The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a deeply complex and long-standing issue, marked by a history of violence, casualties, and widespread displacement, predominantly affecting the Palestinian people, who are the indigenous inhabitants of what was historically known as Palestine. This historical country ceased to exist as a distinct entity on the map after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the ongoing developments in this deeply entrenched conflict, it is crucial to delve into the broader historical context while also considering the contemporary factors that have played a significant role in shaping recent events.
On October 7, 2023, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), a militant group in the Gaza Strip, breached the long-standing barrier that surrounds the Gaza Strip, an area subjected to a crushing blockade for over 16 years. Following the breach, Hamas launched a surprise attack on nearby Israeli towns. In response, Israel initiated a large-scale aerial attack on the Gaza Strip.
The human toll of this conflict has been immense, with over 3,000 lives lost on both sides and more than 10,000 people injured. In addition to the tragic loss of life and the staggering number of injuries, the conflict has also resulted in widespread displacement and a profound disruption of daily life.
On October 8, 2023, the Israeli cabinet issued an official declaration of war against Hamas, but its effects are felt by the entire population of Gaza. One day later, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, stating that “there will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.”
The siege, widely viewed as a collective punishment, halts the supply of vital life resources, endangering the lives of more than 2.5 million people trapped within the strip.
According to media outlet Jewish Currents: “On October 9, using dehumanizing language that international law experts have identified as genocidal, Gallant said, ‘We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.'”
What were the underlying causes that led to the war on Gaza?
Gaza, an enclave on the eastern Mediterranean coast, is bordered by Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the east and north. Since 2007, with the support of Egypt, Israel has imposed a continuous land, air, and sea blockade on Gaza. Human rights organizations often refer to it as “the largest prison on earth.” This blockade inflicts collective punishment on the 2.3 million Palestinians living in that enclave.
Israel exercises control over crucial aspects of life in Gaza, including the movement of food, water, medical supplies, as well as people through land crossings connecting Gaza to the outside world. Over the years, Israel has consistently bombed the strip, showing little regard for the lives of civilians, who are trapped there with nowhere to go.
Human Rights Watch has reported that “this closure has devastated the economy in Gaza, contributed to the fragmentation of the Palestinian people, and forms part of Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.”
Moreover, Israel has played a pivotal role in imposing a siege, displacing, killing, and imprisoning Palestinians by supporting the ongoing aggression of settlers and the military. This is coupled with discriminatory laws and actions, forming an apartheid system that directly affects Palestinians.
Hamas named the operation “Al-Aqsa Storm,” referring to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site. According to the Associated Press, Hamas cited several motivations for the attack, including Israel’s 16-year blockade of Gaza, incidents of violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israeli raids in the West Bank, escalating settler assaults against Palestinians, and the expansion of settlements.
In an editorial in Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy placed the majority of the responsibility for the situation on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, he also acknowledged that this situation “didn’t start with him and it won’t end after he goes.” Levy pointed out that the unfolding events are the devastating consequences of Israel’s actions and decades-long discriminatory policies against the Palestinians.
On Saturday, they were already talking about wiping out entire neighborhoods in Gaza, about occupying the Strip and punishing Gaza “as it has never been punished before.” But Israel hasn’t stopped punishing Gaza since 1948, not for a moment.
After 75 years of abuse, the worst possible scenario awaits it [Gaza] once again. The threats of “flattening Gaza” prove only one thing: We haven’t learned a thing.
What is the current humanitarian situation in Gaza?
The situation in Gaza is rapidly deteriorating.
Israel’s relentless and continuous aerial bombardment of Gaza has entered its seventh day, resulting in the devastating destruction of entire neighborhoods. Palestinians find themselves trapped in the midst of humanity’s worst nightmare, subjected to a ceaseless barrage of bombs including white phosphorous, internationally prohibited munitions, and nowhere to seek refuge. Adding to their plight, Israel has sealed off all the crossings from Gaza and repeatedly targeted the sole crossing connecting Gaza to Egypt.
As the strip runs out of drinking water and food, its residents endure pitch darkness. Talks of a ground invasion loom, threatening to exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation exponentially.
Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, criticized the Israeli Defense Minister’s vow to deprive Gaza of food and electricity amid the ongoing conflict.
Israeli Defense Minister Gallant’s statements are abhorrent. Depriving the population in an occupied territory of food and electricity is collective punishment, which is a war crime, as is using starvation as a weapon of war. The International Criminal Court should take note of this call to commit a war crime.
He also criticized Hama’s pledge to execute hostages, saying:
The pledge by Hamas’ armed wing to execute civilian hostages is grotesque. Such threatened acts are flagrant war crimes. The International Criminal Court should investigate the taking of hostages and any allegations of cruel treatment. All hostages should be safely released to their families.
On Friday 13 October 2023, Israel issued an order for 1.1 million people to move south of the strip. According to the Associated Press (AP), “If carried out, that would mean the territory’s entire population would have to cram into the southern half of the 40-kilometer (25-mile) strip.” However, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said it would be impossible to stage such an evacuation without “devastating humanitarian consequences.”
What is the historical root cause of the conflict, in a nutshell?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, where Britain pledged to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, despite the Palestinian Arab majority.
Growing tensions and resistance led to the Arab Revolt from 1936 to 1939, met with harsh British repression, which included punitive home demolitions and air bombings of villages — a tactic Israel uses until this day.
In the late 1930s, British authorities worked with Jewish settlers to create armed groups that later became the Israeli army. By 1947, the Jewish population in Palestine had grown to 33%, but they owned just 6% of the land. The United Nations adopted Resolution 181, proposing the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.
Zionist paramilitaries initiated military operations, in what was named as the “Nakba” (Catastrophe) in 1948, leading to massacres and the destruction of over 500 Palestinian towns. Approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced.
Israel occupied the remaining Palestinian territories in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula after the six-day war in 1967.
The First “Intifada” (uprising) between 1987 and 1993 began with protests and boycotts against Israeli occupation, ultimately leading to the formation of Hamas. Israel's response included repression, arrests, and destruction.
In 2000, Ariel Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque sparked widespread violence in what was called the Second Intifada. Israel's response included reoccupation, the construction of a separation wall, and further settlement expansion.