Tag Archives: palestinian

Martin van Creveld: A history of the turmoil in the Holy Land (you can’t understand the action without it)

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld gives a timeline of modern history for the “Holy Land” , putting present events in a larger context. While the struggle with jihadists has overshadowed that between Irsrael and Palestine, it remains a front line in the dispute between the West and East. We ignore it at our peril.

Protester with knife at Gaza

A masked Palestinian at a protest near the fence between Gaza & Israel (photo: REUTERS).

Turmoil in the Holy Land

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 22 October 2015
Posted with his generous permission

The Holy Land is in a turmoil. Certainly not for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last. For those of you who have forgotten, here is a brief timetable of the Palestinian-Jewish/Israeli conflict over the last century or so.

1860 –              Palestine, divided into three separate districts that also include parts of what today are neighboring countries, is governed by “the Unspeakable Turk.” Perhaps 80 percent of the population is Arab, mainly Sunni. But there are also some Christians—around 15 percent—and Jews. Christians and Jews are treated as Dimnis, second-rate people with fewer rights than Muslims.

1860 –              Following the Crimean War the Porte comes under pressure by the Western Powers. The latter demand, and obtain, concessions for their own citizens who live in Palestine as well a native Christians and Jews. As a result of the “Capitulations,”, as they are known, these minorities start drawing ahead.

1881 –              Jewish immigrants, mainly from Russia, start arriving and establish some new settlements. Right from the beginning, these settlements come under attack by local Bedouin who have always lived by plundering the peasantry. Thus the immediate background to the clashes is not political but socio-economic.

1897                The First Zionist Congress is held in Basel.

1904-1914       The so-called “Second Wave” of Jewish immigrants starts arriving. Zionist activists buy land, often from absentee landowners who live as far away as Beirut. The local fellaheen, seeing the land on which they have lived for centuries sold from under their feet, try to resist.

1914                Turkey join World War I on the side of the Central Powers.

1917                The Balfour Declaration, in which His Britannic Majesty’s Government recognizes the Jews right to a “National Home” in Palestine, is issued. As a result, the conflict, while still mixed up with economic, social, and religious issues, becomes political par excellence. Two peoples—“Arabs” (not Palestinians, a name that only gained wide currency during the 1960s) and Jews claim ownership over the same land. As they still do.

1918                The end of World War I leaves Palestine, along with Jordan and Iraq, firmly in British hands.

1920-21           The first Palestinian Arab Uprising, directed against the Balfour Declaration as well as the Jewish settlement.

1922                Winston Churchill, in his capacity a Colonial Secretary, arrives. He and his staff draw the borders between Palestine and the neighboring countries.

1929                Another Palestinian Uprising, triggered by a conflict over the Wailing Wall, breaks out. It is directed against both the British and the Jews. It is suppressed, but not before two Jewish communities, the ancient one at Hebron and the new one at Motza, right across the road from where I live, are wiped out.

1936-39           “The Arab Revolt” (note that people still speak of Arabs, not Palestinians). It, too, is directed against both the British and the Hews. It, too, is suppressed. But not before London makes important concessions. Those include 1. An end to Jewish land-purchases. 2. Limits on Jewish immigration, which from this point on is to bring in no more than 15,000 people per year for five years. 3. A promise of “evolution towards independence” within ten years.

1947-48           On 1 December 1947, a day after the UN decides to partition the country, the Jews and Arabs of Palestine go to war. By the middle of June, by which time the remaining British have withdrawn and the State of Israel has been official proclaimed, the Arabs have been substantially defeated. Armed intervention by the neighboring Arab states, aimed at assisting their brothers, also fails to achieve its purpose. By the time the war ends in January 1949 some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs, about half of the Arab population west of the Jordan, have been turned into refugees. The State of Israel is an established fact. However, it does not include either the Gaza Strip, which comes under Egyptian military rule, or the West Bank, which is annexed by Jordan.

1967                The June 1967 Six Days War brings the Gaza Strip, with an estimated 500,000 people, and the West Bank, with an estimated 1,500,000, under Israeli rule. With the west Bank comes East Jerusalem which from this point on becomes the focus of the conflict. Since then the population of these two territories combined has grown to an estimated 4,000,000.

1977                The Right Wing Herut (later Likud) Party comes to power in Israel. The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which until then was very small, starts skyrocketing.

1979                The Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt proposes a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict within five years. In practice, though, nothing happens.

1987                In December the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, breaks out. At first it takes the form of demonstrations and mass riots. Later there are stabbings, shootings, and some bombs.

1993                Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat sign the Oslo Agreements. Parts of the West Bank come under Palestinian rule; parts, under mixed rule; and parts remain strictly under Israeli control. The Agreements also provide for a five-year transitional period during which the parties will try to end the conflict.

2000                No progress has been made towards finding a solution. Triggered by a visit by former Israeli Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the second Intifada breaks out. Its hallmark is suicide bombings. By 2004 it is more or less suppressed with enormous damage to the West Bank City of Jenin in particular.

2005-6             The Israeli Government, under Ariel Sharon, withdraws its forces from the Gaza Strip. The latter comes under a Palestinian Faction known a Hamas. Hamas chases the PLO out of Gaza and vows to continue “resisting” Israel, which is “besieging” the Strip by exercising strict control over the movement of people and goods. In response, Hamas fires mortar rounds and rockets, later missiles, into Israeli territory.

2006-14           Repeatedly, Israel launches military operations in an attempt to put an end to Hamas’ attacks. Repeatedly, it fails. Still, Operation Protective Edge, which was launched in July 2014 and wrought vast destruction in Gaza, does seem to have taught Hamas a lesson of sorts. Since then the border, though not quite peaceful, has been relatively calm.

2015                The third Intifada, whose hallmark so far has been knifings carried out by individuals, breaks out.

The outlook

Eight times during the last century — 1920-21, 1929, 1936-39, 1947-48,1987-93, 2000-2005, 2008-14 (Gaza), and 2016 — did the Palestinian Arabs try to match whatever armed forces they had against those the British Empire/the Jewish Community in/Palestine/Israel. To no avail, since Israel, its Jewish population having grown almost a hundredfold during the same period.

With one of the world’s more powerful armed forces, it still continues to “besiege” the Gaza Strip and occupy the West Bank. This is an Ur-clash between two peoples that claim the same land. Even should the present disturbances come an end, a political solution of any kind is not in sight.

What should be done

Speaking as an Israeli now, given that real peace is out of reach for a long, long time to come, there seem to be two courses. The first would be for my country to complete the wall it has built around the West Bank in such a way as to get rid as of many Palestinians, specifically including most of those who live in East Jerusalem, as possible. That done, it should tell the settlers it is withdrawing and take as many of them as possible along. If, after that, the Palestinians in the West Bank still cause trouble, then Israel should deal with them as it dealt with Gaza in 2014. This has long been my own position; however, unless pressure is applied form outside it is very unlikely to happen.

The second would be to hope for the collapse of the Hashemite Kingdom and its occupation by Daesh or some similar organization. That would create an opportunity to repeat the events of 1948 and throw the Palestinians of the West Bank across the River Jordan. This is the “solution” a great many Israelis secretly favor. And the longer the present uprising lasts, the larger their number will grow.

What will it be?


About the Author

Martin van Creveld

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW, preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war: Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present.

Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

He has written two books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace and The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force.

Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.

He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than our!) and Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?.

He’s written one of the most influential books of our generation about war, his magnum opus — the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – the ur-text describing the political order of the 21st century.

For links to his articles see The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

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Martin van Creveld looks at the propaganda fog that covers modern war

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld discusses the difficulty of finding the truth amidst the sea of propaganda that surrounds us. It’s an essential skill Americans seem to have lost. He concludes by examining the stories about the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.



The Facts of the Case

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 27 August 2014
Posted with his generous permission

Perhaps I should start this article with a little cautionary tale. Years ago I was teaching a course about the history of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I had just said that the kingdom of Jordan already had a Palestinian majority when a young student raised her hand and asked me, very politely, how I knew. To my shame, I must confess that the question took me by surprise — here in Israel everybody and his neighbor had been saying this for years, as they still do.

When I recovered I told her she was right and offered her a deal. She would look into the matter and do a research paper about it. In return, I would release her from the final exam. She agreed, and a few months later I received the paper which neither confirmed not contradicted my original claim. It did, however, draw my attention to some facts that I, and presumably many others as well, had never thought about.

First, there was and is no accepted definition of a Palestinian. One reason for this is that there are several different kinds of Palestinians — old ones, medium ones and new ones, all depending on the date at which they had arrived in the Kingdom. Second, Jordan being the only Arab country that has granted the Palestinians in its territory citizenship, there were many mixed marriages with offspring, making the question as to “who is a Palestinian?” even harder to answer. Third, the Jordanian Ministry of the Interior for its own reasons is keeping a very tight hand both on definitions and on figures, with the result that nobody knew.

Another personal story. Back in 2003, at the height of the Second Intifada, my son had an American girlfriend who lived in Utah. One evening we were sitting in front of the TV when the phone rang. It was Christine. “Jonathan, there has been shooting in your town. Are you alright?” It turned out there had indeed been a few shots; but even though our town is rather small she, living on the other side of the world, knew it before we did.

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Israel learned from its patron the art of righteous theft and killing

Summary:  Just as the West’s endemic antisemitism has infected other nations in the Middle East (or exacerbated it), Israel acts out the West’s standard imperialist scripts on the Palestinians. Take the natives’ land, oppress them, and their violent reaction justifies repeating the cycle. In Israel today, as in the many previous times in Western history, it’s done with righteousness. and indiscriminate violence.

The trade of Bible for Land


The Most Dangerous Moment in Gaza“, Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, 1 August 2014 — “What happens if this conflict comes off the rails?” Excerpt:

There is near-unanimity in Israel already that Hamas represents an unbearable threat. Add in the perfidy of a raid conducted after a ceasefire went into effect and near-unanimity becomes total unanimity. The most interesting article I’ve read in the past 24 hours is an interview with the Israeli novelist Amos Oz, the father of his country’s peace-and-compromise movement, who opened the interview with Deutsche Welle in this manner:

Amoz Oz: I would like to begin the interview in a very unusual way: by presenting one or two questions to your readers and listeners. May I do that?

Deutsche Welle: Go ahead!

Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

With these two questions I pass the interview to you.

The point is, if Amos Oz, a severe critic of his country’s policies toward the Palestinians, sounds no different on the subject of the Hamas threat than the right-most ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet, then there will be a national consensus that it is not enough to manage the Hamas rocket-and-tunnel threat, but that it must be eliminated if at all possible.

This is the typical madness of imperialism. Let’s look at from different perspectives.

First, consider Oz’s question. If I shoot my neighbor it is simple self-defense. But that’s not an analogy with Gaza, which require that I use heavy weapons to destroy his entire apartment building — or the entire city block. By Oz’s analogy, I’d be guilty of mass murder. How odd that neither Oz or Goldberg see this.

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The Fate of Israel

Summary: As Israel has another round of conflict with one of its neighbors, we should neither overlook the toll of causalities nor focus excessively on these details. More important is the long trend. History shows the difficulty of distinguishing strong from weak players in 4GW, and that choosing the wrong grand strategy can be terminal for a state.  It could easily prove fatal for Israel. Events today show how a nation might look strong while on a path leading to bad outcomes. This is a revision of a 2006 post, chapter two in a series of articles about grand strategy when 4GW has become the dominate form of war.

“It is not possible to found a lasting power upon injustice, perjury, and treachery.”
— Demosthenes (Athenian leader, 384 – 322 BC)





  1. Is Israel is stronger than the Palestine?
  2. Winning requires strategy, not just power
  3. Israel abandons the high ground
  4. Comparing the Strategies of Israel & Palestine
  5. Strengths of the Palestinian people
  6. How ight the Palestinian people defeat Israel?
  7. Other predictions of doom for Israel
  8. For more information


(1) Everyone knows Israel is stronger than the Palestinians. That might be wrong.

To plan a successful grand strategy the strategist must know if he has a weak or strong position. Failure almost certainly results from getting this fundamental wrong. Unfortunately, history shows the difficulty of correctly determining weak from strong during times of rapid change.

“So confident of victory were the French that many sat up late drinking, gambling and boasting about who would kill or capture whom. Some knights even painted a cart in which Henry V would be paraded through the streets of Paris!”

Description of the French camp on 24 October 1415, the night before Agincourt – the last of the 3 great English victories over the French during the Hundred Years War.

“You are now my prisoners. Let this be a lesson to you that Americans are weak. You must realize that Japan will rule the world. You are stupid for letting your leaders take you to war.”

Speech by Tetsunosuke Ariizumi, Commander of His Imperial Majesty’s submarine I-8, addressing captured Americans from the SS Jean Nicolet on 2 July 1944.

“No Viet-Minh cannon will be able to fire three rounds before being destroyed by my artillery.”

— Colonel Charles Piroth, French artillery commander at Dien Bien Phu, quoted in Hell in a Very Small Place, Bernard Fall (1966), p. 102.

Measuring strength between peoples has become even more difficult in our age — when 4GW is the dominant form of war. Hence the endless stream of surprises from the anti-colonial wars after WW2 to our defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So which looks stronger: a stateless people with no modern government, economy, or army – or a developed state with its vast superiority in ideas and hardware? An occupied people or the nations that rules them?

(a)  Israel, a western industrial nation, has rationally educated elites in a modern bureaucratic government. Israel’s army and intelligence service (the Mossad) are superior to their Palestinian counterparts in every way.

(b)  Israel has wielded these advantages to win many tactical victories over the Palestinians. For example, Thomas X. Hammes (Colonel, USMC, retited) describes how Israel won the second Intifadah in chapter 9 of his book, The Sling And The Stone.

(c)  The Palestinian people have none of Israel’s advantages: stateless, politically mobilized in only a primitive manner, with severe internal fractures, and a history of weak and self-interested leadership. Each year their enclaves on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank sink further into poverty and chaos.

Who has the best odds of long-term survival, Israel or the Palestinians?

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Why Israel didn’t win in Gaza

Summary:  Yet another in the long series of wars between Israel and its neighbors.  The trend is not their friend.  Power is not enough, especially when outnumbered and surrounded. Our support for Israel might be enabling them to act boldly but suicidally. Here is a guest post by Adam Shatz explaining what happened in Gaza.



Excerpt to “Why Israel Didn’t Win
By Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books
24 November 2012
Reprinted for a limited time with their generous permission.
Go to the LRB website to read the full article.


The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after 8 days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever: according to a recent UN report, the Strip will be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020.

And this is to speak only of Gaza. How easily one is made to forget that Gaza is only a part – a very brutalised part – of the ‘future Palestinian state’ that once seemed inevitable, and which now seems to exist mainly in the lullabies of Western peace processors. None of the core issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the Occupation, borders, water rights, repatriation and compensation of refugees – is addressed by this agreement.

The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war.

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Israel becomes its enemy

Summary: Israel fights for its very existence against an enemy who has no regard for life.  From a cosmic sense, Israel can lose in two ways. Violent defeat in some fashion (causing economic collapse or out-migration). Or spiritual defeat, becoming inflected by the evil Israel has fought for so long: antisemitism in Christendom, NAZI genocide, and now Islamic racial hatred. The former seems increasingly likely, eventually.  The latter might be happening now.

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
— Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886).

“A spoiled saint, a Pharisee, or an inquisitor makes better sport in Hell than a mere common tyrant or debauchee.”
Letter 23 from Uncle Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood


  1. Prelude to slaughter: Threatening a Gaza holocaust
  2. Fast Forward to today: the situation heats up
  3. Portents of the future, echos of the past
  4. For More Information

(1)  Prelude to slaughter: Threatening a holocaust in Gaza

During similar conditions in 2008, from Haaretz on 29 February 2008:

“The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves,” {Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai} told Army Radio on Friday.

… “shoah is “the Hebrew word for holocaust or disaster. The word is generally used to refer to the Nazi Holocaust, but a spokesman for Vilnai said the deputy defense minister used the word in the sense of “disaster,” saying “he did not mean to make any allusion to the genocide.”

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said of Vilnai’s comments: “We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people.”

The Jerusalem Post whitewashed this more adroitly. Als0 see The Telegraph’s terse analysis.

(2)  Fast Forward to today: the situation heats up

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Where did the great post-war dream for a new world go sour?

Summary:  Tom Hayden’s post The Syrian dominos sparked some fascinating threads in the comments. One discussed what might be a formative moment in world history, one of events which set 21st century history on a very different track than that dreamed by the victors of WWII.  A path that means that their generation’s great sacrifice and hopes were in vain.

The Kindly Ones


The NAZI plan to conquer Eastern Europe for re-settlement by Aryans was the last large instance of a dynamic that dominated history.  One of the great goals of the Allies — led by America — after the war was to make this illegitimate and impossible. And so it was for a generation.

The world experienced wars in first and second world, but of political expansion. Regimes which to forcibly reunite their people under a single political system — Korea, Vietnam.  Countless internal wars, revolutions and civil wars. But no major attempts to displace peoples, then re-settle on their land. Until Israel began to expand into the East West Bank.  IMO this was a key moment after WWII.  {per a comment, I’ve tweaked this for clarity}

The outcome of the Cold War was, probably, inevitable.  The communist experiments in the Soviet Union and China were doomed.  People’s rational drive for self-preservation prevented atomic war (although USAF generals were gung ho for the a nuclear holocaust).  The real challenge would be from within, our ability to discipline ourselves, and avoid the temptations of power.  We did so after WWII.  Instead of reparations, we gave aid. Instead of puppet governments, we created democracies — and got allies.  We showed wisdom with few or no historical precedents.

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