The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Historical Primers That Help Explain the Century-Long Conflict

On Octo­ber 7th, Hamas invad­ed Israel and bru­tal­ly mas­sa­cred 1,400 Israelis, most­ly civil­ians. On a per capi­ta basis, the attack amount­ed to twelve 9/11s (per The Econ­o­mist). It also marked the sin­gle blood­i­est attack on Jews since the Holo­caust. Faced with an exis­ten­tial threat, Israel has launched its own dev­as­tat­ing inva­sion of Gaza, with the goal of destroy­ing Hamas lead­er­ship. Already, the assault has left 9,000 civil­ians dead and tipped the pop­u­la­tion into a human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis. Bar­ring a cease­fire, the casu­al­ties will almost cer­tain­ly mount from here.

This explo­sion of vio­lence rep­re­sents the lat­est chap­ter in a cen­tu­ry-long strug­gle between Jews and Arabs in the region. For those who have a ten­u­ous grasp of the his­to­ry of this con­flict (it’s admit­ted­ly long and com­pli­cat­ed), we’ve pulled togeth­er some help­ful resources that explain key turn­ing points in the strug­gle. Over­all, these resources strive to offer a bal­anced account of the con­flict, mean­ing they try to rec­og­nize the per­spec­tive of both sides and avoid offer­ing a naked­ly par­ti­san account. While not per­fect or com­pre­hen­sive, the resources offer a start­ing point for putting today’s events in his­tor­i­cal con­text.

To start, the Vox primer above traces the arc of the con­flict, start­ing with the rise of nation­al­ism and Zion­ism in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, and the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion (1917) that announced sup­port for the estab­lish­ment of a “nation­al home for the Jew­ish peo­ple” in Pales­tine. From there, the video cov­ers the ris­ing ten­sion between Jews and Arabs dur­ing the 1930s, then the Holo­caust and the Unit­ed Nations’ plan (1947) to divide the con­test­ed ter­ri­to­ry into two states, one for Jews and one for Arabs. The Jews accept­ed the plan. The Arabs did­n’t and launched an attack on the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion, start­ing the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Israel won, achieved state­hood, seized lands orig­i­nal­ly del­e­gat­ed to the Pales­tini­ans and expelled res­i­dents, some­times vio­lent­ly, from their homes. Next comes the Six-Day War of 1967 and the 1973 Yom Kip­pur War (odd­ly not men­tioned by Vox). Then, we have the rise of the PLO and lat­er Hamas (two orga­ni­za­tions that have denied Israel’s right to exist); the vex­ing Israeli set­tler move­ment; the start of the first Intifa­da in 1987; attempts to make peace cul­mi­nat­ing in the Oslo Accords in 1993; and final­ly the break­down of those peace efforts, thanks to extrem­ists on both sides. Vox ends the nar­ra­tive in about 2015, won­der­ing about the future–the future we’re expe­ri­enc­ing right now.

Imme­di­ate­ly above, you can lis­ten to a recent pod­cast host­ed by The Atlantic’s Derek Thomp­son. Fea­tur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with two his­to­ri­ans (Ben­ny Mor­ris and Zachary Fos­ter), the pod­cast walks us through “the ori­gins of the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict, from antiq­ui­ty to Octo­ber 7”–reinforcing and elab­o­rat­ing on points made in the Vox video. Even­tu­al­ly, the host and his­to­ri­ans also “share their thoughts on Israel’s mil­i­tary response, the future of the con­flict, and the ‘miss­ing mod­er­ate mid­dle’ on both sides.”

We come next to a New York Times inter­view with David K. Shipler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning book, Arab and Jew: Wound­ed Spir­its in a Promised Land. Here, the con­ver­sa­tion focus­es on the piv­otal events of 1948, and how the Israelis and Pales­tini­ans have devel­oped their own nar­ra­tives of the events that took place that year. As Shipler explains, these nar­ra­tives have shaped the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian strug­gle ever since, and they con­tin­ue to shape the events on the ground in Gaza today. To under­stand the nar­ra­tives is to under­stand why the con­flict has endured for so long.


Final­ly, we’re adding a video designed for a younger audi­ence from John Green’s World His­to­ry Crash Course. Com­plet­ed in 2015, the video does­n’t cov­er the cur­rent cri­sis. But it pro­vides anoth­er overview of the deep­er his­tor­i­cal con­flict, while touch­ing on the same nar­ra­tives that Shipler out­lines above.

We’ll try to post more resources as we find them…

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon. If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.