The Hamas-Israel Conflict Explained

By Anjali Nayak 

On October 7, 2023, war broke out between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist group that has controlled the Gaza strip since 2006. Hamas fighters fired rockets into Israel and stormed southern Israeli cities and towns across the border of the Gaza strip, killing and injuring hundreds of soldiers and civilians and taking dozens of hostages. The attack took Israel by surprise, though the state quickly mounted a deadly retaliatory operation. One day after, the Israeli cabinet formally declared war against Hamas, followed by a directive from the defense minister to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to carry out a “complete siege” of Gaza. 

History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The British and French empires carved out the Middle East to their liking in 1947. Britain took control of a region they called The British Mandate of Palestine. At first, the British allowed the immigration of Jews, but after some time, and many conflicts with the Arab people, regulations on Jewish immigration started to be put in place. Jewish militias started to form in order to fight the Arab people as well as fight British rule. 

Upset with the chaos, the British decided to disband the British Mandate of Palestine and leave the conflict up to the United Nations. In 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181, also known as the Partition Plan, in order to make separate states for Palestinian Jews and Arabs. They created Israel, the Jewish state, and Palestine, the Arab state. Jerusalem, where many different religions have holy sites, was set to be considered an international zone. 

While the Israeli people readily accepted their new state, Arabs felt that the division was another means of European colonization stealing land from the native people. Many of the Arab states that had also recently gained independence sought war against Israel. Israel won the war, and decided to push their borders past the initial boundaries set by the United Nations. Doing so, they also expelled huge numbers of Palestinians from their homes, creating a massive refugee population. Israel controlled everything except for Gaza, which Egypt controlled, and the West Bank, which was controlled by Jordan. 

In 1967, the Six Day war was fought between the Arab countries and Israel, to which Israel won and took over all of the land it had previously left behind, including Jerusalem. In 1978, Israel and Egypt signed the United States brokered Camp David Accords, which gave Egypt back the territory Israel had taken. The 70s marked a period in which most Arab countries slowly eased their tensions with Israel, whether or not they signed a formal agreement. However, Israel still had control over Palestinian territory in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which makes up the foundation for the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. 

Today, there are several hundred thousand Israeli settlers in occupied territory, even though the United Nations Security Council would consider them illegal. In 1987, the Arab people responded with the First Intifada, an Arabic word that means uprising, and the Israeli government responded with large force. The First Intifada and uprisings similar to it sparked the creation of the Hamas, an extremist group with the sole purpose of destroying the Israeli state. 

By the early 1990s, it was clear that the two countries needed to make peace. This was seen in the Oslo Accords in 1993, which was a sign that Israel might withdraw from the territories and allow for an independent Palestine. The Oslo Accords allowed for the Palestinian Authority, which gave Palestinian people a little bit of authority to govern themselves. Hardliners on both sides denied the Oslo Accords, the Hamas set out suicide bombing, while others felt that Prime Minister Rabin was a traitor and a Nazi. Not long after Rabin signed the Oslo Accords, the prime minister was shot and killed by a far right Israeli group. 

Believing that peace is not coming, the Arab people rise into the Second Intifada, which was far more violent than the first, lasting five years. About 1,000 Israelies and 3,200 Palestinians died. The Second Intifada made the Israeli government shift farther to the right. The Israeli government started to build walls in hopes of keeping the Palestinian people in and kept a skeptical stance on whether the Palestinian people would ever agree to a peace treaty. 

In 2003, Israel withdrew from Gaza, where the Hamas have grown in power. Hamas splits from the Palestinian Authority, dividing Gaza from the West Bank. Israel puts Gaza under a suffocating blockade, and the unemployment rate rises, life expectancy lowers, and more violence on both sides ensues. 

What This Means Today 

The Israel and Palestine conflict has been ongoing. Israel has long been aligned with the United Nations, which prompted the United States to send aid to Israel. President Biden has taken a very pro-Israel stance and believes that the Hamas act of terrorism cannot go unpunished.