A decades-old struggle with no end in sight?
It appears we have been hearing about the Arab-Israeli conflict from time immemorial. However, it is important to interject historical and biblical context in the narrative to have a better understanding of this current war.
In the Bible, the phrase “Promised Land” refers to a specific region of land that God promised to his chosen people of Israel. God first gave this pledge of land to Abraham, saying, “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River.” This pledge was reiterated to Abraham’s descendants until the time came for His people to claim their inheritance.
Abraham knew that he would not see God’s Promised Land with his own eyes. In fact, God made it clear to him that the land would not be given until four generations had passed and his descendants would face the hardship of slavery in Egypt before they would enjoy the home God promised. (Genesis 15:12-16) And Abraham held on to the promise, believing that God could and would bring His descendants into their Promised Land, and He did.
Attack by Hamas
By now the entire world is aware of the brutality Hamas unleashed on the State of Israel on October 7. The surprise attack on Israel resulted in the death of more than 1,300 Israelis.
Gaza is home to more than 2.3 million people. It is one of the most densely populated places in the world. The Hamas militants are thought to have built hundreds of kilometres of tunnels underneath Gaza that were used in their attack on Israel.
Hundreds of Israelis were butchered in the land, air, and sea assault. Hamas killed at least 260 Israelis at a music festival being held in a field outside of the kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel, near the border with Gaza. The Israelis never stood a chance in this well-planned and well-executed attack.
Hamas also kidnapped around 200 people and took them to Gaza. No one was spared, as grandmothers, toddlers, teenagers, Holocaust survivors were among those taken.
The State of Israel
Israel is the only Jewish nation in the world. Did you know that the State of Israel did not exist until 1948? On May 14, 1948, the day on which the British mandate over Palestine expired, the Jewish People’s Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum and approved the proclamation declaring the establishment of the State of Israel.
The new State was recognised that night by the United States of America and three days later by the Soviet Union and many other governments. The United Nations was powerless in protecting Israel from immediate invasion by the armies of five Arab states: Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. However, at the end of it all, Israel emerged victorious.
What is Hamas?
Hamas is an Islamist militant movement and one of the Palestinian territories’ two major political parties. It governs more than two million Palestinians on the Gaza Strip, but the group is best known for its armed resistance to Israel.
Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian cleric who became an activist in local branches of the Muslim Brotherhood after dedicating his early life to Islamic scholarship in Cairo. Beginning in the late 1960s, Yassin preached and performed charitable work in the West Bank and Gaza, both of which Israel occupied following the 1967 Six-Day War.
Yassin established Hamas as the Brotherhood’s political arm in Gaza in 1987, following the outbreak of the first intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Interestingly, most of Hamas’s leadership operates from the moderate Arab State of Qatar after falling out with their previous host, Syria, when Palestinian refugees participated in the 2011 uprising.
Funding of Hamas
Iran is a significant source of funding for Hamas. It is estimated that Iran currently provides some US$100 million annually. It is important to note that Iran is also a major supporter of Hezbollah, another terrorist group that does not believe Israel has a right to exist.
In 1997, the United States designated Hamas a foreign terrorist organisation. As a designated terrorist entity, Hamas is cut off from official assistance that the United States and European Union (EU) provide to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the West Bank.
Historically, Palestinian expatriates and private donors in the Persian Gulf provided much of the movement’s funding. In addition, some Islamic charities in the West have channelled money to Hamas-backed social service groups, prompting asset freezes by the US Treasury.
It is widely believed that Hamas collects revenue by taxing goods moving through a sophisticated network of tunnels that circumvented the Egyptian crossing into Gaza. This brought staples, medicine, and cheap gas for electricity production into the territory as well as construction materials, cash, and arms.
This proposed framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict calls for the establishment of two states: Israel for the Jews and Palestine for the Palestinians. In 1993 the Israeli Government and the PLO agreed on a plan to implement a two-State solution as part of the Oslo Accords, leading to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Some Israelis and Palestinians are opposed to the two-State solution. Religious nationalists on both sides believe their respective governments did not have the right to cede any part of the land. Hamas has also rejected this two-State solution. In fact, Hamas does not recognise Israel’s right to exist and this is problematic not only for any peace accord but also for supporters of Israel, namely the United States.
Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 only served to muddy the political and religious waters in the region.
In a region known for wars and political unrest, it must be highlighted that Israel has diplomatic relationships with a number of Arab states.
The Abraham Accord, signed on September 15, 2020, normalised ties with Israel and a few Arab States. This landmark agreement normalised diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, then later a renewal of ties with Morocco. The UAE became only the third Arab nation, after Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994), to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
It is being reported that the United States is making progress towards a landmark agreement that would see Saudi Arabia normalise relations with Israel in exchange for a US defence pact and help developing its own civilian nuclear programme.
However, all bets are off after the attack by Hamas.
Jews and Jamaica
Jamaica has had a rich history of being a haven for those fleeing persecution. This forgotten history of the relationship between the Jews and Jamaica is under-reported and undervalued.
It is thought that the earliest Jewish presence in Jamaica was 1530 when Jews travelled here to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Once Britain took power of the island from Spain in 1655, Jewish immigration was welcomed, and by 1720 18 per cent of the Jamaican population was Jewish.
Jews flourished in Jamaica, becoming gold traders as well as sugar and vanilla merchants. Under the British it became legal to practise Judaism, which led to the establishment of Jamaica’s first synagogue in Port Royal. The city of Port Royal had a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 1692 that destroyed much of the city, including the first Jewish synagogue. Today, there is only one synagogue in Jamaica, Shaare Shalom, downtown Kingston, which hosts the United Congregation of Israelites.
The number of Jews in Jamaica peaked at approximately 22,000 in 1881. Today, it is estimated that there are 200-450, a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. In 1969 they established an international school called Hillel Academy in St Andrew. The school is considered among the best private institutions and has over 700 students from over 40 countries.
Interestingly, the Hunt’s Bay Cemetery is the oldest Jewish burial ground in Jamaica.
Give Peace a Chance
Successive US administrations have proposed a version of peace to solve the conflict between the Jews and Arabs, because instead of statehood, Palestinians are now divided into four Israeli-controlled enclaves.
On one side of the conflict are those who are in support of the two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. While on the opposing side are those who argue that this proposed solution is no longer viable, especially after the October 7 Hamas attack.
The current conflict between Israel and Hamas has all the trappings of a full-scale and drawn-out war that has the potential to pull in other actors on the world stage. It is imperative that diplomacy be given a chance to work. The international community cannot handle another major war, given that Russia and Ukraine are still on the battlefield.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender issues. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.