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The cause of the violence we have witnessed in recent days is the proclamation of the State of Israel, which officially took place on 14th May 1948. However, the religious and nationalistic anger and hatred among the inhabitants of the Palestinian region have a much older origin.
The Jews had been a landless people for almost two millennia because of the Jewish diaspora under the Roman Empire. At the end of the nineteenth century, after centuries of violent discrimination against people of Jewish origin – although, as we know, the most terrible of all was yet to come – lies the beginning of the Zionist debate. Within the Jewish community, the opportunity to establish a national state in the Palestinian region was proposed and discussed. Thanks to the investments of wealthy and influential businessmen, entrepreneurs and bankers from all over the world, more and more agricultural land could be acquired in Palestine and allocated to Jews wishing to “return” to their ancient homeland, then under the domination of the Ottoman Empire.
Consequently, the Jewish population began to increase through migration. However, the numerical superiority of the Arab population in the region remained overwhelming. In the early years of the 20th century, the Jewish and Arab communities sharing Palestine began to show the first signs of impatience with each other. The outbreak of the First World War induced the British Empire to foment both Arab and Jewish nationalism to destabilize the enemy on the home front.
In 1922, the League of Nations – the ancestor of the modern United Nations Organisation – assigned to the United Kingdom the mandate of Palestine. The United Kingdom decided to divide the administration of Transjordan – the portion of Palestine that lies east of the Jordan River, which today is the State of Jordan – from that of Palestine, preventing Jews from emigrating there.
The purchase of agricultural land for Jewish families from Europe (the Nazi repression had already begun, we are talking about the 1930s) was now the responsibility of the Jewish Agency, the organisation in charge of managing economic assets and facilitating Jewish immigration to Palestine. The number of Jews in Palestine had increased fivefold in little more than 20 years to 360,000.
The injustices – real or perceived – suffered by Arab families and the unequal treatment they received compared to Jewish immigrants led to growing discontent. Several Palestinian Arab movements emerged, and more and more protests were organised. Clashes between the local Arab population and the British army were increasingly frequent. However, everything we have told so far is nothing compared to what happened after the Second World War.
Because of the devastation that the war had brought, the British abandoned Palestine, which came under the control of the newly formed United Nations Organisation. The UN proposed to establish two new states, an Arab and an Israeli one. Jerusalem, contested by both ethnic groups, was to be left under international control. The Jewish state would have a Jewish population of just slightly more than 50%, with the rest being Arabs. Most of the Palestinian territory, which had once been under British control, would be given to the Jews, who in 1948 constituted only a third of the total population, expecting another massive migration after the war. The Arabs regarded the Jewish presence in the region and the UN proposal for the creation of a Jewish state (albeit together with an Arab one) as an invasion. The British preferred to wash their hands of the matter and abandon the territory without giving their opinion on the UN proposal, leaving the region in a situation of chaos and conflict that they had helped to create and foment.