The Great Divide: Why the concept of peace is a foreign one in the Middle East
by Nicole Elzayek
“Picture the nursery at the hospital the day you were born being hit by a bomb while you lay sleeping. Imagine growing up reading by candlelight because recent bombings have knocked out power to your entire neighborhood. Envision growing up in constant fear of bombs falling on you as you play. As a teenager, realize what it is like to be a Red Cross volunteer and have to pick up body parts of the latest casualties of war from the streets of downtown. Think about what it means to leave behind your family and the land of your birth, moving across the world to escape a civil war that has torn your country apart.” Jean Elzayek recounts what life was life after being born in Beirut, Lebanon and moving, at the age of eighteen, to the United States. Most people live most of their lives without fear of harm from bombs or civil wars, but the people of the Middle East live in a state of constant trepidation, just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The struggle in the Middle East has roots back to the time of the Crusades. It encompasses multiple countries and various sects within each of these nations. Various attempts have been made to bring about an end to the troubles over religion, politics, and national pride, but so far, no lasting peace has been established. This issue has been marred by thousands of audacious acts of violence, killing countless numbers of innocent bystanders. The conflict has recently become visible to the rest of the world in modern times due to the influence of the mass media as well as the United States’ involvement within Iraq and Afghanistan. Just turn on the new each and every day and new accounts of violence and death will be reported from the Middle East. History often seems to be repeating itself. Throughout it all, one common question has been asked by people around the world: Is peace possible within the Middle East? Many people think there is too much evidence showing that an end to the violence and a lasting peace is unlikely. The long and bloody history behind the heart of the fighting in recent decades can be traced to the center of the Middle East, Jerusalem, the birthplace of Christianity. This area, encompassing the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, also referred to as “The Holy Land” is being fought over by both Israel and Palestine. In the essay, “The Arab-Israeli Dispute Causes Conflict in the Middle East”, written by co-authors Beverley Milton-Edwards and Peter Hinchcliffe, the history of the Middle East clash is revealed and analyzed. Both authors have experience in this area as Milton-Edwards is a professor of Middle Eastern politics at Queen's University in Belfast and the author of Contemporary Politics in the Middle East and Hinchcliffe is an honorary fellow at the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Many people feel that this strip of land is tearing the Arab world apart, pitting the many nations making up the Middle East against one another. It is so mind boggling that in this day and age that something as trivial as land could cause such a long and lasting rift.
Some claim that back in World War I, Great Britain, needing help in fight against the Ottoman Empire, an area now referred to as Turkey, turned to both the Zionist Jews and the Arabs for help. In return for the assistance, Great Britain promised both groups control over most of the region once the Ottoman Empire was defeated. (Milton-Edwards et al.) The authors point out “It soon emerged that the British had promised more than they could deliver and had engaged in what later emerged as duplicitous behavior described as a disgusting scramble for the Middle East”(Milton-Edwards et al.). Once the war was over, both groups found themselves under colonial rule by various European nations, who restructured most of the Middle Eastern region and brought many Arab leaders into power. The Zionist Jews were trying to establish their own state, something which the Arabs, also referred to as Palestinians, were against. The conflict came to a head at the end of World War II when the United Nations decided that in order to stop the fighting between these two groups, divided sections would be given to each of them and the land, known as Jerusalem would be under international control. (Milton-Edwards et al.) The Palestinian people felt that “their land was being given away as a means of appeasing European guilt over the Holocaust” (Milton-Edwards et al.). Not long after the war ended, fighting broke out over the land known as Palestine. This fighting has continued ever since then with no solid resolution in place. There are those that feel that the roots of this conflict run too deep to allow a simple solution.
Differences in religion and attitudes amongst these people have led to wars, military zones, and even fundamentalist groups. According to Milton-Edwards and Hinchcliffe, “What is needed and is missing is a minimum of ideological content that can cut across their differences and unify a nation”(Milton-Edwards et al.). Far too much money has been spent on all the fighting and far too many innocent people have died in vain. Some feel that peace cannot be possible because there is no common thread between the Israelis and the Palestinians that would unite them and help them sort out their difficulties. And while these are only two nations within the Middle East, you cannot talk about these two groups without other countries in this same region coming into play. This conflict is just the basis of the discord between the other parties involved. Within the Middle East, there are Muslims, Christians, Shiites, Sunni, and Jewish religions, to name just a few. The presence of oil fields in Saudi Arabia and their control of the oil create a large discrepancy in wealth that also contributes to continuing conflict. There is a majority that believes that these differences are too many and too diverse that they are virtually impossible to overlook and overcome. In the midst of all the fighting and dispute, the seeds of discontentment have sprouted the growth of many fundamentalist groups. These are made up of individuals that see violence as a means of getting their point across to the world. Fundamentalists, also often referred to as terrorists, seek to accomplish their goal through fear. In the essay, “Israel’s Occupation of Palestine Causes Terrorism” by Hamas, the author alleges that “The Hamas movement believes that the conflict with the Zionists in Palestine is a conflict of survival. It is a conflict of civilization and determination that can not be brought to an end unless its cause--the Zionist settlement in Palestine, usurpation of its land, and the displacement of its people—is removed”(Hamas). Hamas is a group that is also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement and strives to create a situation where the Palestinian people can be liberated and given their own free state. They believe that they fight for a higher cause, a holy cause. Over the past few decades, there have been numerous reports of terrorist acts being facilitated by groups such as Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Liberation Order, and Hezbollah. These actions have taken place even at times when a tentative ceasefire has been established and had led to an escalation in violence, which is key piece of evidence as to why peace is a difficult ideal to attain. Through the years, several meetings have taken place to try and facilitate a ceasefire, but too much time was given to settle the various conflicts and treaties have fallen apart. According to James O.C. Jonah, undersecretary of the United Nations and author of “The Middle East Conflict: The Palestinian Dimension”, “There can be no durable peace and stability in the Middle East until a just solution to the Palestinian plight is found”(Jonah 413). In 1978, a peace conference, the Camp David Accord, was called by the United States, involving Israel and Palestine, but negotiations fell through as Israel refused to have Jordan act as a neutral and impartial third party negotiator. Another attempt was made recently in the 2000 Camp David II where, as Jonah states, “the creation of a Palestinian state finally became a serious proposition” (Jonah 417). However, the discussions once again broke down with no party involved willing to take the blame for the failure. And even more recently, an attempt has been made to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, an effort known as “The Road Map”, in which the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union have proposed the creation an independent Palestinian state and hopefully an end to the violence in this region. According to Pat Lancaster, writer for the journal “The Middle East”, the establishment of the free Palestinian state was to have occurred by the year 2005, a date that has come and gone. This road map for peace has stalled while waiting for the Palestinian state to be recognized. There are those who claim that the people in the Middle East desire peace, but the desire for peace is often commingled with the desire for justice or revenge for past wrongs. In these cases, actions may speak louder than words. There have been multiple meetings of the minds that have taken place in which delegates from the various Arab nations have com together to try and forge a place for peace, but the results are not long lasting. Those who feel that a ceasefire is waiting in the wings cite the beginnings of democracy as stepping stones towards this event. They cite, as Hussein A. Hassouna author of the essay, “Democracy Can Succeed in the Arab World” and Ambassador of the League of Arab States to the United Nations and to the United States does that although there are various challenges that lie in the path of democracy, every country that has strived for this same ideal has also had to face some adversity, even the United States. (Hassouna) Many people also feel that a neutral and impartial third party is paramount, but so far, all attempts to make this happen have been met with resistance. These individuals share the belief that perhaps some measure of force or punitive measures may be necessary in order to convince both sides to come to the meeting table and put these old battles to rest once and for all. Over the past century battles have been waged and lost on the battleground known as the Middle East as many nations have strived to attain a final goal of harmony. New and monumental events are taking place all over the Middle East each day. All one has to do is turn to a new source to hear, see, or read new accounts of fighting taking place. But the real question becomes, “Is peace possible?” It seems that there is a misconception that through acts of violence somehow a resolution will occur. There are far too many differences and far too much history between the various nations for them to ever be able to come together and agree on what is best for the future generations. A conflict that has gone on for the better part of a century cannot be solved overnight and for every step that is taken to get closer to a ceasefire, two steps are taken in the opposite direction as the battle gets more violent and bloody each day. The question then becomes when is enough enough? Will there ever be an end to the clash within these nations? For now, all the signs show a compromise to be an unlikely outcome.
Elzayek, Jean. Personal interview. 29 Jan 2007.
Hamas, "Israel's Occupation of Palestine Causes Terrorism." 2004: Opposing
Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints. Johnson and Wales Charlotte. 22 Jan 2007 Hassouna, Hussein A.. "Democracy Can Succeed in the Arab World." FALL 2001: Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints. Johnson and Wales Charlotte. 04 DEC 2006 Jonah, James O.C.. "The Middle East Conflict: The Palestinan Dimension." Global Insights Aug 2002: 413 - 418. Lexus Nexus. Lexus Nexus. Johnson and Wales Library Charlotte. 06 Dec 2006
Lancaster, Pat. "Brokering Peace Between Israel and Palestine Can Reduce Terrorism." 2003: Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints. Johnson and Wales Charlotte. 22 Jan 2007
Malley, Robert. “Time to Start Talking.” TIME 168.4 (2006): 30-30. Academic Search Premier. 13 December 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.
Milton-Edwards, Beverly, and Peter Hinchcliffe. "The Arab-Israeli Dispute Causes Conflict in the Middle East." 2001: Opposing Viewpoints.Opposing Viewpoints. Johnson and Wales University Library Charlotte. 04 DEC 2006
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Fig. 3 - www.whatreallyhappened.com/4IDF1boy.jpg