A long history | Stories of war and loss

A long history
While it is an over-simplification to blame Israeli-Palestinian tensions directly for the current conflict, U.S. support for Israel is cited as a major source of Islamic ire against the West. Those historic tensions now play into a volatile new world order.

The battle over Israel — long known as Palestine — dates back centuries. Jews, Arabs and Christians all consider parts of it sacred. Jews were dispelled from Palestine by the Romans 2,000 years ago, but never gave up their claim to it. Efforts to restore a Jewish state began in the late 1800s, as anti-Semitic pogroms swept Eastern Europe. Great Britain, which ruled the region, promised Jews a "national homeland" in Palestine in exchange for their support in World War I.

During World War II, as 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, survivors sought refuge in Palestine. In 1947, the U.N. partitioned it into separate Jewish and Palestinian states with an international enclave around Jerusalem. Arab leaders rejected the division, demanding a united Palestine. Jews in 1947 founded Israel, immediately recognized by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced, and neighboring Arabs countries launched the first of many wars. In 1967, Israel doubled its territory when it captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt in the Six-Day War. More Palestinians fled or were brought under Israeli rule.

In 1969, Yassar Arafat became head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO. In a 1974 speech to the U.N., he called for a united Palestine "where Christian, Jew and Muslim live in justice, quality and fraternity."

Through the 1970s, the Palestinians formed "Black September" to carry out revenge assassinations and hijackings. Israelis formed "Wrath of God" to assassinate Palestinian leaders. Egypt and Syria launched battles to regain lost territory but were rebuffed, in part because of a massive airlift of U.S. arms to Israel. A series of peace talks, beginning with the 1978 Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel, have brought some political progress, but no end to the violence.

The U.S. gives Israel about $3 billion in aid each year. While the U.S. remains a staunch supporter of Israel, there has been increasing pressure to recognize some form of a Palestinian state.

Palestinians demand that Israel withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and dismantle 144 Jewish settlements in those areas. Israel says it will not withdraw to the 1967 borders, but has offered to relinquish land in West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians want their own nation, with a capital in East Jerusalem, including control of the Old City and its holy shrines. Israel calls Jerusalem its eternal and undivided capital, but says it would give up outlying Arab neighborhoods. Palestinians demand that Israel recognize the right of Palestinian refugees and descendants to return to homes in what is now Israel. Israel says it will not recognize the right of return, but will allow a limited number of refugees to settle in Israel on humanitarian grounds.

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