There is perhaps no more contested area in the world than the Israel-Palestine region. Naturally, it makes sense that such a region would be embroiled in one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises as well. Since the UN Partition plan in 1948, which divided the region into one Israeli and one Palestinian sector, and the subsequent Arab-Israeli War, the Israeli government has been responsible for the displacement of more than 7 million Palestinians. According to the UN, 5,590 Palestinians were killed by Israel from 2008 to 2020. Approximately 120,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the conflict in 1948, with the majority of deaths being Palestinian. Throughout the entire conflict, the United States has supported Israel both militarily and economically — a total of $150 billion since 1948. These raw numbers only scratch the surface of a deeply nuanced issue, which spans decades of intercultural conflict, long before the region officially became Israel.
The 1916 Sykes Picot agreement between Britain and France left formerly Ottoman Palestine in British colonial hands, and the British-written Balfour Declaration advocated for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, consistent with the ideas of the Zionist movement. Following a 1948 war with neighboring Arab states, the Jewish state declared its independence as Israel, retaining 77% of the original region of Ottoman Palestine, displacing over half of the 1.5 million Palestinians who lived in the area, by far the largest ethnic group in the region. The 1949 UN partition plan split Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, with Jerusalem split in two. In the 1967 war with Egypt, known colloquially as the Six Day War, Israel occupied the remaining Palestinian territories, consisting of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, displacing 500,000 more Palestinians.
There were conflicts between Israel and the Palestinain Hamas in 2008, 2012 and 2014 each with significant death tolls of Palestinian civilians. The strip is one of the most densely populated regions on earth, with 2.1 million people occupying about the same area as Detroit. For context, Detroit currently has 632,464 inhabitants. Since 2007, the region has been blockaded by Israel on all sides, and therefore, about 80% rely on humanitarian aid to survive, with 95% lacking clean water. These issues have persisted: In May 2021 alone, airstrikes killed 192 Palestinians, with over 70% having no association to military conflicts, and damaged Gaza’s only COVID-19 testing center. While there is violence on both sides, Palestinians have borne the brunt of the conflict.
Such atrocities are not exclusive to Gaza, unfortunately. They extend to the West Bank as well. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, agreed to by both the Israeli and Palestinian governments, the West Bank has been partitioned into three distinct regions: Palestinian-governed Areas A and B, and Israeli Area C. These accords backfired on the Palestinians, with Area C making up 60% of the territory, and military occupation of the region was sustained. 400,000 Israelis have now settled in around 200 settlements in Area C. A group of UN Human Rights Council experts has declared that such settlements “‘Tramples’ on human rights law.” These events all prove that Israel has no intention of upholding its treaty-mandated obligations toward Palestine and will continue expanding into territory reserved for Palestine.
Even within their own territory, the lives of Palestinians are severely restricted. The Sea of Galilee, a major freshwater reservoir, is piped exclusively to Israeli territory, and the Jordan River, the third-largest water source in the Middle East, which supplies the Sea of Galilee, is diverted away from the West Bank. Israeli territory enjoys a 20% surplus of water, with water simultaneously incredibly scarce in both Gaza and the West Bank. Such restrictions are all examples of the lengths the Israeli state has gone to restrict the lives of Palestinians. The question remains: What role does the U.S. government play in these actions?
In spite of this, the U.S. continues to send aid to Israel. Since 1970, the U.S. has, on dozens of occasions, blocked UN resolutions to censure Israeli encroachment. While the U.S. officially supports a two-state solution, it has on numerous occasions declined to recognize Palestine’s sovereignty. The Trump administration took a vastly more pro-Israel stance, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, closing relations with Palestine and proposing a “solution” which would see Israel annex 70% of the West Bank. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has provided more foreign aid to Israel than to any other country — more than half of foreign military aid for 2022 was marked for Israel. The U.S. is obligated to provide nearly $4 billion in military funds per year since 2016. The U.S. gives a fraction of that aid to Palestine, with only about $600 million set aside for Palestine humanitarian aid this year.
The U.S. is by far Israel’s largest benefactor and thus also has the greatest leverage in facilitating a greatly needed two-state solution. Firstly, the U.S. must recognize Palestine’s sovereignty and redistribute its military aid to help Palestinians. In addition, the U.S. must denounce the construction of any more Israeli settlements in the West Bank, advocate for the ending of the Israeli Defense Force’s occupation of the West Bank, and push for the destruction of the wall that surrounds Gaza and the West Bank. This will go a long way to better guaranteeing Palestinian sovereignty.
Considering all of these factors, it is also important to state one of the reasons why Israel feels justified in its action. Historically speaking, the Jewish people have long been an oppressed group, such oppression coming to a disgustingly tragic head with the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. With this level of oppression, there needs to be a place in the world for Jews to feel safe and protected from all the hardship they have suffered throughout history. While the movement of Zionism and the creation of the state of Israel was directly connected to these efforts, one cannot exchange such a meaningful pursuit with the mass oppression of the region’s previous inhabitants — Palestinians. Such behavior completely invalidates the noble effort of creating a safe haven for Jews, as in no way does being an oppressed group validate the oppression of another. Palestinians have equal, if not greater, claim to the territory, living there for 1,813 years prior to 1948.
The U.S. must also facilitate more talks between Hamas and the Israeli government to ensure that a new resolution can be brokered, one that ensures that the violence between Gaza and Israel can be minimized to reduce the catastrophic loss of life within the region. Once that is achieved, it will be far easier to bring in more humanitarian aid to relieve the crisis.
Such a crisis cannot be solved overnight, and requires massive effort from all sides. Even still, such effort is necessary to ensure relief from one of the greatest humanitarian issues in history, in one of the most historically significant regions; a conflict that has stretched on for almost 80 years, and where the lives of millions are at stake may require U.S. pressure to hasten its end.
Maximilian Schenke is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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