Gaza–Israel Conflict: Background, Timeline and Who Involved in the Conflict
|An Israeli police water cannon is deployed near the Damascus Gate. (Photo: AP)|
What is Gaza and why it is important?
According to Britannica, Gaza Strip is a territory occupying 140 square miles (363 square km) along the Mediterranean Sea just northeast of the Sinai Peninsula. The Gaza Strip is unusual in being a densely settled area not recognized as a de jure part of any extant country. The first accurate census, conducted in September 1967, showed a population smaller than had previously been estimated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) or by Egypt, with nearly half of the people living in refugee camps. Pop. (2006 est.) 1,444,000.
The Gaza Strip is situated on a relatively flat coastal plain. Living conditions in the Gaza Strip are typically poor for a number of reasons: the region’s dense and rapidly increasing population (the area’s growth rate is one of the highest in the world); inadequate water, sewage, and electrical services; high rates of unemployment; and, from September 2007, sanctions imposed by Israel on the region.
History of Gaza Strip
After rule by the Ottoman Empire ended there in World War I (1914–18), the Gaza area became part of the League of Nations mandate of Palestine under British rule. Before this mandate ended, the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in November 1947 accepted a plan for the Arab-Jewish partition of Palestine under which the town of Gaza and an area of surrounding territory were to be allotted to the Arabs. The British mandate ended on May 15, 1948, and on that same day, the first Arab-Israeli war began. Egyptian forces soon entered the town of Gaza, which became the headquarters of the Egyptian expeditionary force in Palestine. As a result of heavy fighting in autumn 1948, the area around the town under Arab occupation was reduced to a strip of territory 25 miles (40 km) long and 4–5 miles (6–8 km) wide. This area became known as the Gaza Strip. Its boundaries were demarcated in the Egyptian-Israeli armistice agreement of February 24, 1949.
The Gaza Strip was under Egyptian military rule from 1949 to 1956 and again from 1957 to 1967. From the beginning, the area’s chief economic and social problem was the presence of large numbers of Palestinian Arab refugees living in extreme poverty in squalid camps. The Egyptian government did not consider the area part of Egypt and did not allow the refugees to become Egyptian citizens or to migrate to Egypt or to other Arab countries where they might be integrated into the population. Israel did not allow them to return to their former homes or to receive compensation for their loss of property. The refugees were maintained largely through the aid of the UNRWA. Many of the younger refugees became fedayeen (Arab guerrillas operating against Israel); their attacks on Israel were one of the causes precipitating the Sinai campaign during the Suez Crisis of 1956 when the strip was taken by Israel. The strip reverted to Egyptian control in 1957 following strong international pressures on Israel.
In the Six-Day War of June 1967, the Gaza Strip was again taken by Israel, which occupied the region for the next quarter-century. In December 1987 rioting and violent street clashes between Gaza’s Palestinians and occupying Israeli troops marked the birth of an uprising that came to be known as the intifada (Arabic intifāḍah, “shaking off”). In 1994 Israel began a phased transfer of governmental authority in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the terms of the Oslo Accords that were signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The fledgling Palestinian government, led by Yasser Arafat, struggled with such problems as a stagnant economy, divided popular support, stalled negotiations with Israel over further troop withdrawals and territoriality, and the threat of terrorism from militant Muslim groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which refused to compromise with Israel and were intent on derailing the peace process. Beginning in late 2000, a breakdown in negotiations between the PA and Israel was followed by a further, more extreme outbreak of violence, termed the second, or Aqṣā, intifada. In an effort to end the fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced in late 2003 a plan that centered on withdrawing Israeli soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip. In September 2005 Israel completed the pullout from the territory, and control of the Gaza Strip was transferred to the PA, although Israel continued to patrol its borders and airspace.
In the 2006 PA parliamentary elections, Fatah—which had dominated Palestinian politics since its founding in the 1950s—suffered a decisive loss to Hamas, reflecting years of dissatisfaction with Fatah’s governance, which was criticized as corrupt and inefficient. Hamas’s victory prompted sanctions by Israel, the United States, and the European Union, each of which had placed the organization on its official list of terrorist groups. The Gaza Strip was the site of escalating violence between the competing groups, and a short-lived coalition government was ended in June 2007 after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and a Fatah-led emergency cabinet took control of the West Bank. Despite calls by PA Pres. Mahmoud Abbas for Hamas to relinquish its position in the Gaza Strip, the territory remained under Hamas’s control.
Blockade of Gaza Strip
In autumn 2007 Israel declared the Gaza Strip under Hamas a hostile entity and approved a series of sanctions that included power cuts, heavily restricted imports, and border closures. In January 2008, facing sustained rocket assaults into its southern settlements, Israel broadened its sanctions, completely sealing its border with the Gaza Strip and temporarily preventing fuel imports. Later that month, after nearly a week of the intensified Israeli blockade, Hamas’s forces demolished portions of the barrier along the Gaza Strip–Egypt border (closed from Hamas’s mid-2007 takeover until 2011), opening gaps through which, according to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of Gazans passed into Egypt to purchase food, fuel, and goods unavailable under the blockade. Egyptian Pres. Hosni Mubarak temporarily permitted the breach to alleviate civilian hardship in Gaza before efforts could begin to restore the border.
In the years after the Israeli blockade on Gaza was instated, an organization known as the Free Gaza Movement made a number of maritime efforts to breach it. The first such mission—which consisted of a pair of vessels bearing medical supplies and some 45 activists—was permitted to reach Gaza in August 2008, and four missions in subsequent months were also successful. In May 2010 a flotilla bound for Gaza was the scene of a clash between activists and Israeli commandos in which 9 of the more than 600 activists involved were killed.
|The conflict has spread across the region. (Photo: Sky News)|
Palestinian in the Gaza strip
During the 20 years, the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian control (1948–67), it remained little more than a reservation. Egyptian rule was generally repressive. Palestinians living in the region were denied citizenship, which rendered them stateless (i.e., it left them without citizenship of any nation), and they were allowed little real control over local administration. They were, however, allowed to attend Egyptian universities and, at times, to elect local officials.
In 1948 Amīn al-Ḥusaynī declared a Government of All Palestine in the Gaza Strip. However, because it was totally dependent on Egypt, it was short-lived. The failure of this venture and al-Ḥusaynī’s lack of credibility because of his collaboration with the Axis powers during World War II did much to weaken Palestinian Arab nationalism in the 1950s.
The Gaza Strip, 25 miles (40 km) long and 4–5 miles (6–8 km) wide, became one of the most densely populated areas of the world, with more than four-fifths of its population urban. Poverty and social misery became characteristic of life in the region. The rate of unemployment was high; many of the Palestinians lived in refugee camps, depending primarily on UN aid (see below). Most of the agricultural lands they had formerly worked were now inaccessible, and little or no industry was allowed, but commerce flourished as Gaza became a kind of duty-free port for Egyptians. Although some Gaza Strip Palestinians were able to leave the territory and gain an education and find employment elsewhere, most had no alternative but to stay in the area, despite its lack of natural resources and jobs.
Gaza–Israel Conflict: What is it and How it started?
The Gaza–Israel conflict is a part of the localized Israeli–Palestinian conflict, but is also a scene of a power struggle between regional powers including Egypt, Iran, and Turkey together with Qatar, supporting different sides of the conflict in light of the regional standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia on one hand and between Qatar and Saudi Arabia on the other, as well as the crisis in Egyptian-Turkish relations.
The conflict originated with the election of the Islamist political party Hamas in 2005 and 2006 in the Gaza Strip and escalated with the split of the Palestinian Authority Palestinian government into the Fatah government in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza and the following violent ousting of Fatah after Fatah lost the election to Hamas. Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, and the joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza have exacerbated the conflict. The international community considers indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian structures that do not discriminate between civilians and military targets illegal under international law.
As part of its 2005 disengagement plan, Israel retained exclusive control over Gaza's airspace and territorial waters, continued to patrol and monitor the external land perimeter of the Gaza Strip, with the exception of its southernmost border (where Egypt retained control of the border and border crossings were supervised by European monitors) and continued to monitor and blockade Gaza's coastline. Israel largely provides and controls Gaza's water supply, electricity, and communications infrastructure. According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Israel remains an occupying power under international law. The United Nations has stated that under resolutions of both the General Assembly and the Security Council, it regards Gaza to be part of the "Occupied Palestinian Territories". Meanwhile, the Fatah government in the West Bank, internationally recognized as the sole representative of the State of Palestine, refers to the Gaza Strip as part of the Palestinian state and does not recognize the Hamas government.
Gaza - Israel Conflict: Timeline of notable events
In June 2008, after months of back-and-forth strikes and incursions, Israel and Hamas agreed to implement a truce scheduled to last six months. However, this was threatened shortly thereafter as each accused the other of violations, which escalated in the last months of the agreement. When the truce officially expired on December 19, Hamas announced that it did not intend to extend it. Broader hostilities erupted shortly thereafter as Israel, responding to sustained rocket fire, mounted a series of airstrikes across the region—among the strongest in years—meant to target Hamas. After a week of airstrikes, Israeli forces initiated a ground campaign into the Gaza Strip amid calls from the international community for a cease-fire. Following more than three weeks of hostilities—in which perhaps more than 1,000 were killed and tens of thousands were left homeless—Israel and Hamas each declared a unilateral cease-fire.
Beginning on November 14, 2012, Israel launched a series of airstrikes in Gaza, in response to an increase in the number of rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli territory over the previous nine months. The head of the military wing of Hamas, Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, was killed in the initial strike. Hamas retaliated with increasing rocket attacks on Israel, and fighting continued until the two sides reached a cease-fire agreement on November 21.
In June 2014 three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped; Israel conducted a massive crackdown in the West Bank and increased airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, prompting retaliatory rocket fire from Hamas. As fighting continued to escalate, Israel launched a 50-day offensive into the Gaza Strip on July 8. Some 2,100 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis were killed in the ensuing conflict, with about 5,000 targets hit in the Gaza Strip. Despite the devastation, Hamas’s handling of the conflict was viewed positively by Palestinians and boosted the group’s popularity.
In the spring of 2018 a series of protests along the border with Israel, which included attempts to cross the border and flying flaming kites, was met with a violent response from Israel. Both the protests and the violence reached a peak on May 14 when about 40,000 Gazans attended the protests. When many of them tried to cross the border at once, Israeli troops opened fire, killing about 60 people and wounding 2,700 others. The violence escalated into military strikes from Israel and rocket fire from Hamas and continued for several months.
Amid the occasional skirmishes, and as Egypt tried to mediate a long-term truce between them, Israel and Hamas appeared to make some effort to de-escalate tense situations. In October, when rocket fire from the Gaza Strip hit Israel, Israel concluded that the rockets had been set off by a lightning strike. In November a covert Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip was exposed, and Hamas responded by firing hundreds of rockets into Israel. Israel retaliated with more than 100 airstrikes. The two sides quickly agreed to a truce, however, and, throughout 2019 and into 2020, they continued to negotiate a long-term “understanding” for the maintenance of peace and easing of the blockade. The discussions, though occasionally interrupted by brief outbreaks of tit-for-tat violence, were reinforced by halted border protests and a loosening of the restrictions on trade and travel through the Gaza border.
|Lod was among the locations where tensions between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis rose. (Photo: Sky News)|
What is happening in Gaza?
Since mid-April, there have been clashes on the streets of Jerusalem - a city both Israelis and Palestinians consider to be their capital. Over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started on 12 April, Israel imposed a limit of 10,000 people gathering for prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque. The mosque is the third most holy site in Islam and is also the site where the Jewish first and second Temples are believed to have been built - known as Temple Mount. Tens of thousands of Muslims were turned back from the mosque, which was condemned by both moderate Israelis and Palestinians across the board.
Another reason for the increased tension has been the threat of eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah district. Jewish settler groups have brought their claim for land and property in the Palestinian neighborhood, which is based in East Jerusalem, to the Israeli Supreme Court. The EU, UN, and the UK government have condemned Israel's decision.
On 8 May, the holiest day of Ramadan, tens of thousands of Muslims gathered at the Al Aqsa mosque, whose compound borders the Western Wall where Jews pray as it is the closest they can get to the foundations of where the temples once stood. Israeli police blocked busloads of Muslims from entering the Al Aqsa compound, citing unrest in the neighboring Sheikh Jarrah over the possible court ruling.
On 10 May, Israeli police also used CS gas and stun grenades inside the mosque which drew widespread Palestinian condemnation. Rockets were then fired by Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, in what the militant group says was retaliation for Israeli actions in the Al Aqsa compound. The barrage of rocket fire targeted Israeli communities bordering Gaza and even reached the suburbs of Jerusalem. Critics of Hamas claim their actions were a political ploy to position themselves as a legitimate leader over rival Palestinian party Fatah and against decisions to delay Palestinian elections.
Since that day, hundreds of rockets have been fired from Gaza towards Israel, and the Israeli Air Force has carried out airstrikes pounding Gaza. Dozens of civilians, including women and children, have been killed. The majority of the casualties have been in Gaza. Clashes have expanded across Israel, with tensions rising in Arab-Israeli towns. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in Lod, a city near Tel Aviv, on the same day after reports members of Israel's 21% Arab minority set fire to synagogues and Jews had stoned cars driven by Arab residents, according to Sky News.
Who involved in the conflict?
A militant Islamic political movement that does not recognize Israel. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, Japan, the EU, and Canada. It has a military wing called Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Paraguay. Since 2006, Hamas has run Gaza, which is situated between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. A large Israeli buffer zone in Gaza, which is just 365 sqkm (141 sqmi), means much of the land cannot be lived on. Water, medicine, and power shortages are common, with Gaza relying on Israel for its supplies. During the current conflict, Hamas said it is "defending Jerusalem" by launching rockets at Israel. Hamas wants to position itself as the "true defender" of Palestinian rights as it fights to gain control of the West Bank from Fatah.
A Palestinian nationalist social democratic party, Fatah was founded by Yasser Arafat and is considered more moderate in its approach to Israel, and is in favor of a two-state solution. It lost its majority in 2006 to Hamas, with a short conflict ensuing in which more than 100 people were killed. Fatah remains in control of the West Bank, the territory bordered by Jordan and Israel, which includes East Jerusalem. Hamas and Fatah announced they were reconciled in 2014 but their disagreement over Gaza proved to be difficult, and a new unity government agreed in 2020 has not come to fruition.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand Israel's offensive and said Hamas should "pay a very heavy price for their belligerence". There is a power struggle within Israeli politics, with the deadline for Mr. Netanyahu to form a coalition government expiring on 7 April. If a government is not formed in a month, Israel could see its fifth general election since 2019 - and Mr. Netanyahu risks losing power after 12 years. The Israeli military, which has named its offensive on Gaza "Operation Guardian of the Walls", says it will continue to strike the enclave hard from the air with jets, attack helicopters, and drones. Mr. Netanyahu said Israel will use "an iron fist if needed" to stop widespread protests by Arab citizens. Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, said the country's Arab leaders are "giving support to terrorism and rioting" by staying quiet about the clashes.
There has been an increase in the presence of Jewish far-right supporters after one of its leaders, Itamar Ben-Gvir, was voted into the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. He has called for Arab citizens to be expelled from Israel if they are not loyal to Israel. Mr. Ben-Gvir set up a makeshift office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in a show of solidarity with the Jewish settlers' court case. An aide for Mr. Netanyahu reportedly told him to leave the area immediately or Hamas would begin firing rockets into Israeli territory. The presence of Jewish nationalists marching on Jerusalem Day through Sheikh Jarrah has been seen as one of the flashpoints in the current conflict.
There are about 1.89 million Arabs living in Israel, most of who identify as Arab or Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship. They make up 20.95% of Israel's population, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics' latest figures from 2019. Several cities and towns in Israel have Israeli Jews living alongside Israeli Arabs. During the current conflict, clashes have happened between the two, with Israeli Arabs protesting in support of Palestinians. Synagogues have been attacked and fighting has broken out on the streets between the two communities, with reports of both sides being targeted without provocation. Israeli President Rivlin called for an end to "this madness", saying it was a "senseless civil war among ourselves".
|A major escalation took place in May 2021. Weeks of simmering tensions in Jerusalem boiled over when Israel’s Supreme Court was set to rule on the eviction of dozens of Palestinian families from their homes. Confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators prompted Hamas to launch rockets into Jerusalem and parts of southern Israel; Israel responded with airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.|
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