The deaths of over 160 Palestinians and more than 30 Israelis in 12 days at the beginning of this month shocked people across the world. Socialist Worker looks at the roots of the conflict.
Who are the Palestinians?
THE PALESTINIANS have lived for thousands of years in historic Palestine. Many of them were forced to flee their homes when the Israeli state was created in 1948. They fled to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and other Arab countries. They have been refugees ever since.
There are eight million Palestinians. Five million of them are refugees. One million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip-over three quarters are refugees. Some 1.6 million Palestinians live in the West Bank-650,000 are refugees.
Why do they oppose the Israeli state?
ISRAEL WAS founded by the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. The US pushed through a UN partition plan for Palestine in 1947. It threatened smaller nations into agreeing to give 55 percent of Palestine to Israeli settlers, who were only 30 percent of the population. This was not enough for the Israelis.
Israeli troops massacred up to 300 Palestinian villagers in Deir Yassin in April 1948. Armed gangs used this slaughter to drive hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians out of their homes. The state of Israel was founded a month later.
Israel was supposedly at 'war' with Arab countries. But Israel's leaders made secret deals with the Arab leaders. Israel ended up with 77 percent of the land, while Jordan grabbed the West Bank and Egypt took Gaza. Israel then seized the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.
Israel has stolen Palestinian water supplies. It takes 75 percent of the West Bank and Gaza's water. One Israeli consumes as much water as four Palestinians. There are 400,000 Israeli settlers living throughout the Occupied Territories. They live in militarised settlements protected by the Israeli army. Israeli forces constantly close off Palestinian villages, denying them deliveries of food and other necessities.
The closures prevent people getting to hospital for vital treatment. Sixteen people have died since September 2000 because of this. It is this poverty and desperation that makes some Palestinians turn to suicide bombing as a way of hitting back at Israel.
Aren't both Israelis and Palestinians responsible for the breakdown of the peace?
THE OSLO peace process began in 1993. It was seen by many as a real chance for peace in the Middle East. The process began after the first Palestinian uprising in 1987. Since the peace process collapsed in 2000 and the new intifada began, over 1,200 Palestinians have been killed. That is over five times more than the number of Israelis killed.
The US and Israel blame Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, for rejecting the 'best deal' he would ever get. But the peace process was a sham. It was about consolidating Israel's control over the Palestinians, not ending it.
Under the Oslo agreement the Palestinian Authority was to only get 17 percent of the West Bank and 60 percent of Gaza. The Palestinian Authority would have had little power. It was to be split into separate areas. The roads around these areas were to remain under Israeli control.
The Israeli settlements were to remain in place. None of the five million Palestinian refugees would be able to return to their homes in Israel. At the Camp David summit in 2000 the Palestinians were offered control of over 50 percent of the West Bank-because two vast desert areas were added to the Palestinian Authority's share.
Life for Palestinians continued to deteriorate under the peace process. Ariel Sharon, now Israeli prime minister, visited the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in September 2000.
Sharon was responsible for the slaughter of 2,000 Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese refugee camps in Sabra and Shatilla in 1982. His visit was calculated to humiliate the Palestinians. They exploded with rage, and the new intifada began.
What is Yasser Arafat's role?
Yasser Arafat came to prominence for bravely challenging Israeli power. But he now represents the section of Palestinians who want to compromise with Israel regardless of what it means to ordinary Palestinians.
He is caught in the middle and has to act against his own people. That is why the intifada is a rebellion not just against Israeli rule but also against Yasser Arafat's concessions to it.
Is Zionism racism?
ZIONISM IS the political movement for a Jewish homeland. It was a response to the growth of anti-Semitism, or hatred of Jews, in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century. The idea was to transfer a section of the Jewish population to an area of the world free from anti-Semitism.
But this meant driving most of the Palestinians out of their land and denying full political rights to those that stayed. The Jews who settled in Palestine swapped from being the oppressed of Europe to the oppressors of the Middle East.
Israel is 'a Jewish state for a Jewish people', even though one million people living within its borders, a fifth of its population, are Palestinian. After the Israeli state was established 85 percent of the Palestinians' land was taken from them. The state spends 50 percent less on the education of an Arab than on a Jew.
The average hourly wage for Jews is 33 percent higher than for Arabs. No Arab town has been built in Israel since the 1940s. Some 22,000 Arab housing applications were rejected in 2000 alone. Many Palestinian villages have no water or electricity, and Palestinians are excluded from many jobs.
A large section of Zionists see the Palestinians and Arabs as inferior creatures. Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister in the 1980s, described Palestinians as 'two legged animals'. Many Jews around the world are disgusted by Israel's policies.
What is the right of return?
AT THE moment the Israeli Law of Return allows any Jew from anywhere in the world to settle in Israel. Of the five million Palestinian refugees, 88 percent live in the Middle East near their rightful homes, but they do not have that right.
There is adequate room for all of these refugees within Israel's borders. Over 90 percent of the refugees could return to empty sites where they and their ancestors lived. But this would threaten the racist nature of the Israeli state. The Palestinians would be a majority and would vote against the Zionists. Israeli leaders will never allow this to happen.
Can the US motion passed at the United Nations (UN) for 'two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side' bring peace?
THE US's plans are a cynical manoeuvre to drum up Arab support for a US-led attack on Iraq.
Bush spoke about his 'vision' of a Palestinian state when he wanted Arab backing for bombing Afghanistan last year. His 'vision' soon disappeared. The UN motion makes no reference to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine. It does not call for the removal of the Israeli settlers from Palestinian lands. Israel gave its approval to the UN motion.
The US's call is a backward step from numerous UN motions passed over the last 53 years. These have called for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, and for Palestinian refugees to be able to return home. The US and Israel have ignored these resolutions.
US leaders see Israel as their 'watchdog', guarding against the possibility of people rising up against corrupt Arab rulers and threatening their control of oil. The US has given Israel £92 billion worth of economic and military aid since 1967. The influence of the US in the Middle East is the problem in the region, not the solution.
What do socialists say?
Socialists stand with the Palestinians. They have the right to defend themselves and fight back against Israeli oppression. Israeli troops armed with the most advanced US-supplied guns, helicopters, tanks and fighter jets are killing children armed with rocks. Two separate states are no real solution.
That would mean an economically and militarily powerful Israel continuing to dominate a weak Palestine. The only option for real peace and justice in the Middle East is a democratic secular state of Palestine where Jews and Arabs can live together in peace.
All Palestinian refugees must be able to return, with full rights for all national minorities.