Arab- Israeli Conflict


The Arab-Israeli conflict is a struggle between the Jewish state of Israel and the Arabs of the Middle East. It has continued for many decades and there has been no peaceful solution so far.


From the Beginnings to 1948

Many religions look upon the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea as their homeland. This historic land is called Palestine. Before the birth of Christ, the Jews also lived here. Later on , the Romans invaded the area and made it Christian. The Jews were driven away and had to live in other parts of the world.

Muslims also think of Palestine as a holy place. In the Middle Ages the land was ruled by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire and more and more Arabs came to Palestine.

In the middle of the 19th century, Jews started to think about coming back to Palestine. This idea was called Zionism. By the beginning of the 20th century, more and more Jews came back to Palestine and started a new life there.

At the end of World War I the Turks were defeated and Great Britain ruled Palestine. The British helped the Jews and wanted to create a new country for them. During the Second World War about 6 million Jews were murdered by German Nazis in the Holocaust. Those who survived had no place to go.

In 1947 , the United Nations decided to divide Palestine into two states : Israel for the Jews and Palestine for the Arabs. The Jews accepted the plan but the Arabs didn’t want the Jews to take over their country.

When the British left Palestine in 1948, Israel declared its independence. At once, Arab countries started to attack the new state but Israel fought back and won. It also expanded its territory and occupied more land than the UN gave it. Other Arab countries—Egypt, Syria and Jordan—took over the Arab part of Palestine. Over 700,000 Palestinians became refugees. Most of them fled to Israel’s neighbours .


From 1948 to the present

Since the war of 1948, Israel has had to fight three more wars against its Arab neighbours. In 1956 Egypt took control of the Suez Canal from Great Britain and France. Together with Israel, these two countries attacked Egypt and, for a short time, Israel took control of the Sinai peninsula.

In May 1967, Egypt’s president Nasser prepared for another attack on Israel. He closed Israel’s only route to the sea and soldiers from all the Arab countries marched to Israel’s border. However, Israel attacked first and surprised its enemies. In a war that lasted only six days , Israel defeated the Arabs and took over some of their land:

  • the Golan Heights from Syria
  • the West Bank from Jordan
  • the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

It also took control of East Jerusalem.

The fourth and last war took place in October 1973. It surprised Israel because Egypt and Syria attacked on Yom Kippur, one of Israel’s holiest days. Israel fought back and defeated the Arabs once again. They took control of the Sinai Peninsula, but gave it back to Egypt two years later.

In the late 1970s Egypt saw that it could not win a war against Israel, so it became the first Arab country to make peace with the Jewish state.

In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, its northern neighbour. The PLO, an organisation thought fought for the rights of the Palestinians, continued to attack Israel from southern Lebanon. Israel's soldiers stayed in Lebanon until 2000.

Towards the end of the 1980’s Palestinians in the occupied lands started to protest against Israel’s rule. This was known as the first Intifada. There were demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arabs stopped working for Israelis and some towns stopped paying taxes to the Israeli government. Israel had to use more and more force to get these territories under control.

Nablus - A West Bank town

Nablus - A West Bank town - Tiamat


Peace Talks of the 1990s


At the beginning of the 1990s, the PLO realized that its only hope was to make peace with Israel. In 1993 an agreement was signed between the PLO and Israel. The PLO recognised Israel’s right to exist and Israel promised to give back some of the land that it took away in 1967. It also agreed to talks on a Palestinian state. By the end of the century, more and more land was given back to the Palestinians and they also set up their own government in these areas.

But when the peace talks slowed down in 2000, the second Intifada began. Palestinian suicide bombers started blowing themselves up in Israeli towns , killing many Israelis . In return, Israel’s army took control of most parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Today, lasting peace is farther away than ever before, because there are extremists on both sides who don’t want to live together peacefully.



The New Millennium

During the second Intifada Israel sent soldiers to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They started building a fence around the occupied territories.

In 2006 Hezbollah, an extremist group, took control of Lebanon, Israeli soldiers were kidnapped and rocket attacks were launched against northern Israel. As retaliation Israel invaded Lebanon to stop the attacks.

In the Gaza Strip Hamas, another paramilitary organization has become more powerful and today controls the Gaza Strip. It started launching attacks against Israel. Israel reacted by sending more troops into the area.



The Palestine Liberation Organisation is a political group that fights for the rights of the Arab people in Palestine. Its main goal is to create an independent state for these people. Today there are more than 4 million people who live in the lands that are occupied by Israel.

The PLO is made up of people from all social classes—doctors, lawyers, teachers and , of course, people from the working classes. There are also radical members, who hate the Israelis and don’t want to live in peace with them.

The PLO was founded in 1964 . Yassir Arafat was their leader for over 35 years. He died in 2004. The organisation has never had a real home. Over the years they have been in Jordan and Lebanon, but they are not very welcome anywhere.

Today, the PLO controls some parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip , where they also have their own government. In the past few years Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas has had problems controlling groups that want to destroy Israel. Radical Palestinians put bombs on their bodies and blow themselves up in crowded areas.

Suicide bombing in a restaurant in Jerusalem kills 15 civilians

Suicide bombing in a restaurant in Jerusalem kills 15 civilians



The Occupied Territories


The Gaza Strip is a very narrow piece of land on the Mediterranean coast—where Egypt and Israel meet. The land is flat and sandy. It originally belonged to Egypt but the Israelis captured it in 1967 and were in power there until 1994. Most people are very poor Arab refugees. Some of them go to Israel to work there every day.

The West Bank lies between Israel and Jordan , west of the Jordan River. About 2 million people live here. Most of them are Arabs but when Israel took over the area after the Six Day War in 1967 they built many settlements for Jewish people. The region is hilly and only about one fourth is farmland. The eastern part falls down to the Jordan valley. Much of the West Bank is dry and doesn’t get a lot of rain. The Dead Sea lies in the south-eastern corner of the West Bank. It is the lowest place on the earth’s surface—about 400 metres below sea level.

In 1994, Israel started to pull back its troops from the West Bank. The area came under control of the PLO, which patrolled the area with its own police.

When violence started to erupt after 2000, Israel sent its army back to protect the Jewish towns there.

The Golan Heights is a hilly area in the south-western corner of Syria. It overlooks the Jordan Valley. Up to 1967 it was a part of Syria, but in the Six Day War Israel captured the Golan Heights because the Syrian army was threatening Israeli settlements near the border. Today, Syria wants this region back and has said there can be no peace with Israel unless it returns this land.




Jerusalem is the capital and one of the holiest cities of Israel. For centuries Jerusalem has been the home of Christians, Jews and Muslims. About 70 % of the city’s population are Jews. The rest are Muslims and a small number are Christians. There are three holy days in the city. Muslims celebrate their day of rest on Friday, Jews on Saturday and Christians on Sunday.

The city has a population of about 600, 000. It lies 65 kilometres east of the Mediterranean Sea. In 1948 Jerusalem became a divided city when Israel took control of the western part. Israel took over the whole city in the Six Day War of 1967 . Today , both Israelis and Palestinians look upon Jerusalem as their capital.


The 3 Parts of the City

The city is divided into three parts :

  1. The Old City is the historical heart. It is about one square kilometre big and lies in the eastern part of the city. It has stone walls around it that are up to 12 metres high. Many gates lead from the outside into the Old City : the Jaffa Gate, St. Stephen’s Gate, Damascus Gate and others.
    The Old City is divided into four neighbourhoods : the Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim quarters. The roads are made of cobblestone and haven’t been changed for centuries. Markets with small shops can be found throughout the Old City. They sell jewels, food, souvenirs and other items. The central place of the city is the Dome of the Rock, a shrine that stands on Temple Mount.
  2. West Jerusalem is the most modern part of the city. It has broad roads with fashion shops, hotels and restaurants, as well as office buildings.
  3. East Jerusalem , north of the Old City, is the place where most of Jerusalem's Arabs live. The houses are very old and sometimes shabby.

Jerusalem has many mosques, synagogues and churches which show that religion is important in daily life. The Jews’ holiest shrine is the Wailing Wall. Many Jews go there and pray . Other Jewish sites are King David’s tomb and the Tomb of the Prophets.

Map of Jerusalem's Old City

Map of Jerusalem's Old City


Downloadable PDF Text- and Worksheets


Related Topics



  • accept = to take something that someone gives you
  • agree = to say yes
  • agreement =when two or more people, parties or countries promise to do something
  • belong =own , have, if something is yours
  • border = the line between two countries
  • broad = wide
  • capture = to get control of land that belonged to an enemy during a war
  • celebrate =to have fun and enjoy yourself
  • century = a period of one hundred years
  • cobblestone = small round stones that are put into a road
  • continue = to go on or keep on ...
  • decade = a period of 10 years
  • declare =to say officially
  • defeat =to win against someone
  • destroy = to damage something so that it cannot exist any longer
  • divide = to separate into two or more parts
  • driven away = they had leave
  • enemy = someone who hates you and wants to fight against you
  • erupt = to break out
  • expand = to become bigger or larger
  • fence = a structure made out of wood or metal to keep people out of your land
  • flee—fled =to leave a place very quickly because it is dangerous
  • force = power or strength
  • found—founded = to start an organisation
  • gate = the part of a wall that you can open to let people in or out
  • goal =aim, what you want to achieve
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • Holocaust = the killing of millions of Jews during World War II
  • holy =connected with God and religion
  • in power = in control
  • independence = political freedom
  • invade = to take control of a town or country with an army
  • item = things or objects
  • jewels = very expensive stones , like diamonds
  • launch = start
  • lawyer =someone who has the job of telling people about the rules in a country or defending them in court
  • look upon =watch, observe
  • mosque = a building in which Muslims pray
  • narrow = opposite of wide
  • occupied lands = the parts of the Middle East that are controlled by the Israelis but do not belong to them
  • occupy = to be in control of something
  • Ottoman Empire =a large country with its centre in Turkey. It controlled large parts of Eastern Europe and North Africa until World War I
  • paramilitary = an illegal group that is organized like an army
  • patrol = to check a place to see if there is no danger
  • peninsula = a piece of land with water on three sides
  • population = the number of people in a city or country
  • prepare = to make plans
  • protect =defend, guard
  • pull back = get out of
  • realize = start to understand
  • recognise = accept
  • refugee = someone who has to leave his home country during a conflict or a war
  • retaliation = to attack someone who has done something bad against you
  • rights = things that you are legally allowed to do
  • rocket attack = to fight against someone with a weapon that is fired like a big gun
  • route = a way between two places that ships, planes, buses etc. use
  • rule =to govern a country
  • sea level =the average height of the sea; used for measuring mountains and other places
  • settlement = a group of houses and building where people live, mostly in places where not many people have lived before
  • shabby = they are in a bad condition
  • shore = the land that is along the part of an ocean = ( the same as “coast” or “beach”)
  • shrine = a holy place that people visit to pray
  • sign = to put your name under a document or a piece of paper
  • social classes =the organization of people in groups depending on what jobs they have and how much they earn
  • solution = answer to a problem
  • struggle = fight
  • suicide bombers = people kill other people when they put bombs on their bodies and blow themselves up
  • surface =the top part of something
  • survive =to live on after a dangerous situation
  • synagogue = a building where Jewish people meet to pray
  • talks = discussions between groups or governments
  • tax = money that everybody has to pay to his government
  • Temple Mount =famous tourist attraction in Jerusalem
  • threaten = to say that you want to kill or hurt somebody
  • throughout = in every part of
  • tomb = a stone object above or below the ground in which a dead person lies
  • troops = soldiers
  • violence = fighting