear and panic into the Arab population, and led to the flight of unarmed civilians from their homes all over the country.’ - Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel .

The Hadassah medical convoy massacre was claimed to be retribution for the Deir Yassin massacre. A large convoy, composed mostly of unarmed Jewish doctors travelling from Jerusalem to a besieged hospital, was set upon by an Arab mob and 77 Jews were killed. 

After the declaration of the state of Israel in May 1948, Arab countries immediately entered into the War of Palestine. For Arabs, the war was a response to Jewish attacks on villages and the violent expulsion of Palestinians. For the Jewish immigrants, it was a war of independence.  

‘The armies of the Arab states entered the war immediately after the State of Israel was founded in May. Fighting continued, almost all of it within the territory assigned to the Palestinian state... About 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled in the 1948 conflict.’ - Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle.

Those displaced Palestinians are the source of the 59 recognized refugee camps that exist in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) defines a Palestinian refugee as: ‘a person whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.’

The number of registered Palestine refugees (RPR) has grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 4.6 million in 2009. The first UN General Assembly resolution (No 194) affirmed the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property in December 1948 and has been confirmed 28 times since that date. Israel has refused to consider the right of Palestinians to return to their land or to receive compensation for their property. After the 1948 war, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were occupied by Jordan and Gaza was occupied by Egypt. gypsie

Since Israel became a state, its relations with Arab neighbours have been tense and frequently violent. The current boundaries in the region are a result of the conflict that has occurred in the last 50 years.  

Key events in Arab-Israeli conflict in the last 60 years.

Suez Crisis, October 1956

Israel invaded Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula with help from France and Britain.

Formation of Palestinian Liberation Organization 1964

The PLO was formed by Palestinian delegates claiming to represent displaced refugees. They called for the destruction of Israel and rejected plans to settle the refugees in other Arab countries. The PLO was an umbrella organization within which various Palestinian groups and militant branches operated, including Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Army.

PLO terrorism, 1970s

In the 1970s, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, the PLO carried out major terrorist attacks, including the hijacking and blowing up of three jet planes to punish the US for its support of Israel and the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and a police officer during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Six-Day War, June 1967

Israel launched an attack on Egyptian forces claiming it was a pre-emptive attack because of an Egyptian military build-up in the Sinai Peninsula. The war became regional and Israel defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. As a result, it captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Yom Kippur War, October 1973

Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. Other Arab countries supported the attack but the US provided logistical support for Israel and prevented a possible Arab victory. The Arab countries responded by placing an oil embargo on the US.

Return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, 1979

The area was returned to Egypt in return for a peace treaty between the two countries.

Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, 1980

The UN Security Council resolution 478 declared the annexation of East Jerusalem ‘a violation of international law’ but Israel claimed that it had a legal right to the territory because it was annexed ‘through a defensive use of force’. There is a long history of Israeli government disregard for UN resolutions.

First Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon, June 1982

Israel withdrew from Lebananon in 1983 after creating a self-proclaimed ‘security zone’ and evicting the PLO from their headquarters.

First ‘intifada’ declared in the West Bank and Gaza, December 1987

Riots broke out between residents and Israeli troops, leading to the formation of Hamas.

The Oslo Accords, 1993

In 1993 the PLO officially recognized Israel, and vice versa, as a result of the Oslo Accords, which also established a framework for peace involving a ‘two state solution’. Arafat and the PLO returned to establish the Palestinian National Authority within the Occupied Territories. The PLO’s fighters were mainly incorporated into the Palestine Authority’s police force in the West Bank and Gaza.

Rise of Hamas, late 1990s

The Oslo Accords set up interim arrangements but a permanent agreement, including increased Palestinian self-government did not materialize. This led to a decline in Arafat’s influence and the growth of a more militant Islamic group – Hamas. Arafat’s power and prestige were further diminished by Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza, including a siege of his own compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Second ‘intifada’ declared by Hamas, September 2000 Death of Arafat, 2004

Arafat’s death in 2004 further contributed to the decline in the Palestinian Authority’s influence over the Territories. In January 2006, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian parliament and Iamail Haniya, the Hamas leader, became Palestinian Prime Minister.

Israeli forces withdraw from the Gaza Strip, 2005

Internal control of Gaza ceded to Palestinian Authority by Israel.

Fighting breaks out between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza, 2007.

Brutal fighting between the groups ended with victory for Hamas and isolation for Gaza as many countries refuse to recognize a Hamas government because of its links to terrorism. Since 2000, Hamas has been linked to more than 400 attacks, including over 50 suicide bombings, many of them terrorist attacks directed at Israeli civilians.

Israeli forces bomb and then re-enter Gaza, December 2008- January 2009

Israeli forces re-enter Gaza and carry out major bombing and artillery attacks as reprisals for rocket attacks on Israeli settlements from within Gaza by members of Hamas (see below).

These are just some of the major flashpoints in the relationships between Israel and the Arab countries in the Middle East. Not included is a very long list of terrorist attacks, mostly by Palestinians on Israelis. Suicide bombers, rocket attacks and other extreme acts of violence have become an everyday fact of life in Israel. The conflict is the most bitter and intractable in the world and it is responsible for the most serious threats to global peace and security. Trying to explain its origins impartially is impossible and this account of the history of events leading up to the current situation is admittedly only one way that this history can be interpreted. Other accounts will have a completely different emphasis and reach different conclusions. The conflict has roots that go back 3,000 years and there seems no possibility that any accommodation between the opposing groups can be reached in the foreseeable future.

Whatever interpretation you put on the history, there can be no disputing that the Palestinian Territories (Gaza and the West Bank) have been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War (1967) and that this occupation has had profound implications for the development of the two occupied territories. The opposing sides have been in an almost continuous state of armed conflict.

The armed re-entry of Israeli forces into Gaza in 2009 was devastating and caused global concern. As with everything else in this dispute, the cause of the conflict and the evidence of the impacts of the fighting are contested. This is a brief summary of some of the key impacts although further reading is encouraged to help gain a better understanding of this important issue.

Impact on Gaza

The war started with the Israeli air strikes on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January with a ceasefire implemented unilaterally by Israel. The ceasefire followed 22 days of bombardment that largely took place in densely populated urban areas. It left over 1,300 Palestinians dead and over 5,000 injured. 13 Israelis were also killed. 750 Hamas fighters or their supporters were among the dead, the rest were civilians.

The bombing and damage to houses and buildings caused the displacement of thousands of Palestinian families. By the end of the third week of fighting UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) was providing shelter for over 51,000 people. Over a year later more than 20,000 remained in UNRWA shelters.

Israel had implemented an economic blockade of Gaza which started in 2006 after Hamas had won the election. The intention was to punish the Gazans for their support of Hamas and construction materials needed for any rebuilding programme were not allowed through the blockade because the Israeli government said that they could be used by Hamas to build weapons. Medical supplies and fuel were also only allowed through in limited quantities.

The health impacts of such an intense heavy bombardment are almost impossible to quantify. A 60% increase in the percentage of children born with health defects was reported from one hospital and an increase in blood cancers has been blamed by some people on the use of depleted uranium in the ammunition used by the Israeli forces. Long-term psychological damage to young children has been described as inevitable. It is almost certain further to radicalize young people – making further conflict even more likely.

Treatment of the casualties from the fighting was made more difficult by the damage to health facilities. A total of 34 health facilities, including 8 hospitals, were damaged and over 50 United Nations facilities also sustained damage. In addition, 4,000 homes were destroyed, as well as over 600 factories, workshops and business enterprises. One estimate of the cost of the damage was $2.4 billion. Water and sewage lines, roads and bridges and cultivated land were also severely damaged. The UN stated that there was evidence of 714 impact craters from bombs and artillery shells on open ground or cultivated land with an estimated land area of 2,100 square kilometres.

The Israeli government had been implementing a blockade of Gaza since 2006 following the election of Hamas to govern the region. At the same time, international aid was also blocked. In May 2011, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH) sailed from Cyprus carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials, with the intention of breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip. The flotilla was intercepted by Israeli forces in international waters and nine Turkish flotilla activists were killed. The incident led to a crisis in relationship between Turkey and Israel and some easing in the blockade restrictions.

Tunnels were built from Rafah on the Egyptian side of the border to avoid the blockade and were mainly used by Palestinian militant organizations for weapon smuggling and bringing cheap goods from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. The tunnels have subsequently been used to smuggle people (in and out) and commercial materials like medicine, food and clothes, cigarettes, alcohol, construction materials, cars and vehicle parts. The tunnels have been an essential part of the Gaza ‘survival economy’ but Hamas has become worried about the number of Palestinians using the tunnel system to leave Gaza and has banned their use for people smuggling (April 2010). The continued dependence on the tunnels to bring in basic items into Gaza underlines the negative impact of the blockade on the Gazan economy.

The Israeli attack in 2009 had a massive impact on the people living in Gaza. Evidence of some of the damage caused by the attack has been included in this case study but there are more detailed accounts that have been compiled by the United Nations and other organizations. An article about the possible longer-term impact of the conflict is included below.

Cost of Conflict in the Middle East

In the last decade alone, the Palestinian people have lost almost 5,000 lives, close to $40 billion in income opportunity, 20 million square meters of agricultural land, and 100 million man-hours in crossing at Ramallah. Moreover, almost 1.7 million of the 4 million residents of Gaza and West Bank are refugees.

These are the findings of a new report Cost of Conflict in the Middle East by Strategic Foresight Group, a leading think-tank in Asia. The report was finalized just before the crisis in Gaza in December 2008 and does not take into account costs of the latest phase of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The report was supported by the governments of Norway and Switzerland, AK Party of Turkey and Qatar Foundation, and prepared with input from almost 50 leading scholars from Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine Territories, Qatar and Turkey.

The report estimates opportunity costs of $12 trillion for the last two decades for the region. The precise estimates of opportunity income lost vary from country to county. For instance, the per capita income of the Palestinians will be only $1,200 next year (in 2010), as compared to $2,400 that it would have been had there been peace and co-operation since 1991. The number of people living in deep poverty (those earning below $2 daily income) increased from 420,000 in 1998 to 1 million in 2006.

Israeli settlements in West Bank increased from 137,000 in 1991 to 200,000 in 2007. If settlements in East Jerusalem are also counted, they number almost half a million at present.

The report says that 13,000 Palestinians saw their houses being demolished, and 2,000 Palestinians had their identity cards revoked since 2000.The report says that 20,000 donums (20 million square meters) of the Palestinian agricultural land was destroyed by Israeli actions from 2000 to 2007. The greatest burden was borne by citrus and olive trees which accounted for two-thirds of the trees destroyed.

The Palestinian farmers receive only 140 million cubic meters of water for agriculture, as compared to 1,275 million cubic meters by Israeli farmers, even though agriculture accounts for 25% of GDP and employment for the Palestinians as compared to 6% of GDP and 3.5% of employment for Israel. - Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, Middle East Post, 13 January 2009.

This is one of the most challenging global development issues to study. It has a very long contested history to consider and political considerations that are made more complex by recent developments in the Arab world. It is important that any conclusions reached about the factors affecting development in the Palestinian territories takes account of as much evidence as possible and reaches a balanced conclusion – even though some people may find that very difficult to do.

I’ve lost trust in all mottos… the biggest speech from the biggest leader is bullshit, all speeches in the world don’t warm up a cold person or someone sleeping in a tent after the war. The crisis is that the whole world is watching us, as though there’s nothing going on, and they’re still making speeches! - Young Palestinian in Groundviews – Review of the Gaza monologues November 2010.

Books cited in this article

Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright, Their Promised Land, Crown Publishers, 1989

Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, Blaming The Victims, Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, Verso Books 2001

Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle, Pluto Press 1983

Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest, Interlink Publishing Group 1991

Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel, Pantheon 1988

Phyllis Bennis Inside Israel-Palestine: the Conflict Explained, New Internationalist Publications 2007

Websites and news articles that may be of interest

Jan 2009 article from UN News Centre ,

Origins of the Palestine Israel conflict ‘If Americans Knew’ website.,

Article about the cost of the Arab Israel conflict from the Middle East Post,

Article from Counterpunch web site alleging there are long term aims for the continued blockade of Gaza,

June 2011 Guardian article by Harriet Sherwood about the rise in unemployment in Gaza,

November 2011 Guardian article by Harriet Sherwood about the displacement of Bedouins by Israeli authorities,

YouTube video about life under the blockade in Gaza,

International Solidarity Movement Report posted Feb 2011 about life in Gaza,

June 2011 New York Times article by Ethan Bronner describing economic change in Gaza,

September 2011 Reuters article about improvements in the quality of life in Gaza,