Understanding the current conflict between Israel and Gaza requires delving into the territory’s long history of violence and conflict. The recent Hamas terrorist attack on Israel has brought much attention to the region, with both supporters of Israel and the Palestinian enclave expressing their outrage and accusing the opposite side of inhumanity. However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists because finding a simple and unequivocal solution is not easy.
The city of Gaza has a history that spans several millennia, with its origins dating back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs. To comprehend the ongoing crisis, it is necessary to go back to the First World War when Palestine was a remote part of the Ottoman Empire. At that time, there was a small Jewish population in Palestine, though they lived harmoniously among the Arab community.
After the First World War, Britain gained control of Palestine, naming it Mandatory Palestine. The British administration favored the Jews, considering them a counterbalance to the Arabs. However, neither the Jews nor the Arabs were satisfied with British rule. Over the course of several decades, tensions between the two communities escalated.
Following the Second World War, the idea of creating Jewish and Arab states in Palestine arose. Britain sought to relinquish its imperial burden and turned to existing proposals for the Middle East. The Jewish people’s desire for an independent state was fueled by the genocide they had endured during the war. The United Nations drew up borders for the future Arab and Jewish states. However, the project proved to be a failure, as neither side was content with the proposal.
The war in 1947 aimed to revise the borders, with Arab nations joining in support of the Arabs. The Israelis successfully fought back, occupying some of the territories assigned by the UN to the Arabs. The remaining portions of Arab Palestine were occupied by neighboring Arab countries, with Jordan controlling the West Bank and Egypt occupying the Gaza Strip.
Gaza faced difficult circumstances as a result of the influx of Arab refugees, making the area severely overcrowded and lacking basic necessities. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established to provide aid and improve conditions in Gaza. However, the status of Gaza remained unresolved, and the population continued to grow.
In 1967, the Six-Day War resulted in Israel’s occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza. Israel attempted to integrate Gaza, but without offering Israeli citizenship to its residents. Gazans also remained unable to obtain Egyptian citizenship. The economy in Gaza depended heavily on Arab workers employed in Israel, but this hindered the economic development of Gaza itself.
The construction of Israeli settlements in Gaza further complicated the situation, with a third of the already overcrowded strip being occupied by these settlements. Egypt and Israel established peaceful relations following the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979, but the Egyptians did not see the Arabs of Gaza as their brethren.
In the 1980s, Gaza’s “tunnel economy” emerged as tunnels were built into Israel and Egypt for economic purposes. These tunnels were initially constructed for smuggling goods but have now gained infamy as terrorist infrastructure. The political situation worsened with the emergence of the Hamas movement in the late 1980s, determined to wage war against Israel and destroy it.
In 1987, the First Intifada, also known as the Stone Intifada, began with mass civil riots and attacks on settlements in the Gaza Strip. The violence and conflict continue to this day, with no clear and easy solution in sight.
Understanding the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly in the context of Gaza, helps shed light on the complexities of the current situation. The longstanding grievances, competing narratives, and unresolved issues have heavily contributed to the ongoing violence and discord in the region.