(WHTM) — Thousands of people have died since the war between Israel and Hamas began in early October, but those tensions did not start with the Hamas attack on October 7.
“So the modern conflict begins in the 1880s,” said David Commins, who teaches modern history of the Middle East at Dickinson College. “A movement began among Jews in Eastern Europe to set up a Jewish state in Palestine.”
Commins said that movement — the Zionist movement — started the immigration of Jews to modern-day Palestine. After World War I, European countries, primarily Britain and France took control of the region until the mid-1900s.
“In 1948, the British left Palestine, and they didn’t really have a plan,” he said.
The UN tried to divide the land, with a plan to create two states, “an Arab state and a Jewish state,” Commins said.
That is when the trouble really started, as many Palestinian Arabs did not want to accept the plan.
“They and the surrounding Arab states fought against the Zionist forces,” Commins said.
He added the Zionist forces ultimately prevailed and established an independent country — Israel.
“My family was kicked out of, terrorized out of their farm in 1948,” said Nabila Taha, a Palestinian-American living in Central PA.
Taha grew up in Lebanon as a refugee, after her parents fled Palestine.
“Most of my family are still considered, after 75 years, Palestinian refugees. They have no home, they have no country,” she said.
As a child, Taha watched tensions between Israel and Palestine continue to build.
“I would hear Golda Meir [former prime minister of Israel] saying that there is no such thing, there is no Palestine, there is no such thing as Palestinians, I used to think then what are we?” she remembers.
Commins said tensions flared up again in the 1960s. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
“They look to the Arab states to regain their homeland, which for Israelis meant the destruction of Israel. It was a zero-sum game at that time,” he explained.
In 1967, Commins said the Israelis defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and took territory from all three, including Gaza and East Jerusalem in the West Bank.
In the decades after, Commins said there were several attempts to broker peace, like the Camp David Accords under President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979.
“According to that treaty, Israel agreed to withdraw from Egyptian territory it conquered in 1967, the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt agreed to have normal relations with Israel,” Commins said.
The next major development was the Oslo Accords in 1993, where Commins said Israel and the PLO agreed to negotiate a solution.
However, Taha said for her family, none of those treaties solved what they were dealing with. Taha said it came up each time her father visited her in the U.S.
“Every time he came, he would say, ‘Oh, you know, there is this peace initiative. We’re going to go…We are going back.’ And of course, every time there was nothing he would be disappointed,” she said.
Commins said things got worse in 1995. Israel had agreed to withdraw from Palestinian cities, but then the country’s prime minister was assassinated by someone who was against the withdrawal, according to Commins. Then, right before Israel held elections, Hamas launched suicide bombings.
“These, I think, had the effect of moving Israeli voters in the direction of a harder line towards the Palestinians,” Commins said.
Not everyone feels that way now.
“I feel bad for the Palestinian people that are out in the Gaza Strip. They are held hostage by Hamas. It’s a terrorist organization. They’re not letting their people live,” said Harrisburg native Jordan Klein.
Jordan Klein grew up in Central PA but spent several years in medical school in Israel.
“I was amazed by the diversity there, from the race to the religion,” he said.
He wants to preserve that, recalling fond memories of visiting Arab cities, but he said that kind of peace is not possible with Hamas in power.
“They’re targeting civilians, whether they’re Christian, Arab or Jewish,” he said.
Klein said his family is still feeling the effects of the Hamas attack. His wife is Israeli, and both of them have family still there.
“My sister-in-law is still there with her two kids,” he said. “Every time there’s a rocket, we text them, ‘Are you okay?’ ‘I mean, I’m in the bomb shelter. I’m okay.'”
Klein’s in-laws are now stuck in the U.S. They were visiting his family for the Jewish holiday, but their return flight got canceled when the war broke out.
“It’s been a house of mourning, really, for what’s going on,” Klein said.
Taha said the real problem is what she calls Israeli occupation and what she sees as the lack of response from the international community.
“We are hearing your life doesn’t matter. You do not count. You are not human beings,” she said. “Where is the world? Where is the outrage? Where is the condemnation?”
The question on everyone’s mind is what happens in the current situation.
“It’s really impossible to predict. It’s like a kaleidoscope,” Commins said. “My own view is to try as soon as possible for a ceasefire.”
That might be easier said than done. Not everyone has the same definition of peace.
“I think that we need to worry about the children of Gaza, how once this conflict has found some resolution, how we can educate the children of Gaza because they’re not bad people, that the Jews want peace,” Klein said.
Taha is also worried about the children, but her approach is different.
“Personally, I believe that we have to have a one-state solution, one state where everybody has the right to return. So my family has the right to return, just as any Jewish person from anywhere have the right to return. And we have equal rights,” she said.