When Israel launched air attacks on Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, on Nov. 14, it put the contentious relationship between the two neighbors back in the international spotlight.
The attacks, which killed at least 19 and wounded many more, represent the deterioration of a truce that was established in December of 2008, after approximately 1,400 people were killed in the Palestinian city of Gaza by Israeli forces.
Israel and Palestine have had a history of problematic relations since the 19th century, when Jews first occupied Palestine, a predominately Muslim region. Many issues are rooted in the fact that Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, does not consider Israel as an independent state.
Ira Chernus, a religious studies professor at CU, is a scholar of Israeli-Palestinian relations and has written several publications regarding the conflict, which he’s been paying close attention to for almost half a century.
Israel officially became an independent state after the conclusion of World War II in 1948. Since its formation during the beginning of the Cold War, Israel has maintained close relations with the United States.
“There was sympathy towards Israel because they were so much like us,” Chernus said. “The U.S. has almost always taken the side of Israel and has given much more aid, especially military aid, to Israel. The U.S. wanted a strong ally in the Middle East when the Soviet [Union] was against us.”
Chernus said that he was unsure of the president’s stance on war in the Middle East, but thinks that Obama will make decisions that respect the long-standing history the U.S. has with Israel.
“I think the president always has a lot of reasons to do what he does,” Chernus said. “Republicans tend to support Israeli policy more than other Americans. Obama is protecting himself from criticism. The Republicans would be against him pushing away Israel.”
Chernus said he was concerned that many Americans aren’t familiarizing themselves with the conflicts between the two regions. He thinks it’s important for Americans to form an opinion regarding the Israeli-Palestinian relationship because tax dollars contribute to its funding.
As of March of this year, the U.S. has provided over $100 billion to Israel, mostly in the form of military assistance.
“Our government gives a significant amount of money to Israel and other countries in the Middle East,” Chernus said. “That’s our taxpayer’s money. It’s also for simple morality. Palestinians have been suffering terribly for many years now.”
Palestine was officially recognized as an independent state by the United Nations on Nov. 29, two weeks after the initial attacks; it had previously been considered a territory. The U.S. and Israel were both opposed to the majority vote.
Ivy McDermott, a 19-year-old freshman MCD biology major, believes the conflict should not be boiled down to finger pointing.
“I think the conflict is so deeply religious that it’s hard for either side to justify whether or not they’re right,” McDermott said. “It’s just something that has to stop.”
But McDermott said that American support of Israel is an important factor.
“Israel is basically our trusted ally in a region where we don’t have any allies, so we wouldn’t want them to lose,” she said.
Tzvi Darling, a 25-year-old senior Jewish studies major who served in the Israeli army, believes that the current war has been brewing for centuries.
Darling said that Israel had been suffering for years prior to the recent attacks and was left with no other choice than to take action against Hamas.
“In the past, hundreds of missiles have hit Israel and [Israel] did nothing about it,” Darling said. “They had to defend themselves, they have a right to defend themselves.”
Darling said the recent media coverage of the Middle East provides an opportunity for the public to learn about the region’s complex issues.
“The most important thing is to educate themselves from more than just one source,” Darling said. “You have to look at the history and put it in context with the events we see occurring today.”
Muna Malin, a 20-year old sophomore international affairs major, said that Palestine has endured the most injustice during the conflict.
“Palestine was completely screwed over by the British in the early 1900s,” Malin said, referring to Great Britain’s conquest and longtime control of Palestine. “So many human rights have been violated in Israel and the Palestinians have suffered the most.”
“Regardless of the past, I believe the only realistic solution would be for Palestine to be recognized as its own state,” Malin said. “It’s good that Palestine is finally being recognized, but they need to work out if West Bank [under Israeli military control] and Gaza can really be one state given their geographic location.”
Chernus said that U.S. citizens have more power than they know when it comes to relations with other regions. People should especially see the significance of their involvement with the relationship that the U.S. has with Israel.
“One thing that is lacking is the pressure from the American people,” Chernus said. “We don’t put enough pressure on our government. Israeli policy has been putting their people more at risk. They would be more secure if they just made peace.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Haleema Mian at Haleema.email@example.com.