The current situation in Gaza and Israel is not what mainstream media reports portray. Here is the factual context, in brief.
by Kathryn Shihadah
In the latest round of violence that began in May 2023, Israeli forces bombing the Gaza Strip have so far killed 33 Palestinians, many of them civilians, including 6 children, 3 women, and a prominent doctor. Palestinians then killed one Israeli. The names, ages and circumstances are here.
Headlines in mainstream media usually paint a simple picture of the situation: Israel is defending itself against “rockets raining down” on its people from a formidable opponent/terror group in Gaza. For example:
- Palestinian militants fire hundreds of rockets from Gaza toward Israel (CNN)
- Iron Dome intercepts rockets fired from Gaza Strip (NBC)
- Israel kills senior Gaza commanders as rockets cause first death in Israel (Reuters)
These headlines tell us almost nothing about what is really happening – and why.
What is happening?
The conflict is between Israel and Palestinian resistance groups in the Gaza Strip (although most of those Israel has killed and injured are civilians).
Israel is one of the most powerful military states in the world, and uses the most advanced weaponry available. Its attacks on Gaza tend to consist of airstrikes by fighter jets that drop powerful bombs, often in residential areas of the densely populated enclave.
Palestinians in Gaza, on the other hand, do not have a standing army; rather, several armed resistance groups do what they can with smuggled weapons and homemade rockets.
This military mismatch goes a long way in explaining the lopsided casualty figures between the two groups as a result of hostilities. Between September 2000 (beginning of the Second Intifada) and today, Israel has killed – in Gaza alone – close to 8,000 Palestinians. In the same time period, Gaza resistance groups have killed under 250 Israelis.
Since Gaza resistance groups started launching rockets toward Israel in 2001, they have caused about 40 Israeli deaths.
Add to this the fact that Israel is controlling Gaza by land, sea, and air: the Palestinians of Gaza are in their 16th year of a brutal blockade. Gazans are living in what many people call the largest open air prison on earth as Israel controls movement in and out, blocking the entrance of many food, medical, educational, and industrial staples into Gaza, placing severe restrictions on their access to electricity and fresh water, and decimating its economy. Children are periodically prevented from leaving Gaza for crucial medical care.
The stated reason for the blockade: collective punishment (a war crime) for the people of Gaza because, in a free and fair election in 2007, they elected Hamas as their political representative – a group that Israel considers terrorists.
The short answer to the question “What is happening?” is that Israel is destroying Gaza.
Why are Israel and Gaza always fighting?
Since their expulsion, Israel has denied these refugees their internationally guaranteed right of return.
(750,000 indigenous Palestinians – Muslims, Christians, and other groups – were exiled in and around 1948, and the new Jewish state depopulated and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages. Today, millions live in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.)
Another internationally recognized right that the Palestinians of Gaza have is the right to resist their oppressor and occupier (although Israel has been controlling Gaza from outside its borders since 2005, most of the world considers Gaza occupied). Israel denies this right as well, and considers all forms of resistance – even peaceful protest (by far Palestinians’ most used means)– to be a form of “terrorism.”
(It is important to note that the resistance fighters confronting Israel with force are relatively few in number. Most of the people of Gaza are just trying to survive: according to UNRWA, the United Nations agency tasked with caring for Palestinian refugees, 80 per cent of the population of Gaza depend on humanitarian assistance; over 40 percent are severely food insecure – they regularly go a day without food.)
The short answer to the question “Why are Israel and Gaza always fighting?” is that Israel has for many years denied the people of Gaza their most basic rights and needs, and Gazans find this unacceptable.
Why did this latest round of fighting start?
Hostility has been simmering between Israel and all Palestinians (not just Gaza) for a long time, of course, but has grown more intense in recent months. Israel has been conducting near-nightly raids in several West Bank cities where resistance groups are organizing.
These raids and other escalations made 2022 the deadliest year for West Bank Palestinians since the UN started keeping records in 2005. At least 213 Palestinians (49 children) were killed in 2022. 29 Israelis (1 child) were also killed. (In 2022, Israel launched a 3-day attack on Gaza in August, killing at least 49 Palestinians – 17 of them children.)
2023 has been bloody too, with at least 148 Palestinian deaths (27 children) and 18 Israeli deaths (4 children). Israel’s brutality, and Palestinians’ refusal to acquiesce, have kept the region on the edge for many months.
The last straw came on May 1, when Palestinian political prisoner Khader Adnan died after a lengthy hunger strike. Israel had refused his demands, including medical intervention, and then confiscated his body.
The Islamic Jihad resistance group in Gaza launched about 100 rockets toward Israel to protest the “heinous crime,” injuring 3 foreign workers.
Within a few days, on May 3, Israeli fighter jets destroyed a number of targets in Gaza, including residential buildings, killing a 58-year-old civilian living in a refugee camp.
Early in the morning on May 9, Israel warplanes killed another 13 Palestinians as they slept: 3 Islamic Jihad leaders, the wives of 2 of them, 3 of their children, and 5 neighbors.
On May 10, Israel killed 11 more Palestinians, among them several resistance leaders and 3 youths.
May 11 saw 8 more Palestinians killed – and one Israeli, the first to be killed by a Gaza rocket in 2 years.
On May 12 Israel killed 2 more Palestinians.
The airstrikes continue… this is what it’s like:
Egypt has been working to mediate a ceasefire – but Israel has so far resisted, unwilling to agree to terms that would force it to comply with international law.
The short answer to the question, “Why did this latest round of fighting start?” is that Israel’s cruel treatment of Palestinians became unbearable.
It remains to be seen how long this conflict will last, how many innocents will die, and when the international community will wake up to Israel’s brutality.
For a complete list of Palestinians and Israelis killed since 2000, please visit Israel-Palestine Timeline
Kathryn Shihadah is an editor and staff writer for If Americans Knew. She also blogs occasionally at Palestine Home.
FURTHER READING ON THE CURRENT CRISIS IN ISRAEL-PALESTINE:
- What’s standing in the way of an Israel-Gaza ceasefire? Israel wants to keep breaking int’l law
- Israeli war planes vs Palestinian balloons, kites & rockets
- Israeli Missiles Kill Eight Palestinians, Including A Child, In Gaza
- Israel closes Gaza crossings; possible serious deterioration of humanitarian conditions
- Israel attacks Gaza, killing 15 Palestinians, including women and children
FURTHER READING ON THE SITUATION IN GAZA:
- Understanding the Crisis in Gaza: Important Facts and Context
- Israel’s epidemic rate of medical permit denial for Gaza’s children
- After 15 years of blockade, 4 of 5 children in Gaza struggle with depression, grief & fear
- Israel makes childhood in Gaza a living hell
- U.S. pro-Israel policy has perpetuated the crisis and atrocities in Gaza
- In Gaza, grief, destruction and ‘all the anger of the universe’