Israel’s attacks on Gaza: A guide

Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, but has conducted five major wars since, killing thousands of Palestinians.

a woman stands on a pile of rubbish next to destroyed buildings
A Palestinian woman inspects the damage, after Israeli forces withdrew from Shujayea neighborhood, following a ground operation, in the eastern part of Gaza City, July 10, 2024 [Dawoud Abu Alkas/Reuters]

Where is Gaza?

Gaza is a coastal strip of land roughly twice the size of Washington, DC.

It runs along the Mediterranean, surrounded on three sides by Israel and one end bordering Egypt’s Sinai.

What’s the population?

About 2.3 million people.

Many are descendants of Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed from their homes by Zionist militias to make way for the creation of Israel in 1948 – the Nakba.

They fled to Gaza, which was under Egypt’s control at the time.

How did Israel capture Gaza?

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 war.

The war led to UN Resolution 242, calling for Israel to withdraw from lands captured by force.

Did Israel ever occupy Gaza?

Yes, Israel has occupied Gaza since 1967.

When the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993, hopes were high that a Palestinian state would be established on land Israel took in 1967.

A Palestinian Authority (PA) was set up to govern Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza until a Palestinian state was realised.

In 2005, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to pull 7,000 Israeli settlers, as well as Israeli troops, out of Gaza.

He cited disengaging Israel from the security risks of trying to hold on to Gaza.

Ariel Sharon
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 [File: Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters]

So once Israel left Gaza, things got better?

According to the UN, Israel reoccupied Gaza by besieging it shortly after Hamas won a 2006 election held by the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas is one of the two main Palestinian parties, the other being Fatah, which had been dominant until then.

International actors – particularly the United States – rejected the results and cut funding. The US also funnelled weapons to Fatah to wrest control away from Hamas in Gaza.

A war erupted and Gaza fell under the administration of Hamas, while Fatah – via the PA – controlled the West Bank.

Israel classified Gaza as a “hostile entity”, and collectively punished civilians there by imposing a land, sea and air blockade.

That severely restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of the enclave, ruptured families and devastated the economy.

Since 2008, multiple UN reports warned that Israel’s siege was generating a humanitarian catastrophe, made worse by Israel routinely attacking Gaza.

Wait, how many times did Israel attack Gaza?

Five Israeli wars have been launched on Gaza since it disengaged from the enclave in 2005, aside from smaller incursions and bombing raids.

Before October 7, Israel said its policy was to “mow the lawn” – attempts to degrade Hamas’s military capabilities by indiscriminately bombing Gaza every few years.

A woman and children in Tuffah Gaza City after Israel forced their evacuation
A woman and children look on while sitting with their belongings on a donkey-drawn cart as they try to return to their home in the Tuffah district east of Gaza City on July 8, 2024 [Omar Al-Qattaa/AFP]

Hamas had few options to respond to Israel other than rocket attacks or small operations – a “violent equilibrium” wrote Tareq Baconi, an analyst and the author of Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance, in the New Yorker.

As the siege became a permanent reality – as did Hamas – Baconi wrote, the attacks also aimed to nudge Israel to ease the blockade from time to time.

One of the first major Israeli wars on Gaza was “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008, which started after Hamas rockets were fired at the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

Fighting lasted 22 days and killed 1,440 Palestinians – mostly civilians – and 13 Israelis.

The disproportionate number of Palestinians to Israelis killed became a pattern.

Six years later, in a campaign Israel labelled “Protective Edge,” some 2,100 Palestinians were killed, compared with 74 Israelis, in seven weeks.

The other three major wars occurred in 2012, 2021, as well as Israel’s current war on Gaza.

Is the current Israeli war on Gaza different?

This war has no end in sight.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused a ceasefire so far, claiming to want the right to maintain a low-intensity war – perhaps forever – in Gaza.

Since Hamas led an attack on southern Israel on October 7, in which 1,139 people were killed and 250 were taken captive, Israel has consistently bombarded Gaza.

Israel claims its objective is to “dismantle Hamas” despite scepticism from experts, allies, and members of Israel’s administration about its feasibility.

In nine months, Israel has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians and uprooted nearly the entire population while reducing Gaza to rubble.

It also tightened its siege, leading to mass starvation and a state of famine recognised by the UN.

Some experts believe Israel is trying to “depopulate” Gaza by making it unfit for human life.

Israel’s violence may also amount to genocide, according to rights groups, UN experts and a case brought to the International Court of Justice by South Africa.

Arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court are expected for some Israeli leaders for overseeing war crimes in Gaza including “extermination”.

Source: Al Jazeera