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Palestine, a country which does not technically exist as its own sovereign state, is nonetheless at the heart of one of the world’s most intractable disputes, variously called the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, the Israeli-Occupied Territories, and even Judea and Samaria. In general usage, this term is used to describe the majority of the territory seized by Israel as a result of the 1967 war, and is usually linked to the territorial demands of Palestinian political groups for an independent Palestinian state. This region is divided in two by the internationally recognized borders of the state of Israel, and comprises two radically different regions: a small coastal plain known as the Gaza Strip and a much larger hilly region known as the West Bank, which contains the majority of the Palestinian population and most of the region’s famous ancient cities, including Jerusalem, Hebron, Nazareth, and Bethlehem.

Image:Palestine_Fellahin.jpg LAND AND RESOURCES

Gaza: Gaza is an area of only 360 square kilometers on the southwest coast of what was formerly the British Mandate of Palestine, bordered in the south by Egypt, to the north and east by Israel, and to the west by the Mediterranean Sea. It is comprised of gently rolling lowlands that contain both fertile agricultural land and very arid areas. The land has very little in the way of natural resources, but is capable of some agricultural output; about 1/3 of the land is currently irrigated, producing mainly semi-tropical fruits and vegetables found throughout the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, notably tomatoes, citrus fruits, dates and olives. This region’s overall agricultural potential is unknown, since large portions of arable land were scorched following the 2005 Israeli withdrawal and the rest is subject to strict trade control by Israel and Egypt. Even though this region has a number of very ancient port cities, most notably Gaza City itself, the Palestinian Authority has no effective control over the maritime border, which is policed by Israeli ships which drastically curtail the shipping and fishing abilities of Gazan citizens. This small region is very densely populated, and the aforementioned agricultural land is dwarfed by dense urban areas comprising numerous walled villages, refugee camps, and the urban centers of Gaza and numerous medium-sized cities. In 2005 the Israelis unilaterally withdrew all of their forces from Gaza, theoretically making it an independent entity controlled by the Palestinian Authority. In reality, however, this region is still hemmed in by Israeli military forces who conduct frequent raids into Gaza looking for “terrorists” that clearly remind Gazans who runs the territory.

NOTE: Despite its large-scale settlement withdrawal in 2005, in 2006 Israel once again militarily occupied Gaza following the abduction by Hamas of an Israeli soldier. Since that time Israeli troops have remained in Gaza, where they have focused their activities on curbing smuggling into Gaza via Egypt, as well as attempting to dismantle militant groups.

West Bank: The West Bank, approximately 5,900 square kilometers, comprises the hill country inland from the Mediterranean Sea, and the area ruled by the Jewish kings described in the Hebrew Bible, most notably the cities of Hebron, Jericho, and Jerusalem. This region has traditionally been used for small to medium-sized agricultural settlements, though the traditional Palestinian agrarian communities have been seriously disrupted by the incursion of 260,000 Israeli settlers into the region. These settlers have established heavily armed, self-contained cities throughout the West Bank, and are linked together by a system of secure roads which Palestinians are not allowed to use, for fear of terrorist attacks on the Jewish communities. This has led to the West Bank being carved up into a number of smaller areas whose Palestinian inhabitants, as a result of Israeli checkpoints, have only fleeting contact with one another. In addition, much traditional farming activity has been stopped by the growth of Jewish settlements, which tend to be given choice lands and privileged water rights by the Israeli government.

NOTE: Since 2005 the Israeli government has been constructing a massive 6-meter concrete wall around the entirety of the Israel-West Bank border, with the stated aim of keeping terrorists from infiltrating into Israel clandestinely. This wall is seen by many as a blatant land grab by the Israelis, since in many locations the fence actually crosses into what has previously been earmarked as Palestinian territory, and not Israel proper. However, the Israelis see it as a necessary action of self-defense. This fence has further complicated the lives of West Bank Palestinians, since it has led to increased checkpoints for travel into Israel and in some cases even cut communities in half, bisecting entire villages with 20 feet of concrete defended by Israeli soldiers.

Jerusalem: Although nestled squarely inside the West Bank, this ancient city is important enough to be dealt with on its own. The Israelis conquered Jerusalem in 1967, along with the rest of the West Bank. Unlike the other regions Israel seized in this conflict, it does not simply occupy Jerusalem, but has formerly annexed the entirety of it, and declared an undivided Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish State. Unfortunately, the city most certainly remains divided: the eastern reaches of the city, as well as the Old City itself, where most of biblical Jerusalem is located, are inhabited mainly by Arabs, who obviously resent being annexed by Israel. Moreover, by annexing Jerusalem the Israelis have offended a billion Muslims by taking possession of al-Haram ash-Sharif, the massive golden-domed mosque complex which sits atop the ruins of Solomon’s temple in the heart of the Old City. In recognition of these difficulties, the international community has refrained from acknowledging Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, instead keeping all international embassies in Tel Aviv. More than the West Bank or Gaza, the occupation of Jerusalem has served as the international lightning rod for anger towards Israel, since Muslims see the seizure of al-Haram not as an offense against Muslims, but as an offense against God.



Palestinians define themselves as part of the greater Arab world, and in this respect they are similar to other Arab subcultures: they speak a dialect of Arabic similar to that spoken in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and like other Arabs the vast majority of them are Sunni Muslims. They identify almost universally with the territory that comprised the British Mandate of Palestine, which included modern Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza. As a result of the 1946-1949 violence which led to the declaration of the State of Israel, a significant portion of this community emigrated to neighboring countries, giving Palestinians one of the world’s largest expatriate cultures; indeed, the idea of being stateless, of living permanently outside one’s homeland (or under occupation within that homeland) is a significant aspect of the Palestinian national narrative. There are an estimated 9.5 million Palestinians currently spread across the earth, with approximately 5.2 million inside Israel and the Occupied Territories, and the rest spread across the Arab world, the Americas, and Europe.

NOTE: One of the hottest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict concerns the origins of the Palestinian exile communities; Palestinians claim that Jewish soldiers forcibly expelled them from their homes and villages, while the Israelis insists that most Palestinians left of their own free will to join neighboring countries, since they believed that the Jewish State would soon be destroyed by the combined Arab armies. In truth, it seems that both of these events occurred: several Jewish forces did consciously expel Arabs, often brutally, to free up land for Jewish settlers and encourage other Palestinians to leave before they suffered similar violence. Some other groups, however do seem to have left simply to avoid war, and not as a result of outright expulsion. In any case, for this simulation it is important to acknowledge simply that the Palestinian exile community exists, for a multitude of reasons, and any personal opinions on the matter are best brought out through gameplay.

Exiles: The majority of Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, where they comprise a significant proportion of the population (almost 1.9 million people), which has led some observers to speculate that the Kingdom of Jordan is thus a Palestinian-majority country. This large community has made Jordanian politics especially reactive to the situation in Israel, especially when Jordanian kings are seen as siding with Israel against the Palestinians in the Territories. Other states with significant populations include Lebanon and Syria, each of which has approximately 400,000 refugees from the 1940s, most of whom still live in refugee camps and have not really been integrated into government, economics, or the political process. This has led to real resentment of the Palestinians amongst both Lebanese and Syrians, who view them as foreigners and bringers of bad luck, since many of these communities are also hotbeds of militant recruitment and arms smuggling for the Palestinian resistance groups inside the Occupied Territories.

Israel: More than 20% of Israeli citizens (approximately 1.3 million) identify themselves as Palestinians; unlike their refugee brethren, most of this population descends from communities where the Palestinians either were not expelled by Jewish forces or refused to leave their communities to avoid fighting. In theory, these are Israeli citizens, though in practice they are denied many political and economic rights enjoyed by Jewish Israelis and identify themselves as Palestinians: they have generally not been a major factor in Palestinian resistance politics, but they do form a demographically considerable bloc which causes much anxiety amongst the Israeli political elite, as their very existence challenges the official policy of preserving Israel as a Jewish state.


Gaza: The Gaza Strip is an incredibly densely populated area, with more than 1 million Palestinians (numbers vary widely) residing in a tiny sliver of land, a situation made all the more intense by the fact that most Gazans live in sealed-off communities and find it difficult to migrate between cities and camps for either work or leisure; most of the Gazan population is comprised of families that fled from inland regions during the 1946-1949 conflict, and thus ended up in refugee camps administered variously by the UN, Egypt, and after 1967, Israel. These frustrating urban conditions have led Gazans to be more radicalized than their West Bank equivalents, and as such most support Hamas over Fatah and the PLO.

West Bank: More than 2.5 Palestinians live in the West Bank, where in comparison to Gaza maintains much more of pre-Israeli Palestinian village culture, including small family farms and traditional urban centers like Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and non-Israeli portions of Jerusalem. Like their compatriots elsewhere, West Bank Palestinians tend to be Sunni Arabs, and politically are more prone to supporting the PLO and its political wing Fatah.


Since the beginning of the second Intifada in 2001, there has been very little Palestinian economy to speak of. Before this outbreak, the Palestinian economy was almost entirely dependent on the economy of Israel, since all goods had to be imported from Israel to sustain native Palestinian industries. Many Palestinians also made their livings by commuting each day into Israeli territory, where most worked at low-income factory and construction jobs. Since the Intifada began it has become much more difficult for Palestinians to enter Israel for work, and as a result the Palestinian unemployment rate is close to 25%, and almost 50% in Gaza.

To make up for this huge deficit in earnings, the Palestinian Authority has become used to running on large contributions from foreign nations, most in the Arab world but with significant funds coming through the UN and directly from western nations. Following the elections of 2006 most of this western aid dried up, since many governments refused to have direct dealings with Hamas. As a result, Arab governments have tried to step in and fill the void, but despite lip service this tremendous economic shortfall has not been totally made up. As of mid-2007, the creation of a Palestinian unity government in which, ostensibly, Fatah reins in Hamas might lead to the un-freezing of foreign aid, but at present the economic status of the Occupied Territories remains desperate indeed, with Palestine remaining one of the poorest regions on the planet.


Following decades of enclosure, bombardment, lack of outside investment and political disenfranchisement, the Palestinian infrastructure is in terrible condition, much of which is due to the maintenance of the refugee camp system since the exodus of 1946-1949.

The Palestinian refugee camps are not camps as one typically imagines them: instead they are vast networks of shanties and crude concrete tenements walled in by barbed wire, sandbags, Israeli checkpoints and machinegun nests. Within these camps, unofficial networks of authority are held by members of the major Palestinian political organization, most notably Hamas and Fatah, but overall power rests in the hands of the Israelis who man the camp perimeters. Cut off from the outside world, these camps often have little to no sanitation and totally inadequate medical facilities, all of which lead to huge rates of water-borne illnesses, malnutrition, and infant mortality. Basic services are provided by the Palestinian political organizations, most of whom sneak supplies into the camps via complicated smuggling operations. The UN also maintains a large number of camps, especially in Gaza, but this philanthropy has only scratched the service of the many problems associated with camp life. Basic western elements of infrastructure, such as regular electricity, indoor plumbing and telephone service, are equally scarce commodities for those living in refugee camps, especially in the crowded conditions of the Gaza Strip.

Image:Palestine_Parliament.jpg GOVERNMENT

The administrative body of the Occupied Territories, which is not a true national government, but is instead considered a caretaker body, was created as a result of the Oslo accords in 1994, when Israel and the PLO first agreed to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Since then violence has disrupted the implementation of this promised national government, and the interim body, known as the Palestinian Authority, remains the sole non-Israeli governing body for the Palestinian people. Since the occupation has continued, and much power rests in the hands of non-elected militant groups, the legal reach of the Authority has never been fully spelled out, much less put to the test. Following the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the PA technically has full authority over Gaza, but in reality their power is still circumscribed by the presence of Israeli military on the border and the ongoing violence throughout the Occupied Territories. The organs of government, such as they are, include:

The Presidency: Directly elected by Palestinian voters, who comprise every adult over 18 years of age. The president is overall commander of the Palestinian Security Forces, and is currently Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who was overwhelmingly elected following the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat.

The Prime Minister: Appointed from the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council by the president after every election, the PM is responsible for appointing a cabinet and running the day to day affairs of state. This office has always been in tension with the presidency, since the powers of both are only vaguely described in the Palestinian provincial legal code. Following the 2006 elections, the PM has been Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, whose opposition to Mahmoud Abbas has made the PM-President rivalry more volatile than ever.

The Palestinian Legislative Council: This body, elected by party like in parliamentary democracies, is the 132-seat Palestinian parliament. It is responsible for approving the appointment of all ministers, including the PM, as well as being actively involved in the daily affairs of government via votes of support and no-confidence in the current government. It is considered by observers to actually be a powerful apparatus, unlike most Arab parliamentary assemblies, and in the past has ousted numerous ministers and made others severely uncomfortable. Following the 2006 elections the dominant party in the PLC is Hamas, with Fatah serving in the opposition.

Security Forces: The police/military of the Palestinian Authority, believed to have somewhere between 40,000-80,000 members, armed mainly with light weaponry and designed to be a mobile response team, not an actual army or typical police force. The titular head of this organization is the president, but in times of crisis (like the present moment) the loyalties of this force are much more open to question.

Image:Dayan_Temple_Mount.jpg Image:1948_War.jpg Image:Palestine_Intifada_Barricade.jpg HISTORY

Palestine was a relatively undeveloped area of the Ottoman Empire up until its dissolution in the aftermath of World War I. In 1920 Britain took over administration of the area, which was at the time attached to the modern country of Jordan, and was collectively referred to as the British Mandate of Palestine, or simply the Mandate. Its was largely comprised of Arab farmers and merchants, with small urban communities and a generally village-based culture. This environment was being complicated greatly by the arrival of Jewish immigrants from Europe as part of the Zionist movement, which sought to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Sporadic violence erupted between these communities as the Arabs perceived the Jews to be gobbling up all the land, but the British were generally able to keep this under control. After World War II this changed, because the British simply did not have enough strength to keep their vast empire together after weathering the Nazi onslaught. In 1947 the British decided to terminate their Mandate, to be effective on 15 May 1948. A flurry of diplomatic activity ensued, which resulted in the UN's 1947 plan to partition the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Jewish representatives agreed to this plan, but the Arabs did not. Violence ensued between local groups in Palestine, with the Zionist settlers usually getting the upper hand. This culminated in David Ben-Gurion declaring the independence of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948. The surrounding states responded with declarations of war, which the Jewish state survived intact. In the peace treaties which followed, the territory of Gaza was granted to Egypt and the West Bank was given to Jordan. Both of these countries proceeded to annex these territories, though Jordan gave the Palestinians Jordanian citizenship and full legal rights, while the Egyptians kept the existing refugee camp system in place.

This situation changed in 1967, when the Israelis launched a surprise attack on their neighbors in response to the anti-Israeli agreement signed by Egypt, Jordan and Syria. 6 days later they were in sole control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the UN responded by labeling the occupation illegal, demanding that Israel relinquish its hold on both regions (in addition to lands conquered from Syria). The Israelis replied that they would only trade back the land for comprehensive peace treaties with their neighbors; to be fair, even the Israelis thought this occupation was going to be a short-term affair. Throughout the 1970s and 80s the Occupied Territories were remarkably quiet places, largely because the Israelis did not meddle too much in the day to day affairs of small Arab villages. Land was seized sporadically and the area was still under military control, but in general the Israelis were concerned about Palestinians living in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan—not those living in Palestine. This was a conscious strategy on the part of the Israeli government: ever since the 1948 war, it had been accepted wisdom that the survival of Israel as a Jewish state obviously meant that involvement with non-Jews in the Israeli system needed to be kept to a minimum: as such, the Israelis kept the Territories firmly under control, but did not dare annex them outright, as this would suddenly make Israel’s population almost 50% Arab.

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The exception to this rule was the Settler Movement, whereby Israelis, most of whom were religiously tied to the idea of “redeeming” the Holy Land from its Arab captivity, began building settlements in the Territories. Israel argued that they were doing this on land belonging to the Israeli state, or bought legally from Palestinians, but to the majority of outsiders a different pattern emerged: the Israeli government was quietly encouraging Israelis to migrate into the Occupied Territories and establish armed communes of Israel citizens. This situation has fluctuated widely, with some Israeli governments encouraging the process and others trying to restrain it, but the results have been unambiguous: almost 300,000 Israelis now live on what has been internationally recognized as non-Israeli territory, and in the process they have acquired exclusive access to water and some of the best growing land in Palestine territory, all of which makes the “Land for Peace” formula much more complicated. The Israeli government unilaterally withdrew all of its settlements from Gaza in 2005, but this has coincided with a continued build up of settlements in the West Bank, and many Arabs feel that the abandonment of Gaza was a ruse meant to shore up Israeli control over the much more valuable West Bank.

This tension over settlements and occupation exploded into violence in 1987, when Palestinians in Gaza, then the West Bank, began resisting Israeli military incursions in a revolt referred to as the first Intifada, or “Shaking Off.” Armed with rocks, burning tires and Molotov cocktails the Palestinians were not in any danger of truly harming the Jewish state, but after decades of quiet they did succeed in startling the Israeli government with their defiance. The Israelis responded by clamping down on the Occupied Territories severely, killing several hundred Palestinians in the process, but when the Intifada ended in 1990, the Palestinians were back on the international political map.

Shaken by the Intifada and led by a new liberal government under Yitzkhak Rabin, in 1993 the Israeli government signed a shocking peace accord with the Palestinian Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat, which laid out the basic parameters for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state comprised of the West Bank and Gaza. This arrangement, which created the Palestinian Authority, also allowed for the leadership of the PLO to return to the Territories. Arafat soon arrived in Jerusalem and began creating an administration for his new government, as the first step to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The results have not lived up to Oslo’s optimistic expectations.

For more detailed examinations of current events, please consult the entries on Hamas, Fatah, and Israel.


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