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Pluto Press
The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction / Edition 2

The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction / Edition 2

by Gregory Harms, Todd Ferry


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The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction / Edition 2

Especially after the September 11 attacks, books on the Middle East are flooding bookstore shelves. Yet, regarding the Palestine-Israel conflict -- the most notrious and ingrained conflict of the twentieth century -- the general reader is left with very little in the way of introductory explanations. The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction provides the student and general reader with a comprehensive yet clear and easy rendering of not only the conflict, but the entire history of the region (Canaan and Palestine). By including the ancient background, the common assumption that the Israelis and Palestinians have been "fighting for thousands of years" is put to rest.

Broken up into three sections -- Background History, Pre-Conflict, and Conflict -- the reader is walked through Ancient Israel, Muhammad and Islam, and on through two world wars and up to the current situation covered on the evening news. Aside from the brief history, the reader is also provided with further direction, such as detailed citing of sources and suggested reading lists and resources (books, periodicals, web sites, etc.).

Written in a comfortable style, people confused by myths and death-tallying news coverage now have available to them a balanced and accessible introduction to nucleus of Middle Eastern affairs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745327341
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 03/26/2008
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.08(w) x 7.80(h) x (d)

About the Author

Gregory Harms is an independent scholar based in Chicago. He is the author of Straight Power Concepts in the Middle East: US Foreign Policy, Israel and World History (Pluto, 2010).

Todd M. Ferry began his studies in archaeology and Near East history at Indiana University. He received his MA in Syro-Palestinian archaeology from the University of Chicago in 2001, and has worked as a supervisor at the sites of Ashkelon and Tel Beth Shemesh in Israel.

Read an Excerpt


Canaan–Palestine: Ancient History

Todd M. Ferry


Why begin a book like this so far back in time from the present? First, we need to dispel the common misconception that the Palestine–Israel conflict is a struggle that has lasted for hundreds of years, millennia, or even since the time of Abraham's sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Second, it is important to show change over time. The history of the region goes back many thousands of years. Over that time, many peoples have populated the land of Palestine – not just Arabs and Jews – and they lived together, intermixed, intermarried, merged, and grew apart. Change is central to this story and so it will be constantly emphasized. Lastly, we need to be aware of the shared heritage of both peoples. Though Palestinians and Jews see themselves as different now, there is a remarkable congruence to their histories that should be remembered when considering the modern conflict and both people's claims to the land of Palestine.

Before we begin we need to say a word about the Bible. The first place people often turn to for the history of ancient Palestine is the Bible, and indeed it has been the single most influential source. No doubt it offers a rare glimpse into the history of Israel as well as Israel's neighbors. But the Bible is religious literature written and compiled for reasons other than the purely historical. We know from critical study that it is a composite text made up of several books, each of which has its own religious, cultural, political, and personal (the writer's) perspective. It has also been copied, translated, and redacted (edited) by people with their own understanding of its meaning. In brief it has its own "spin" on history that may or may not reflect actual events and certainly not every side to the story.

There are other sources at our disposal. If our concern is for a fuller, more complete understanding of the ancient history of Palestine then archaeology, non-biblical texts, geography, and other interdisciplinary forms of study, should all have a hand in historical reconstruction. In this very general overview of the history of ancient Palestine we will attempt to bring in as much of these other sources as we can, while also drawing on histories of others who try to do the same. It all sounds complicated at first, and though reconstructing the history of ancient Palestine is a very complex matter, this chapter will attempt to make it easily understandable.


Before we begin, a quick chronological and geographical note. Over thousands of years the cultures of Palestine changed. Conventional approaches break down the ancient history of the region into periods following technological change (Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc.) or some other dominant feature (Hellenistic Age, Roman Empire, etc.). These will be noted in the section headings as we go. We will also be using BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) instead of the abbreviations AD (Anno Domini) and BC (Before Christ). The Common Era abbreviations are now the convention, in an attempt to avoid religious preferences.

Regarding geography, I have chosen to use "Palestine" as the most neutral and encompassing of modern names for the region (though this is certainly debatable). For the ancient periods, I will start with the broad territorial term "Canaan," since it was one of the first recorded names for the region. Ancient Canaan covers an area slightly larger than the modern land of Palestine (including Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank), to encompass Lebanon, southern Syria, the western half of Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula. As the many specific kingdoms (Israel, Philistia, Moab, etc.), empires (Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, etc.), or provinces (Judaea, Samerina, etc.) are established in the region, I will refer to them by what they were called in antiquity and describe them as we go. Don't worry, it's pretty straightforward.


Over the course of several hundred thousand years known as the Paleolithic period (Paleolithic, "the stone age": 1.4 million years ago to 8500 BCE) human beings evolved, left Africa, and came to Palestine, developing their own unique cultures. During the following Neolithic period ("the new stone age": 8500–4300 BCE) they settled in villages, learned to domesticate animals and plants, and discovered clay could be manipulated into shapes and baked to form pottery – huge achievements in an amazingly short period of time. In the Chalcolithic period ("the copper and stone age": 4300–3300 BCE) their villages got larger, their homes more permanent, and they discovered how to make things for the first time with metal (copper). While all of this early pre-history is certainly important, it is really in the following periods that we know more about the ancient history of Palestine and when we begin to see one of the most important cultures in the region develop. Here we will begin with our more detailed survey – in the Bronze Age.


(Early: 3300–2000 BCE, Middle: 2000–1550 BCE, Late: 1550–1150 BCE)

By the beginning of the Bronze Age people in Palestine were living in well-fortified, walled cities. Palestine was becoming urban, and urbanism changed the social structure of ancient society. As is true for most of the ancient Near East, people lived in tribal societies where everything was based on kinship relations. You were part of a tribe, the member of a family, and the son of your father. Now with true urbanism, you could (though not everyone was) also be associated with a city or town. It is from the archaeological excavation of these cities (called "tells") that we have been able to learn so much about the ancient peoples of Palestine – and one people in particular during this period.

By the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age a whole new and important culture, called Canaanite culture, took hold of the region. The majority of peoples in Canaan spoke the same Semitic language, made similar styles of pottery and weapons and art from bronze (for which the period is named), and shared the same religion of many gods, whose head god, famously, was El (mentioned in the Bible). Ancient people even referred to the population of the region as "Canaanite." The term is used consistently throughout the Bible, and it is found in archives from Syria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia dating to the Middle Bronze Age and later. Remember the Canaanites because they remain important for much of the following.

Now, the Canaanites were not alone. Palestine has always been the crossroads of the Near East; people came and went, passing through from one region to the next. It was an especially busy place during the Bronze Age. The Amorites, from Syria, are one group that migrated in and may have had a particularly profound effect on the Canaanite way of life. Joining with the local population, they brought new types of architecture and new artistic traditions to Canaanite culture. Movement between Canaan and Egypt was also quite common during this period (indeed, throughout Palestine's history), and for some unknown reason, perhaps because of famine or even pressure from the Amorite migration, some Canaanites moved south into Lower Egypt (the Delta region). Once in the Delta, they managed to take control of it and rule for over a hundred years as what would be called the Hyksos or "foreign" Dynasty.

The history of this period is very important for biblical historians. Many, including one of the most famous and influential archaeologists to study ancient Palestine, William F. Albright, attempted to place the stories of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, in the Middle Bronze Age period. Abraham and his family's journey from Ur to Harran and then south to Canaan is often tied to the Amorite migration. At first it seems the journey of Abraham might fit that description very well – but unfortunately, it is not that easy. There is no proof that what we call the Middle Bronze Age is the period the biblical writers had in mind, and while it seems to make a suitable backdrop for Abraham's life, other periods would work just as well. Neither do superficial similarities between Abraham and the Amorites prove that a historical Abraham existed. Most scholars suggest that he is more likely a mythical or literary figure of tradition to be remembered for his moral lessons and religious piety.

The story of the patriarch Joseph's enslavement and later high position under Pharaoh is also often linked to Hyksos rule over Egypt. Here again, we are in the same situation as with the Abraham story. A historical Joseph may or may not have existed, and though the parallels are intriguing, as of yet, little more can be said. The same is true of the other patriarchal figures. That is not to deny their religious significance; faith, of course, requires one to look beyond proof.

Early Indications of Israel

The Late Bronze Age began with a reversal of Canaanite / Hyksos fortunes in Egypt and, indeed, Canaan as well. Egypt chased the Hyksos dynasty out of the Delta, sending them running back to Canaan, but the Egyptians did not stop there. Surprisingly, they invaded bringing all of Canaan under Egyptian control. Pharaoh only loosely ruled the region, but governors were placed in the major cities along with small armies. We learn from letters (on clay tablets) sent from these governors of Canaan back to Egypt, however, that some native Canaanites would not bow down to their Egyptian masters. They turned their backs on Egyptian-controlled Canaanite society to become what the Egyptians called "bandits and marauders" or Hapiru in the language of the letters.

The similarity between this name and "Hebrew" has not gone unnoticed – and here we enter into the mystery of the first Israelites and where they came from. There is no archaeological or textual proof this early on for the people soon to be known as Israelites, but there are some fascinating hints as to its origins. These letters are the first major breakthrough. The two names Hapiru / Hebrew, it turns out, are not synonymous. The range and context of Hapiru in most letters suggests it was not used singularly for one ethnic group. But the possibility remains that the Israelites are somehow related to the Hapiru and that they might have been an offshoot or formed a unified group under similar circumstances.

The Late Bronze Age affords us other tantalizing indications of the Israelites' origins. The Shasu who roamed the deserts of southeastern Canaan are another important group we know from Egyptian sources. Much like the Hapiru, they too were considered marauders and bandits and a general nuisance for Egypt's routes north into Palestine. Most intriguing about the Shasu, however, is that they worshipped a god by the name of YHW, or Yahweh. Moreover, and equally intriguing, the Shasu land, later called Edom in the Bible, contains within its bounds the traditional site of Mount Sinai. Can this be coincidence? Here may be found a source for later Israelite Yahwism, but how the god might have passed from Shasu to the Israelites remains uncertain. Some have suggested Edomite–Shasu clans migrated into Canaan bringing the deity Yahweh with them, and that this may have taken place during the Israelite Exodus from Egypt.

We need to touch on the Exodus for a moment since the Late Bronze Age is the period most often suggested for a historical setting to the story. It is probably the most famous story in the Bible and central to the development of Judaism. Moses leads the Hebrews out of slavery and through the desert to Canaan, the promised land of milk and honey. However, despite what some have tried to show, evidence for the Exodus has yet to be discovered. The extra-biblical sources are conspicuously silent. No proof has yet verified the events within Egypt, the forty years spent by the Hebrews wandering the desert, nor even the existence of the great lawgiver Moses.

The last clue for the early origins of the Israelites comes at the very end of the period and is the most significant. A Pharaoh of Egypt named Merneptah (r. 1237–1226 BCE) conducted a campaign into Canaan listing the cities he conquered on a stone tablet called a stele. Appearing among these many cities is the word "Israel" after which is the Egyptian symbol for a people or tribe. It is called the "Israel Stele," and here is the first solid evidence for a people called Israel – but again, it is only so helpful. We have in it only the occurrence of the name and a general location, but it is the first inkling of a people we learn a great deal more about in the following periods.


(Iron Age I: 1150–900 BCE)

Egypt, suffering from political and economic problems, pulled out of Canaan at the end of the Late Bronze Age. With Egypt's departure, what is often described as a "power vacuum" (lack of a political power structure) was left for the remaining peoples to attempt to fill. It is at this juncture in history that the famous kingdoms of the Bible take shape and battle to control the region. Just to the east the kingdoms of Moab, Ammon, and Edom are forming; on the southern coast the Philistines appear; to the north are the Phoenicians, and in the highlands the Israelites emerge.

It is with this historical setting in mind that scholars have tried to answer the major question: Who were the Israelites and where did they come from? For the past several decades there have been three reigning models. They are significantly different, but each of them attempts to describe where the Israelites came from and how Israel became a kingdom.

The Conquest Model and the Peaceful Infiltration Model are both based on traditional biblical history. The Conquest Model, articulated most adamantly by Albright (again), suggests the Israelites existed as described in the Bible's patriarchal stories. They came to Canaan during the Exodus and invaded the region pretty much as recorded in the Book of Joshua. Albright's argument is detailed and originally made great strides in the study of biblical history by relying on archaeological evidence – not just the Bible. He studied the archaeological remains of sites known to be the biblical cities conquered in Joshua and showed a similar pattern of destruction for many of them dated to around the end of the Late Bronze Age. Archaeologists have since reassessed Albright's evidence and proven his interpretation of the data wrong. New evidence may arise to rekindle Albright's model, but until then, most scholars deny it any validity.

The Peaceful Infiltration Model, on the other hand, relies on the history of Judges and Samuel and goes into a little more detail. While rooted in biblical history, it also relies on social theory as well as ethnographic studies of nomadic desert tribes. In this model the Israelites were nomads from the surrounding regions who, over time, peacefully entered the highlands of Canaan and became settled there. As Egyptian power waned, the kingdoms of Palestine, including the burgeoning Israelites, began to assert themselves. The Philistines dominated Canaan at the time and began to push into the highlands from the other direction. In reaction to the Philistine threat, the now-settled nomads formed a confederacy of twelve tribes, Israel, then a nation under a king, Saul. They defended their land and conquered the Philistines, whereupon the rest of central Canaan fell under their power.

The Peasant Revolt Model is significantly different. It applied Marxist social theory to Israel's origin. Typical of Marxist theory, the Peasant Revolt Model casts the Israelites as a subclass of Canaanite peoples united by their religious belief in the god Yahweh. They lived much like the Hapiru mentioned earlier, until they had enough. For either social or religious reasons they revolted (think early twentieth-century Bolshevik Revolution in Russia) and took over the Canaanite city-states, eventually uniting them as the kingdom of Israel.


Excerpted from "The Palestine–Israel Conflict"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Gregory Harms and Todd M. Ferry.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Mapsix
Section IBackground History
1Ancient History: Canaan-Palestine: From the First Foot Falls to Rome3
2Muhammad, Islam, and the Arab Empire23
3The Crusades to the Ottoman Empire35
Section IIPre-conflict
4Jewish Persecution and Zionism47
6World War I to World War II: The Genesis of Conflict65
Section IIIConflict
71947-1967 Conflict: Partition, Israeli Statehood, and the Six-Day War87
8The 1970s to Lebanon 1982 The Continuation of the Arab-Israeli Conflict117
9The Intifada and the Peace Process141
10Current History Camp David II to the Road Map159
2Israel's Prime Ministers187
3Israel, Palestine - Data188
Suggested Reading212
Select Bibliography216

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