A War between Muslims and Jews

 

The Last Hour would not come unless the Muslims fight against the Jews… (Sahih Muslim)

 

By the beginning of the twentieth century, conflicts between Arab Muslims and Jews were characterized by terrorism and violence. Toward the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire disintegrated and Palestine, until then an Ottoman Arab territory, was placed under the administration of Great Britain. Failing to bring peace to a land ravaged by violence, Great Britain finally turned the problem over to the UN in 1947. The UN proposed that Palestine be partitioned into two independent states so that the Jews could have a homeland. This was the first Jewish state in 19 centuries.

Arabs in Palestine and the surrounding countries sought to change this situation, and in 1948 a bloody war broke out between them and Israel. Israel, which proclaimed its independence that same year, then violated the UN plan by occupying a large portion of Palestine. All that was left for the Palestinians was the west part of the Jordan River (the West Bank) and some land surrounding Gaza city (the Gaza Strip).

(Left) The Wailing Wall came under the Jewish control after the 1967 War, when East Jerusalem was invaded by Israel.
(Right) Israel’s Haganah moved toward Jerusalem in 1948.

During June 1967, Israel carried out a massive invasion. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan had been making preparations to attack Israel for months when, in a sudden counter-attack, Israel launched the war on the morning of June 5. Israel jets flew over the Mediterranean Sea for a while and then suddenly turned toward Egypt. Egypt, which had prepared for an Israeli air attack from the east instead of from the north, was caught off guard and saw the majority of its air force destroyed before the pilots could get their planes in the air. Within 5 days, the Israeli army defeated the Arab armies one after another. Within 6 days, Israel roughly tripled its size. The invaded, and now occupied lands included the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights (part of Syria), and Egypt's giant Sinai Peninsula.

Israel also occupied East Jerusalem. After the 1948 war, Jerusalem had been divided into East and West Jerusalem. West Jerusalem, the modern part of the city, and it was held by Israel; East Jerusalem, the Old City and location of many religious shrines, was held by Jordan. After the 1967 War, Israel controlled both parts of Jerusalem, and the Wailing Wall, which has become Israel's national symbol, came under Jewish control for the first time in 19 centuries.

Nasser, who strengthened his army with Soviet weapons, denied the ceasefire that ended the Six Days War in in March 1969, in order to regain the land to Egypt, which were lost in April 1968. He also initiated a months-long mild "war of attrition." Attacks on Israeli targets were finally ended by heavy Israeli artillery bombardment of and air attacks on the cities along the Suez Canal. This development caused Egypt to sign another ceasefire agreement with Israel.
Israeli soldiers in Hebron on the third day of the 1967 Six Day War .

During the Yom Kippur feast of 6 October 1973, Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a sudden attack against Israel. Crossing the Suez Canal, the Egyptian army entered the Israeli-occupied Sinai Peninsula and started to cross the Bar-Lev Line, a supposed "impassable" border established after the 1967 War. Meanwhile, Syria moved forward on the Golan Heights. The Israeli army was taken completely by surprise. Soldiers attending Yom Kippur services in synagogues were sent headlong to the various fronts. Israeli radio, meanwhile, broke its traditional Yom Kippur silence and sounded the alarm.

At the expense of considerable loss of life, the Israel Defense Forces (Zahal) stopped the Arab forces on 9 October with their conventional forces. Soon, the Syrian army's progress on Golan Heights was also ended. Meanwhile Egypt, by now having a stronger army and reinforced by its strategic position, engaged in a long and bloody tank battle. According to the general opinon, Washington's rapid arms support to Israel that began on the second day of the war enabled Israel to win.

On 26 October, Israel began to drive the Arabs out of the territories that they had recently recaptured. Meanwhile, the threat of Israel being driven into sea was over. Yet this was not a victory for Israel, for in just a few days the two Arab armies had inflicted a severe toll on the nation: 2,700 dead in a small country with a population of little more than 3 million.

Following this psychological shock, the Israeli government took a step back. Israel agreed to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, and in 1979 Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Peace Agreement. Yet, this agreement and all subsequent ones have failed to bring peace to the region. The conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis continues, albeit with short intervals of peace.

 

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