Palestinians wave their national flag and celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis on October 7, 2023 (Credit: Yousef Masoud, AP Photo, Aljazeera)
Palestinians wave their national flag and celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis on October 7, 2023 (Credit: Yousef Masoud, AP Photo, Aljazeera)

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Biblical, historical perspective

The attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7, is one of the most chilling experiences for that nation since its creation.

The killings, destruction and abductions were horrific and inhuman.

Similarly, Israel’s response, or rather revenge, is just as horrific and inhuman. 

Killing babies and children in bedrooms, whether by guns or bombs from the sky, are evil and the circle of blame game is on in earnest.

Israel and its western allies claim the attacks were “unprovoked” by an evil entity that must be exterminated. 

Palestinians and their sympathisers point to decades of dispossession, occupation, collective punishment, complete blockage, apartheid, targeted killings and incarcerations. 

Holy land

The conflict is all about the “Holy Land.”

According to Jewish traditions in Genesis 12, Abraham was called by God to leave his hometown, Haran, in present-day Turkey, to Canaan, part of present-day Israel. 

When Abraham got to Canaan, he met the Canaanites (Gen. 12:6) and the two lived together.

Many generations later, Joseph was sold by his brothers to slavery in Egypt (Gen. 37) where he rose to power (Gen. 41) and invited his family to Egypt when a great famine struck the whole region (Gen. 46-48).

The Jews were later enslaved  in Egypt (Exodus 1) for a total of 430 years (Ex. 12:40).

They returned after the exodus, captured the land and subsequently established the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites (2 Sam. 5; 1 Chron. 11-12) and Solomon built the first Temple, 480 years after the return from Egypt (1 Kings 6). 

The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were then conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians around 720 B.C. and 587 B.C., respectively.

Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, and the Jews taken into captivity. 

After 70 years in captivity, the Jews won favour with the Persian King Cyrus, who facilitated their return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1-5), and King Darius helped rebuild the Temple (Ezra 6).

The Romans conquered Persia around 330 B.C., destroyed the second Temple in 70 A.D, and ruled for nearly a millennium.

Under Roman rule, Jews (not all) dispersed throughout the world, especially after the destruction of the Temple. Muslim Arabs captured Jerusalem in 637 A.D. and ruled the region for over a millennium until the defeat of the Ottomans by Allied forces during WWI, and the capture of Palestine by Britain in 1918 with the help of the Arabs.

Meanwhile, Zionism, a Jewish political movement, was launched in Europe in 1897 to campaign for a Jewish state.

With rising antisemitism in Europe, many Jews emigrated to Palestine with official British support after WWI. 


Then came the holocaust, the murder of six million Jews by Europeans between 1941 and 1945.

The British decided to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs and the State of Israel was created in 1948, more than 3000 years after it ceased to exist. 

Arabs resisted and, in the process, Palestinians were pushed out from their lands.

They now number over five million living in refugee camps across the Middle East.

In 1967, Israel defeated the Arabs again and seized more Palestinian land. 

More Jews from different parts of the world, mainly from the West, started emigrating to Israel (wealthier and better armed) to form settlements on confiscated Palestinian land.

Many view the creation of settlements (considered illegal by international law) as part of Israel’s strategy to render a future unified Palestinian state impossible.

In a 2006 general election, the people of Gaza voted for Hamas, a Palestinian resistance group opposed to the creation of Israel.

The West and Israel refused to recognise and deal with Hamas declaring them as a terrorist group.

 Israel imposed a total blockage (land, sea, and air) over Gaza and the West Bank, walling off Israeli Arabs in East Jerusalem.

Abraham is claimed by both Jews and Arabs as their ancestor through Isaac and Ishmael respectively.

Palestinians have multiple ancestral roots: Philistine, Canaanite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Roman and Arab.

As these groups conquered and ruled the region over generations, they inter-married with the local populations.

 Palestinians are modern-day Samaritans; despised by Jews, rejected by Arabs, and ignored by the rest of the world.

Palestinians speak Arabic as a lingua-franca.

 Jesus was a Palestinian Jew, who spoke Aramaic, the lingua-franca of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

The Jews of today and the State of Israel, are anything but Biblical times Jews and Israel.

After millennia in the diaspora, Jews have inter-married with several other races and ethnicities.


The creation of Israel in 1948 on land Arabs lived and called home for over a millennium, is what Palestinians refuse to accept.

Most Jews have been away from the land for more than 2000 years.

 Let’s imagine, for instance, persons of African and European descent in the diaspora returning to Africa and Europe to reclaim their ancestral lands?

Will they get Christians to cheer them on? 

The writer is the Executive Director of The Sanneh Institute.

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