The History of the Israel-Hamas War Thus Far

Foreign Policy Brief #101 | By: Ibrahim Castro | November 30, 2023

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Start of the Current War

On October 7 2023, Hamas militants carried out an attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,200 civilian Israeli’s and over 200 hostages taken into the Gaza strip, most of whom have yet to be released. Following the attacks, Israel responded by launching “Operation Swords of Iron,” with the stated goal of eliminating Hamas. It imposed a complete siege on Gaza, blocking food, water and fuel from entering, and launched a ground offensive that saw its troops enter deep into the besieged territory. Amid the bombardment, Gaza residents were directed by Israel to evacuate their homes in the north and move southwards towards the strip’s border with Egypt. Israel’s war on the strip has resulted in the deaths of over 13,000  Palestinian civilians, with thousands more missing and believed to be buried under rubble, and in hospitals which continue to report deaths from wounds, disease, starvation, and thirst creating a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

Background on What Has Happened In Gaza

The Gaza Strip is the smaller of the two internationally recognized Palestinian territories that is situated on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Gaza is 25 miles long and 5 miles wide, it is bordered by Israel to the east and north and Egypt in the southwest. Israel occupied Gaza from 1967 to 2005, when it then withdrew its troops and settlers from within the strip. Though it has continued to exert complete control over the territory’s sea, airspace and land crossings, effectively confining Gaza’s two million residents within a fence that surrounds the limits of the strip. Israel acknowledges the blockade and walling off of the Gaza strip and its residents and claims that it is necessary for security purposes. The vast majority of Gaza’s residents are descendants of refugees whose ancestors either fled or were forced out of their homes decades ago in what is now Israel proper in an event referred to by Palestinians as the Nakba. Roughly half of Gaza’s population is children, the besieged territory is also one of the most densely populated places on earth with about 42,000 people per square mile. Israel has agreed to four hour pauses in bombing daily and a trickle of humanitarian aid that the UN has said is only a drop in the ocean compared to what’s actually needed.

The United Nations has referred to Israel’s actions to besiege and attack the Gaza strip indiscriminately as a form of collective punishment and illegal under international humanitarian law. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that more than 1.7 million people in Gaza are now internally displaced and without homes to return to. More than half a million people are currently seeking refuge in facilities run by the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Many, if not most, will be unable to return home because of the vast damage in the north and the continued presence of Israeli troops there.The UN and most major international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights watch have said that Israel’s forcible displacement of people from their homes amounts to war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The Hostage Exchange Deal

Last Tuesday, after 46 days of Israel’s offensive, a deal brokered by Qatar set in place a four day pause in fighting and secured the release of 50 Israeli hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Those released by both sides are intended to be women and children. In 2014, when Israel last launched a major land invasion in Gaza, it took 49 days for both sides to implement a ceasefire deal, but that brought major fighting to an end for several years.

As we go to press, after 3 days the terms of the hostage exchange arrangement appear to be holding. Hamas has so far released 60 hostages including Israeli women and children, Thai nationals and one Filipino hostage. Israel in turn  has released 180 Palestinian prisoners, mainly women and children and youth under the age of 18. In addition the number of humanitarian assistance trucks allowed into Gaza has been increased to 100 daily, though that amount is still far below the amount of aid that is needed.

Recently the 4 day pause has been extended by three days; but no one is sure what will happen after the end of the  pause on Thursday. Israel has intimated it is willing to allow the pause to continue on a day to day basis as long as Hamas releases more hostages each day. Hamas may go along with this as it has been badly hurt by Israeli bombing and needs more time to regroup. But who knows?

International Responses to the War

Much of the world condemned the attacks by Hamas on October 7, 2023. In the wake of the attacks the US and many Western countries have expressed unequivocal support for Israel. Leaders of major Western powers, the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, have all since visited Israel and pledged military support. The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a plan to provide $14.3 billion in military funding to Israel and President Biden has asked Congress to approve a broader $106 billion spending package for military funding to Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine though the wider spending bill has yet to be approved. Additionally, President Biden said previously that there was “no possibility” of a permanent ceasefire and the European Union has also refrained from calling for an end to hostilities and up until the current ceasefire, suspended all humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories.

Conversely, much of the global south has been far more critical of Israel’s response to the attacks, and demonstrates the ever growing division in the international community. Though many countries around the world expressed sympathy for Israel after the attacks on October 7th, Israel has since also received international condemnation for its bombardment of Gaza and the resulting enormously high civilian death toll. A growing number of countries have severed ties or recalled their representatives from Israel. Bolivia and South Africa have severed diplomatic ties with Israel, while Bahrain, Belize, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Jordan and Turkey have all recalled their ambassadors from the country and emphasized the need for a cease-fire and urged the Israeli government to follow international law.

Additionally, diplomats from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have strongly condemned Israel, calling for an immediate end to hostilities. Brazilian President Lula da Silva has called for Hamas to release all of the Israeli hostages and has said that Israel in its response is committing a genocide in Gaza.The UN secretary General Antonio Gutteres told reporters on Monday that Gaza has become a “graveyard for children”, with more than 4,100 killed since Israel’s bombardment of Gaza began. The Secretary General also detailed that more journalists and United Nations aid workers have been killed over a four-week period than in any conflict in at least three decades, “more United Nations aid workers have been killed than in any comparable period in the history of our organization” he said.

Fall Out of the War

The Israeli parliament recently passed an amendment to the country’s counterterrorism law that introduces the consumption of terrorist materials online as a criminal offense. The standard for what constitutes terrorist material is vague and dozens of arrests have already been made of Israeli Arab citizens. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has slammed the law as “one of the most intrusive and draconian legislative measures ever passed by the Knesset since it makes thoughts subject to criminal punishment”.

Islamophobia and antisemitism are seeing sharp increases across the US after the outset of the war between Israel and Hamas last month. According to a new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), the Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization received what they called an unprecedented spike in requests for help, revealing that the recent increase in Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment across the US mark a 216% increase over the previous year. The Anti-Defamation League reported a nearly 400% increase in antisemitic incidents reported this year over last year. Meanwhile republican presidential candidates such as Ron DeSantis have added to the growing xenophobia with comments such as that the United States should not take in any Palestinian refugees if they flee the Gaza Strip because they “are all antisemitic”, and actions like the republican led House vote onTuesday to censure Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who is the only Palestinian American in Congress over criticism of Israel. The Biden administration has warned schools and colleges that they must take immediate action to stop antisemitism and Islamophobia on their campuses, citing an alarming rise in threats and harassment.

This war and its ramifications is a developing story and will continue to be reported on.

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