On October 7 2023, the world was shocked by an attack carried out by Palestinian resistance groups in the Gaza Strip, led by Hamas. Hamas launched an attack in the form of 5,000 rocket fire towards Israel. The attack was named “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm”. As a result of the attack, 1,400 Israelis were killed and 4,562 others were injured. In response to this, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “declared war” on Hamas. Israel also counterattacked Palestine in the Gaza Strip and killed 3,478 people and injured 12,065 others. Not only that, all food and electricity flows to Gaza were cut off by Israel as a form of total siege. The war is still ongoing today and is the deadliest war between Israel and Hamas.
Many people state that the prolonged war between these two countries cannot be separated from religious conflict. Israel, which is considered a country with a Jewish majority, opposes Palestine as a country with an Islamic majority. No wonder, many people in the world provide their support for Israel or Palestine based on religious grounds alone. In fact, far more than that, the conflict that has been going on since 1948 is rooted in political history involving the two countries.
For centuries, the Palestinian territories were inhabited by a majority of Palestinian Arabs, Jews, and Christians under the Ottoman Empire. However, the seeds of today’s conflict began to arise when Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian Jew, created the Zionist movement which aimed to build a Jewish state in Palestine free from antisemitism. What was once only an idea became a possibility when the Ottoman Empire fell, causing Palestine to fall into British hands. In 1917, the Balfour Declaration emerged by England which stated that it would establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine (Inbari, 2017). Then in 1947, the UN decided to divide Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Finally in 1948 Israel was officially established (Indriasandi & Wargadinata, 2023). This caused one million Palestinian Arabs being mass expelled from their land. This event is known as the Nakba incident.
Since Israel controlled Palestinian land, several Arab-Israeli war conflicts emerged, such as the Six Day War in 1967 which was won by Israel. At that time, the West Bank and Gaza Strip began to be occupied and settlements began to be built there. Jewish settlers are given all the rights and privileges of Israeli citizens while Palestinian citizens have to live with discrimination. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Party (PLO) was formed, and a year later the Fatah political party was founded. In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip and generated ongoing tensions and resistance from Palestinian groups.
In 1987, the Palestinian Intifada or resistance erupted due to the deaths of four Palestinian citizens after being hit by an Israeli truck. The protests spread quickly, giving rise to the Hamas movement, a Palestinian militant group offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The first intifada was mainly carried out by young people and resulted in the death of 1,070 Palestinians and the arrest of 175,000 Palestinians by Israel. The Intifada ended with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) (Karsh, 2023). In 2000, there was a second Intifada when the leader of Israel’s opposition Likud Party, Ariel Sharon, made a provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque. Clashes ensued between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops which killed five Palestinian citizens and injured 200 people over two days. During the Intifada, Israel caused serious damage to the Palestinian economy and infrastructure. In 2004, PLO leader Yasser Arafat died and one year later, the second Intifada ended.
In 2005, Palestinians held their first general elections. In the election, Hamas won the vote. However, Fatah and Hamas fought a civil war for months and caused the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians. Hamas expelled Fatah from the Gaza Strip, and Fatah maintained control of the West Bank. Not stopping there, Israel launched four prolonged military attacks on Gaza in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021. As a result of these attacks, thousands of Palestinians were killed and millions of residents were displaced.
In the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian war in October 2023, precisely on October 17 2023, Israel bombed the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. The hospital is the last Christian hospital in Gaza. In this incident, at least 500 people died and was the highest death toll during the war between Israel and Hamas. Based on this, it can be seen that Israel is not only fighting Muslims, but also people of other religions, in this case Christians. Not only that, Israel also bombed the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza, where around 500 Palestinian Muslims and Christians were taking refuge. This attack further strengthens the implication that Israel intends to destroy the entire Palestinian community regardless of religion. So it can be seen that this is not a religious conflict.
Based on the chronology of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict above, it can be concluded that the conflict between the two countries is not a religious conflict. This is because both Israel and Palestine also have religions other than Judaism and Islam. Based on data from the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) in 2022, religious affiliation in the Israeli population was 73.6% Jewish, 18.1% Islamic, 1.9% Christian, and 1.6% Druze (United States Department of State, 2022). Meanwhile, the religious population in Palestine is 93% Sunni Islam and 6% Christian (Ferrara, 2023).
In the end, The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not merely a religious conflict, but rather a deep-rooted political, historical and territorial struggle. Narrowing it down to a religious conflict only oversimplifies the problem at hand and hinders progress towards a long-term resolution. By recognizing the diverse nature of the conflict, we can work towards a comprehensive solution that addresses the legitimate concerns and aspirations of Israeli and Palestinian communities, ultimately leading to a more stable and peaceful Middle East.