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  • Writer's pictureLolita Chowdhury

Understanding the Situation with Israel and Hamas


pro-Palestine protestors protest because of the Israel-Palestine conflict

As the Israel-Palestine conflict continues, events like this pro-Palestine protest in Lisbon become common occurances (Lua Eva Blue/Wikimedia Commons)


Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), more commonly referred to as Hamas, launched an attack on Israel on October 7, 2023. The attack killed approximately 1,200 individuals, making it the third deadliest terrorist attack since 1970. However, the complex motives behind the attack lie in centuries of history in the region.


The History of the Region


Modern-day Palestine and Israel are located in the region previously known as Canaan, with the Mediterranean Sea to the West and the Jordan River to the East. The first individuals on the land were the Canaanites, the Canaanite Phoenicians, and the Israelites, until the Philistines arrived around 1276 BCE. Over the next few millennia, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans all obtained control of the region. 


During Rome’s rule, Palestine became the center of the Christian world. However, after a series of revolts in the region against Roman rule, the region was renamed Philistia (Palestine). When Rome fell in the 5th century, Palestine was taken over by the Byzantine Empire, until it was invaded by Arabian Muslims in 634 CE.


In the following centuries, several Muslim dynasties controlled Palestine and built the holy sites of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. However, by the 10th Century, Jerusalem (located in Palestine) was known as the “Holy Land” by European Christians who sought to win the land back from Muslim Arabs. Thus, the first crusades began in 1096, aimed at reconquering the region. Yet, despite several attempts to conquer Palestine, Christian forces largely failed. Nonetheless, Christians, Jews, and Muslims coexisted for centuries in Palestine under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.  


The Significance of the “Holy Land”


Because of the religious importance of Jerusalem in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the surrounding region has come to be known as the “Holy Land.” In Judaism, the earliest of the three major religions, Jerusalem is home to the First and Second Temples. In Christianity, Bethlehem (south of Jerusalem) is the site of Jesus’ birth and Jerusalem is the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. In Islam, al-Aqsa Mosque holds significant religious significance. Furthermore, while the Dome of the Rock was built by Muslims as the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven, the place holds religious significance to Jews and Christians as well. Thus, the intersection of religion in the Holy Land has resulted in centuries of religious wars for control of the region. 


Jews once resided in ancient Palestine, but many migrated to North Africa and Western Europe due to the harshness of foreign rule around 70 CE. During the Middle Ages (500 CE - 1500 CE), more Jews were pushed to Eastern Europe by severe persecution. Only a small percentage of the original Jewish population remained in Palestine after the Middle Ages. 


In the late 19th century, the European Enlightenment, a movement of intellectual reasoning, allowed for the development of Zionism. Observing a history of persecution, a distinct Jewish identity had emerged. Zionism called for a Jewish homeland that would ensure the continued survival of the Jewish identity. However, not all Jews supported the radical actions Zionism called for. Liberal Jews believed the movement would only produce more anti-Semitism, while Orthodox Jews believed Jews were exiled from their Holy Land due to past sins and would only be allowed to return if God called for it. 


Israel-Palestine in the 20th Century


The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British Government in November 1917, announced British support for the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. At this time, the Ottoman Empire (an Islamic Caliphate) controlled Palestine, and the majority of Palestinians were Muslim. 


However, the end of World War I in 1918 saw the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. By a mandate from the League of Nations, the region of Palestine was given to the British Empire, which allowed for mass Jewish immigration into the region. This was especially true following World War II, in which the persecution of Jews by Nazis encouraged many Jews to seek refuge. However, Palestinians in the region resisted this mass migration. In the face of violence from Palestinians and Jews, the U.K. turned Palestine over to the United Nations in 1947. 


The United Nations then proposed partitioning Palestine into two separate states: one for Palestinian Arabs and the other for a Jewish homeland. Under this plan, the Arab state was given 42 percent of the territory, the Jewish state was given 56 percent, and the remaining 2 percent, comprised of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, was considered international land. However, Palestinian Arabs refused to recognize this plan as it allocated a majority of the land to a Jewish state despite the Arab population being double the Jewish population at the time. 


When the State of Israel was established in 1948, troops from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia invaded the region. Israel won the war with financial help from Jews and sympathizers in the U.S., South Africa, and the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. More than half of the Palestinian Arab population fled or were forced out by the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Israel and the five Arab states agreed to formal armistice lines in 1949 and Israel gained some of the territory previously given to Palestinian Arabs in the 1947 U.N. Resolution. Hundreds of Palestinian communities were destroyed and approximately 10,000 Palestinians and 6,400 Jews/Israelis were killed in what would be known as the 1948 Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe”.


However, Palestinian guerilla organizations and Israeli forces broke the former armistice agreements in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, commonly referred to as the Six-Day War. In six days, Israel defeated Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian forces in the Palestinian territories. This marks the beginning of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, declaring the city the capital of Israel. 


Recent Palestinian Uprisings Against Israeli Occupation


The first Palestinian Intifada (uprising) occurred in December 1987 after several Palestinians were killed in an accident involving Israeli and Palestinian workers. This event spurred protests among young Palestinians and many rose against the Israeli government. This event also led to the formation of Hamas, whose main goal was to eradicate Israel and Jewish individuals as a whole. The Oslo I Accords in 1993 attempted to allow for a system of governance for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Oslo II Accords in 1995 mandated Israel’s complete exit from several cities and hundreds of towns in the West Bank. 


The second Palestinian Intifada occurred in September 2000 after a former Israeli Prime Minister visited the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site. To prevent further violence, the Israeli government allowed for a barrier wall to be constructed around the West Bank, which received much opposition and criticism from the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. 


In the late 2000s, Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, defeating Fatah, the long-time ruling party. This election gave Hamas control of the Gaza Strip, which had been semi-autonomous since the Oslo I Accords. The U.S., European Union, Israel, and Fatah did not acknowledge Hamas’ victory. Nonetheless, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 following the election results, which has continued to the present day. Fatah and Hamas engaged in years of violence against one another, but both parties agreed to a unity government in 2014. 


Further violence occurred in 2021 when Hamas and other smaller Palestinian militant groups launched rockets into Israel. Israel responded by sending bombardments and airstrikes into Gaza and the West Bank. After nearly two weeks, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire. 


October 7, 2023


On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel from Gaza. The militant group explained that this attack was in response to decades of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the Gaza blockade, Israeli encroachment into Palestinian territory, and Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. Since the attack, Israel has sent thousands of airstrikes and a total blockade of Gaza. Hamas in turn has kidnapped hundreds of Israelis. 


Reactions to Hamas’ Attack on Israel


The total blockade of Gaza by Israel has raised concerns about the lack of available food and clean water for Palestinians. There have been global protests for a ceasefire, but the U.S. and Israel have rejected these calls. The U.N. Security Council has proposed several resolutions calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in order to send aid to Gaza, which have also been denied. However, a humanitarian truce was allowed on November 15, which allowed for the exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. 


Most notably, the U.S. and the European Union have condemned Hamas’ attack on Israel. As Israel’s closest ally, the U.S. sends Israel $3.8 billion annually, totaling over $250 billion since Israel’s creation. However, the U.S. also recently sent $100 million to Palestinians affected by the Israel-Hamas war. Additionally, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Hamas’ attack on Israel but stated that “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum,” urging that, while the Palestinian occupation did not justify Hamas’ attacks, the same attacks are not justifiable for punishing Palestinians. Russia, China, and several Middle Eastern countries refused to condemn Hamas’ attack, instead citing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians since the end of World War II as the reason for the attack. 


Implications of the War


Protests and violence have erupted worldwide following the October 7 attack. Most notably, Pro-Palestinian support has grown in younger individuals. President Joe Biden’s continued support for Israel, a foreign policy stance carried over from his predecessors, may threaten his chance for re-election in November 2024. Younger voters especially have voiced their concerns about President Biden’s support for Israel’s actions against Palestinians. These individuals have taken to university campuses to protest, which has received criticism from pro-Israeli institutions and politicians who claim that these protests are antisemitic. 


As the Israel-Hamas war continues into 2024, Islamophobia and Antisemitism have risen in the U.S. and worldwide. As Islamophobia and Antisemitism cases rise, congressional hearings have taken place aimed at addressing safety and First Amendment rights on college campuses.


It is important to note that behind these congressional hearings and President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel lies major U.S. players. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is the largest pro-Israel lobby. and it is ranked by several Capitol Hill insiders as one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country. AIPAC supports both Democrats and Republicans, donating millions of dollars to each side. AIPAC supported 365 pro-Israel Democratic and Republican candidates in 2022 and, in the past, the group has donated to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden’s campaigns. 


Furthermore, some of the largest and most influential corporations support the Israeli government and the Israel Defence Forces, including Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, the largest luxury conglomerate, Exxon-Mobil, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and McDonalds. Meanwhile. thousands of Middle Eastern businesses have supported humanitarian efforts in Gaza and the West Bank. 


As of late December 2023, officials in Gaza have stated that more than 20,000 Palestinians have died and Israeli officials have stated that more than 1,100 Israelis have died in the war.

 


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