Arab-Israeli Conflict, conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East over the land of historic Israel and Palestine. The conflict has led to several wars, beginning in 1948, among Arab nations, Palestinian refugees, and the state of Israel. Since 1979 several peace accords have been signed, addressing parts of the conflict.


Throughout recorded history the land of historic Israel and Palestine, located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, was conquered many times by invaders. The area is the homeland of the Jewish people, who immigrated to the area beginning in the 13th century bc as Hebrew tribes. The tribes confederated as the Israelites who ruled much of the area from the 11th century to the 6th century bc. The Jews formed an identity as the people of the covenant but subsequently came under the rule of others until they succeeded in establishing an independent Jewish state called Judea in 168 bc. The Romans expelled the Jews from Judea in ad 135. In subsequent centuries many Jews maintained the idea of regaining control of the area, which they considered home. In the 1890s Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist living in Austria, advocated reestablishing a Jewish state in Palestine. Herzl believed Zionism (the reuniting of Jewish people in Palestine) would match 'a people without a land with a land without a people.'

Palestine was already inhabited, however. The countryside was home to Arabs, most of them Muslims, while the larger towns contained both ARABS and Jews. Some of the Jews were long established there, while others were religious pilgrims from Europe who had come to live near the holy sites in Jerusalem and other cities. (Because the vast majority of Palestinians were Muslim ARABS, the term Palestinians now usually refers only to them, not to the Jews of Israel. Most Palestinians are Muslims.) The land was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, but the Ottomans saw little of value in Palestine and neglected the area. Consequently, poverty, disease, and malnutrition were widespread. Nonetheless, the area served as a land corridor between Europe, Asia, and Africa and thus had strategic importance. It was also near the Suez Canal, which, when opened in Egypt in 1869, connected the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. Palestine was therefore important to the British, who occupied Egypt in 1882 and depended on control of the canal for its fortunes.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuriesthe Zionist movement gained strength in Europe, and large numbers of Jewsimmigrated to Palestine. The movement focused on self-reliance throughagriculture, and many immigrants settled in the countryside. To do so, Jews hadto buy land from local Arab holders of small tracts and from absentee Arablandlords of large areas. As a result, Jews and Arabs came into increasingcontact; at times, Jewish purchases led to the displacement of Arab peasantsfrom the land. Although the Ottoman government sought to slow the Zionistmovement, Jews established a significant and expanded presence. Their successfurthered the world debate about whether and how to establish a Jewishhomeland, and it also created apprehension among Arabs.

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