Israel-Gaza War: The multifaceted conflict that has resulted in decades of suffering
The recent conflict between Hamas and Israel has defined a bitter chapter in Israel-Palestine’s history.
As the toll rises, the urgency of international attention is highlighted against a background of ceasefires and broken truces.
The ongoing war, which began after Hamas gunmen crossed into Israel and targeted civilians, has raged on for more than two months, with a brief ceasefire.
On December 17, for the first time since the violent conflict broke out, humanitarian aid entered Gaza directly from Israel, reported the BBC. The opening of via the Kerem Shalom crossing, which borders Gaza, aims to increase the food and medicine reaching the civilians, which is currently very low.
Nations around the world are calling for another humanitarian ceasefire.
How did this war emerge?
On October 7, Hamas crossed into Israel from Gaza in a surprise attack, killing 1,300 Israelis, according to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).
Hamas is an ‘Islamist and militant Palestinian movement’ in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that is committed to the creation of an autonomous Islamic state in the region of Palestine, officially designated as a terror group by countries like the US and UK.
After the entrance Hamas then proceeded to launch rockets towards Israel. These attacks led to Israel launching airstrikes into Gaza and beginning an on the ground war in Gaza, with the goal of “victory over Hamas, toppling its regime and removing its threat to the State of Israel once and for all,” said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The following comments about the war have since been made by the leader of Hamas – Ismail Haniyeh, and Israel’s PM Netanyahu:
On October 16, PM Netanyahu speaking to an assembly in Hebrew commented that this is a fight between “the children of light and the children of darkness,” emphasising that the Israeli forces “will not stop until victory” against this new form of ‘Nazism’ – Hamas.
On December 13, Haniyeh, argued in a televised speech that “any arrangement in Gaza or in the Palestinian cause without Hamas or the resistance factions is a delusion.” Haniyeh made the comments a day after Netanyahu said that he will not allow “the entry into Gaza of those who… support terrorism and finance terrorism.”
But, Haniyeh said that Hamas is ready for talks that could lead to a “political path that secures the right of the Palestinian people to their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” reported NDTV.
What is the current situation?
As of January 2, according to Aljazeera, at least 22,185 people have been killed in Gaza and in the West Bank, the death toll rounds up to at least 307. About 1,139 Israelis have been killed since October 7.
As of December 10, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), almost 1.9 million people in Gaza, equivalent to nearly 85% of the population, were estimated to be internally displaced (IDP).
Nearly 1.2 million of these IDPs were registered in 154 UNRWA facilities across Gaza, of whom about one million are registered in 94 UNRWA shelters in the south, reports the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
A ceasefire took place from November 24 to December 1, ending after two extensions. During this period, Hamas released prisoners in exchange for Israel freeing Palestinian prisoners. Fighting was suspended and humanitarian aid was permitted to reach Gaza.
But, as reported by OCHA, although the humanitarian ceasefire was “largely held, sporadic incidents have been reported,” with incidents of Israeli troops reportedly opening fire at Palestinians in northern Gaza city on 29 November. This resulted in the death of two Palestinians. On November 30, there were reports of more shooting incidents in Gaza City, along with Israeli naval shelling towards the southern Gaza shore. No casualties were reported from either incident.
What is the history of the conflict?
With a history spanning more than 70 years, the Israel-Gaza conflict is multifaceted. With origins in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the area was home to a variety of ethnic groups during centuries of Ottoman rule. Support for a national home for the Jewish people – ‘Zionism’ – in Palestine was stated in the declaration.
Following World War 2, the UN put forth a plan for partition in 1947, which resulted in the creation of Israel in 1948, sparking the Arab-Israeli War.
Tensions escalated after Israel took control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War. Peace initiatives such as the 1993 Oslo Accords gave Palestinians some degree of self-rule, but ongoing territorial disputes and the refugee problem remained.
The 16 years Israeli-imposed land, sea and air blockade of Gaza “significantly exacerbated previous restrictions, limiting the number and specified categories of people and goods allowed in and out through the Israeli-controlled crossings.”
UNICEF reported how one humanitarian impact of the blockade was that 78% of Gaza’s piped water was classified as unfit for human consumption. Throughout this period there were also intermittent power cuts. The blockade resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths, including 1,206 children, between January 1, 2008, and September 19, 2023.
What is the international response?
The international view on this conflict is mirrored by the UN resolution demanding an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and “ensuring humanitarian access,” passing with 153 member states in favour, 10 against and 23 abstentions.
One of Israel’s current supporters is the US. But, President of the US, Joe Biden, recently said that while Israel “has most of the world supporting it (…) they’re starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place.”
Biden added: “We’ll continue to provide military assistance to Israel until they get rid of Hamas, but we have to be careful – they have to be careful.”
The G7 (the US, Japan, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Italy, and the EU) does support “humanitarian pauses and corridors” for aid delivery, has called upon unconditional releases of hostages, and had condemned the “rise in extremist settler violence against Palestinians” in the West Bank.
GCC states (the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait) have responded in different ways to prevent the spread of the conflict, such as drawing in “whether directly or indirectly through Iranian-aligned groups such as the Houthis in Yemen, would pose an immediate and severe threat to Gulf security.”
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s telephone call with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on October 12, highlighted the Gulf states’ desire to avoid any escalation.
Qatar, out of the GCC, is most involved in the conflict with its friendly relationship with Hamas since it hosted the group’s senior leadership in Doha since 2012. With the Gulf International Forum noting how “Qatar has presented itself as a mediator in the conflict, presenting its good relations with Hamas as an opportunity for diplomacy.”