This Common Sense Solutions Paper will share a little bit of the background and brief layout of the issues at play, offering readers a background to research further into the conflict and form their own conclusions—independent of media bias.
Who’s who and what’s what?
Today, Palestine refers to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, although it historically has been used to refer to a variety of peoples and regions in the Middle East. Today, Palestine is home to nearly 5 million people, about 93 percent of which are Muslim. Palestine is governed by the Fatah in the West Bank, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
- Hamas (Palestine, Gaza):
- Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic political party and terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip and maintains a significant presence in the West Bank. Hamas was founded in Gaza in 1987 as an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its original charter called for the destruction of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state in its place. Today, it’s revised charter condemns Zionism and the Jewish people, and maintains that the Palestinian people are owed the land “from the river to the sea,” and maintains their right to “armed resistance.” Hamas remains a dominant force in Palestinian politics for its anti-Israeli posture and commitment to violent resistance. Since its electoral victories in 2006 and the subsequent fighting that ousted the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip in 2006, Hamas has fought several wars with Israel. Hamas has officially been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States since 1997 for its suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and other acts of violence.
The Gaza Strip is a narrow strip of land between Israel and Egypt, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Gaza Strip is home to roughly two million people despite being only about 141 square miles, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Israel took over the Gaza Strip after the 1967 Six-Day War, until it voluntarily withdrew from the territory in 2005, relocated thousands of Jewish settlers, and ceded control to the fragile Palestinian Authority. The Gaza Strip has been governed by Hamas since 2007, when Hamas militants took over control of Gaza, and is extremely poor, lacking food security, access to clean water, stable healthcare, and economic growth despite billions of dollars in aid from the international community. Israel maintains a high-tech border fence along the border which was breached on October 7, 2023.
The West Bank:
The West Bank is the portion of land located between the Jordan River and the Kingdom of Jordan. The West Bank was occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, and it remains a key flashpoint of Middle Eastern tensions to this day. The West Bank is home to roughly 3 million Palestinians, primarily Muslim, and is governed by the Palestinian Authority, which was created by the Oslo Accords in 1993. The Palestinian Authority is a secular group with little real power, and their congress has not convened since 2007. Palestinian Authority President Abbas was elected in 2005, and his term ended in 2009, but no elections have been held so he has retained his position, saying he will remain president until elections can be held. Hamas has subsequently declared Abbas illegitimate, and a number of Israeli settlements and expansions into the West Bank make it a focal point of conflict to this day.
Lebanon is a Middle Eastern nation directly to Israel’s north, home to about 5.5 million people. Lebanon has gone through a period of economic malaise, civil unrest, and political stability, and has officially been at war with Israel since 1948 the day after Israel declared independence. Israel’s northern neighbor has been involved in decades of conflict with the Israeli state, including occupation, massacres, and disputes about border territories.
- Hezbollah (Lebanon):
- Hezbollah is the main Islamic political party and military organization in Lebanon, designated a terrorist organization by the United States. Created by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in 1982 in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, it is largely seen as a proxy of Iran. Hezbollah opposes Israel and the West entirely after its founding during the 15-year Lebanese Civil War. Hezbollah has a history of carrying out terrorist attacks, including the 1983 suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed 63 people, the truck bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in 1983, the 1984 U.S. Embassy Annex bombing in Beirut that killed 23 people, and the hijacking of the TWA 847 in 1985. It remains a dominant force in Lebanese politics that is vehemently anti-Israel.
Jordan is a nation directly bordering Israel and the West Bank to the east, known for its relative peace and stability. Jordan has a population of roughly 10 million and is governed by King Abdullah II, who pursues a more tempered foreign policy and tries to help navigate the challenges in the region.
Egypt is a large North African nation that borders Israel and Gaza to its south. Egypt has a population of over 100 million, making it one of the largest nations in the Middle East. While Egypt has offered some aid to Gaza’s residents, it has not opened its borders to allow them to exit the Gaza Strip and has participated in this blockade ever since Hamas claimed political victory.
Syria is a Middle Eastern nation that borders Israel to the north, which has been devastated by conflict and violence since 2011. President Bashar al-Assad has responded to protests with intense crackdowns, and the Syrian Civil War remains an ongoing conflict that has displaced upwards of tens of millions of people. Last year, Syria resumed its ties with Hamas, and since the attacks in Israel, Syria has joined Iran in calling for Arab support for Palestine.
Iran is one of the largest countries in the Middle East, home to over 80 million people. Iran is governed by an Islamic republic system, and thus it has become a major flashpoint in much of the conflict in the Middle East today. Although Iran does not border Israel, it has expressed hostility to the Israel state and the Jewish people and has funded terrorist organizations like Hamas.
What is the conflict about?
The Gaza Strip has been the site of multiple conflicts between Palestinian and Israeli groups. Although Gaza has been home to many peoples throughout history, the current Palestinian occupants are primarily refugees who were displaced from their homes in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
Ever since Hamas gained power in 2007, Israel and Egypt have imposed a strict military blockade on the area, controlling the movement of goods and people in and out of the area. Gaza’s residents face strict restrictions on their ability to travel outside the territory, and they lack access to quality education and healthcare. Israel has also faced criticism for conducting military operations in Gaza, shutting off their water and electricity, and building settlements in the Gaza Strip (which were then moved outside Gaza in 2005).
These are just some of the criticisms raised by Hamas and the international community, but there is also an underlying element of ancient religious conflict at the center of things. The Muslim Palestinians and the Jewish Israelis both hold Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as one of the holiest sites in their religion, and both claim the right to the Holy Land.
What is happening now?
Since Hamas’ attack taking the lives of over 1,400 innocent victims—which took place on the 50th Anniversary of the Yom Kippur War of 1973—Israel has gone on the offensive and issued a formal declaration of war with Hamas. Israel is currently in its second week of aerial bombardment of Gaza, killing about 2,700 Palestinians (according to the Palestinian Health Ministry), and Israel initially cut off food, water, and electricity to the area’s 2 million people. Egypt, Gaza’s southern neighbor, has refused to accept Palestinian refugees, as has Jordan, the West Bank’s neighbor. Egypt has also declared that they do not want Hamas or other militant groups on their soil, which would destabilize their own country. Egypt and Israel also have a peace deal in place since 1979, which would be broken if Hamas were to attack Israel from Egypt.
As the days go on, and some of Israel’s enemies coalesce around Hamas, Israel will likely face further threats from Hamas, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Iran, and others who oppose the Jewish people.