Fact checking common misconceptions about the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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Editor’s note: This story pairs with another titled “LDS Church, BYU Jerusalem Center remain neutral amid Israel-Palestine conflict.”

BYU student Clay Coleman captured this image of Dome of the Rock while attending the Jerusalem study abroad program. (Clay Coleman)

The Daily Universe asked the challenging questions so you don’t have to. Here are 10 common misunderstandings about the Israel-Palestine conflict, and 10 answers to help clear up those misconceptions.

1. Hasn’t this conflict been going since ancient-times?

Nope. According to BYU political science professor Josh Gubler, the roots of the current conflict go back only to the late 1800s.

2. Muslims and Jews have never been able to live peacefully together.

Not so fast. While the Ottoman Empire ruled the land we now know as Israel-Palestine from 1516-1918, Muslims, Christians and some Jews lived peacefully for many years, according to the book “A History of the Arab-Israel Conflict” by University of Missouri-Kansas City Modern Middle East professor Carla L. Klausner and University of New South Wales Middle Eastern and United States History associate professor Ian J. Bickerton. Gubler also said Jews and Arabs live peacefully together in Spain, Moors, Southern Europe, Northern Africa and Jerusalem itself.

3. The conflict is difficult to resolve because it is a war over religion.

Not quiteIt’s true that religion is an aspect of the conflict, but the conflict is predominantly about two groups of people who claim the same land.

“It’s a nationalist conflict over land and power,” Gubler said.

But remember: That land includes important holy sites for three major religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

4. Jews didn’t come back to Israel-Palestine until after the Holocaust.

WrongAccording to Klausner and Bickerton, the first wave of Jews that returned to their historic home in the Middle East was between 1880-1910. At the time, a secular movement called Zionism established by Theadore Herzl began to rise.

The premise of the movement was that Judaism was more than a religion. Judaism was also a nationality, according to the movement, and Jews were entitled to a land of their own after centuries of persecution. Approximately 50,000 Jews moved to the Middle East between the time the first small group of Zionists landed at Jaffa in 1882 and WWI.

Many Jews left Europe for Palestine after WWII, when they first found support from much of the world in regard to creating a Jewish state.

5. Both Israelis and Palestinians have always refused to compromise on a deal.

Depends on the day. According to Gubler, during the span of what we know as the Israel-Arab conflict, both sides have compromised as well as refused deals.

One example of compromise during the conflict is when an agreement was achieved in Oslo between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in 1993, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“A joint Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, based on the agreement worked out in Oslo, was signed by the two parties in Washington, outlining the proposed interim self-government arrangements, as envisioned and agreed by both sides,” the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website says.

6. Palestinians have been more violent than the Israelis.

Actually, no. Extremists on both sides have used violence to derail peace. During the first Intifada, 1,376 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces, while 185 Israeli security forces personnel and Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians, according to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Gubler said the exact number of deaths since the first Intifada are difficult to find because in this conflict, statistics can be used as weapons.

“Sometimes, it will seem like Palestinians are more violent because of the type of violence that they carry out. They don’t have a military or a strong police force,” Gubler said. “Israelis are killing more people, but they are doing it in a conventional rather than an unconventional way. Conventionality seems more normal and accepted.”

7. President Obama is the first American president the Israeli government has had issues with on Israeli settlements.

False. Virtually all of the recent U.S. presidents have had issues with Israeli settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, according to Gubler. Most recently, in 2003 under President George W. Bush, the U.S. voted for a resolution endorsing the Roadmap for Peace. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the roadmap said Israel must immediately dismantle settlements of Israeli colonies built in the Palestinian territories.

That’s essentially what Obama said in abstaining from the UN vote in December 2016.

Gubler said Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry were able to abstain from voting because:

  • Neither Obama nor Kerry planned to run for political office again. To be openly against Israel is politically disadvantageous in the U.S.
  • Clinton lost. “Had Clinton won, I am certain they would not have done it because it would damage support for the party,” Gubler said.
  • There has been a shift within the Democratic party itself. The younger half of the Democratic Party is shifting away from Israel, and it is likely they will be the predominant movement within the party four years from now.

8. Israelis are moving to the West Bank for religious reasons.

Some are. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, some Israelis moved for religious reasons, some moved because they wanted to claim the land for Israel and others moved because housing was inexpensive and subsidized by the Israeli government. Gubler said just as many or more of those who settle there move for secular reasons.

Whatever the reason, the moves are illegal, according to international law.

9. The LDS Church supports Israel exclusively.

No. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ decision to be politically neutral doesn’t just ring true in American politics for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church has not released official statements on the conflict, but BYU religion professor Jeffrey R. Chadwick, the longtime faculty at the Jerusalem Center, said the church doesn’t take positions that are liable to rouse one side or the other.

“We would rather be a bridge between everyone,” Chadwick said.

10. Israel feels Donald Trump will support them in creating settlements within the West Bank.

Yes, that’s right. Check out this NYT article on Israel annexing settlements in the West Bank.

The White House issued a statement on Feb. 2 encouraging the Israeli government not to expand the construction of Jewish settlements beyond their current borders in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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