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Palestinian refugees

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By  Andrew Cockburn

Occupied since 1967, the heartland of a future Palestinian state is a breeding ground for despair.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Despite their hold on the world’s attention, the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories, occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in June 1967, cover relatively tiny areas. Gaza, home to 1.1 million Palestinians and 7,000 Israeli settlers (who occupy 25 percent of the land), is only 26 miles (41 kilometers)long.

A north-south drive through the center of the West Bank on Road 60, which connects the historic cities of Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron, takes four hours. Traversing one of the modern east-west highways that cross between the Jordan River and the so-called Green Line, which marks the West Bank’s border with Israel, should take 30 minutes.

But for most of the people who live here, time and distance are measured differently. The 2.2 million Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and East Jerusalem are effectively barred from most of Road 60 along with many other roads carefully engineered for the use of the 376,000 Israelis who have settled here over the past 35 years. Palestinians contemplating the 25-mile (40-kilometer) journey from Ramallah to Jericho, for example, must be prepared to spend an entire day, sometimes days, negotiating the various Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints along the way.

The many peoples who have lived on this land in past ages have not always been so much at odds. A cache of letters uncovered in a cave in the Judaean desert on the southern fringe of the West Bank 40 years ago chronicles the daily life of Babatha, a second-century Jewish woman. Babatha describes Jews and Arabs coexisting without friction. Just a hundred years ago Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in Jerusalem routinely attended each other’s religious festivities. That kind of harmony eroded and disappeared in the 20th century with the rise of nationalism—Jewish and Arab—in the region.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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Online Extra
Follow developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Andrew Cockburn’s update.

While their leaders fail to broker peace in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel, innocent Arabs and Jews continue to die. What should be done to put an end to the violence? How should such moves be implemented? Join the discussion.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is compulsory for most Israelis. All Jews are expected to serve from the age of 18—men for three years and single women for two. That obligation is followed by service in the reserves, for men up to age 51 and single women up to age 24. Married and Orthodox women are exempt, and Orthodox men are granted deferments while pursuing Torah studies. Druze males are also obligated to serve. Although Druze are ethnically Arab, differing from Muslim and Christian Arabs only in their religion, which is an offshoot of Islam, they requested that they be included in the draft and have been since the early 1950s. Muslim Bedouin also serve. The Bedouin, who in the past lived in nomadic desert tribes, have proved to be excellent at tracking, a service invaluable to border-patrol missions. Israeli law does not explicitly exclude Arab youths from military service, but their exclusion has become accepted by both sides. Most Israeli Arabs don’t want to take up arms against their Arab brothers, and the IDF doesn’t want to risk conflict in the ranks. However, the IDF has allowed Muslim and Christian Arabs to enlist on a volunteer basis. Although these volunteers are often considered outsiders by their own community, the Israeli establishment sees them as examples of the potential integration of Arab citizens in Israeli society.

— Marisa Larson

Did You Know?

Related Links
BBC News: Israel and the Palestinians
This news site gives a thorough background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, describes key events of recent years, and offers personal accounts of Israelis and Palestinians living in the heart of the tension.

B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
B’Tselem acts primarily to “to change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and ensure that Israeli government, which rules the Occupied Territories, protects the human rights of residents there and complies with its obligations under international law.” This site contains various reports and statistics that illustrate what life is like in the territories.

Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP)
The FMEP aims to inform the public about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and assist in a peaceful solution that brings security for both peoples. Examine maps, databases, charts, and reports that provide in-depth information about this region.

Israeli government peace process site
This is the official Israeli government website documenting its efforts in the peace process.

Question of Palestine at the United Nations
Learn all that the United Nations has said and done regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You will find a chronological history of events, all the UN resolutions concerning this conflict, links to various UN and nongovernmental organizations working in this region, and much more. 


Cohn-Sherbok, Dan, and Dawoud el-Alami. A Beginner’s Guide: The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Oneworld Publications, 2001.

Friedman, Thomas. From Beirut to Jerusalem. Anchor, 1990.

Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Reich, Bernard. Historical Dictionary of Israel. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1992.

Sharoni, Simona, and Mohammed Abu-Nimer. “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” Understanding the Contemporary Middle East, ed. Deborah Gerner. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000.


NGS Resources
Belt, Don. The World of Islam. National Geographic Books, 2001.

Avakian, Alexandra. “Gaza: Where Peace Walks a Tightrope,” National Geographic (September 1996), 28-53.

Szulc, Tad. “Who Are the Palestinians?” National Geographic (June 1992 ), 84-113.

Vesiland, Priit. “Israel: Searching for the Center,” National Geographic (July 1985), 2-39.

Dothan, Trude. “Gaza Sands Yield Lost Outpost of the Egyptian Empire,” National Geographic (December 1982), 738-769.

Hussein, King. “Holy Land, My Country,” National Geographic (December 1964), 784-789.

Scofield, John. “Jerusalem, the Divided City,” National Geographic (April 1959), 492-53.

Scofield, John. “Hashemite Jordan, Arab Heartland: Old and New Ways Meet and Mingle in the Modern Moslem Nation Which Contains Some of Christianity’s Most Sacred Shrines,” National Geographic (December 1952), 841-856.

Moore, W. Robert and Frederick Simpich. “Bombs over Bible Lands,” National Geographic (August 1941), 141-180.

Keith-Roach, Edward. “Changing Palestine,” National Geographic (April 1934), 492-527.


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