The Israel-Palestine Conflict Explained

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By Ashraf Shaghil

NEW DELHI—The Gaza Strip is experiencing a devastating impact as Israel carries out extensive military operations, resulting in hundreds of casualties, including women and children, and the displacement of thousands of Palestinians. This comes after Hamas – a Palestinian resistance movement against Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories – launched a massive military operation inside Israel on Saturday, leading to the deaths of hundreds of Israelis. Palestinian fighters shot thousands of rockets into Israel. The strikes were followed by attacks by land, air, and sea, with fighters penetrating deep into Israeli-controlled towns and cities.

Objectives of Hamas attack

The Hamas leadership has said that the objectives of the attacks are ending “Israeli violations”, securing the release of Palestinian prisoners, and “returning to the project of establishing a state”, according to an Al Jazeera report. Some of the key factors that contributed to the recent escalation include:

Israeli attacks in Al-Aqsa Mosque: The Hamas said that it had vowed to retaliate repeated attacks by Israeli forces on the worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest mosques after Mecca and Madina. 

Arab-Israeli normalisation: The acceleration of Arab-Israeli normalisation in recent years diminished the importance of the Palestinian issue for some Arab leaders. This decreased their willingness to pressure Israel to resolve the conflict.

Abraham Accord: Throughout 2023, the US administration has been investing massive amounts of diplomatic energy into trying to bring Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords. The latest development undoubtedly jeopardizes the Abraham accord.  

Where is the conflict heading?

It is unclear at this point to foresee where the current conflict is heading as various stakeholders such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas or Palestinian fighters in Gaza have allegedly considered helping the Palestinians. However, the extent of Hezbollah’s involvement will depend on Iran.  There are also concerns about potential attacks from “Lions’ Den” militants in the West Bank.

US, Israel’s closest ally, sent the Navy’s most advanced aircraft carrier to “defend” the Zionist nation.

The main limitation of Israeli action against Gaza is the presence of “kidnapped” Israeli citizens and army soldiers in the strip. Indiscriminate bombing could endanger their lives, making Israel cautious in its approach. Israel may be reluctant to deploy ground forces due to the risk of heavy casualties.

Another risk for Israel is the possibility of turning Western opinion against it if its retaliation is perceived as too brutal. However, Western governments currently show strong support for Israel and have shown little sympathy towards Palestine.

Emergence of Hamas 

The Palestinian enclave of Gaza is important as Hamas, which emerged as the key Palestinian resisting group in the first decade of the century, took control of the town after its victory in the legislative election held on 25 January 2006. Gaza has been under an air, land and sea blockade since 2007 when Hamas came to power.

Israel and Egypt maintain that the blockade is necessary to protect against militants, but Palestinians and humanitarian groups say it amounts to collective punishment, according to a UN report.

Gaza Strip: Significance of world’s biggest ‘open air prison’

The 41 km long and 10km-wide Gaza Strip, located between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, remains dependent on Israel for its water, electricity and telecommunications. Israel also controls its air and maritime spaces.

Gaza was captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel withdrew its troops and around 7,000 settlers from the area in 2005. According to the UN, about 80% of the population of Gaza depends on international aid and about one million people rely on daily food aid. Human rights groups call Gaza “the world’s largest open-air prison.”

Six-Day War: Israel- Arab War of 1967

In June 1967, Israel attacked the Egyptian and Syrian air forces, capturing the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Old City of Jerusalem, and Golan Heights during the six-day war. The Jewish settlement of the occupied territories started and continues in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights today. Israel did not give up the territorial gains but returned Sinai to Egypt in 1982.

Meanwhile, in December 1967, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist-Leninist group, was established, marking the beginning of a series of attacks and plane hijackings that brought international attention to the Palestinian cause. During this time, Israel began constructing settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, leading to the creation of a two-tier system, where Jewish settlers enjoyed the rights and privileges of being Israeli citizens, while Palestinians suffered under a discriminatory military occupation that restricted their political and civic expression.

Intifada, an uprising that led to the Oslo accord 

During the First Intifada, which took place from 1987 to 1993, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip protested against Israeli rule. It was during this time that Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist organization, emerged under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1993, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat signed the Oslo Accords with Israel, aiming to negotiate a resolution to the conflict based on a two-state solution. Arafat returned to the Palestinian territories, establishing the Palestinian Authority and achieving self-rule in the Gaza Strip. However, Hamas opposed the Oslo Accords and carried out a series of suicide bombings in Israel.

The Second Intifada, which began in 2000, was triggered after Israel controlled the West Bank coupled with the visit of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site significant to both Muslims and Jews. The Second Intifada lasted until 2005. In response to a wave of suicide bombings, Israel conducted a major military operation in the West Bank in 2002, marking its largest operation in the region since the 1967 war.

Camp David Accord of 1978

The Camp David Accords were signed in September 1978 by Egypt and Israel, ending three decades of conflict between the two countries. The peace treaty improved relations between Israel and its neighbours, but the question of Palestinian self-determination remained unresolved. In 1982, Israel invaded civil war-wracked Lebanon, killing hundreds of Palestinians in refugee camps in Beirut. Israeli troops remained in southern Lebanon until 2000.

Balfour Declaration in 1917, root of the problem

The root cause of conflict between Israel and Arabs began after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, where the United Kingdom which captured Palestine from the Ottomans during the First World War, called for the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. A British Mandate was created in 1923, which lasted until 1948, during which the British facilitated mass Jewish immigration – many of the new residents were fleeing Nazism in Europe. The Arabs objected to the idea and resisted Jewish settlements there. The conflict was further fueled by the adoption of United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947, which proposed the partition of the territory into Arab and Jewish states. Subsequently, Israel was established on May 14, 1948, leading to the first Arab-Israeli War and resulting in the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians.  

The UN partition plan

In 1947, the Jewish population in Palestine had increased significantly to 33 percent, but it owned 6 percent of the land. The United Nations passed Resolution 181, which proposed partition of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, allocating 56 per cent of the Palestinian land to Jews. The Palestinians, who have been the natives for over a thousand centuries, rejected it. 

Claim on Jerusalem: Religious narratives surrounding the city 

The city’s religious and historical significance has contributed to its ongoing importance and the complex dynamics surrounding its claims by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Jerusalem holds significant religious and historical importance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. In Jewish history, it served as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel during King David’s reign and is home to sacred sites like the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus preached, died and was resurrected. In Islamic history, Jerusalem is considered the first Qiblah, the direction Muslims face during prayer, and is believed to be the place where Prophet Muhammad’s Isra’ and Mi’raj, a significant event. The Jewish faith does not consider Jesus Christ to be their foretold Messiah from the Old Testament. Similarly, Christians do not believe in the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad. However, it is a fundamental belief for Muslims to acknowledge and believe in the prophethood of both Moses and Jesus. The Quran says: “He has ordained for you believers the way which He decreed for Noah, and what We have revealed to you ˹O Prophet˺ and what We decreed for Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, commanding:’ “Uphold the faith, and make no divisions in it.” What you call the polytheists is unbearable for them. Allah chooses for Himself whoever He wills, and guides to Himself whoever turns ˹to Him˺.

Palestine agrees to two-state solution: Palestine, of late, agreed to two-state solutions on the condition that Israel returns to 1967 boundaries.  The 1967 borders refer to the armistice lines that existed between Israel and its neighbours before the Six-Day War when the Zionist nation captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and other Arab territories. Most countries oppose Jewish settlements built on land captured by Israel in 1967. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes sites sacred to Muslims, Jews, and Christians, as its capital. But Israel believes Jerusalem as its “indivisible and eternal” capital, despite the fact that the world does not recognize Israel’s claim to the eastern part of Jerusalem. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy there in 2018.  

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