Residential buildings 150 m from the Palestinian Tower, which were destroyed during the first week of intensive bombing by Israeli aircraft. PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA.ORG

The Ron DeSantis administration wants to “deactivate” two Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) college campus groups, claiming their backing of Palestinians in the IsraelHamas war amounted to “support for terrorism” and violated Florida law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) countered that the students’ statements were “political advocacy fully protected by the First Amendment.” But the ACLU also criticized the “brutal mass murder of civilians,” an obvious reference to Hamas’ October 7 cross-border attack on Israel.

Why would anyone not stand firmly with Israel? Perhaps because they know the history of the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. Arabs and Jews lived for a long time in what came to be known as Palestine but social and economic conditions and Muslim wars in the 8th and 9th centuries led to large-scale Jewish emigration. Some dreamed of returning and a catalyst came with a movement that took shape in the late 19th century focused on Zion, a reference to Jerusalem.

Austrian journalist and political activist Theodor Herzl, believing that Jews needed a homeland to survive, launched a political movement, Zionism. In 1897, he organized the First Zionist Congress, which met in Basel, Switzerland, and became the founding president of the World Zionist Organization.

The imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French army officer, on false treason charges in 1894 led Herzl to write a pamphlet, Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), calling for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which the Ottoman Empire then ruled. He unsuccessfully petitioned for a self-governing charter. Eastern European and Russian Jews, meanwhile, began joining a few thousand others already living in Palestine.

The Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I and the League of Nations placed its territories under British administration in 1922. All of them eventually later became independent states – except Palestine.

British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote in 1927 to Baron Rothschild, a wealthy and prominent leader in the British Jewish community, expressing his government’s support for establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The letter, published in the press a week later, became known as the “Balfour Declaration.” Arabs, including those living in neighboring countries, opposed the plan and British rule continued until the 1930s. Fighting broke out between Jews and Arabs in 1929 and, in response, the British imposed limits to Jewish immigration.

But the rise of Zionism still led to relatively large-scale Jewish immigration to Palestine, increasing their number from 500,000 in 1945 by more than 249,000 by the end of World War II.

Arabs also began demanding statehood, and an uprising broke out in 1937 against the British, which, the League of Nations said, included “continuing rebellion and terrorism from both sides.”

When World War II ended in 1945, Britain referred the question of Palestine’s future to the United Nations (UN) – successor to the League of Nations. The UN voted in 1947 to partition the territory between Arabs and Jews to create “two independent states, one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish, with Jerusalem internationalized.” Jews, who were less than half the population, got more than half the land.

A year later, David Ben-Gurion, who chaired the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the birth of Israel on May 14, 1948, and became its first premier. The next day, the UN admitted the new state as a member; United States recognition quickly followed.

Neighboring Arab nations launched the first of several failed wars which ended up with Israel’s territory expanding to 77 percent of the former Palestine, including “the larger part of Jerusalem.” According to the UN, “Over half of the Palestinian Arab population fled or were expelled” in what Arabs call the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe.” Israel occupied the major Arab population territories – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – and eventually annexed East Jerusalem. “The war brought about a second exodus of Palestinians, estimated at half a million,” the UN has stated.

A year after a mass Palestinian uprising against Israel in 1987, the Palestinian National Council proclaimed a State of Palestine, but it garnered no official recognition. As recently as 2011, Palestinian leader Mohamed Abbas applied for UN membership but got only “non-member observer State status.”

Following more wars and uprisings, which Israel crushed with ferocious determination, this is the current situation in what was once Palestine: There is Israel, with 8,630 square miles and a 9.4 million population, of whom 7.14 million or 74 percent are Jews; the others, mostly Arabs, number around two million or 21 percent. There is the “self-governing” West Bank, so called because it is near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, with 2,263 square miles and three million Palestinians. There is also the 140-square-mile Gaza, a strip of land on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, with two million Palestinians, governed by Hamas. Israel also effectively took over all of Jerusalem after President Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians prompted the UN General Assembly to adopt 140 resolutions between just 2015 and January this year “criticizing Israel, mainly over its treatment of the Palestinians, its relationships with neighboring countries and other alleged wrongdoings,” The Times of Israel reported. During the same period, it approved only 68 resolutions against all other countries, UN Watch said.

Israel’s response to the creation of a Palestinian state has varied but it has stuck to its position that its sovereignty and security must be recognized and safeguarded and has not received that assurance. In fact, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ABC News on Monday that Israel will assume “overall security responsibility” in Gaza for “an indefinite period” after the current war ends “because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it.”

UN resolutions are meaningless, except those approved by the Security Council, which are binding. The U.S. has vetoed 34 of 36 of those since 1945, Al Jazeera reported. As recently as Monday, during a private Security Council session, the U.S. and Britain opposed a draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the war, CNN reported.

One heavily criticized policy is Israel’s expanding its original borders with settlements built on Palestinian territory, starting after the 1967 war. Authorized settlements number 150, there are 128 illegally built “outposts,” and settlers total more than 700,000, Al Jazeera reported. Strong pushback, especially recently, has come from Hamas, a Gaza-based political party with an armed wing sworn to destroy Israel and which the U.S., the European Union and Israel have deemed a terrorist organization. It is the rival of the moderate Fatah led by Abbas. In elections in 2006, Fatah suffered a surprise loss to Hamas.

Blocked from taking over in the West Bank, Hamas seized the Gaza administration and has not held any further elections. Abbas recently said his Palestine Authority is willing to assume control of the Strip but it is reported to be very unpopular because of corruption.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also extends beyond land. Just as the United States and its allies are propping up Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, so too the U.S. has been arming Israel — over the decades – worth about $130 billion so far. The initial purpose would have been to nurture a powerful proxy in a major oilproducing region not always friendly to the U.S. Under this “ironclad” commitment, as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently put it, the U.S. deployed the aircraft carrier USS Ford to the area just two days after the Hamas attack and, a week later, the USS Eisenhower. The stated intention is “to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war.”

But the gunboat diplomacy is clearly directed at Iran, which regards the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and, in turn, arms its own surrogates, including Hamas and Lebanon-based Hezbollah whose own armed wing is also at war with Israel. Ironically, just as with Israel, it was Britain and the U.S. that created today’s Iran by deposing the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, on Aug. 19, 1953, after he nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was installed as absolute ruler but a popular uprising ousted him, leading to the current hostile theocratic regime.

That is the background to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which Florida education officials ignore, along with free speech rights, as they push to silence Students for Justice in Palestine — as did the 234 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted Tuesday night to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., the only Palestinian American in the chamber, dozens of whom sought to overturn Biden’s election in 2020. Responding to an anti-Semitic charge, Tlaib stated, “I have repeatedly denounced the horrific targeting and killing of civilians by Hamas and the Israeli government and have mourned the Israeli and Palestinian lives lost.” That did not matter.

Three days earlier, Queen Rania of Jordan, who is of Palestinian parentage, put anti-Semitism in context on CNN: “Being pro-Palestinian is not being antiSemitic, being pro-Palestinian does not mean you’re pro-Hamasor pro-terrorism. What we’ve seen in recent years is the charge of anti-Semitism being weaponized in order to silence any criticism of Israel.”