UCO professor explains history between Israel and Palestine

Palestinians search through rubble of Yassin Mosque after airstrike (ASSOCIATED PRESS).

Palestinians walk through Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza Strip (ASSOCIATED PRESS).

Israel and Palestine have been in armed conflict now for several weeks, but to fully understand the scope of the situation, history offers clues to analyze the series of events leading to the current situation, said University of Central Oklahoma professor Husam Mohamad.

“When you deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, unlike other conflicts, you’re going to find histories of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” said Mohamad, who is Palestinian.

Mohamad broke down the intricacies of the conflicts by discussing the various narratives between the two sides. He said there are multiple different versions of history with this conflict and one cannot analyze part of the story without analyzing another.

“Both narratives, unlike many other conflicts in the world, try to present themselves as the victims,” he said. “Usually there’s a victim and a victimizer in conflicts.”

“Although Israel is the most powerful in the region,” said Mohamad, “It still perceives itself as the victim.” While he discusses the viewpoints of both Israel and Palestine, he notes that both sides of the conflict feel they have a right to the land through the basis of religion.

He then goes on to discuss how complicated the subject is. Bridging the gap between contemporary conflicts and historical conflicts, Mohamad said, “This is not a very long conflict, it’s been one century. Primarily the last 75 years.”

“The conflict is primarily based on territorial issues and political issues,” said Mohamad. Mohamad discussed how if it were the case that one group had a spiritual right to the land over another group due to events that happened thousands of years ago, every country, including the United States he notes, would have a controversy. “You can still have spiritual attachment, religious attachment, political attachment narratives, but no nation in the world can claim that this land belongs to us,” said Mohamad. “If that were the case, Native Americans would own this land.”

“It’s resolvable,” said Mohamad. 

Mohamad said the United States could play a role in being the peacekeeper during these conflicts and can act as a mediator during peace conferences. However, he goes on to note that he doesn’t see that being an option given President Joe Biden’s hardline position of defending Israel. In his view, the U.S. couldn’t be a fair mediator between Israel and the Palestinian people.

“It’s histories,” said Mohamad. “If I were an Israeli or a Palestinian, I probably would give you two very different point-of-views.” He goes on to note how while the people in Israel and Palestine have very differing point-of-views on the situation, scholars that study history seem to be able to agree more on what has happened in history.

He then began talking about the Zionist movement, a movement which began in the late 19th century that aimed to create the Jewish sense of community, through the means of a physical nation. The movement was led by Theodor Herzl, who was an Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist and noted as the ‘father of the modern political Zionist movement.’

“They were trying to secure a homeland for the Jewish people,” said Mohamad. “The Jewish people in history have suffered more than any group we can think about.” 

As noted by Mohamad, the diaspora of Jewish people throughout Europe was received poorly by radical, harmful groups like the Nazi party. After WWII, Jewish people were still without a safe place to live. 

“Finally they settled on a territorial solution,” said Mohamad. “From the start of the Zionist movement, the argument was, ‘let’s find a land with no people, for people with no land.’”

“That formula is wrong,” said Mohamad. “That formula is a colonialist formula.”

He goes on to discuss how ultimately the way of finding a land without people did not work out. “There were people in Palestine,” said Mohamad.

Mohamad notes that one-third of Historic Palestine was Jewish, and that it was also a region where Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions all resided.

After this moment in history, Israel would become a state in 1948.

Mohamad discusses how, during this historical period, Israel would be seen as a massively powerful, young state which would gain the attention of the United States. 

“Those are the roots of the current conflict,” said Mohamad.

“So the historical context, which is not resolved, Palestinians feel that they are the victims,” said Mohamad, “The Israelis feel that if Hamas is able to do this,” referring to the Oct. 7 coordinated attacks on Israel, “Even when we are encircling them, what do you think will happen if we give them control over the sea, over the land, over the air?” 

Mohamad said that while Israel’s views are understandable, he doesn’t believe that’s how the nation would react, making the claim that Hamas is attacking due to the historical conflicts and Israel’s occupation, not because they want to see Israel gone.

“You (referring to the United States) were at war with Germany, you were at war with Japan, look at how nations behave when there is peace,” said Mohamad. 

“So the argument there is that if you make peace with the Palestinians, Israel’s security is going to be threatened,” said Mohamad, “Israel’s security is threatened right now, and it will be threatened again.” 

Mohamad said that if peace conferences and agreements are not called upon and made, the war will continue. However, he claims that if peace is actively discussed and mediation is undertaken, he doesn’t believe that Hamas would continue attacks on Israel.

“Because those who are being killed in Gaza, and those children who have witnessed those atrocities, are not going to be extremely peaceful people,” said Mohamad, “After all we are reflections of our own environment.”

“That’s not a justification, that’s an explanation,” said Mohamad, who believes that there was no justification in this conflict.

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