How Geography Contributes to the Israel-palestinian Conflict.

April 14, 2006 by aaron

Most of the conflict in the region is between the Israeli Government and the various Palestinian organizations intent on the destruction of any lasting peace in the region. While the main reasons that these organizations have been able to acquire people and resources is because of religious differences and intolerance on both sides of the conflict, the geography of the area has the effect of fanning the flames.

The climate of Israel is one of the major geographical causes behind the strife. As you can see on the map in many Palestine areas the land is infertile and unable to support large numbers of people. As a result many of the inhabitants of the Palestinian areas are unable to produce enough food or find work to support themselves and their families; because of this the less fortunate residents must turn to the various aid groups in the region who provide work, food, and entertainment to meet their basic needs. Unfortunately these groups are the same that organize both protests against Israel and the frequent bombings of civilians that plague the area. While most of the people that join these groups know there is a large difference between protesting and murder, as with any group there are those who are desperate enough to kill themselves and others to ensure their families financial well-being.

The lack of resources is further compounded by Israel’s policy of choking the Palestinian areas by continually building new settlements along and inside the borders of the green line and expanding existing towns far faster than is necessary. Because of this and the tight border that the country of Jordan keeps with the Palestinian areas the Palestinian town are unable to grow along with their populations forcing large numbers of people to live in close proximity with each other. Furthermore, emigration from these areas is also discouraged by surrounding countries creating a scenario where many people are forced to stay within a small area in which riots and violence can easy erupt, mirroring the recent situation in France.

In turn these problems all relate to the economic geography of the area. Economically most Palestinians living inside of the green line are poor compared to the Palestinians and Israelis living or working outside of the green line. For people living in Israel the GNP or Gross National Product on a per capita basis is $20,551.20, however the GNP is only $558.14 in the Gaza strip and $754.40 in the west bank. Furthermore while people living outside the green line are able to find work in white collar jobs or as business owners and other successful occupations, people living inside the line are forced to work at menial jobs at best. This evidences the severely impoverished state the Palestinians are forced to live in.

Political geography also has a hand in the turmoil of the region, being Palestinian is less a national identity and more of a regional identity; (this is analogous to being called Asian versus Chinese.) As you can see on the map, there are many different traditions that are all incorporated into the Palestinian identity without even including the non-Islamic cultures that have existed there for thousands of years. This has been caused by millennia of successive occupations by every world empire from the Romans to the Persians. The constant influx of new leaders, ideas and peoples throughout these occupations made it difficult for the inhabitants over the years to coalesce into a single entity rather than many different small groups whose only tie is the area they live in. Because of the separation of the region after World War 2 by the British and the French the groups that lived there were forced to pick sides as countries were formed without any concern for the stability of the region. Previously peaceful groups were then polarized by economic, regional and religious differences that have ever since been boiling over.

Before the separation in the region into British controlled and French controlled areas the majority of cities each functioned as its own small city-state. Cities in many areas would be primarily Christian, Muslim or Jewish but people would freely trade and travel between the cities. Unfortunately with the creation of the state of Israel as a home for the European Jews cities were then polarized for and against the new state and in turn stressing political relations between individual cities and in turn groups. Furthermore in the Israeli area the new Jewish immigrants were given preferential treatment over Palestinians who had lived there for generations. Also over time the Christian minority (which is about one fifteenth that of the number of Muslims) was also given preferential treatment over the Palestinians because of Israel’s desire to keep close ties with the United States and Europe. This has all coalesced into a scenario where Palestinians see themselves as an impoverished minority in their own homeland.

Geography itself has also been used over the last 50 years by both the Palestinians and Israelis as a tool to prevent the different groups from realizing that they are all equal with each other. For example many maps published in Palestine avoid direct references to anything having to do with Israel, sometimes even to the point of leaving major Israeli cities off the map. But countries other than Israel are clearly marked. Geography textbooks are also used by the Palestinians to support distension among the school children towards the state of Israel, a recent 7th grade textbook refers to Israel as the 1948 lands. However the Palestinians are not the only one who uses geography class to polarize the students, for much of their education students in Israeli schools use textbooks that focus primarily on Israeli history and the geography of the Israeli controlled areas. Furthermore Jerusalem itself is portrayed as a dark and dirty city in the days before the nation of Israel was created. In students this creates a highly emotional connection with the land by seeing Israel as theirs and theirs alone, and furthermore they are indoctrinated into the idea that without the Israelis in control the area would revert to a primitive state.

While the geography of the region plays only a minor role in the turmoil it does provide the catalyst that encourages droves of people to think that maybe they would be better off without Israel. However how much of this is Israel’s fault is left up to the individual, because while many of Israel’s actions help to promote the idea that they are an evil force, much of the animosity goes back generations to the beginning of Israel. Of course current Israelis leaders can not be held responsible for the actions of the British or French but on the same token they cannot be held blameless for their continual antagonism. Just as Palestinian leaders are responsible for the actions of the many terrorist groups in their territory.

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