A Look at Modern Israeli-Palestinian Conflict as Gaza War Looms

military airstrikes and civilians on the ground clash in israel

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Conflict in Gaza has spread through several Israeli cities, killing civilians. Rockets and antimissile defense weapons flew on May 12 while mobs of Jewish and Muslim civilians clashed, resulting in death, injury, and destruction of property. The longstanding conflict changed with the first intifada.

Gaza burning with sunset
Israel-Gaza conflict rages on as airstrikes cause death, injury, and destruction of property. Photo by Al Jazeera English / Flickr / (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A new surge of violence in Gaza erupted May 10, culminating on May 12 in military airstrikes and—most surprisingly—street violence between rival civilian mobs of Jews and Muslims.

The city of Jerusalem has held much significance for the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for thousands of years. Modern-day Israel and its surrounding nations have seen interreligious territorial disputes, violence, and full-scale war between Muslims and Jews. As a new page is written in the tragic and long-lasting struggle between the Israeli and Palestinian people, one particular turning point worth noting is the first Intifada in 1987.

In his video series Thinking about Religion and Violence, Dr. Jason C. Bivins, Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at North Carolina State University, explained how the conflict has changed just in the last 35 years.

December 9, 1987

“Intifada” is an Arabic word meaning “uprising” or “rebellion,” though most of the time it is specifically used in the context of the uprisings of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip against occupying Israeli forces. The first such intifada began on December 9, 1987.

“The intifada was a response to a traffic incident in the Gaza Strip, in which an Israeli vehicle killed a number of Palestinians,” Dr. Bivins said. “This marked a turning point, and from here on out there were numbers of ordinary Palestinian citizens—not just the military actors of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)—who were willing to rise up against the Israeli police and against settlers.

“There was also film footage of the intifada, showing demonstrations, strikes, children throwing rocks at police, and often brutal military responses to these varied actions.”

According to Dr. Bivins, whether the footage did so intentionally or not, it often portrayed a Palestinian sense of being a vulnerable population oppressed by a military state. Additionally, he said, it seemed to be a reversal of what he called “the Arab sense of disbelief and humiliation after the wars” that Israel could prevail against them.

Hamas Proclaims a Unique Jihad

“During this period, we see the formation of Hamas, which is an Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement,” Dr. Bivins said. “This was a more explicitly religious expression of the broader resistance, and it had links to two highly militant groups: the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Lebanon’s Hezbollah (which means Party of God).

“Hamas proclaimed that it was enacting a jihad against ‘the oppressor Israeli state.'”

This particular declaration of jihad, Dr. Bivins said, marked a major development in humanity’s broader conceptualization of religion and violence, because it wasn’t about individual heretics or opposing religious traditions. It was about a modern nation-state and its supporters, such as the United States.

U.S. President Bill Clinton helped broker the Oslo Accord of 1993, which partitioned Israel and ended the first intifada. The second intifada began in September 2000, resulting in more than 4,000 deaths.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily