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50 years: Israeli occupation longest in modern history

June 5, 2017 12:49 PM
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50 years: Israeli occupation longest in modern history

Palestinians are marking 50 years since the 1967 occupation of their remaining lands this week.

Fifty years ago this week, the state of Israel shocked the world when it seized the remaining Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, in a matter of six days.

The Naksa was a continuation of a prior central event that paved the way for the 1967 war. Nineteen years earlier, in 1948, the state of Israel came into being in a violent process that entailed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Zionist forces, in their mission to create a "Jewish state", expelled some 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland and destroyed their villages in the process. Shortly after Israel declared statehood, units of the neighbouring Arab country armies came in to fight for the Palestinian nation.

The 1948 War ended with Israeli forces controlling approximately 78 percent of historic Palestine. The remaining 22 percent fell into the hands of Egypt and Jordan.

The narrative of the war is highly polarised, as is common for many events in the Arab-Israeli conflict. There exists, however, a series of events that undeniably led to the outbreak of the war.

Between 1949 to 1956, it is estimated that Israeli forces shot dead between 2,000 to 5,000 people who tried to cross.

In 1953, Israel committed the most notorious reprisal massacre in the West Bank against the village of Qibya, where 45 houses were blown up and at least 69 Palestinians were killed.

The three countries were forced to withdraw, and for a decade afterwards, a United Nations peacekeeping force was installed along the Egyptian-Israeli border.

The mid-1950s and 1960s saw the rise of the Fedayeen movement - Palestinian armed resistance groups who attempted to mount attacks against Israel.

A year before the war, Israel raided the West Bank village of As Samu' in the largest military operation since the 1956 Suez Crisis, after the Palestinian Fatah group killed several Israeli soldiers. As a result, Israeli forces rounded up the town's villagers and blew up about dozens of homes. About 18 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in the attack.

Tension between Syria and Israel was also brewing over disagreements on the use of the Jordan River water and Israeli cultivation along the border, which played a major role in leading up to the war.

Egypt then ordered the evacuation of UN troops out of Sinai and stationed its troops there. A few days later, Abdul Nasser blocked Israeli shipping in the Red Sea.

At the end of May, Egypt and Jordan signed a mutual defence pact that effectively placed the Jordanian army under Egypt's command. Iraq followed suit shortly after.

On the early morning of June 5, Israel launched a surprise attack against Egypt's air bases and destroyed the Egyptian air force while it was still on the ground, a move that unleashed the war.

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Some believed that Israel had "unfinished business" for failing to seize the whole of historic Palestine in the 1948 war. On the eve of the 1967 attack, Israeli minister Yigal Allon wrote: "In … a new war, we must avoid the historic mistake of the War of Independence [1948] … and must not cease fighting until we achieve total victory, the territorial fulfillment of the Land of Israel".

The Israeli attack on Egypt's airbases in the Sinai and the Suez reportedly disabled at least 90 percent of the Egyptian air force and dictated the course of the war. Israeli ground forces proceeded to invade Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula on the same day.

Israel also attacked the Syrian airfields on the evening of June 5. The next day, fighting ensued between Jordan and Israel for control of Jordanian-held East Jerusalem.

On the dawn of June 7, military commander Moshe Dayan ordered Israeli troops to take the Old City, which lies in East Jerusalem. Amid UN calls for a ceasefire on the same day, Israeli diplomats in New York and Washington, DC reportedly attempted to garner US support for delaying a ceasefire in order to grant Israel more time to "finish the job".

The major West Bank cities of Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jericho, fell to the Israeli army a day later. Israel also shelled the Abdullah and Hussein bridges over the Jordan River that linked the West Bank to Jordan.

After taking the Old City, Israeli forces demolished the entire 770-year-old Moroccan Quarter neighbourhood, to widen access to the Western Wall, as it is known to Jews, known to Muslims as the al-Buraq Wall. The site holds religious significance to both Jews and Muslims.

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Approximately 100 Palestinian families living in the quarter were ordered to evacuate their homes and the neighbourhood was bombed and completely demolished. The space was used by Israel to build the "Western Wall Plaza", an area that granted Jews direct access to the Wall.

Throughout the war and under the orders of Yitzhak Rabin - who later became Israel's prime minister - Israeli forces ethnically cleansed and destroyed several Palestinian villages, expelling some 10,000 Palestinians. Among the most infamous wiped out villages were Imwas, Beit Nuba and Yalu.

Israel's offensive on the Syrian Golan Heights started on June 9, and by the next day, the Golan had been captured, putting Israel at a shocking distance from the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Egypt and Israel signed a ceasefire on June 9, while Syria and Israel signed on June 11, effectively ending the war with a UN-brokered truce.

About half of the refugees had already been previously expelled from villages in historic Palestine that became part of Israel in 1948. The events of the 1967 war had them suffer displacement for a second time in 20 years.

The war was a turning point for the entire region. For the Palestinians and rest of the Arab world, it dealt a blow to their psyche and to their trust in the Arab governments.

In six days, Israel brought more than one million Palestinians under its direct control in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The 1967 war turned Israel into the country with the largest Palestinian population.

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For the Israelis, their government's seizure of territory in the war led to a sense of euphoria. Thousands of Jews, even secularists, flocked to the Wall and wept as they prayed for what they believed was a miracle from God.

The war unleashed the settler movement; a young generation of messianic Zionists decided to establish houses in the West Bank and Gaza, territory that is occupied and is not part of the state of Israel.

The Jewish state had been created in 1948 and its sovereignty recognised by most of the world's countries. But as soon as the guns fell silent in 1967, Israel, in direct contravention of international law, began building illegal settlements for its citizens on land it does not own.

"The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza reminded the world of the colonial aspects of Israel," Munir Nuseibah, a professor at the Faculty of Law at Al-Quds University, told Al Jazeera.

Despite the war being between Arab countries and Israel, those who have lost the most are the Palestinians, who are marking 50 years of Israeli military occupation this June. The occupation is the longest in modern history.

Between June 25-27, Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem and various parts of the West Bank, declaring them part of the state of Israel, in a move never recognised by the international community.

The devastating effect of the military occupation of the Palestinian territories cannot be overstated.

Human Rights Watch, a US-based NGO, grouped at least five categories of "major violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law" that characterise the occupation, in a report released on Sunday. The violations are unlawful killings, abusive detention, blockade of the Gaza Strip and restrictions on Palestinian movement, the development of settlements, and discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians.

"Israel today maintains an entrenched system of institutionalised discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territory - repression that extends far beyond any security rationale."

Settlements, which are accompanied by roads and infrastructure built especially for the settlers, control at least 40 percent of the West Bank's surface area. As such, Israel has created an apartheid reality in the Palestinian territories whereby Israelis and Palestinians live under a system that privileges Jews over non-Jews.

"In sum, Israel's prolonged occupation creates a situation of serious human rights violations and unbearable living conditions, in which communities and individuals see no other option but to relocate."

Nur Arafeh, an analyst with Al-Shabaka, a Palestinian think-tank told Al Jazeera she believes the likelihood of Israel ending its occupation is low.

"I don’t see any likelihood of Israel withdrawing from the occupied territories and ending its settler-colonial enterprise as long as it enjoys a culture of impunity and is never held to account by the international community for its violation of international law and human rights; and as long as the cost of its occupation is lower than the price of ending".

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Source: aljazeera.com

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