Ian Joseph

The Other Hundred Years War

The death of John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury at the Battle of Castillon – Artist unknown, circa 1484 – Public Domain

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. – Mark Twain 

The Hundred Years’ War, actually 116 years, took place from 1337 – 1453 between England and France. The Hundred Years War finally came to an end on 17th July 1453 when France defeated England at the Battle of Castillon. The war is calculated to have begun when King Edward III laid claim to the throne of France in 1337. The term “Hundred Years War” is a later invention of historians. What actually happened was that invasions were made and battles were fought at various times, but there were also long periods during which there were no hostilities at all. By the end of the war all the gains made by England had been lost, with Calais left as England’s sole possession in mainland France. Thus leaving historians to ask, what was the benefit of fighting that war despite several notable battles fought at Crecy (1346), Agincourt (1415) and the resistance of Joan of Arc. (Précis from The End of the Hundred Years War by John Welford, 2022)

Israel, and the Zionists preceding the establishment of the state, have been fighting the Palestinians for more than a hundred years. The Arab resistance to Zionism started soon after the 1917 Balfour Declaration. In 1918 the Jewish population of Palestine numbered approximately 60,000 or about 8% of the total. In 1946 the Jews numbered 543,000 or about 30% of the population of Palestine. By 1949 at the time of the establishment of the state and after Israel’s war of Independence, the Jewish population numbered 716,700 or 81% of the newly declared state of Israel.

All during this period there had been ongoing armed and political resistance by the Arabs of Palestine to the influx of Jewish immigrants and to the notion of partition leading to the creation of a Jewish state.

Jabotinsky, a Zionist right winger, predicted in his Iron Wall essay in 1923 that that Palestine’s Arabs would not just reject any Jewish nation building, but would actively work to destroy it, stopping only once they were convinced that it was a fait accompli. They have not stopped attempting to destroy the Jewish state since. “The Arab,” Jabotinsky wrote, “is culturally backward, but his instinctive patriotism is just as pure and noble as our own; it cannot be bought, it can only be curbed by . . . force majeure.” This has been the standard Israeli approach for the last 75 years.

In the early 1950’s, the Arab governments organized paramilitary commando groups, fedayeen, which undertook raiding and sabotage missions into Israel. Fedayeen, an Arabic term meaning various military groups willing to sacrifice themselves for a larger campaign. Israel defined them as terrorists and set out to strike back at the refugee camps where they originated from.. Israel’s invasion of Sinai was in large measure a retaliation for this fedayeen activity, and the fedayeen terrorist raids more or less ceased after the 1956 Sinai campaign.

Post 1956 Israel proceed to initiate cross border raids into her Arab neighbors territory, attacking police stations, military bases and civilian villages in retaliation for Arab enemy government supported terrorist actions in Israel.

The PLO was created in 1964 at an Arab summit meeting held in Cairo in order to bring various Palestinian groups together under one organization. Their objectives were to unite the Palestinians under one body and to liberate Palestine. After Israel’s victory in 1967 the Palestinians began to ramp up their activities with multiple terror attacks inside Israel, terror bombings and aircraft hijacking.

In 1971 the PLO headquarters was forced to relocate from Jordan to Lebanon and in 1984 during the Israeli invasion it was forced to move from Beirut to Tunisia where it remained until its move to Gaza and the West Bank in 1994.

Fatah, founded in 1959, became the dominant group in the PLO post 1967. Fatah and PLO are sometimes used interchangeably.

In 2006, a Sunni Islamist militant group called Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Conflict between the ruling Fatah and Hamas led to violence in 2007 Gaza with Fatah ousting and murdering some of their opponents after defeating Fatah in a battle for Gaza. Subsequent to 2007, the two PA areas were run by separate bodies, with Fatah ruling the West Bank and Hamas ruling Gaza.

Ever since 2007 and peaking with the current Gaza war, there have been ongoing skirmishes, battles and terror actions originating in Gaza with October 7 the worst atrocity on record. The West Bank has not been quiet in this period with ongoing terror attacks, suicide bombers and armed attacks on civilians and the military originating in the West Bank.

As recently as January 18, 2017 Hamas and Fatah agreed to establish a Palestinian unity government.

Embed from Getty Images

Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad (R) and Saleh al-Aruri (L) of Hamas signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. The new Hamas deputy leader and the head of Fatah’s delegation struck the deal which was described by Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas as a ‘final agreement’ to end their crippling division, which has at times erupted into deadly conflict over the past ten years. (Photo by Ibrahim Ezzat/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

During this 100 year period, Israel and the Yishuv proceeding the state, have not been passive recipients of armed Palestinian resistance. From pre state paramilitary militias to the IDF today, Israel has kinetically pushed back with raids, formal campaigns, wars and clandestine worldwide assassination in an attempt to conquer and eliminate Palestinian resistance to the Jewish state. This has not been successful.

In short, while the above glosses over many, many incidents of warfare  and terrorism, there  has existed an ongoing, undeclared state of war between Israel and the Palestinians for more than a hundred years. Israelis and Palestinians alike have the exact same, identical mindset. Namely that each is a nation, whose religious, political and national narratives dictate that the whole land, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, is their God-given and legal right for them and them alone. That conviction, belief or mindset on both sides has not changed through the last hundred years of this hundred year war and does not leave room for the national aspirations of the other.

Israel has never admitted to or declared that a state of war exists between Israel and the Palestinians, preferring instead to treat each security incident as separate from the others and just another manifestation of either organized or spontaneous terror activities. Hamas, whose aim is to destroy the Jewish state along with its citizens, is yet another manifestation of the hundreds year war, while not solely representing the whole of the Palestinian people.

Formally recognizing the undeclared ongoing state of war between Israel and the Palestinians as a state of war would require a paradigm shift on the part of Israel for the following reasons:

  1. There exists a formal state of armed, unresolved, hostilities between two bodies: The Palestinians and The State of Israel
  2. The Palestinians are a national group with unmet national aspirations and the right to self determination in the territories controlled by Israel.
  3. In order to create a successful end to the war, either one party or the other must be defeated, or a peace settlement must be negotiated between the two parties.
  4. Recognition of a state of war, ipso facto, is a recognition that there is another, legitimate national group, who have legitimate competing rights to the same area as that of Israel, with claims that need to be recognized and resolved in order to achieve peace.

Apart from the above reasons for Israel not wanting to recognize the 100 year war between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a very real fear, on the part of Israel, that recognizing the 100 year war as a formal, drawn out conflict between two national groups, will lead to further delegitimization of Israel and boost Palestinian standing in the world. In short, it’s more convenient for the government of Israel to conduct an undeclared war on the Palestinians and to label their resistance as terrorism rather than recognize a national liberation movement.

Even if Israel defeats Hamas in Gaza, as seems increasingly unlikely after more than 108 days of war, that will neither solve the root cause of the conflict nor produce peace and security for Israelis anywhere in the state of Israel. If Hamas is defeated and/or exiled, another movement will arise to replace them as the underlying 100 year war will continue in the absence of a full peace settlement via a political process.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, there is no alternative to recognizing the history and the current state of affairs for what it is, a state of war between two national bodies. Recognition of that state of war with another national body of people is the first step to moving forward towards a peaceful settlement enabling the Palestinians to also express their rights to self determination. The ultimate solution will be a second state alongside the state of Israel, the only questions are how long will it take to realize a second state and how many people will die, needlessly, in the interim. After all is said and done, and a second state is created, future historians may well ask, as is asked about the first Hundred Years’ War – What was the benefit of fighting that war?

About the Author
Born and educated in South Africa, a graduate of Jewish day school and Habonm Dror, Ian Joseph served in the IDF as an officer in combat units, and currently resides in North Carolina and Cyprus. Ian holds an MBA from Shulich School of Business in Toronto, is certified as a Master Instructor by the American Sailing Association and is currently retired from IBM. Among other pursuits Ian edits a weekly newsletter of Israeli news items, teaches sailing around the world and certifies sailing instructors.
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