1. Where is Palestine?
The Dome of the Rock, part of the Al Aqsa mosque compound (center), is holy to both religions and the most sensitive spot in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The compound is known to Jews as the Temple Mount. In the background is Jerusalem's old city and the church of St. Peter in Gallicuntu (upper right). (AP/Wide World)
Palestine is a historic region in southwestern Asia. It is situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and forms part of the larger region known as the Middle East. Strategically located at a crossroads between East and West and near where Africa and Asia meet, Palestine has been the site of countless invasions and movements of peoples. It is, moreover, the land of the Bible and is considered holy by three major religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Few regions of such relatively small size have been so bitterly fought over through the centuries.
2. Does Palestine exist today?
No. After 1948, the area was split into a Jewish state and Arab territories. The Arab territories were the Gaza Strip, which belonged to Egypt, the Golan Heights which belonged to Syria, and the West Bank, which belonged to Jordan. Today, Palestinians still live in those areas, but Israel occupies most of them.
3. When did Israel become a state, and why?
In 1947, the United Nations voted to divide the Palestinian area into Arab territories and a Jewish state, Israel. Neighboring Arab countries did not accept this plan. On May 14, 1948, the Jewish state of Israel declared its independence. The Arab countries immediately attacked Israel. Although outnumbered, Israel gained territory in the war. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs became refugees, or people who lost their homes.
4. Why did Jews want their own country in that area?
Jewish claims to the historic region of Palestine go back to biblical times, when Jewish kingdoms ruled the area. Roman conquerors later forced most Jews to flee. By A.D. 800, the land had come under Arab rule. Most of the Arab people who lived in Palestine were Muslims.
For many years, a small number of Jews and Arabs lived in Palestine side by side. Then, in the late 1800s, Jews began moving to Palestine to build a Jewish homeland.
During World War II (1939-1945), Nazi Germany murdered more than 6 million Jews. This event, called the Holocaust, made many surviving Jews yearn for a safe place. They dreamed of having their own home by the Mediterranean Sea.
5. How many wars have Israelis and Arabs fought since Israel became a state?
Four. After the war of 1948, four more wars broke outin 1956, 1967, and 1973.
During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured large areas of Arab territory: the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. When the fighting ended, more than 2 million Arabs lived under Israeli rule.
6. What is the PLO?
PLO stands for Palestine Liberation Organization. Founded in 1964, it is the political body that represents the Arab population in the Palestinian territories. The PLO's chief goal is to establish an independent state of Palestine.
Since the 1960s, PLO guerrilla groups have staged attacks against Israel. Israel, in turn, has attacked PLO operatives.
Yasir Arafat became chairman of the PLO in 1969, and still is.
7. What is the Intifada?
Beginning in 1987, violent protests by Arabs against Israeli military rule swept through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These protests were called the Intifada, which means "uprising" in Arabic. Entire towns refused to pay taxes to Israel. Palestinians quit their jobs with Israeli employers.
8. Have there been steps toward peace?
In 1993, Israel and the PLO signed a historic agreement giving Arabs self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho. In 1994, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel. In 1996 the Arabs elected a self-rule Palestinian National Authority (PNA), headed by Arafat. By 2000, under a series of accords, the PNA controlled nearly 43 percent of the West Bank, an area containing about 60 percent of that region's Palestinian inhabitants. But when the 2000 deadline for a final accord was not met, Arab extremists renewed attacks on Israel; Israel held Arafat responsible for the violence. By late 2001, as the death toll mounted on both sides, the focus shifted from achieving a lasting peace to imminent war.
9. Why did violence between Israelis and Palestinians erupt once again on September 28, 2000?
On that day, politician Ariel Sharon (now the President of Israel) and 1,000 armed officers visited Jerusalem's Temple Mount to assert Israel's claim to the site. Along one side of the Temple Mount is the Western Wall, the most sacred place of worship for Jews. Sharon's visit angered Arabs because the Temple Mount also contains two of Islam's holiest sites, the Dome of the Rock and the al Aqsa Mosque. Muslims believe that the from the Dome of the Rock Muhammad, the founder of Islam, rose into heaven.
Known as the second Intifada, the conflict is now in it's second year.