HISTORY, Part 1: Introduction

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CONTEXT is often missing from conversations about the history of Palestine-Israel. Winston Churchill famously said, "History is written by the victors." 

Thankfully, Israel's "new historians" have begun to dig through recently declassified Israeli records, and they are finding a completely different story. Palestinian historians have also been collecting and piecing together their history for decades.

Today, anyone who wants to find accurate historical information about Palestine-Israel can find it.

Much of the information below (especially Parts 1-6, which are annotated in Works Cited) is from a research paper that I wrote in 2015 for a class on Racial and Ethnic Relations, where I began to learn how to look at the conflict through a sociological lens. This has enabled me to understand the dynamics in a more objective way, as a struggle with recognizable phases and predictable outcomes - and possible solutions.

Kathryn Shihadah

Israel: “It’s Complicated”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

--Langston Hughes, “Montage of a Dream Deferred” (1959:268)

So much is ancient in the land we call “Holy”: it was Moses’ Promised Land, the place where Jesus walked, and the location of Mohammed’s most sacred miracle. Yet amid the artifacts of centuries long gone stand high-rise buildings, state-of-the-art military defense equipment, and a modern airport. The State of Israel is a study in contrasts: it is ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse; some of its citizens just arrived and others have had a presence in the land for millenia; most of all, it is a place where hope and dreams of one group clash with those of another. Conflict has been a constant part of this country from even before its beginnings, and has resulted in a unique and persistent ethnic stratification system. The origin, development, and challenges to this system, examined within the framework of Donald Noel’s Contact Theory, make for an intriguing study.

A Note About Labels

The common label for people of Arab Palestinian origin who are now living in Israel is “Arab Israelis.” However, this is the label ascribed by the dominant group—it is not the label preferred by those to whom it has been assigned. In this paper, they will be referred to as “Palestinian Israelis.” When discussing the Palestinians who live in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the title “Palestinians” will be used. In the historical section of the paper, the simple terms “Jews” and “Palestinians” will refer to the groups before the formation of the state of Israel, and “Israelis” and “Palestinian Israelis” after.

A Sociological Lens

In 1968, sociologist Donald L. Noel published his Contact Theory of the Origin of Ethnic Stratification. He theorized that stratification, or hierarchy, would emerge between ethnic groups that are brought into contact only in the presence of several factors (Noel 158-160). Without these factors, stratification would not emerge. These factors are:

1.     Scarce, common goals, and the competition that would be caused by both groups competing for them;

2.     Ethnocentrism, which causes lines of competition to be drawn between ethnic groups;

3.     Inequality of power, which causes one group to take the place of dominance over the other.

Noel theorized that once dominance is established by one group, the ensuing competition must include a workable set of practices to regulate relations between the groups. Without such a system, the groups will interact in an unhealthy way and the ethnic stratification could turn into full-blown conflict, which may culminate in “annihilation, expulsion, or total subjugation of the less powerful group” (163).

Of course, not all groups that come into contact with each other fall prey to stratification. According to Noel, ethnic groups can get along equitably without a clash. In the absence of one of his identified factors—competition, ethnocentrism, or power imbalance—ethnic stratification will not take place and the two groups will get along without conflict (158). This is where the story of the Palestinians and Jews begins.

Kathryn ShihadahComment