Continuing Conflict – Ramallah

Raja Shehadeh’s book When the Birds Stopped Singing was a pointed, passionate and heart-breaking book yet I found it incredibly informative about the perspectives of everyday Palestinians facing the aggression of the Israeli military and leadership.  It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to live in a literal war zone, with tanks driving by my house, hearing shelling and shooting around my neighborhood and not being allowed to leave my house except for a few hours every few days.  On top of that, I cannot imagine being separated from my spouse due to roadblocks and having to face the crisis alone.  Yet all of these things and more happened to Shehadeh and his friends and family during the 2002 siege and occupation of Ramallah.


The theme that I found the most alarming throughout the entire book from the original takeover to the withdrawal with continued occupation was the idea that Israeli soldiers, by way of Israeli leadership under Prime Minister Sharon considered all Palestinians to be terrorists.[1]  By constant dehumanization efforts which taught that all Palestinians, civilian, resistance or otherwise were capable of committing acts of terror against the Israeli Jews, the army was able to commit atrocities without pausing to recognize them for what they were – acts of terror in response to acts of terror.[2]  This is further highlighted by an incident described a few pages later – a woman was shot simply for hanging her laundry outside to dry – yet the Israeli soldiers shown on television were victorious over the enemy and proud of their victory – something to which the author stated they should feel shame for such actions – certainly not pride.[3]

The anger, discrimination and violence depicted in this book is almost unfathomable to me.  I know it happens all over the world, but it boggles my mind.  I cannot imagine a scenario in which driving a bulldozer through someone’s house while they’re still in it would ever be deemed acceptable.[4]   Worse than that, even, refusing to allow humanitarian and/or medical personal into the area to search for and rescue survivors is repugnant.[5]  To occupy an area without making special provisions for those in medical need just because you have the power to do so, while still claiming moral superiority is a contradiction of the highest order.[6]  Regardless of whether these actions are born out of hatred, fear, self-justifying beliefs or righteous indignation/vindication, these actions are based on the principle of might makes right.  Should things continue in this path, I do not see the war between Israel and her displaced, oppressed Palestinian neighbors ending any time in the foreseeable future, although Israel seems determined to either drive them out of their remaining slivers of land by force or eliminating the Palestinian people entirely.

[1] Raja Shehadeh, When the Birds Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege, (Hanover: Steerforth Press, 2003), 84.

[2] Shehadeh, 84.

[3] Shehadeh, 88-89.

[4] Shehadeh, 116.

[5] Shehadeh, 116.

[6] Shehadeh, 95.


The Failure of the Oslo Accords of 1993

Any peace negotiation is entirely contingent on how willing each side is to compromise, negotiate and to follow through on their agreements.  In those terms, it seems that the Oslo Accord of 1993 was doomed to fail almost before it started.  From the very beginning, Prime Minister Netanyahu (who followed Yitzak Rabin who negotiated the Oslo Accord) was determined and even built a political platform on preventing the agreements negotiated in the accords from taking place at practically any cost.[1]  Even the exchange of recognition letters between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were slanted, and clearly showed bias towards Israel.  Yasir Arafat, representing the PLO, had to recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist and to renounce terrorist activities perpetrated on the Palestinian side.[2]  In exchange, however, Israel did not have to recognize the Palestinian right of independence or of self-determination.[3]  In addition, although a Palestinian civil authority would be established, its authority was overridden by Israel’s military authority.[4]

One of the key points of contention, however, was the city of Jerusalem – particularly East Jerusalem.  Israel claimed Jerusalem as its capital, and the Palestinians wanted East Jerusalem – the home of the Dome of The Rock – to be the capital of the future Palestinian State.[5]  When Israel annexed all of Jerusalem in the war of 1967, it immediately began building settlements, destroying Palestinian settlements there and expanding the sphere of influence of Jerusalem proper for an additional 105 kilometers.[6]  Yitzak Rabin sought to consolidate the territory Israel wished to keep permanently prior to the accord being implemented, making at least part of the implementation not only impractical, but impossible as well.[7]

Given the duplicitousness of Israeli government leaders, and the relatively powerless Palestinian leadership to do anything about it, the Oslo Accords of 1993 could not possibly have been put into practice or enforced, at least not as a whole.

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 435.

[2] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 436.

[3] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 436.

[4] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 437.

[5] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 439.

[6] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 439.

[7] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 440.

Israeli Politics – In the Land of Israel

If one thing can be made clear from the book In the Land of Israel, it is that the people of Israel are divided on issues of politics, with opinions, support and political affiliations all over the board, depending on the person, the area, past experiences and hope for the future.  What was surprising to me, given the circumstances was the fact that the Palestinians interviewed who are living in Israel are divided as well.  Opinions, loyalties and beliefs are all over the place in this work, and seeing the differences in opinion from a single region of the world was refreshing and incredibly enlightening when it comes to the Arab Israeli conflict over the same piece of land.  In Jerusalem’s Geulah quarter, for example, Zionism is dead, and viewed as a disaster by the Orthodox.[1]  Contrary to the dawning of a new age with the establishment of statehood, in this neighborhood, Statehood has simply reestablished a return to the past, and not in a positive way.[2]  This view supports a compromise with the Palestinian Arabs and a return to peace apart from the continual state of conflict that independence and statehood brought with it.[3]

In the settlement of Bet Shemesh, by contrast, young men view the Arab outrage over their displacement with disgust, as well as the Labor party.[4]  The Arabs are given jobs, education and development throughout the settlements and the only reason they are unhappy with their conditions is because someone told them that they should expect better.[5]  Without that external influence, they would be content and obedient to the laws of the State of Israel.[6]  In addition to that, they argue that there are dozens of Arab countries in the Middle East and world-wide – what could be so wrong about the Jews wanting a homeland of their own in the land of Israel, and why would the Arabs want to take that away from the minority Jewish people?[7]  These sentiments are also articulated by Menachem in Tekoa – going still further that if as many Arabs are eliminated as possible, the rest of them might recognize how well they had it and be content with what they’ve been given.[8]  For Menachem in Tekoa, stopping the fighting in the 6 days war was an error in judgement, and Israel should have pressed on in order to achieve total victory and to settle the conflict once and for all.[9]

The voices reflected in this book may not be reflective of all of Israeli society as the author himself notes in the beginning of the work, but there is a clear cross-section of both Jewish and Arabic residents.  It’s clear that the country is divided over the peace process, potential compromises and their views on their Arab neighbors.  The fact that neither side can agree on a direction moving forward makes negotiations with their neighbors and the potential for a fair and lasting peace far more difficult.

[1] Amos Oz, In the Land of Israel (Orlando: Harcourt Inc, 1983), 13.

[2] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 19.

[3] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 19.

[4] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 41.

[5] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 42.

[6] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 42.

[7] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 43.

[8] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 59.

[9] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 60.

Hamas’ Leaflet #1 – January 1988

When an Israeli vehicle crashed in Gaza, killing four Palestinians, Arab resistance to the Israeli occupation reached new heights.[1]  There was an explosion of violence, anger and hatred, which set Israel at odds with Hamas –the Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-muqawwamah al-Islamiyyah).[2]  Hamas was committed to armed conflict in order to reclaim Israel in the name of Islam.[3]  Born from forty years of anger, persecution, repression and removal from their native lands, Hamas’ Leaflet Number 1 is the epitome of the tension, indignation and hatred shared by Palestinian refugees.  By invoking Islam rather than the secular rights advocated by its rival the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas sought to unite the Muslim world against the Zionists, who they viewed as foreign conquerors who needed to be removed from the land of Palestine by force.

There is no question that parts of Leaflet Number One are emphatically anti-Jewish.[4]  This document is a desperate expression of decade’s worth of pent up anger over injustices that have not been acknowledged or resolved by the neighboring Arab States or the international community at large.  In this context, while the language is inexcusable, it becomes more understandable – especially in light of the fact that this insulting verbiage is not one-sided.  On theological grounds, the Quran mandates that Muslims respect both Jews and Christians, and for many centuries all three religions lived in relative peace throughout the Middle East.[5]  Leaflet number one and the Hamas Charter also published in 1988 do have strong anti-Jewish sentiments, but later documents express regret and some of the original language, and clarify the position that Hamas is anti-Zionism, not against the Jewish religion or Jewish people as a whole.[6]  For Hamas, the creation of the State of Israel was illegal, and was done with the approval of both Europe and the United States, effectively establishing a foreign power in the Palestinian homeland, and forcibly removing hundreds of native Palestinians from their homes, their land, and their property.[7]  Although the leadership of Hamas has since tried to distance itself from its original inflammatory language in both Leaflet Number 1 and its original charter, it cannot possibly distance itself from the reality that on the ground in the territories, Zionists, Jew and Israeli are all used interchangeably.[8]

From Hamas’ inception, it defined itself as a military organization, yet proclaimed explicitly its willingness to resort to terrorism, originally found in this document.  When speaking of Palestinian Arabs that had been killed by Israeli forces, Leaflet No. 1 states that “every drop of blood shall become a Molotov cocktail, a time bomb, and a roadside charge that will rip out the intestines of the Jews.  Only then will their sense return.”[9]  Also explicit in this published document is the dichotomy of only two possible outcomes.  Arabs face either martyrdom in the resistance or victory.[10]  Hamas does not differentiate between civilian and military targets, and the more they take the offensive against Israel, the more Israel retaliates, leading to an endless cycle of violence and bloodshed that does not seem to have contemporary conclusion.  It is little wonder, then, that Israel views Hamas – like the PLO – as a terrorist organization that needs to be exterminated for the sake of its security.[11]  Conversely, Israel is hardly free from the blood of innocents, commonly retaliating against Arab communities regardless of fault.[12]

As an organization rooted in Islamic ideology, theology and society, Hamas challenges the effectiveness of the secular-leaning PLO, and aims to unite Muslims worldwide under its banner of resistance against what they view as tyranny and injustice.[13]  They are, by all counts, a terrorist organization that allows for the targeting of civilians.  Their aim is to liberate Palestine from the State of Israel and set up an Islamic State throughout Palestine as the heart of the Muslim world.[14]  While their methods fall outside the realm of typically accepted behavior, Hamas’ motives and purpose are understandable.  With decade’s worth of inaction, refusal on the part of Israel and the sluggish movement of the Arab States to act, Hamas’ Leaflet Number One is an expression of rage over injustice – an injustice that can only be solved through force in the name of Islam.








Abu-Amr, Ziad.  “Hamas: A Historical and Political Background.”  Journal of Palestinian Studies 20, no. 4 (Summer 1993): 155-69.


Hamas.  “Leaflet No. 1.” Written January 1988.  Accessed April 4, 2017.


Hroub, Khaled.  “Hamas, Israel and Judaism.”  In Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, 34-44.  London: Pluto Press, 2010.


Hroub, Khaled.  “Hamas’ History.”  In Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, 1-14.  London: Pluto Press, 2010.


Smith, Charles D.  Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017.

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 399.

[2] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1,” Trinity College, January 1988, accessed April 4, 2017,

[3] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

[4] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

[5] Khaled Hroub, “Hamas, Israel and Judaism,“ in Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide (London: Pluto Press, 2010), 34.

[6] Hroub, “Hamas, Israel and Judaism,” 35.

[7] Hroub, “Hamas, Israel and Judaism,” 35.

[8] Hroub, “Hamas, Israel and Judaism,” 37.

[9] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

[10] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

[11] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 407.

[12] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” 407.

[13] Ziad Abu-Amr, “Hamas: A Historical and Political Background,” Journal of Palestine Studies 22, no. 4 (Summer, 1993): 12.

[14] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

Differing Objectives

After the first Gulf crisis, Secretary of State James Baker renewed his efforts to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute in 1991.[1]  The framework for settlements between Israel and their neighboring Arab Nation states had previously gained traction with Israeli assistance to Lebanon, as well as talks between Anwar al-Sadad of Egypt and Menachen Begin of Israel at Camp David in 1978, but had been stalled due to lingering disagreements, semantic disputes and continued violence in the region.[2]  Arab States including Syria desired negotiations with Israel overseen by both the United States and the Soviet Union, specifically for the return of the Golen Heights.[3]  PLO representatives were not allowed to attend the meetings, but Palestinian individuals abroad and from the territories were allowed to attend as part of the Jordanian delegation.[4]  At the Madrid Conference between the years of 1991 and 1993, Israel met with delegates from Lebanon, Syria and Jordan (including Palestinians).[5]  As terrorism, retaliation and increasing violence continued on the West Bank and the Gaza strip especially, groups like the Islamic Jihad and Hamas formed under the outrage of the Intifada.[6]  These groups maintained the position that peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors was not possible, only armed resistance could free Palestine, where – instead of the secular democratic state advocated by the PLO – an Islamic state could be established in Israel’s place.[7]  The insistence of an Islamic holy war to destroy Israel and to begin an Islamic state advocated by Hamas put them at odds with Arab Nation states who still desired to negotiate peace agreements that acknowledged and recognized the existence of the State of Israel, and put them at odds with the PLO, which had almost moved to obscurity.[8]

[1] Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 417.

[2] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 352.

[3] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 417.

[4] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 418.

[5] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 419.

[6] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 403.

[7] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 405.

[8] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 410.

Political Institutions and the 1967 War

A lot of politics both regionally and international were taking place behind the scenes and out in the open, which led to the war of 1967.  Primarily, the Israeli government considered itself surrounded by hostile forces, and was bound and determined to defend itself against any perceived threats to her sovereignty and her independence.[1]  Backing Israel and competing in global cold-war politics was the United States, seeking to give Israel weapons and military defenses to help arm her against the surrounding threats and antagonistic political climate.[2]  The USSR, conversely, supported key Arab states, namely Egypt, providing defensive weapons systems in preparation for an armed conflict that would escalate into a potential global war.[3]

Undermining all efforts for a possible peace agreement, the political and ideological organization Al-Fatah and their military arm Al-Asifa were actively trying to spark the war that almost everybody else was trying to avoid.[4]  Their incursions into Israeli held territory under their mission of liberating Palestine and returning it to the Palestinian Arabs and creating a secular democratic state was backed by Syria.[5]  Al-Fatah aimed primarily to inflict terror on the Israeli populace and its government, deliberately targeting civilians and aiming in the open to draw the region into armed conflict.[6]  All of these key players factored in to the outbreak of violence in 1967.  Israel was determined to defend herself against any potential threats, and wanted to desperately assert her military superiority over her Arab neighbors, seeking above anything else to prove that she was capable of defending herself and should be acknowledged as an independent nation that had the right to exist.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Al-Fatah and the PLO wanted to reclaim their homeland from Israel, who they viewed as colonial occupiers.  Their primary goal was to free Palestine from Zionist radicalism and return to the land that they considered home.  Backing Israel in her determination was the United States.  Backing the Arab nations like Egypt, the USSR was providing weapons and support, bringing cold war politics to the conflict in the Middle East.  It was a hotbed of violent potential that sparked into the six day war of 1967, which humiliated Egypt, left more Palestinian Arabs homeless and removed from their homes and towns and left Israel with more land than they had when the dust settled from the war in 1948.

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 273.

[2] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 276.

[3] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 277.

[4] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 278.

[5] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 278.

[6] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 279.