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Glossary

Here is a word and definitions list to help understand terms describing issues of the Middle East. Where the words appear in the student text for the first time, they are linked to this list by a pop up.

Aliyah – Refers to waves of Jewish immigration to Israel. Between 1882 and 1939, there have been five separate aliyot (the plural form). The last, known as the Fifth Aliyah, occurred between 1929 and 1939, when approximately 250,000 Jews left Germany and Central and Eastern Europe.

Arab League (alternatively League of Arab States) – Founded in 1945, the Arab League originally consisted of seven nations. It is designed to promote economic, cultural, and social ties between member nations. Its headquarters are in Cairo, Egypt and its membership numbers more than twenty.

Arab Liberation Army – A volunteer army raised from Arab countries during the 1948 war to fight on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs.

Balfour Declaration – A letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, dated 2 November 1917. In the letter, Balfour expresses the British government’s position supporting the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Camp David Accords – Two agreements reached between Egypt and Israel in September 1978. The first was an outline for a peace initiative in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the second a framework for a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The Camp David Accords were named after the American presidential retreat where negotiations between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin took place. The bargaining sessions were facilitated by U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Dome of the Rock – An Islamic shrine in Jerusalem, and the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is located in what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif) and Jews call the Temple Mount. It is built on the site from which Muhammad is said to have ascended through the heavens to God and returned with the Islamic prayers. The location is also the traditional site of the Temple of Jerusalem and therefore the holiest site in Judaism. The Western or Wailing Wall is supposed to be the last remnant of this temple. It is also significant to Christians as the location of the biblical story in which Abraham is instructed to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Fatah – Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian National Liberation Movement, founded in 1959. Its purpose was to establish Palestine by force. Fatah carried out its first attack against Israel in 1965. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed in 1964. Fatah joined the PLO in 1969 and Yasser Arafat became chairman.

Gaza Strip – Part of the territory occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. The area was occupied by Egypt from 1948 to 1967. After occupation by Israel, Jewish settlers began moving into the area and establishing permanent homes. In 2005, as part of the Disengagement Plan put forth by Ariel Sharon, Israel evicted the residents of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in preparation for handing the area over to the Palestinian Authority. The move was controversial, and was met with resistance from a portion of the Jewish population that believed that the Gaza Strip was historically part of Israel, and that handing it over to the Palestinian Authority amounted to rewarding terror tactics such as suicide bombings.

Golan Heights – A strategically important plateau on the border of Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. The Golan Heights were part of Syria until 1967, when they were captured by Israel during the Six-Day War and put under military administration. The legality of the Israeli presence in the Golan Heights has been hotly debated and has been a sticking point for peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.

Green Line – Refers to the boundaries of the armistice agreement reached in 1949 between Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. These boundaries separate Israel from the territories that it captured during the 1967 Six-Day War, which included the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. The Green Line is not Israel's border, as no border has ever been declared by Israel.

Hamas – A paramilitary organization formed in 1987 that supports the Palestinian cause and rejects peace with Israel. It has been branded a terrorist organization by a number of countries including Canada for its indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets with tactics such as suicide bombings. It remains popular, however, with the Palestinian population because it has established social welfare programs in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas has built and operated schools, hospitals, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues for Palestinians. In August 2005, when Israel began removing its settlements from the Gaza Strip, representatives of Hamas claimed that the pullout was proof of the efficacy of its tactics.

Haram al-Sharif – The Arabic word for Noble Sanctuary or Dome of the Rock–a site that is of religious significance to Muslims and Jews.

Hezbollah – A paramilitary organization founded in Lebanon in 1982, to combat occupying Israeli troops, it also has a civilian political wing. Considered by some governments to be a terrorist group, Hezbollah also provides some social services and plays a significant role in the Lebanese parliament. The name Hezbollah means “Party of God.”

Holocaust – The term is most commonly associated with the murder of approximately six million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators from the 1930s to the end of the Second World War. The term Shoa, meaning “calamity” in Hebrew, is also used. The word Holocaust is also sometimes used to describe other acts of murder and genocide, but it is most closely linked with the Nazi actions against Jews.

Hussein-McMahon correspondence – The promise for independence for the Arab lands came in the form of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, which took place during 1915 and 1916. In this exchange of letters between Hussein ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, and Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Egypt, McMahon promised Great Britain’s support for Arab independence movements in return for Arab support against the Ottoman Empire. This was seen by the Arab leadership as being directly applicable to the case of Palestine.

Intifada (alternatively intifadeh) – The term for Palestinian uprisings protesting Israeli policies and the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Nakba – When Israel declared its independence in 1948 it was referred to as Nakba by Palestinians, which means Catastrophe.

Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) – A confederation of groups promoting Palestinian Arab nationalism, and advocating for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The PLO was a government in exile providing representation with United Nations observer status and provided social services to Palestinians. The PLO members became the Palestinian National Authority.

Shiite – A division of Islam that holds that the proper successor to Muhammad was his son-in-law, Ali ibn Abu Talib. The majority of the population of Iran are Shiite Muslims, and there are also large numbers of Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon.

Sinai Peninsula – A strategically important triangular peninsula that has been the scene of fighting between Israel and Egypt on numerous occasions. It is bordered by the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, and the Israeli-Egyptian border. The Sinai was occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War. The Israelis did not withdraw from Sinai until the late 1970s and early 1980s, after the signing of the Camp David Accords.

Six-Day War (alternatively 1967 Arab-Israeli War) – A war fought between 5 June and 10 June 1967 between Israel and an alliance of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. By the end of the Six-Day War, Israel had occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. The Six-Day War played an important role in shaping the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Sunni - One of the divisions of the Islamic faith, Sunnis believe that when Muhammad died, his proper successor was his father-in-law, Abu Bakr. This contrasts with Shiite beliefs, which hold that Muhammad had appointed his son-in-law as successor. Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims.

West Bank – One of the disputed Occupied Territories, the West Bank lies west of the Jordan River. It is bordered on the north, south, and east by Israel, and on the west by Jordan. The majority of the West Bank population is comprised of Palestinian Arabs, but there are also a number of Jewish settlements in the area. The West Bank encompasses important cities such as East Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem.

Yom Kippur War – The Israeli name for the war fought between Israel and a coalition of Syria and Egypt from 6 October to 24 October 1973. It is also known as the October War, the Ramadan War, and the 1973 War.

Yishuv – Term for the Jewish population in Palestine, before Israel declared itself independent.

Zionism – The movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Zionism had its roots in the late nineteenth century, and was spurred, in part, by pogroms directed at European Jews. Zionism had its roots among European thinkers.

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