Why is Israel attacking and bombing Gaza (July 2014)?

Answer by Katie Hoban:

So, I've noticed that a couple of the other answers here allege that the Arab-Israeli conflict is easy to explain because the only reason it exists is that "the Arabs want to kill all the Jews."

What a load of complete and utter drivel.

A Relatively Brief Introduction to the Arab-Israeli Conflict

In order to have even a basic understanding the Jewish-Arab conflict, and the resulting Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have to jump back about 150 years, so bear with me.

The formation of Israel was founded in Zionism, a movement that called for the formation of a homeland for all Jews (i.e. a return to Zion) so that Jews would have a place of their own where they could avoid being persecuted. During the mid-to-late 19th century, Zionists purchased plots of land within Palestine and, after a few failed attempts at creating settlements, succeeded in prompting the First Aliyah ("rising" or "ascension") where Jews began to immigrate to Palestine in larger numbers in 1882. Initially, Zionism was seen as a radical ideology even within the Jewish community, but as anti-semitism grew in Russia and Europe, it became a much more popular notion.

It is really important to understand the system of land ownership in Palestine at this time :

“[The Ottoman Land Code of 1858] required the registration in the name of individual owners of agricultural land, most of which had never previously been registered and which had formerly been treated according to traditional forms of land tenure, in the hill areas of Palestine generally masha’a, or communal usufruct. The new law meant that for the first time a peasant could be deprived not of title to his land, which he had rarely held before, but rather of the right to live on it, cultivate it and pass it on to his heirs, which had formerly been inalienable…Under the provisions of the 1858 law, communal rights of tenure were often ignored…Instead, members of the upper classes, adept at manipulating or circumventing the legal process, registered large areas of land as theirs…The fellahin [peasants] naturally considered the land to be theirs, and often discovered that they had ceased to be the legal owners only when the land was sold to Jewish settlers by an absentee landlord…Not only was the land being purchased; its Arab cultivators were being dispossessed and replaced by foreigners who had overt political objectives in Palestine.” (Rashid Khalidi, “Blaming The Victims,” ed. Said and Hitchens)

That is, while the process of buying this land was technically legal, it was not done by negotiation between the prospective owners and the inhabitants, but rather through negotiation with other entities who had claimed the land as theirs thanks to newly-formed legal loopholes, with the intent of selling it for a profit.

As the number of Jewish settlers increased, Palestinians became increasingly uncomfortable with being evicted from their farms and began to consider Zionist ambitions a threat. They filed complaints with the Ottoman authorities, who consequently banned all land sales to foreigners in 1892.

In 1903, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, establishing the government's support for a Jewish homeland in the Palestinian mandate. By 1914, the Jewish population in Palestine had risen to over 60,000. In 1922, The League of Nations adopted the declaration and gave Britain the Palestinian mandate to use as a Jewish national home. Another 90,000 Jews immigrated to Israel between 1919 and 1926 in reaction to growing anti-semitism.

By this point, there had been several Arab riots in reaction to the growing Jewish population, as many Palestinians were now displaced or landless due to the selling of their land by feudal landlords. These riots included the Jaffa riots, the 1929 Palestine riots, and the 1929 Hebron massacre.
Death toll in 1929: Israelis – 317, Palestinians – 203

Hitler came to power in 1933 and enacted a number of anti-semitic laws shortly thereafter, creating a wave of stateless Jewish refugees who were searching for a new home. However, Britain had recently implemented the White Paper of 1939, which had restricted the immigration of Jews into the Palestinian mandate. The Jews who did try to enter Palestine were intercepted by British authorities and imprisoned/detained. In reaction to the public backlash, Britain handed the situation off to the newly formed United Nations.

# these short paragraphs hardly do justice to the political intricacies
# of each of these conflicts, but this answer is already going to be
# hella long anyways, so please forgive my brevity.

1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine

Meanwhile, between 1933 and 1936, more than 164,000 Jewish immigrants had come to Palestine, bringing the total Jewish population up to 370,000 people, or 27% of the total population. By 1936, the Palestinian farmers who had been displaced by Jewish immigrants, now jobless and landless, had begun to join militant organizations. Palestinian national sentiments had also increased sharply in reaction to the Jewish nationalists now residing on their land. The militant groups comprised mostly of these displaced farmers attempted various levels of revolt over the next two years, but they ultimately failed.

Death toll in 1939: Jews/Israelis – 732, Arabs/Palestinians – 5,203

In 1947, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine was formed to address the question of a Jewish homeland in the Palestinian mandate. On November 29th, 1947, the committee recommended the adoption of the partition plan that would divide the Palestinian mandate 55/45 in favor of the Israelis.

1948 Palestine war

The Arab states rejected the UN proposal, instead calling for the removal of Jewish settlers from the region. Fighting began directly after the proposal was approved. This war included the Deir Yassin massacre, in which Zionist paramilitary forces attacked an Arab village, killing between 100 and 250 civilian men, women, and children. After the war, Israel had expanded well beyond its assigned borders, now claiming 78% of the Palestinian mandate. Jordan occupied and annexed the West Bank and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip.

On May 14th, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel an established state.

Around 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their land, many forced to leave the country altogether. Most of them, or their descendants, are still living in refugee camps today. Around 856,000 Jews were displaced from the surrounding Arab countries during this time, as well. 260,000 of them had reached Israel by 1951, and 600,000 had done so by 1972.
Death toll in 1948: Jews/Israelis – 7,105, Arabs/Palestinians – 15,203

In 1959, Fatah was founded by refugees in Gaza. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded at the Arab League Summit, and Fatah joined, becoming the PLO's largest member group.
Six-Day War

In 1967, Israel decided that "the best defense is a good offense" and launched surprise attacks on Egyptian air-fields (in response to the mobilization of Egyptian troops due to faulty intelligence reports given to Egypt by Russia). God, politics are messy. The resulting war was fought between Israel, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan from the 5th through the 10th of June. At the end of the war, Israel had seized Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula.

Shortly after the war ended, Israel decided that it would return the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Egypt and Syria, respectively.

Death toll in 1967: Jews/Israelis – 8,112, Arabs/Palestinians – 36,503

War of Attrition

Egypt wasn't as keen on the land-for-peace deal as Israel was (at least in the beginning). Hostilities between Egypt and Israel resumed in mid-July. Golda Meir, Israel's Prime Minister, decided that the proper way to go about any sort of conflict was through an "asymmetrical response", a policy that Israel seems to stand by to this day.  Hostilities continued until 1970, when a ceasefire was agreed upon.

Death toll in 1970: Jews/Israelis – 9,536, Arabs/Palestinians – 41,503

Yom Kippur War

In 1973, Egypt and Syria led a joint offensive against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, effectively taking the entire state by surprise. Syria worked to regain the Golan Heights while Egypt attempted to take back the Sinai Peninsula. After two days of the Arab states making steady gains, the Israeli military had organized itself enough to push back – they quickly pursued the Syrians back to pre-war lines, and then some. On the Sinai side, however, it took a week of heavy fighting to repel the Egyptians, and both sides sustained heavy casualties. Two ceasefires were attempted, the second of which, on October 25th, was successful.

Death toll in 1973: Jews/Israelis – 12,224, Arabs/Palestinians – 60,503

1982 Lebanon War

Remember those 700,000 displaced Palestinians? Well, there are about 6.5 million of them today, around 455,000 of which currently live in Lebanon. I'm sure those numbers were slightly smaller in 1982. (I'm having some difficulty finding exact refugee statistics for 1982, but would be overjoyed if someone could point me to them!). Anyways, the large refugee population close to the border gave the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) a decent place to operate out of.

Israel, however, was less than thrilled with the situation, particularly the political ties that had developed between the PLO and the Lebanese government. They intended instead to oust the PLO and form a peace treaty with Lebanon. To do so, Israel invaded southern Lebanon, occupied Beirut, and bombarded the PLO forces until they fled. At this time, the Israelis also facilitated that Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which Israeli guards and tanks monitored checkpoints around a camp while Phalangists killed 700 – 3,500 unarmed Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites over a 14-hour period.

However, due to a combination of factors, Israel's intent to make peace with Lebanon fell through. Israel overstayed their welcome in Lebanon, not fully withdrawing troops until 1985; Hezbollah formed as a result.

Death toll in 1982: Jews/Israelis – 13,440, Arabs/Palestinians – 81,328

First Intifada

The First Intifada was an unarmed, grassroots uprising that began in 1987, "as a protest against Israeli repression including extrajudicial killings, mass detentions, house demolitions, forced migrations, relocations and deportations". The protest was set off by an Israeli tank running into a row of cars containing Palestinian workers that were held up at a checkpoint. Four people died and seven more were injured – over 10,000 people attended their funerals, and demonstrations began shortly thereafter. There was widespread throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli military tanks and trucks, but no coordinated or weaponized action.

Rabin, the Prime Minister, opted for the route of "might, power, and beatings" in reaction to the Intifada, through which 1,100+ Palestinians were killed, 241 of which were children. The First Intifada died out around 1993.

Death toll in 1993: Jews/Israelis – 13,640, Arabs/Palestinians – 82,490

As the First Intifada was coming to a close, Rabin and the PLO had begun to engage in secret peace negotiations: the Oslo Accords. In these agreements, the PLO officially recognized Israel's right to exist and publicly denounced terrorism. Israel and Palestine began to work towards a two-state solution. On September 28th, 1995, Rabin and Arafat signed the Oslo II Accord. However, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish radical shortly thereafter, which interrupted peace negotiations rather severely. There were attempts to reinvigorate progress towards peace for the next several years, but after the failed 2000 Camp David Summit and the subsequent rise in violence, negotiations were left by the wayside.
Second Intifada

The Second Intifada began at the same time the Camp David negotiations were breaking down in 2000. They were triggered, in particular, by Ariel Sharon visiting the Temple Mount, which was perceived as a provocative action by the Palestinians. This Intifada was much more violent than the last, resulting in around 5,000 Palestinian deaths and 1,100 Israeli ones.

Death toll in 2005: Jews/Israelis – 14,740, Arabs/Palestinians – 87,397

2006 Lebanon War

I think The Onion sums up this war rather nicely: Israel Bombs Anti-Semitism Out Of Lebanon. All jokes aside, Israel decided to bomb the organization whose formation it had precipitated in the 1982 Lebanon War, and wound up killing about 1,300 Lebanese civilians. Israel still has troops stationed in Lebanon. 

Death toll in 2006: Jews/Israelis – 14,904, Arabs/Palestinians – 89,351

Gaza War

The Gaza War was a three-week military operation from 2008-2009 where Israeli forces first bombarded and then infiltrated Gaza with the intent of decreasing the number of rocket attacks from the region. 14 Israelis were killed (4 from friendly fire), as well as 1,166 – 1,417 Palestinians.

Death toll in 2009: Jews/Israelis – 14,918, Arabs/Palestinians – 90,785

Operation Protective Edge (Summer 2014)

Israel and Gaza are launching rockets at each other because 3 Israeli teenagers were murdered, and Israel blamed Hamas. Israeli authorities have offered no evidence of Hamas involvement, and Hamas denies any knowledge of the incident. Israeli police subsequently killed 10 Palestinians in clashes as they went around re-arresting the people they had released in the latest prisoner exchange. After the funerals of the 3 Israeli teens, Jewish extremists kidnapped and murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir in retaliation.

That's just the trigger-event, though – in the long run, Israel likely decided to execute this operation to target Hamas activity in the Gaza strip.

At least 187 Palestinians have been killed so far, 77% of whom are civilians, according to the UN.

So, the Arab-Israeli conflict only exists because the Arabs want to kill all the Jews, huh?

Total death toll in from 1860 to 2014: Jews/Israelis – 24,845, Arabs/Palestinians – 90,972

Geez, from these numbers, you would think the opposite was true.

So, here's a quick visualization of what this land loss has looked like for the Palestinians since 1947:

If that's not some crazy rapid expansion, I don't know what is.
I know I provided death tolls from before Israel's official establishment until now, but let's take a look at some of the more recent statistics, most of which are taken from B'Tselem, an Israeli organization that focuses on human rights in the occupied territories: 

For more information on the breakdown of rates and causes of death for these children, please see Katie Hoban's answer to Why does it seem that children are always the victims in conflicts between Israel and Hamas?
I think the one of the most enlightening comparisons in these deaths is that three times as many Palestinian children have been run down by Israeli vehicles as Israeli children have been killed in Palestinian rocket attacks.

Israel is wreaking havoc on Palestine, and on top of the deaths and injuries, Palestine is suffering other consequences too:

Who's providing the cash for all of this? We are. Or, America is, at least – we provide Israel with $8.5 million a day in military aid.

TL;DR – An Even Briefer Introduction to the Arab-Israeli Conflict

When people don't know much about the Arab-Israeli conflict, I see a lot of sympathy directed at both sides, à la "Oh my god, it's so terrible that people do these things to each other. Why can't we all just be friends?" and they're right: it is terrible that this conflict has been going on for such a long time, and it is terrible that it is continuing today. However, we need to take a step back from the "everything is terrible" standpoint and think about this conflict a little more critically. 

When we look at Israel today, we are looking at a nation formed from refugees, who is now creating refugees instead. I believe that Israel has a right to exist (within '67 borders) – I just don't think Israel has the right to crush Palestine into the dust because they're so enamored with the concept of asymmetrical warfare. The whole "I'll shoot twelve of your children for every one of mine" (the ratio of Palestinian:Israeli children killed) just isn't a philosophy I can get behind. I hope you feel the same.

So, to sum things up, The Israeli-Arab conflict is a long, complicated hodgepodge of land struggles, assassinations, nationalism, signed treaties, broken treaties, rocket launchers, and a whole number of other things, and I hope my little spiel helped you gain a better understanding of Israeli history and international relations in the Middle East as a whole.


I noted early in the answer that covering all of Israel's major political conflicts in the last century was going to be a time-consuming process, and that my summaries therefore left out many of the political intricacies concerning these events. I would like to repeat that point here, and also mention that if anyone has further political context or events they would like to add to this timeline, please let me know. I would be happy to add them.

Under Construction: The history of Hamas, politics in Palestine since the 1960's, and Israeli vs Palestinian warfare tactics.

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