WCC Palestine – Background and resources


WCC Palestine – Background and resources

We are providing this page alongside the WCC’s recent Statement of Solidarity with Palestine to provide background on the history of this conflict and further resources. 

I. Introduction

A. Brief Overview of Palestine-Israel Conflict

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the world’s most enduring and complex geopolitical disputes. Its origins can be traced back to the late 19th century, when the Zionist movement, which advocated for establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, began to gain traction. The conflict intensified following the end of World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire when Palestine came under British control through the Mandate for Palestine.

Tensions between the Arab and Jewish populations in the region escalated, particularly after the UN Partition Plan of 1947, which proposed dividing Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. The plan was accepted by the Jewish leadership but rejected by the Arabs. In 1948, Israel declared its independence, leading to the first Arab-Israeli War. The war resulted in Israel’s establishment but also in the displacement of approximately 700,000 Palestinians, creating a refugee crisis that persists to this day.

Since then, the conflict has been marked by several wars, uprisings (‘intifadas’), and ongoing disputes over land, borders, resources, and sovereignty. Key issues include the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, the Gaza Strip, and the rights and recognition of Palestinian refugees. Despite numerous peace efforts, a comprehensive resolution to the conflict remains elusive, and the situation continues to impact the lives of millions of Palestinians and Israelis.

B. Purpose of the document

This document provides an overview of the historical background and some key issues surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This document should be read in conjunction with the Statement of Solidarity with Palestine, published on the WCC’s blog on May 27th, 2024, which provides a more comprehensive account of the current conflict in Gaza. This background document will explore the historical events that have shaped the conflict, the main points of contention between the involved parties, and the efforts made towards peace and reconciliation. Special attention will be given to the destruction of cultural heritage sites and the challenges faced by the education sector in Palestine and Israel.

II. Historical Background

A. Ancient history of the region known as Palestine

1. Significance as a crossroads of trade, science, scholarship, and religion in ancient civilisations

Palestine has been a crucible of human civilisation for millennia. Its strategic location at the nexus of Africa, Asia, and Europe made it a vital crossroads for trade, cultural exchange, and spreading ideas (Khalidi 1997: 1). In ancient times, Palestine was a centre of learning and scholarship, with the famous Library of Alexandria in Egypt drawing heavily from the intellectual traditions of the region (MacLeod 2004: 5-6). The area also held immense religious significance, with sacred sites and traditions central to the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Armstrong 1996: 11).

2. Palestine under successive empires: Roman, Byzantine, Arab/Islamic, Ottoman

Palestine’s history is marked by a succession of imperial powers that shaped its political, social, and cultural landscape. In 63 BCE, the Roman Empire annexed Palestine, ushering in a period of Roman rule that lasted until the 4th century CE (Goodblatt 2006: 10-11). This was followed by the Byzantine Empire, which controlled the region until the 7th century (Regan 2001: 11). The rise of Islam in the 7th century brought Palestine under Arab and later Islamic rule, with the area serving as a vital centre of Islamic civilisation for centuries (Hawting 2000: 22-23). From 1517 until the end of World War I, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire, during which time it experienced relative stability and was administered as a separate province (Doumani 1995: 6).

B. Modern history

1. Rise of European colonialism and Zionism in late 19th/early 20th century

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a resurgence of European colonial interest in the Middle East, driven by strategic, economic, and religious factors (Fieldhouse 2006: 60-61). Concurrently, the Zionist movement, which advocated for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, gained momentum, fuelled by rising anti-Semitism in Europe and a growing sense of Jewish nationalism (Laqueur & Rubin 2001: 3-5). The first significant wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1882, marking the beginning of the modern Zionist enterprise (Shafir 1996: 38).

2. British Mandate over Palestine following World War I

Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the League of Nations granted Britain the Mandate for Palestine in 1920 (Segev 2001: 5). The British Mandate period was marked by growing tensions between the Arab and Jewish populations, exacerbated by Britain’s conflicting promises to both groups, such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which pledged support for a Jewish national home in Palestine (Schneer 2010: 2). The British attempted to balance these competing interests through various policies, including the 1939 White Paper, which limited Jewish immigration and land purchases (Segev 2001: 439).

3. Competing nationalist movements – Arab Palestinians and Zionist Jews

During the Mandate period, both Arab Palestinian and Zionist Jewish nationalist movements gained strength and came into increasing conflict. The Palestinians, who constituted the majority of the population, sought self-determination and independence, while the Zionists aimed to establish a Jewish state in Palestine (Khalidi 2006: 32-33). Clashes between the two communities, as well as resistance against British rule, characterised the latter years of the Mandate (Morris 2001: 121-160).

4. 1947 UN partition plan, 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and establishment of Israel

In 1947, following the end of World War II and facing mounting pressure, Britain announced its intention to withdraw from Palestine. The United Nations proposed a partition plan (UN Resolution 181) to divide the territory into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under international control (Pappé 2006: 31). The plan was accepted by the Jewish leadership but rejected by the Arab states and the Palestinians. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel declared its independence, leading to the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The war resulted in Israel’s victory and expansion, the displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians (known as the Nakba), and the establishment of the modern state of Israel (Morris 2004: 1-8).

III. Key Issues and Conflicts

A. Territorial disputes and military occupations

1. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem since 1967

Following the Six-Day War in June 1967, Israel captured and occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem (Bennis 2007: 6). Despite international law deeming it inadmissible to acquire territory by force, Israel has continued its military occupation of these areas for over five decades (Khalidi 2020: 7-8). The occupation has led to the imposition of Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians, denying them basic rights and freedoms (Pappé 2006: 187).

2. Israeli settlements and land confiscation in the Occupied Territories

Since the beginning of the occupation, Israel has established hundreds of settlements in the occupied territories, transferring its civilian population into the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Bennis 2007: 15). These settlements, along with the confiscation of Palestinian land for their construction and expansion, are considered illegal under international law (Human Rights Watch 2021: 12). The settlements have become a major obstacle to peace, fragmenting the Palestinian landscape and undermining the prospects for a contiguous Palestinian state (Khalidi 2020: 211).

3. Construction of separation wall in the West Bank

In 2002, Israel began constructing a separation wall, also known as the ‘security fence’ or ‘apartheid wall,’ in the occupied West Bank (Pappé 2006: 238). The wall, which extends well beyond the Green Line (the pre-1967 armistice line) and into occupied Palestinian territory, has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice (Bennis 2007: 19). It has resulted in the de facto annexation of Palestinian land, restricted freedom of movement, and separated Palestinians from their agricultural lands, schools, and healthcare facilities (Human Rights Watch 2021: 14).

B. Refugee crisis

1. 750,000 Palestinian refugees created by 1948 war

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which led to the establishment of the State of Israel, resulted in the displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians, who became refugees (Morris, 2004, p. 1). This mass displacement, known as the Nakba (‘catastrophe’ in Arabic), saw Palestinians forced from their homes and lands, fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (Khalidi 2020: 58).

2. Additional refugees from 1967 war

The 1967 Six-Day War led to a second wave of Palestinian displacement, with an estimated 300,000 Palestinians fleeing or being expelled from the newly occupied territories (Pappé 2006: 188). Many of these refugees had already been displaced in 1948, experiencing the trauma of forced migration for a second time (Masalha 2012: 84).

3. Ongoing displacement and denial of right of return for refugees

Palestinian refugees and their descendants, now numbering in the millions, continue to face ongoing displacement and are denied their right to return to their homes and lands (Khalidi 2020: 59). UN General Assembly Resolution 194 affirms the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and receive compensation for their losses (Bennis 2007: 9). However, Israel has consistently refused to allow the return of Palestinian refugees, viewing it as a threat to the Jewish character of the state (Morris 2004: 588).

C. Security concerns and violence

1. Palestinian armed resistance and attacks on Israeli civilians

Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have engaged in armed resistance against the Israeli occupation, including rocket attacks and suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians (Pappé 2006: 276). These attacks, which have resulted in the loss of Israeli lives and widespread fear among the Israeli population, are often cited by Israel as justification for its military operations and security measures (Bennis 2007: 34). Under international law, Palestinians have the right to resist occupation, although attacks on civilians are prohibited (Khalidi 2020: 232).

2. Israeli military operations, collective punishment against Palestinians

In response to Palestinian armed resistance and to maintain its occupation, Israel has engaged in numerous military operations in the occupied territories, often resulting in high civilian casualties and extensive damage to Palestinian infrastructure (Human Rights Watch 2021: 16). Israel has also employed collective punishment measures, such as home demolitions, curfews, and movement restrictions, which have had a severe impact on the daily lives of Palestinians (Pappé 2006: 258). These actions have been widely condemned by human rights organisations and the international community as disproportionate and in violation of international humanitarian law (Bennis 2007: 35).

IV. Peace Efforts and Challenges

A. Major Peace initiatives

1. Camp David Accords (1978)

The Camp David Accords, signed by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat under the mediation of US President Jimmy Carter, marked a significant milestone in Arab-Israeli relations. The accords led to the signing of a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979, the first between Israel and an Arab country. However, the accords failed to address the Palestinian issue comprehensively, focusing primarily on Egyptian-Israeli relations (Bennis 2007: 41).

2. Madrid Conference (1991)

The Madrid Conference, held after the Gulf War, brought together representatives from Israel, Palestine, and Arab states for the first time since the 1948 war. Co-sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union, it aimed to establish a framework for bilateral and multilateral negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbours. While the conference did not produce immediate results, it paved the way for the Oslo Accords (Khalidi 2020: 178).

3. Oslo Accords (1993)

The Oslo Accords, signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993, were a series of agreements that aimed to establish a framework for peace and the creation of a Palestinian state. The accords called for the gradual transfer of power to a Palestinian Authority and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the occupied territories. However, the Oslo process ultimately failed to deliver on its promises, as Israel continued to expand settlements and maintain control over Palestinian lives (Pappé 2006: 235).

4. Camp David Summit (2000)

The Camp David Summit, held in July 2000 under the auspices of US President Bill Clinton, brought together Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to negotiate a final peace agreement. The summit failed, with both sides blaming each other for the breakdown of talks. The collapse of the summit and the subsequent outbreak of the Second Intifada marked a significant setback for the peace process (Khalidi 2020: 196).

5. Arab Peace Initiative (2002)

The Arab Peace Initiative, proposed by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the Arab League in 2002, offered Israel full normalisation of relations with Arab states in exchange for a complete withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194. The initiative represented a significant shift in the Arab world’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Israel has thus far failed to embrace the proposal (Bennis 2007: 45).

6. Geneva Accord (2003)

The Geneva Accord, an unofficial initiative launched by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in 2003, proposed a detailed framework for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. The accord addressed key issues such as borders, Jerusalem, security arrangements, and the refugee question, offering concessions from both sides. While the initiative demonstrated that a negotiated settlement was possible, it failed to gain official endorsement from either the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority and was criticised by hardliners on both sides (Khalid 2020: 200).

B. US role as mediator

The United States has long been the primary mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, often to the exclusion of other international actors. While the US has presented itself as an honest broker, its close alliance with Israel and its consistent support for Israeli policies have undermined its credibility among Palestinians and much of the international community (Khalidi 2020: 205). The US has often used its diplomatic, economic, and military clout to shield Israel from accountability for its actions in the occupied territories while pressuring Palestinians to make concessions (Bennis 2007: 48).

C. Ongoing obstacles to peace

1. Expansion of Israeli settlements

The continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has been a major obstacle to peace. Settlements, which are illegal under international law, have fragmented Palestinian territory, making the establishment of a viable Palestinian state increasingly difficult (Khalidi 2020: 211). The entrenchment of the settlement enterprise has also created a powerful political constituency within Israel that opposes territorial concessions and Palestinian statehood (Human Rights Watch 2021: 12).

2. Internal Israeli and Palestinian political divisions

Both Israeli and Palestinian societies are deeply divided along political, ideological, and religious lines, making it difficult for leaders on either side to make the compromises necessary for peace. In Israel, the rise of right-wing nationalist and religious parties has shifted the political landscape away from the peace process (Khalidi 2020: 218). On the Palestinian side, the split between Fatah and Hamas and the lack of a unified leadership have weakened the Palestinian position and made negotiations more challenging (Bennis 2007: 50).

3. Lack of political will and trust

Decades of conflict, broken promises, and unequal power dynamics have eroded trust between Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides have often lacked the political will to make the difficult decisions and compromises required for peace (Khalidi 2020: 220). The failure of past peace initiatives and the continued reality of occupation have fostered cynicism and disillusionment among many Palestinians. At the same time, Israelis have grown increasingly sceptical of the possibility of a negotiated settlement (Pappé 2006: 256).

D. One-state vs. two-state debate

As the prospects for a two-state solution have dimmed, the debate over alternative political arrangements has gained traction. Proponents of a one-state solution argue that creating a single, democratic state in all of historic Palestine, with equal rights for all its citizens, is the only way to ensure a just and lasting peace (Khalidi 2020: 224). However, critics contend that a one-state solution would threaten Israel’s Jewish character and is politically unfeasible (Bennis, 2007, p. 53). Advocates of the two-state solution maintain that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel remains the most viable path to peace but acknowledge that time is running out as the reality on the ground makes such an outcome increasingly difficult to achieve (Human Rights Watch 2021: 20).

V. International Dimensions

A. Global significance and interest in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has far-reaching implications that extend beyond the region, making it a matter of global concern. The conflict’s centrality to international relations stems from various factors, including the region’s geopolitical importance, its religious significance to the world’s major faiths, and its potential to destabilise the broader Middle East (Bennis 2007: 55). The conflict also intersects with key global issues such as human rights, international law, and the role of the United Nations in conflict resolution (Khalidi 2020: 229).

B. Role of the United Nations

1. Security Council resolutions on peace process, settlements, etc.

The United Nations Security Council has adopted numerous resolutions addressing various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These resolutions have dealt with issues such as the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force (Resolution 242), the illegality of Israeli settlements (Resolution 2334), and the need for a just and lasting peace based on a two-state solution (Resolution 1515) (Bennis 2007: 58). However, the Security Council’s ability to enforce these resolutions has been limited, primarily due to the United States’s use of its veto power to shield Israel from accountability (Khalidi 2020: 231).

2. General Assembly recognition of Palestinian statehood (2012)

In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to grant Palestine non-member observer state status, effectively recognising Palestinian statehood. The vote, which passed with 138 countries in favour, 9 against, and 41 abstentions, was a significant diplomatic victory for the Palestinians and a reflection of the international community’s growing support for Palestinian self-determination (Khalidi 2020: 233). However, the General Assembly’s recognition did not change the reality on the ground, as Israel continued to occupy Palestinian territory and expand settlements.

C. Positions and involvement of key actors

1. United States

The United States has been the most influential external actor in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, often acting as the primary mediator in peace negotiations. The US has maintained a close strategic, economic, and military partnership with Israel, providing it with significant aid and diplomatic support (Bennis 2007: 60). This unwavering support has often been criticised as enabling Israel’s continued occupation and human rights abuses, while undermining the prospects for a just and lasting peace (Khalidi 2020: 235).

2. European Union

The European Union has generally been more critical of Israeli policies than the United States, particularly regarding the expansion of settlements and the human rights situation in the occupied territories. The EU has provided significant economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority and has supported the establishment of an independent Palestinian state (Bennis 2007: 63). However, the EU’s ability to exert pressure on Israel has been limited, in part due to its own internal divisions and its reluctance to challenge the United States’s dominant role in the peace process (Khalidi 2020: 237).

3. Russia

Russia has historically maintained ties with both Israel and the Palestinian leadership, positioning itself as a potential alternative mediator to the United States. In recent years, Russia has sought to increase its influence in the Middle East and has sought to play a more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, hosting meetings between Fatah and Hamas and offering to host peace talks (Khalidi 2020: 238). However, Russia’s impact on the conflict has been limited compared to that of the United States and European powers.

4. Arab States

Arab states’ positions on Israel have gradually shifted from outright hostility and non-recognition to varying degrees of engagement and normalisation. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative was a landmark collective offer to normalise relations with Israel in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders and a just resolution of the refugee issue (Bennis 2007: 66). Recent years have seen a growing trend of normalisation between Israel and Gulf Arab states (e.g. the Abraham Accords of 2020), driven by shared security concerns regarding Iran (Khalidi 2020: 240). However, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a highly sensitive issue for Arab public opinion, and most Arab governments continue to advocate for Palestinian rights and statehood.

5. The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has played a significant role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, from the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to the British Mandate period (Regan 2001: 11). In the post-Brexit era, the UK has largely maintained its support for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders (Khalidi 2020: 148). However, there are indications of a shift in UK policy, such as a closer alignment with American leadership, as demonstrated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s support for President Trump’s Peace to Prosperity plan (Khalidi 2020: 235). 

The UK’s increased autonomy post-Brexit has also led to some divergence from EU positions at the United Nations (Dee & Smith 2017). For instance, the UK voted against a resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights, breaking with the EU’s stance (UN 2020). Growing trade relations between the UK and Israel (Rynhold 2016) may also influence future policy decisions.

While the UK’s fundamental principles, such as its commitment to a two-state solution, remain unchanged (Bennis 2007: 45), these emerging trends suggest a potential for greater policy differences between the UK and the EU regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict in the coming years.

The United Kingdom’s response to the current conflict in Gaza is detailed in the House of Commons research document ‘2023/24 Israel-Hamas conflict: UK actions and response.’ The briefing document highlights ways the UK government has engaged in diplomatic efforts to achieve a ceasefire and ensure compliance with international law, while also providing military surveillance and de-escalation support.

The UK government issued statements condemning the violence and calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities. Parliament passed motions urging the government to take action to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access. At the United Nations, the UK supported sanctions against those perpetuating the conflict and contributed to aid efforts to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis, particularly in Gaza.

The briefing document also sheds light on the UK’s efforts to address the domestic impact of the conflict, including measures to tackle antisemitism and anti-Muslim incidents. Despite the UK’s comprehensive approach, the ongoing violence and significant casualties on both sides underscore the challenges in resolving the conflict and alleviating human suffering. 

D. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005, aims to pressure Israel through economic, cultural, and academic boycotts to end its occupation, grant equal rights to Palestinian citizens, and respect the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The BDS movement has gained traction globally, with many civil society organisations, trade unions, and academic institutions endorsing its calls (Khalidi 2020: 243). BDS has been met with fierce opposition from Israel and its supporters, who argue that it unfairly singles out Israel and amounts to a form of anti-Semitism (Bennis 2007: 68). Despite this backlash, the movement has succeeded in raising international awareness about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and has put pressure on companies and institutions complicit in Israel’s human rights violations.

VI. Cultural Heritage

A. Region as the birthplace and historic centre of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

The Palestinian-Israeli region is of unparalleled significance to the world’s three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is the birthplace of these faiths and has been a centre of religious pilgrimage and devotion for centuries (Bennis 2007: 27). The sacred sites and traditions associated with this land have played a crucial role in shaping the religious and cultural identities of millions of people worldwide (Khalidi 2020: 145).

B. Major religious and historic sites

1. Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is one of the most sacred sites in both Judaism and Islam. For Jews, it is the holiest site, believed to be the location of the First and Second Temples (Bennis 2007: 28). For Muslims, it is the third-holiest site, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, from where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven (Khalidi 2020: 146).

2. Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, is one of the most sacred sites in Christianity. It is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (Bennis 2007: 28). The church has been a major pilgrimage destination for Christians since the 4th century. It remains a powerful symbol of the faith.

3. Al-Aqsa Mosque

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, situated on the Haram al-Sharif compound, is the third-holiest mosque in Islam after those in Mecca and Medina. It is believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad led prayers and ascended to heaven (Khalidi 2020: 146). The mosque has been a focal point of Muslim worship and pilgrimage for over a millennium.

4. Western Wall

The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is a remnant of the ancient wall surrounding the Jewish Temple’s courtyard. It is the holiest prayer site for Jews, who believe it to be the closest accessible site to the former location of the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the Temple (Bennis 2007: 28). The Western Wall is a place of prayer and pilgrimage for Jews from around the world.

C. Damage and destruction of cultural sites

1. Examples of sites destroyed or threatened by conflict 

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has led to the damage and destruction of numerous cultural and religious sites. During the 1948 war, many Palestinian villages were destroyed, along with their mosques, churches, and other cultural landmarks (Pappé 2006: 92). In the Old City of Jerusalem, the Jewish Quarter was heavily damaged during the 1948 war, and many synagogues were destroyed or desecrated (Bennis 2007: 29). More recently, the Al-Aqsa Mosque has been a flashpoint for violence, with clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshippers leading to damage to the sacred compound (Khalidi 2020: 147).

2. Current Conflict in Gaza

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has verified damage to 43 sites of cultural importance, including 10 religious sites, 24 buildings of historical or artistic interest, two depositories of movable cultural property, three monuments, three archaeological sites, and one museum.

3. Efforts to preserve and protect historic sites and artifacts

Despite the ongoing conflict, various parties have made efforts to preserve and protect the region’s cultural heritage. UNESCO has designated several sites in the Israeli-Palestinian region as World Heritage Sites, including the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls (Bennis 2007: 29). However, the politicisation of cultural heritage has often hindered conservation efforts, with Israel and the Palestinians accusing each other of neglecting or appropriating the other’s cultural sites (Khalidi 2020: 149). International organisations and civil society groups continue to advocate for protecting cultural heritage as an essential component of any future peace settlement.

VII. Education

A. Segregated and unequal Israeli and Palestinian school systems

Education in Palestine and Israel is characterised by segregation and inequality. Israeli and Palestinian children attend separate schools with vastly different resources and outcomes (Khalidi 2020: 156). Israeli schools, both secular and religious, are well-funded and equipped, while Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories often lack basic infrastructure and materials (Bennis 2007: 37). This educational disparity reflects the broader power imbalance and systematic discrimination faced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

B. Restrictions on movement impacting access to education

Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, including checkpoints, roadblocks, and the separation wall, have severely impacted access to education in the occupied territories. Palestinian students and teachers often face long delays and harassment at checkpoints, making it difficult to reach schools and universities (Khalidi 2020: 157). These movement restrictions have led to decreased attendance rates, increased dropout rates, and a general deterioration of the educational environment (Pappé 2006: 256).

C. Underfunding of Palestinian schools and universities

Palestinian schools and universities in the Occupied Territories are chronically underfunded, both by the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Authority (Bennis 2007: 37). Israel, as the occupying power, has failed to fulfil its obligations under international law to ensure the proper functioning of educational institutions in the occupied territories (Human Rights Watch 2021: 18). The Palestinian Authority, hampered by limited resources and political constraints, has also struggled to fund and support the education sector adequately. This underfunding has led to overcrowded classrooms, inadequate facilities, and a lack of essential educational resources.

D. Education as a key to long-term peace and development

Despite the challenges faced by the education sector in Palestine, education remains a key to long-term peace and development in the region. Quality education can promote understanding, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians (Khalidi 2020: 159). It can also provide young people with the skills and knowledge necessary to build a more prosperous and stable future. International organisations, NGOs, and civil society groups have recognised the importance of education in conflict resolution and have implemented various programs to support educational initiatives in the region (Bennis 2007: 38). However, without addressing the underlying political and structural issues, including the Israeli occupation and systematic inequality, the transformative potential of education will remain limited.

VIII. Conclusion

This document provides an overview of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It should be read in conjunction with the WCC’s Statement in Solidarity with Palestine, which provides more detailed information about the current conflict.


Armstrong, K. (1996). Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths. New York: Ballantine Books.

Bennis, P. (2007). Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press.

Dee, M., & Smith, K. (2017). UK diplomacy at the UN after Brexit: challenges and opportunities. Political Studies Association 19(3).

Doumani, B. (1995). Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700-1900. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fieldhouse, D. K. (2006). Western Imperialism in the Middle East 1914-1958. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goodblatt, D. (2006). Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hawting, G. R. (2000). The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661-750. London: Routledge.

Human Rights Watch. (2021). A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution. https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution

Khalidi, R. (1997). Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press.

Khalidi, R. (2006). The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Boston: Beacon Press.

Khalidi, R. (2020). The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Laqueur, W., & Rubin, B. (Eds.). (2001). The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict. New York: Penguin Books.

MacLeod, R. (2004). The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World. London: I.B.Tauris.

Masalha, N. (2012). The Palestine Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory. London: Zed Books.

Morris, B. (2001). Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. New York: Vintage Books.

Morris, B. (2004). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pappé, I. (2006). The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

Regan, G. (2001). Israel and the Arabs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rynhold, J. (2016). After Brexit (1): Jonathan Rynold on Israel’s future relations with the UK and the EU. Fathom Journal. https://fathomjournal.org/after-brexit-1-jonathan-rynhold-on-israels-future-relations-with-the-uk-and-the-eu/

Schneer, J. (2010). The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New York: Random House.

Segev, T. (2001). One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Shafir, G. (1996). Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Suggested Further Reading

Abu El-Haj, H. (2002). Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. University of Chicago Press.

Chomsky, N. & Pappé I. (2015) On Palestine. Haymarket Books.

Ghalayini, B. (ed) (2019) Palestine + 100, Comma Press. A collection of short stories by 12 Palestinian writers asked to imagine Palestine in the year 2048.

Halper, J. (2021) Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: Zionism, Settler Colonialism, and the Case for One Democratic State. Pluto Press.

Lowenstein, A. (2023) The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World. Verso Books.

Pappé, I. (2017) Ten Myths About Israel. Verso Books.

Sacco, J. (1996) Palestine. Fantagraphics Books.

Said, E (1992) The Question of Palestine. Penguin.

White, B. (2018) Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel. Pluto Books.

Web Resources

Decolonize Palestine, a collection of resources

Amnesty International’s pages on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Azadeh Moaveni: What They Did To Our Women (LRB), explores the weaponisation of sexual violence and violence against women in the current conflict. 

Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Resources

UCU: Ceasefire Now campaign and resources

UK Jewish Academic Network statement: Not in our name: weaponising anti-Semitism hurts us all.

Diaspora Alliance: What is Anti-Semitism, a resource on understanding anti-semitism and strategies for countering anti-semitism.

Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism

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