What is Hamas and why is it fighting with Israel in Gaza?

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The Ongoing Conflict Between Israel and Hamas: Understanding the Roots and Consequences

Since early October, Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas have been engaged in a violent conflict that has had devastating consequences for the people of Gaza. This clash began when Hamas militants launched a deadly attack on Israel, prompting a massive military response from the Israeli government.

The Hamas Attacks on Israel

On the morning of October 7th, waves of Hamas gunmen stormed across the border from Gaza into Israel, killing around 1,200 people in what was the deadliest attack on Israel in its history. Hamas also fired thousands of rockets into Israeli territory during this assault.

The victims included children, the elderly, and 364 young people attending a music festival. Hamas also abducted more than 250 civilians, including those with disabilities and medical conditions, and held them hostage in Gaza.

Disturbingly, there have also been reports of rape and sexual violence committed by the Hamas militants during these attacks.

Who is Hamas and Why are They Fighting Israel?

Hamas, whose name stands for the Islamic Resistance Movement, became the sole governing authority in the Gaza Strip after violently ousting its political rivals in 2007. The group has an armed wing and was believed to have around 30,000 fighters before the current conflict began.

Hamas’ primary goal is to create an Islamic state in place of Israel, and the group rejects Israel’s right to exist. They have justified their attacks as a response to what they claim are Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, including security raids on the al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem and the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Hamas also wants thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails to be released, and for the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt to be lifted. Both Israel and Egypt maintain the blockade for security reasons.

Israel’s Military Campaign in Gaza

In response to the Hamas attacks, the Israeli government launched a massive air strike campaign targeting sites in Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel’s goals were to destroy Hamas and secure the return of the hostages.

Three weeks later, Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza, also bombarding the territory from the sea. The initial focus was on northern Gaza, particularly the city of Gaza and the network of tunnels beneath it, which Israel claimed were the center of Hamas’ military operations.

The Israeli military ordered the evacuation of the 1.1 million people living in northern Gaza, citing concerns for their safety. After a temporary truce in late November, the Israeli forces extended their ground operations to southern Gaza, reaching the heart of the city of Khan Younis and pushing into refugee camps in central Gaza.

The conflict has been devastating for the people of Gaza. According to the Hamas-run health ministry, more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, and tens of thousands more injured, with the majority being women and children. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has claimed that 13,000 Palestinian fighters have been killed, while the Israeli military says it has killed around 9,000 Hamas fighters, in addition to more than 1,000 the attackers from the October 7th assault.

The fighting has also resulted in extensive damage to homes and other buildings across the Gaza Strip.

The Hostage Crisis and Humanitarian Situation

Hamas abducted more than 250 civilians, including the elderly, those with disabilities, and even a 9-month-old baby, during the October 7th attacks. These hostages were hidden in tunnels and the homes of Hamas fighters.

During a November truce, 105 hostages (81 Israelis and dual nationals, and 24 foreigners) were released in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Four other hostages had previously been freed by Hamas, and three were rescued by the Israeli military.

Tragically, three hostages were accidentally killed by Israeli troops who mistook them for Hamas fighters.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire, with severe shortages of food, fuel, medicine, and other essential supplies. The UN and aid agencies have warned that the territory is facing a man-made famine, with a number of children having already starved to death in northern Gaza.

Both humanitarian agencies and Israel have blamed each other for the lack of aid reaching the people of Gaza. The agencies claim that Israeli security checks on aid shipments are complex and arbitrary, causing major delays, while Israel denies impeding the delivery of aid and says the agencies are failing to distribute what is allowed in.

The Gaza health system has collapsed, with medical facilities overwhelmed by the large number of injured and struggling with shortages of staff, supplies, food, fuel, and water. Hospitals have been repeatedly attacked by the Israeli military, which claims it is targeting Hamas gunmen using the facilities as cover.

The Prospects for a Ceasefire

Efforts to reach a second ceasefire have stalled. Hamas is demanding an end to the war, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, the return of displaced people to their homes, and an influx of aid. Israel, on the other hand, says it cannot allow Hamas to remain in control of Gaza and wants the release of hostages in exchange for a temporary pause in fighting.

Israel has also stated its intention to invade the southern town of Rafah, where around 1.5 million Palestinians have fled to escape the fighting elsewhere. However, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, has warned that it would not support such an invasion without clear plans for the safety of civilians.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Two-State Solution

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are known as the Palestinian territories, which along with East Jerusalem and Israel, were part of the historical land of Palestine. In 1948, part of Palestine became the state of Israel, which was recognized by the United Nations the following year.

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza are recognized as the Palestinian territories by many countries and international bodies, although they do not have full UN member status. The two areas are governed by rival Palestinian administrations, with the West Bank under the limited self-rule of the Palestinian Authority and Gaza controlled by the Hamas government.

One of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the future of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. An internationally backed plan for peace, known as the “two-state solution,” would involve the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, existing alongside the state of Israel.

However, since 1967, Israel has built around 140 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, housing some 700,000 Jewish Israelis. These settlements are considered illegal by most of the world, though Israel disputes this. The Palestinian Authority insists that all settlements must be removed as part of any future peace deal.

The idea of a two-state solution has never been officially advocated by the Israeli government, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly stated his opposition to it, insisting that Israel must retain full security control over the West Bank and Gaza.

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