No end in sight for Palestinian-Israeli conflict

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2008, 12:00am

Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip aims to stop rocket attacks by Palestinian militants

The Israeli government has implemented a weeks-long blockade - backed by Egypt - to deter rocket attacks on its border territories by Palestinian militants.

The blockade was tightened two weeks ago; fuel shipments and even humanitarian aid have been barred from entering the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have been left without electricity. Hospitals, too, have run out of power, despite having separate generators, and could barely provide treatment to patients. Aid agencies have voiced concerns about an impending humanitarian crisis.

A crisis was temporarily averted as Palestinian militants dramatically bombed down a section of border fence between Gaza and Egypt, allowing Palestinians to flood into the neighbouring country to purchase food, fuel and other daily necessities.

Conflict between Palestinians and Israel dates back to more than five decades, yet there is no sign of a halt to the bloodshed.

Every once in a while large-scale armed clashes break out in the region and attract global attention. In June 2006, a Palestinian militant group abducted an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, leading to a violent confrontation.

The Israeli Air Force bombed the Gaza Strip while militants fired thousands of homemade rockets into Israel. Dozens of Palestinias and Israelis were killed.

This long-standing conflict is a potential time bomb in the Middle East and is of crucial importance to the relationship between the Islamic world and the west. Backed by western countries, notably the United States, Israel is the only non-Islamic nation in the region. It was established shortly after the second world war.

European Jews haunted by the Holocaust set up - in what was then Palestine - the Jewish state they claimed was stated in the Bible.

Despite strong anti-Israeli sentiment in the Islamic world, the United Nations passed a resolution dividing Palestine - then under Britain's governance - into separate Jewish and Arab states in 1947.

A year later Israel declared independence and millions of Palestinians fled from their homeland.

Arab countries refused to recognise Israel, sparking conflicts, which included the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the 1967 Six-Day War.

With advanced weapons imported from the US and other western countries, Israel resisted and was able to expand its territories by capturing the Gaza Strip from Egypt and West Bank from Jordan.

The Palestinians have been fighting to get back their land ever since. This led to the establishment of a number of radical military groups. They have adopted an extremist, bloody approach, using methods like kidnapping, suicide bombing and rocket attacks against Israel.

One of the most notorious incidents was the massacre during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

Several Palestinian militants, armed with AK47 assault rifles, grenades and other weapons, broke into the Olympic Village, shot two Israeli athletes and coaches dead and took the remaining nine as hostages.

They requested the Israeli government to release more than 200 Palestinian prisoners.

All hostages and most kidnappers were killed in a failed rescue attempt.

In response to the massacre, the Israelis assassinated several Palestinian heavyweights who masterminded the Munich carnage. The horrendous incident inspired the film Munich by Steven Spielberg.

In order to prevent terrorist attacks, Israel has imposed tough strategies, such as arresting militants, setting up checkpoints and launching air strikes on suspected 'terrorist' bases.

It also controls foreign imports into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, apparently to halt weapons smuggling.

Life is bitter for Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories.

Jobs are sparse; even farming and fishing are hard because of ever-tighter controls on exports.

The Palestinian Authority, the largest employer in Gaza, almost went bankrupt after Israel and the US suspended aid in early 2006 when Hamas - a radical Islamic military group - won an election by a landslide. In 2007, a report from the International Labour Organisation showed that 70 per cent of the Palestine population (2.4 million) in the Gaza Strip and West Bank were living in poverty.

A nearby Israeli settlement, which is composed of neatly arranged apartments, is a haven by comparison.

Living in poverty and jobless, young Palestinians can easily be driven to join extremist groups and sacrifice their lives as martyrs in the fight for a better future.

The seemingly intractable conflict is part of a vicious cycle that haunts the Middle East and the world beyond.

Few Israelis or Palestinians expect peace in the foreseeable future, no matter how much they may pray for it.