This is only meant to give some very basic information.
The people called Palestinians have lived in the area called Palestine for centuries - at least 2000 years, albeit with much population movement. They have been conquered and occupied many times but never driven away. There has always been a mix of religions - predominently Islam, but also Christian, Jewish, and others. The Jews were kicked out by the Romans, and dispersed widely but many retained the dream of one day returning. In the C20 Jews immigrated in increasing numbers in part encouraged by Britain and by the spread of Zionist ideology which says they have the right to sole occupancy of an area which includes all of Palestine. In the 1940s extremist Jewish gangs as it were 'invented' terrorism as a means of getting their way, and this succeeded in 1948 when the United Nations was persuaded to declare the land of Palestine "Israel". The UN and powerful nations such as Britain seem to have almost ignored the rights of the Palestinians though some words were expressed that the new Jewish state would incorporate them peacefully. (After all, historically this is what has normally happened when one nation conquers another.) Instead the terrorist gangs and the new Israeli army committed many atrocities to drive and terrify or trick Palestinians from their lands, into towns, refugee camps, neighbouring Arab countries, and further afield. It seemed that most of us on the study tour had first been moved to support Palestinians by reading some of the many first hand accounts of people driven from their homes. (I am currently reading that of the now Bishop of Jerusalem.)
After 1948 there were several wars which Israel won, and in 1967 a border known as the green line was established dividing Israel itself from the area known as the West Bank. The WB together with the Gaza Strip were to be for Palestinians and the remainder for Israel. This border seems to be accepted by all parties other than the extremists. However after another war the Israelis occupied Gaza and the WB. There are certain rules governing the behaviour of occupying powers which Israel has continually flouted. for instance they are not supposed to quarry or build on the land.
Palestinians and other Arab countries objected to Israel's incursions many times, usually by demonstrations, strikes, appeals to the Israeli High Court (which frequently finds in favour of Palestinians but whose findings are simply ignored by the army and the settlers), and resolutions in the UN (which are also ignored by Israel). Often the demonstrators and young people took to throwing stones at the Israeli army (which attracts massive over-reaction, e.g. shooting to kill) and sometimes terrorism. This terrorist activity is a disasterous policy as it has a very negative effect on world opinion and is used by the Israelis as an excuse for ever more draconian measures such as attacks by helicopter gunships on civilian areas.
Originally Arab countries seriously threatened Israel giving Jews good reason to fear and distrust them. However Arab countries have now accepted that Israel is there to stay and only extremists appear to think otherwise. However Israel is itself now governed by extremists (under Sharon) and continues to expand into the West Bank by planting and extending settlements, and recently by building a massive "Separation Wall" which extends the border deep into the WB.
Sharon is known to have a grand vision of a cantonised WB split into Bantustans by Israeli urban development and by the system of Israeli-only highways. There is much evidence to suggest that Israel (particularly Sharon) deliberately incites Palestinian anger in order to give the impression that what are claimed to be essential security measures are in fact further permanent incursions into Palestinian land, and military operations designed to ruin infrastructure and industry. It is very obvious to the visitor that the road blocks and other means of harassing Palestinians are not for security but only intended to irritate, humiliate and restrict. (In fact an Israeli General recently said so. There are many Israeli 'refusniks' who will not carry out their unreasonable orders.)
Many Israelis consider the solution to be that the remaining Palestinians should leave - to be taken in by neighboring Arab countries. This policy of ethnic cleansing has been partially 'successful' as since 1948 over half the population has left their homes.
There have been many peace talks and a first requirement has been that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied territories, but in fact the pace of such settlement has increased particularly since the Oslo Agreement in which they agreed not to do so. Their latest infringement of international law is the Wall which they say is for security but which clearly is simply to extend the Green Line border further into the Palestinian West Bank.
Israeli action has been frequently been condemned by the UN, but it receives massive financial and other support from the USA. This support is in part due to effective lobbying of the US government by Jewish and Christian Zionists. Most people seem unaware of the size and power of the Christian Zionist lobby. About a tenth of the US electorate accept the crazy Zionist and fundamentalist doctrines which say that the second coming of Christ cannot occur until all of "Israel" (by which they mean a much greater area than current Israel) is occupied only by Jews. They see it as their duty to hasten this, thus supporting the ethnic cleansing of non-Jews from Palestine.
If I have made any errors in this, or if you wish to comment, please email me.
Stephen Petter 13/11/03