Israel in Conflict



Today when one thinks of Israel in conflict, he most probably thinks of the now famous Six-Day War in June of 1967 when Israel won an astounding military victory over three of her most militant enemies—Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. In this brief period Israel gained possession of the entire city of Jerusalem, her ancient capital, and conquered a land area of approximately 18,000 square miles, thus extending her land possessions by two and one-half times.

To the casual observer these military feats by Israel should have solved most of her problems, especially the most pressing problem of external military security. To the more careful observer, however, it is obvious that Israel’s military victory has in reality solved none of her problems except possibly to ease the immediate military threat of national annihilation. Subsequent events have proved that Israel’s victory did little to solve her pressing political, economic, and social problems, and at best, it gave her only a brief respite from her problem of external military security. It actually greatly increased her problem of internal security. Israel remains today as she has been since she became an independent nation over twenty years ago, a nation in conflict.

Of all the nations on the earth, Israel should be used to such conflicts. The area that Israel now occupies has been claimed by many groups throughout the centuries; the control of Jerusalem itself has changed hands about thirty times among over twenty nations since the time Jerusalem was first mentioned in history.

Though the Jewish people claim to have lived in Eretz Israel for about 4,000 years, their stay has not been unchallenged or autonomous. They were ruled by the Babylonians, themselves, Persians, Greeks, Asmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuks, Christian Crusaders, Mamelukes, and Turks from about 590 B.C. to A.D. 1917. In the Balfour Declaration of that year, the British gave at least sympathetic support to the goals of the Zionist movements which started in the latter nineteenth century. Even though the declaration provided for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, it did not specify that Palestine would be the national home of the Jewish people. Such was not the general interpretation, especially among the Jewish people, and Jewish immigration rose sharply.

Israeli Declaration of Independence

The 1947 U.N. resolution for the partitioning of Palestine and the withdrawing of the British on May 14, 1948, was met with an Israel declaration of independence which brought almost immediate war with her Arab neighbors. Much to the surprise of the rest of the world, the infant state fought back strongly, forcing Arab retreats on all fronts except at Jerusalem. As separate armistice agreements were worked out to end open hostilities, Jewish immigration figures continued to climb. Within four years of Israel’s independence, she had almost 700,000 persons immigrate, more than thirty-three percent of her entire population by 1951.

The flood of immigration continued, and at the end of 1966 Israel’s population had risen to more than 2.3 million. Of this 1.7 million increase, .6 million came from natural reproduction, but the additional 1.1 million came from immigration from nearly 100 different countries. These new immigrants brought with them not only problems associated with their individual lives, but also additional problems which were introduced into the corporate life of Israel. Thus immigration has been both a blessing and a problem for modern Israel.

Under the Law of the Return, which was passed unanimously by the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) in July of 1950, any Jewish person anywhere in the world could immigrate to Israel. If that person did not have sufficient personal funds at the time to pay transportation to Israel, such costs would be absorbed by the Jewish National Fund (it was anticipated the fund would be reimbursed the cost of this transportation, but such was not always the case). Thus, the state of Israel assumed the mammoth responsibility of financing the return of many as well as the task of providing housing, education, language training, and job opportunities for the numerous immigrants who came.

Another problem in connection with the absorption of immigrants is that many of the Jewish people who returned to Israel under this law were either physically or mentally unemployable. All Jews were welcome to come, not only the young and the strong but the old and the infirm, the halt and the blind, the widows and the orphans. This put a heavy burden on the new state of Israel.

The Cultural Conflict

Among the other problems introduced by the rapid immigration was that of cultural absorption. In 1948 four out of five Israeli Jews were of European origin who had come to Palestine either for new opportunities and challenges (if they had come before World War II) or to rebuild their shattered lives (if they were refugees from the Nazi-occupied countries). Most of these Western Jews (Ashkenazim) had been used to machines, factories, mass production, latest scientific methods in farming, sanitation, medical care, transportation, and communication.

However, after 1948 and the Arab-Israeli war, most of the new immigrants came from North Africa and the Middle East, from such countries as Yemen, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Morocco. Many of these Jews from the Eastern countries (Sefardim) were used to primitive housing, sanitation, transportation, and communication; they had lived primarily in rural settings, and knew little or nothing of the hustle and bustle of Western cities.

Israel thus became a melting pot, a nation of many nations, just as the United States had once been a land of immigrants where many different kinds of people were blended into one nation. However, in the case of Israel, the blending had to take place much faster and in a relatively restricted, very small land area. Although the immigrants came to Israel from over 100 different countries, the basic problem of absorption was how to resolve the many social and cultural problems between the Jews from the Western countries and those from the Near and the Middle East.

The differences were not only those of nationality and origin, but concerned practically every aspect of life. The Sefardim knew little of political Zionism, of Hebrew art or culture, of world problems or current events. Child marriage was permitted, as was marriage to more than one wife. Although many of the boys attended school briefly, practically none of the girls ever attended or were even encouraged to attend. They lived a leisurely life, usually working in or near the home, and then only when they felt like it. They knew little or nothing of the democratic processes, of merchandising or money-lending, of investing or banking. They couldn’t understand why people should try to get more done in less time, why a person would want to work harder just so he could get richer. On the other hand, they greatly appreciated art and beauty, songs and dances. They designed and handmade intricate jewelry and leather goods. Also they emphasized home life, and often three generations lived together in one household.

Thus the Sefardic Jews—backward in some areas but advanced in others—fled from the persecution of living among the Arabs to live with their Ashkenazic brothers in Israel. It has not been easy for the two cultures to adjust to each other, although the compulsory army service has helped many of the immigrant youth to make the transition; however, frequently the adults still try to follow their old patterns of life in a land and environment which is not always favorable. A cursory reading of a daily newspaper in Israel reveals that the cultural conflict continues. Some of the Sefardic workers claim they are discriminated against in employment, whereas the employers (usually Ashkenazic) reply they are simply hiring the best workers. Religiously, the Sefardim scrupulously followed the ancient rituals and customs, whereas the Ashkenazim from Western Europe had largely adapted his religion to the countries in which he had lived. These basic differences in religious beliefs and practices have led to the establishment of two major types of religious courts in Israel—one for the Sefardic religious communities and one for the Ashkenazic. And today two chief rabbis, one from each group, preside over the religious affairs of Israel. The list of differences could go on and on. The clash between the two cultures was perhaps inevitable, and after twenty years it is still unresolved.

The Conflict in Politics

For all practical political purposes, a Jewish state ceased to exist in A.D. 70 when the Roman legions completed conquering the area and began scattering the Jewish people throughout the Roman Empire. From that time until 1948, the Jewish people literally had no homeland they could call their own and no official government which could represent them in the councils of the world. During most of these 1,800 years, the Jewish people formed minority groups in the various countries into which they had been scattered.

Thus, when the new state of Israel was established in 1948, it is understandable why the political leaders and the people decided on a democratic political system where even the minority groups could be represented in the processes of government. A system of “proportional representation” was devised which permits the voters in Israel to vote for a list of persons prepared by the political parties rather than to vote for individuals; then the political parties are represented in the parliament (Knesset) in proportion to the vote received in the general election. Thus, if a political party receives ten percent of the vote, then the top ten percent of the candidates on their list are elected. Inasmuch as 120 representatives serve in the Knesset, a political party would be entitled to twelve representatives in the Knesset if it received ten percent of the vote.

This system of government obviously has many strengths, including the fact that even small parties have official representation in the government. However, the system also has some serious weaknesses. For example, in the six elections which have been held since Israel became a state, no one political party has ever received a majority vote. Thus, the only way a government can be formed is through a coalition of political parties, and such coalitions often result in strange political bedfellows. Another weakness of the system has been that the same people tend to be reelected to the Knesset election after election. Although 120 members serve in the Knesset, fewer than 200 different persons have served in the Knesset in the six elections which have been held. Such a system not only deprives the people of the new ideas which might come from new representatives, but it has not proven to be conducive to the development of political leadership.

Governmental Structure

The crises of May and June 1967 revealed other flaws in the political structure of Israel. The cabinet, which is headed by the prime minister, who is thus the real power in the government, is collectively responsible to the Knesset. The cabinet takes office on receiving a vote of confidence from that body, and it continues in office until—after its resignation, the resignation of the prime minister, or a vote of nonconfidence—a new one is constituted. In addition to the prime minister, other members of the cabinet include ministers of agriculture, commerce and industry, communications, defense, development and tourism, health, housing interior, justice, labor, police, posts, religious affairs, and social welfare. Ministers are usually members of the Knesset, although nonmembers may be appointed.

Normally most of the ministers are selected from those political parties which make up the coalition government; thus, the other political parties are often not represented in the governing section of the political structure. Inasmuch as there are frequently about as many political parties not represented in the cabinet as there are with representation, it is not unusual for the “outers” to combine together to form a strong and sometimes vociferous opposition group. Such a situation developed in the critical days of May 1967 when some of the parties threatened a vote of nonconfidence in the cabinet unless some new ministerial appointments were made of members of political parties who were not then represented in the government. Also, there was a strong feeling in the Knesset that Moshe Dayan should be appointed minister of defense, a post previously held by Levi Eshkol, who also held the position of prime minister. A vote of nonconfidence by the Knesset would have resulted in the collapse of the government at the very time that a strong and unified governing group was necessary to cope with the threatened attack from the Arab countries. The prime minister was finally forced to accede to the demands of the Knesset to save the government.

This near political catastrophe has caused many people in Israel to take another good look at their system of government. Apparently the trend now is toward fewer but stronger political parties in hopes that in the next election one of the parties might actually get a majority of the vote and not continually have to fear a vote of nonconfidence. The political party which has received the largest number of votes in each of the six elections is the Mapai Party which merged with two other parties (Rafi and Achdut Ha’Avoda) in January of 1968 to form the United Israel Party. It is conceivable that this new party can win a majority of the vote in the elections of 1969. If so, the Israelis could probably look for some major changes in their system of government.

The Judicial System

The judicial system reflects the divergent elements of Israel’s political and religious makeup. Israel has four major types of courts to assist in administering and interpreting the law; the complete independence of each of the courts is guaranteed by law:

Magistrates’ Courts—These are located in the cities and larger towns and deal with small monetary claims, less serious criminal charges, and certain matters connected with land rights.

District Courts—Every action not triable in a magistrates’ court comes within the jurisdiction of a district court, although cases involving personal status may come before the religious courts. The court is composed of one or three judges; there is no jury system. The district courts may also sit as courts of appeal from magistrates’ courts, and even in some cases from administrative tribunals. If a capital case is being tried, the court is presided over by a justice of the Supreme Court.

Religious Courts—Each of the religious communities recognized by the government is entitled to have its own religious courts which rule on matters of personal status (marriage, divorce, alimony, adoption, confirmation of wills, etc.) according to their respective religious law.

Supreme Court—Ten justices comprise the highest court in the land although most cases are heard by three judges. This court hears appeals from district court judgments, and it can also sit as a high court of justice in actions brought by any citizen who seeks redress against any public body. It also exercises jurisdiction over the religious courts.

The major problems in Israel’s judiciary system seem to stem from the fact that not all religious groups in Israel are officially recognized by the government; groups not receiving official recognition are not entitled to their own religious courts. Thus, on matters of personal status the members of such religious groups will be subject to the decision of the district court, regardless of what their own respective religious law may be. This system is not only discriminatory as regards liberal Jewish denominations (Conservative and Reform) whose rabbis and institutions are not accorded official status, but it also discriminates against the minority Moslem and smaller Christian groups (including the Protestant denominations) which also are not officially recognized. With the addition of more than a million Moslems and Christians as a result of the 1967 war, Israel may be forced to reevaluate her present system of religious courts.

The Economic Problems of Israel

One of the major internal problems in Israel concerns its struggling economy. Before the war of June 1967 Israel occupied a land territory of only 7,992 square miles, about seventy-five percent of which was located in the relatively arid Negev. Yet, in this relatively small land area, Israel had to produce sufficient foodstuffs to feed her increasing population and also to export to foreign countries so that her unfavorable balance of trade could be brought into line. This difficult problem was aggravated by several conditions. First of all, Israel is completely surrounded by hostile Arab enemies; thus, she has not been able to enjoy a normal trade relationship with any of her immediate neighbors. Not only have the Arab countries refused to trade with Israel, but they have also threatened economic boycotts against other countries which do trade with the Israelis. One of the causes of the 1967 war was that no Israeli ship nor any ship of any country going to or coming from Israel was allowed through the Suez Canal.

Thus Israel has been forced to develop trade agreements with countries considerably distant from her shores, primarily the countries of Europe, Scandinavia, Britain, America, and, more recently, West Africa. Israel has taken advantage of her Mediterranean climate to provide these countries with foodstuffs during the earlier part of the growing season when such foods are not available from local production.

A second problem which faced Israeli agriculture in the early days of settlement was that she had to develop an agrarian society. During the period of the diaspora (scattering), the Jewish people did not excel as farmers. There were many reasons for this, but one of the most important was that in many of the countries in which they lived, the Jewish people were not allowed to own property. Thus, they were forced to go into banking and other professions. When Jews began settling in Palestine in 1882, only one out of every fifty Jews was a farmer. However, after the war of 1948 it was necessary that the Israeli learn to farm because many of the Arabs on whom he had previously relied for farm products had fled to hostile Arab countries who would not trade with Israel. Thus, the farmer became idealized in Israel, and today one out of every five Jews in Israel works in a farming village.

A third problem facing Israel in the production of these foodstuffs is that she has had to devise an entirely new line of agricultural products. Traditionally, the major agricultural products of Palestine were wheat, barley, olives, grapes, pomegranates, figs, and dates. The grains were grown in the winter and harvested around Easter, whereas the other crops were grown in the spring and summer. However, in order to obtain maximum revenue from agricultural exports, Israel has developed a new agricultural economy based largely on products such as citrus fruits which are not grown in the European and Scandinavian countries.

The major drawback to Israeli agriculture, however, has been the lack of water. Although Israel has a relatively high amount of rainfall in the northern part of the country (the Hula Valley averages approximately 40 inches per year), she has a relatively small area of irrigable land there; on the other hand, the rainfall is extremely light in the southern part of the country (one to ten inches per year) where there is considerable irrigable land if only the water were available.

In 1955–56 the late Eric Johnston was sent as a representative of the U.S. to make recommendations concerning the division of irrigation waters of the Jordan valley, primarily the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers. Under this plan, approximately sixty percent of the water would be utilized by the Arabs and forty percent would be allotted to Israel. The Johnston plan, however, was never fully accepted by the Arab countries. As a result Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan have all moved ahead unilaterally to withdraw water from the Jordan-Yarmuk system. On her part, Israel has used the Johnston proposal as justification for its pumping of water from Lake Tiberias to the head of the Carmel range where it flows by gravity through closed conduits to irrigate the arid Negev.

Desolate landscape area near Jerusalem.
[Graphic omitted. See source document.]

The economic and agricultural future of the area will depend largely upon the ability to produce and develop new water resources, because even 100 percent utilization of the present water resources would not satisfy the needs. Thus, the desalinization of seawater is being pushed extensively. In his Atoms-for-Peace address before the U.N. in December of 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower emphasized the possible rewards that could come in the future through the utilization of atomic energy. Under the direction of President Eisenhower, Admiral Lewis L. Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, urged the intensive study of methods of desalting seawater by atomic energy. In June of 1967 Mr. Strauss and Mr. Eisenhower, both of them now private citizens, made a proposal concerning the possible application for the Middle East on the desalting of water from the sea. In recent months major breakthroughs concerning the use of atomic energy in this area have occurred in research projects conducted in Israel and largely financed by the United States. Inasmuch as the Near East contains several seas (including the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Sea of Galilee) the possibilities of future development are almost limitless. The development of such projects would not only help Israel but may greatly expand the supply of water for agriculture in much of the Near East, and thus may prove to be a major solution to the crucial issues facing the region.

Balance of Trade

Despite formidable difficulties, Israel has been able to solve many of her economic problems. For example, from 1950 through 1966 the gross national product in Israel grew by an average of nine percent per year (as compared with 3.3 percent in the United States). The 1966 GNP was almost $4 billion or $1,500 per capita; this figure compares favorably with that of advanced European countries and is many times higher than that of most of the other countries in the Middle East.

On the other hand, Israel has never been able to get her exports to equal her imports, although the imbalance of trade is annually becoming less. In 1950 Israel imported more than $300 million while her net exports, not including services, amounted to $35 million. By 1966 her imports amounted to almost $812 million while her net exports were $477 million, leaving an imbalance of trade of nearly $400 million.

Although the total imports may look excessively high for a country with a GNP of only about $4 billion, it should be remembered that much of this import is in raw material. For example, Israel imports raw diamonds from South Africa and then exports them cut and polished. Therefore, the diamonds show as part of both the import and export, but approximately twenty-five percent of the import stays in Israel to cover the cost of the cutting and polishing. Israel has now replaced Holland as the number one exporter of diamonds in the world.

Israel has used several means to achieve a balance of payments in foreign currency. In the 1966–67 fiscal year her foreign currency receipts totaled $1.2 billion. Of this amount, $716 million came from exports of goods and services; $279 million came from private transfers of capital and restitution to victims of the Nazis; $91 million came from the sale of Israel bonds; and $45 million from various governmental agreements. Beyond what Israel’s trade could do to achieve a balance of payment, she has received help from Jewish people everywhere. In 1967 Prime Minister Levi Eshkol estimated that since 1948 at least $750 million had come from friends in the United States.1

Public and Private Sectors of the Economy

In addition to her foreign currency difficulties, however, Israel also has an internal conflict between the public and the private sections of the economy. The settlers who returned to Palestine from 1882 to 1904 were largely capitalists, and they attempted to repurchase and reclaim the land on capitalistic principles. However, they nearly failed in their efforts because no one person or group had enough money or other resources to develop the necessarily large reclamation projects. Only the donation of millions of dollars by the French nobleman Baron Edmond de Rothschild enabled these early adventurers to gain a foothold in the new land.

Later immigration to Palestine (1902–1914) brought many Zionists from eastern Europe who wanted a socialist Jewish homeland. They established communal settlements of various types to carry out their idea of having group ownership and control of all the land and the means of production. All shared equally in the gains and losses of the group; they did not own separate houses, and frequently did not even live as separate families. Sometimes, they brought up their children as a group, and they worked, lived, and ate together in communal housing with a communal dining hall. These socialist villages (Kibbutzim) helped the Zionists in reclaiming the land, but they also came into conflict with the other settlers who were trying to found a society based on capitalism.

A middle type of villages were thus developed—Moshavim (cooperatives). In these villages, the land is often owned privately, but equipment, seeds, fertilizers, etc., are purchased cooperatively and the sale of products is also handled cooperatively. Presently, about 400 villages in Israel are run as cooperatives (Moshavim), nearly 200 are collectives (Kibbutzim), and only about forty are entirely privately owned.

The Jewish National Fund, established in 1901 by the World Zionist Organization to buy land in Palestine and to help in developing productive farms, has tried to work with both the capitalistic and socialistic groups. Today only ten percent of the farmland in Israel is owned by private individuals, and the remaining ninety percent is owned either by the Jewish National Fund or by the government. These J.N.F. and government lands are then leased to the Kibbutzim and other communal groups as well as to private individuals and groups for development. This essentially means that no one can get rich in Israel by buying and selling farmland, but it also means that the conflict between the socialistic and capitalistic groups is still unresolved.

Another major factor in the economy of Israel is the Histadrut—Israel’s General Federation of Labor. This organization, founded some thirty years before Israel became a country, is much more than a labor union in the American sense, but it is a labor union. However, it is also the country’s largest health, education, and welfare agency and is one of the country’s largest employers. This unique organization is introduced in a recent book on Israel as follows:

Try to imagine a labor union that:

—owns the country’s largest factories, construction firm, bank, newspapers, medical organization, insurance company, bus and truck lines;

—is part owner of the country’s biggest airline, merchant fleet, oil company, quarry, tire factory, plastic factory;

—represents eight out of ten workers in the country, including doctors, lawyers, engineers, farmers, and even housewives along with factory and mine workers;

—gives medical care, hospitalization, unemployment insurance, and social security to two-thirds of the entire nation, spends twice as much as the government on health care, runs the country’s biggest sports organization and a good deal of its cultural life;

—pioneers new villages and towns in dangerous territory;

—is the country’s biggest employer and landlord.

That’s the Histadrut—Israel’s General Federation of Labor. . . . It does everything expected of an ordinary labor union. It bargains with employers for higher wages, shorter hours, better working conditions. It sponsors recreational activities for its members, and college scholarships for their children. It campaigns for better labor laws, and supports candidates for government office. But the Histadrut is also a huge health, education and welfare agency, a giant business corporation, and pioneering organization.2

The accomplishments of the Histadrut have been considerable in its nearly fifty years of existence. It has been successful in getting laws passed against child labor, against forcing women to engage in hard physical labor, in favor of an eight-hour day, a forty-seven-hour week with at least thirty-six continuous hours of rest, and at least twelve days of paid vacation each year. However, by American standards it still has considerable goals to achieve as a labor union; for example, the average Israeli worker still only earns about one-third as much as the average American worker, although the Israeli earns far more than the average worker in the Arab countries or in the underdeveloped areas of Asia and Africa.

Religious Conflict

Israel has been known as the motherland of three of the world’s living religions which had their birth or had important events happen in this area. To the one billion Christians on the earth, the land of Israel is the birthplace and earthly home of their Savior and Redeemer; to the over 400 million Moslems, Jerusalem contains the holy spot from which Mohammed ascended into heaven, and to them is a holy place which follows only after Mecca and Medina; to the Jewish people, Jerusalem is the holiest spot on earth—the location of their ancient kingly capital and also the site of their holy temples.

At the end of 1966, approximately ninety percent of Israel’s inhabitants were Jewish (2,344,900 Jews out of the total population of 2,657,400), approximately nine percent were Moslem, and the remaining one percent consisted of Christians and other groups. Of the approximately 58,500 Christians who lived in Israel at the end of 1966, the principal denominations were represented as follows: Greek Catholic—23,000; Greek Orthodox—17,000; Latin—11,000; and Maronite—3,000. There were also about 2,000 Protestants (Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Lutherans, and scattered numbers in other smaller groups).

Other religious groups represented in Israel include Druzes, Karaites, and Samaritans. Nearly 32,000 Druzes live in the northern and central parts of Israel; these people are descendants of a group who broke away from Islam in the eleventh century. Also, approximately 10,000 Karaites live in Israel, mainly near Ramla. These people reject rabbinic tradition and law and accept only the literal law of the Bible. The Samaritans are an ancient sect coming down from the times of the Bible who believe in only the authority of the Torah (Pentateuch) and Joshua; approximately 400 now live in Israel, mostly in Nablus (ancient Schechem).

Relatively few of the Jewish population are orthodox in religious belief and practice. However, because the National Religious Party has been part of every coalition government formed in Israel, many of the laws in Israel are based on religion, including laws pertaining to the Sabbath, Kosker requirements, etc. As part of their price for being a member of the government, the National Religious Party has insisted (1) that the minister of religion come from their group; (2) that the law of Israel in the area of personal status (such as marriage, divorce, adoption, wills, etc.) should be handled primarily by the religious courts; (3) that the Sabbath and the other dietary laws of orthodox Judaism be maintained and enforced; and (4) that there should be no proselyting among the religious groups in Israel.

The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem was one of the major points of contention in the Arab-Israeli conflicts.
[Graphic omitted. See source document.]

Although Israel claims to have freedom of religious worship and equality of religions under the law, the fact remains that the present religious laws of Israel discriminate against many of the non-Jewish groups as well as against those Jewish groups which are not orthodox. For example, the law against proselyting discriminates against Christians who believe in proselyting; if there were no such law, the Jewish groups still would not proselyte because they do not believe in it. Also, some of the non-Jewish groups are discriminated against in their personal rights because their rabbis and other religious leaders are not officially recognized by Israel. Thus, members of their religious communities cannot be married by them, obtain divorces, adopt children, etc.

It is thus one of the paradoxes of history that the Jewish people who themselves have been persecuted religiously for hundreds of years in the countries in which they have lived as minorities should now pass and enforce religious laws which impinge on the religious rights of some of Israel’s citizens. The problem is becoming increasingly more significant because the war of 1967 brought additional tens of thousands of Christians and hundreds of thousands of Moslems under Israeli control. For example, over 12,000 Christians live in East Jerusalem which has already been annexed to Israel, and about 30,000 Christians live in the “West Bank” areas of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Beit Jalla, and Beit Sahour. Also, nearly 1,000,000 Moslems live in these areas and in other areas under Israeli military control in the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. If Israel maintains these lands, she will be forced to reevaluate her religious law and practice. And even if she doesn’t keep these lands, she would do well to practice the teachings of her ancient scriptures which counsel her to accept the stranger as one of her own.

Educational Challenges

Some of Israel’s greatest progress since 1948 has been made in her educational system, despite the tremendous rise in population. At present, education is free and compulsory in the first eight grades for children from five to fourteen years of age; at the choice of their parents, children attend either state or religious schools, most of which are coeducational. However, the present weak point in the educational system is the secondary schools, which are neither free nor compulsory, and which charge tuition of up to $250 per year. Although about fifty percent of the students who qualify for secondary training are exempted from the payment of this tuition because of the lack of parents’ income or the passing of high entrance examinations in developmental areas, many students who should be attending these schools are unable to do so. Even with these limitations, approximately 740,000 pupils are in primary and secondary educational institutions in Israel, as compared with only 130,000 in 1948–49.

The brightest spot in the Israeli educational development is the excellent system of higher education. Seven institutions of higher learning are currently operating in Israel as follows:

Hebrew University, located in Jerusalem, has seven colleges with approximately 12,000 students.

Israel Institute of Technology, located in Haifa, has nearly 3,500 undergraduate students, 1,500 graduate students, and 7,600 students in extension services.

Tel Aviv University, located in Israel’s largest city, has nearly 8,000 students in six faculties.

Bar-Ilan University, a religious institution at Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, has nearly 3,500 students.

Weizmann Institute of Science, located in Rehovot, is primarily concerned with fundamental research in the natural sciences and has approximately 250 graduate students.

Two new municipal universities have just opened in Haifa and Beersheba.

Since 1948 Israel has faced and solved many educational problems, including how to get Arab girls and a higher percentage of Arab boys to attend (Israel organized separate schools where the courses are taught in Arabic and then made attendance compulsory), how to train an adequate number of teachers (she established several teacher-training institutions separate from the regular universities), and how to provide the monies and facilities for higher education (she raised considerable funds abroad, increased the total educational budget by several times, and placed more of the responsibility upon municipal and other groups).

Hopefully, Israel’s remaining problem of how to assure a fine secondary school training for all who are interested and qualified will also soon be solved.

Even before the war of June 1967 Israel had an internal security problem with over 300,000 Arabs living in the land; these Arabs lived primarily in three sections: the Galilee—140,000; the larger cities—80,000; the Negev—20,000. In acquiring the additional land areas of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, Israel greatly increased her security problem by assuming military control of an additional million Arabs.

Although not all of this Arab population is opposed to Israel’s existence or is even antagonistic to Israel, yet enough oppose the principles and practices of Zionism to give definite “aid and comfort” to the enemies of Israel. Again, to put this problem in its proper perspective so far as the United States is concerned, what if some 60 million Russians were living in the United States with many of them sympathetic to the political and economic aims of the Soviet Union?

Of necessity, Israel has had to enforce curfew laws in areas of large Arab populations, and most of the territory acquired in the war of 1967 is still under military control. These restrictions have caused many Arabs to maintain they do not have the full rights and privileges extended to Jewish Israeli citizens.

A more serious security problem for Israel to cope with, however, is how to prevent some of the Arabs living in the areas under military control from giving support to the terrorist groups primarily operating out of neighboring Arab countries. Almost daily these terrorist groups cause the death of Israeli citizens or the destruction of Israeli property. In the main, the terrorists are not responsible to any of the national Arab governments; they are organized and usually operate independently of these governments, although occasionally they are supported by army units of Syria, Jordan, or Egypt in their strikes into Israeli-held territory. Israel now faces the dilemma of how to stop these terrorist operations. If she retaliates by striking at the Arabs living in Israel who may be giving support and aid to the terrorists, she runs the risk of continued hatred and suspicion of her Arab citizens, particularly if the punished Arabs are not really those who were responsible for the incident. If she strikes back at the Arab countries which give sanctuary to these terrorist bands, she then runs the risk of another major war which would undoubtedly involve all of the Arab countries, not just the one against whom the retaliatory attack is waged. Or if Israel does nothing against the terrorists, undoubtedly the terrorist raids will increase in number and intensity until Israel herself is destroyed.

The problem of how Israel should deal with her Arab citizens and with those Arabs living in areas under military control remains one of her most pressing and unresolved conflicts. Only the future will tell how she will meet this problem.

The Conflict with the Arab Countries

The major overriding conflict in present-day Israel, of course, is the difficulty she is having with her neighboring Arab countries. This conflict is not of the usual variety where one country wishes to conquer and control another country. In the case of Israel, the Arab countries do not wish to conquer and control; rather, their avowed desire and aim is to destroy and annihilate. Thus, unless Israel is able to solve this major conflict, it will do her little good to solve all of her other problems.

The problem between Israel and the Arab states has roots deep in history. More than 2,000 years before Christ lived on the earth, Abraham was promised that the land of Canaan (later known as Palestine) would belong to “his seed” forever. The problem, however, is that both the Arabs and the Jews claim to be descendants of Abraham, the Arabs through Ishmael and Esau, and the Jews through Isaac, Jacob, and Judah.

In more recent times, the claims to the area have arisen out of the several hundred years of Turkish control. Under the Turks, many of the natives were converted to the Moslem faith and other Moslems moved into the area of Palestine and established their villages on the hilltops. Here they were able to grow virtually all of the agricultural products they needed to exist: the cereals from which they made their bread, the olive tree from which they obtained their oils and fats, the fig tree from which they got their sugar, and the grape vines from which they obtained wine. The hills also provided them with a natural military advantage over their enemies.

When the Zionists started to return to Palestine near the beginning of this century, they found they could not purchase most of the hill country either because the people did not want to give up their agrarian way of life, or they did not want to sell to Jews. Thus, the major areas available for purchase and eventual colonization by the Jews included the swampy, malaria-infested Hula Valley, the marshy valley of Jezreel, the sandy plains of Zebulun and Sharon on the Mediterranean coast, and the arid wastes of the Negev. It was to these areas, largely unwanted by the native Arab population, that the Zionists came. Through irrigation and drainage projects and the use of commercial fertilizers, the Jewish settlers were able to dry the swamp and make the desert blossom. However, the November 1947 partition proposal of the United Nations, that separate Jewish and Arab states be established, satisfied neither group. The Jews were not satisfied because they felt they had not been given enough of the land area and that which was given them was not joined together in an economically feasible manner. The Arabs were not satisfied because they resented the giving of any of their territory to a proposed Jewish state.

The River Jordan is no formidable boundary in this area.
[Graphic omitted. See source document.]

The conflict between the two groups became more pronounced after May 1948 when Israel declared itself an independent country, the British Mandate ceased, and the Arab countries declared war on Israel. As a result of this war, hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees left their homes and fled into surrounding Arab countries. Regardless of the reasons for their desertion (the Israelis say the Arabs left because they were commanded to do so by the Arab military leaders; the Arabs say they left for fear of being killed by the Israelis), the unresolved problem of the Arab refugee has remained an open and festering wound on the body politic of the Middle East. Although armistice agreements have been made between Israel and her Arab neighbors, no peace treaties have been signed in the Middle East. Thus, referring to the conflict of June 1967 as the “Six-Day War” is erroneous in a sense because it was simply a new outbreak of a war that has been going on for twenty years.

Israel’s Attempts to Obtain Military Equipment

One problem that Israel has faced is how to obtain the necessary military equipment to defend herself against the threats of her Arab neighbors. Although she has been able to produce some of her light military equipment herself (such as the Uzzi machine gun), she has gone primarily to France and the United States for her heavier military equipment. In 1958 France supplied Israel with a squadron of Sud Vautour twin-jet tactical bombers and in 1959 started deliveries of the Super Mystére and later the Dassault Mirage III supersonic interceptor and fighter bomber. However, in the war of June 1967 France condemned Israel as the aggressor and has since refused to sell her additional planes. At present, Israel is negotiating with the United States for the delivery of fifty Phantom 4 jets. President Nixon has declared that if a careful examination indicates Israel is in need of these planes to protect herself from Arab aggression, then he will favor their delivery to Israel. The United States has already provided Israel with some Skyhawk fighters and Hawk missiles, and with a considerable number of Patton tanks.

It is ironical that one reason Israel has had difficulty in obtaining military equipment is that she has been so successful in the use of the equipment she already has. Thus, after her striking and short victory in the Suez crisis of 1956, the Western countries were reluctant to sell too many additional arms to Israel. And as a result of Israel’s spectacular victory in June 1967 the Western powers again have largely treated her appeal for additional arms with, “You already have enough, just as we told you so.” But the Israelis claim they need additional arms not only to replace the forty to fifty planes and other military equipment she lost in the June war, but also to prevent a new war. Her argument is that strength deters attack and that if she were adequately prepared, Egypt and the other Arab countries would be reluctant to attack and thus start another war.

Another difficulty Israel has had in obtaining additional arms is that most of the Western powers acknowledge that the Arabs have quantitative military superiority, but they insist that the Israelis have a qualitative military superiority which more than compensates for any surplus of military equipment by their enemies.

In November of 1967 the Security Council of the United Nations adopted a resolution authorizing the dispatch of a special representative to negotiate with the Arabs and Israel “to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement.” In December United Nations special envoy Gunnar V. Jarring left for the Near and Middle East to try to implement this resolution. Over a year later, however, the question still remains, “Can there be an Arab-Israel settlement?” Much of the answer to this question, according to Israel, depends upon whether or not Arab leaders are willing to meet with the Israelis face-to-face to talk about peace. However, much of the answer also depends on the great powers. The Soviet Union is clearly trying to advance communist influence and power in the Middle East by supporting the Arab position. Thus it may well be that the last thing desired by the Soviet Union would be a peaceful and stable Middle East. It is therefore not surprising that the Soviet Union has demanded that Israel withdraw from all the territory she occupied in June of 1967 and that this withdrawal be without any conditions. On the other hand, the United States has contended that any withdrawal must be in the context of peace and to recognized boundaries. The United States also supports a resolution which would call for freedom of navigation, a just settlement of the refugee problem, and a guaranteeing of the territorial inviolability and independence of every state in the area.

The question then arises—Which of the conquered territories would Israel be willing to give up? In the first place, she has made it absolutely clear that East Jerusalem is nonnegotiable and will not be returned. Although Israel might be willing to return some of the other occupied territories, it should be noted that as a result of the 1967 war Israel’s boundaries are much more defensible than they were previously. Her long winding border with Jordan in the Jordan Valley has been reduced from 186 miles to 46 miles. The border with Egypt has been cut from 133 miles to 48 miles. Also, much of the new cease-fire line is natural border following a water course: the Jordan River, the Gulf of Aqaba, the Gulf of Suez, and the Suez Canal. Thus, Israel undoubtedly would be very reluctant to give up many of these territories, unless she was given boundaries that would be recognized by the Arabs and unless she is guaranteed there will be no further efforts toward aggression on the part of the Arab states. It is hard to imagine such a guarantee as forthcoming or even enforceable.

Israel gained other geographical advantages in the June war: (1) Today the Egyptian army is 248 miles from Tel Aviv across the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal, whereas previously Egyptian forces were in Gaza, only fifteen miles away; (2) The Syrian army has been pushed back from the commanding position they held in the Golan Heights overlooking numerous Israeli settlements to a point where they are now nearly twenty miles from any long-established Israeli settlement; (3) The Israelis are now in command of the large Sinai Peninsula which not only makes it difficult for the Egyptians to mass soldiers and tanks for a war against Israel, but also provides Israel with the income from the oil wells in this locality ($35 million a year) which is enough to pay the cost of maintaining most of the lands occupied from the Arabs; (4) Obtaining the lands west of the Jordan River has not only provided a more natural boundary between Israel and Jordan (the Jordan River), but has also greatly extended the width of Israel in the highly populated and very vulnerable area between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Even with all of these advantages, however, Israel has declared her willingness to return some of these lands if the Arabs will meet with her face-to-face to negotiate the peace terms and if the Arabs will agree that Israel has a right to exist. There is little prospect, however, that the Arabs will agree to these terms. Thus the chance of peace in the Middle East unfortunately remains very slight.

The Future?

And what of the future? Unfortunately, the conflicts faced by Israel in the first twenty years of her existence promise to continue, with some of them becoming even more serious than before. An old Jewish saying suggests that when God allocated the troubles and suffering for mankind, he divided them into ten portions, giving nine portions to the Jews and one portion to the rest of the world. Although things are obviously not that bad, the fact remains that at least the Jews in Israel have had and probably will have their share of the world’s problems, continuing to be a nation in conflict.

About the author(s)

Dr. Ludlow is dean of the College of Religious Instruction and professor of graduate studies in religion at Brigham Young University. He has published several studies—his best known is Latter-day Prophets Speak (1948). He spent eight months in Israel in 1968 directing BYU’s initial semester abroad in Jerusalem and a summer tour of the Bible lands.


1. U.S. News and World Report, April 17, 1967, p. 76.

2. Harry Essrig and Abraham Segal, Israel Today (New York, 1964), p. 155.


Purchase this Issue

Share This Article With Someone

Share This Article With Someone

Print ISSN: 2837-0031
Online ISSN: 2837-004X