This current war between Hamas and Israel (and potentially Hezbollah) has a lot of people wondering – what led up to the current hostilities, especially to this extent? As of October 18th, 2023, the UN reports that 4,300 people have been killed and approximately 16,700 have been injured in the nearly two weeks that have elapsed since Hamas attacked Israel. While this number already exhibits immense loss, when comparing it to records dating back from 2008, the number of casualties becomes even more devastating. OCHA reports that there have been 6,715 casualties total “in the context of the occupation and conflict” prior to this war. That means that this conflict makes up 64% of the total previous death toll and 39% of overall deaths from Israeli/Gaza conflicts in the last 15 years. In order to understand how this immense escalation has occurred, let’s look back through history to fully understand the relationship between the two regions.
History of the Gaza Strip
According to the Library of Congress’s webpage, Gaza has been inhabited since at least the 15th century B.C., with various civilizations and people groups living within it. The area became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century A.D., and then during World War I, it became part of the British mandate of Palestine. After Israel won the war declaring its statehood in 1948, Gaza fell under Egypt’s administration and later became part of Israel after the Six-Day war in 1967. Following the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority gained control over much of the Gaza Strip. On August 15th, 2005, Israel began disengaging from Gaza. According to the Embassy of Israel’s website, it states that, “The purpose of the plan was to improve Israel’s security and international status in the absence of peace negotiations with the Palestinians.” Within a period of five weeks, over 9,000 Israelis and four Jewish settlements were displaced due to this decision.
With the context of political/modern Gazan history, we must also refer to ancient Gazan history in order to see if this dynamic between the two regions is new or if these two lands have experienced hostility towards each other since biblical times. It’s important to note that Gaza in the Bible is a city in the region of Philistia and not the entire Gaza Strip, but it is situated within the modern Gaza Strip. We see through Scriptural references that Gaza has never engaged in morally upstanding actions, especially when it comes to their relationship with Israel. In Joshua 13:3 we see that, in Joshua’s old age, it was still a land that was awaiting conquest by the children of Israel. In Joshua 15:47, when referring to the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, the Scripture reads, “Ashdod with its towns and villages, Gaza with its towns and villages, as far as the brook of Egypt and the Great Sea and its coastline.” We see in Judges 1:18 that Judah did gain control over Gaza, but it doesn’t appear that they maintained rulership over it for an extended period of time since Gaza, yet again, becomes the central location of a devastating Philistine story in Judges 16 when it recounts the story of Samson and Delilah.
History of Israel
Israel’s history begins in the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 12, God tells Abram to depart from his homeland and go to the land He will show him. As Abram journeys through Shechem (modern-day Nablus), the LORD appears to Abram in verse 7 and tells him, “TO YOUR DESCENDANTS I WILL GIVE THIS LAND.”
The road to gaining and maintaining the Land has been a fight and struggle for the Jewish people since those early days. A few of those struggles involved: the time of slavery in Egypt, wandering the desert with Moses, conquering portions of the land during the times of Joshua, Caleb, King David, and numerous others. Strife and struggles continued when the people of Israel split into two and became Judah and Israel, then some time after this the exile that occurred after the destruction of the first temple took place, and lastly, but potentially one of the hardest blows to the Jewish people, the nearly 2,000 year exile after the destruction of the second Temple. However, these persevering people never forgot their origins nor their land. The people returned and re-established their roots when the first wave of Aliyah (Jewish immigration) occurred in the period of time between 1882 and 1903. Later, after the Holocaust claimed the lives of 6 million Jews, Jews within Israel fought for their right to live in their biblically allotted homeland, and after much hardship, loss, and overcoming, on May 14, 1948, the nation of Israel declared its independence.
Since then, the surrounding nations have warred against this small sliver of land originally allotted to the children of Israel. In 1967, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan joined forces against Israel in a battle where the odds were staggeringly against this newly established country; however, by extreme bravery and skill, Israel not only survived this war, but won and regained more of the land that is rightfully theirs. This included the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, Judea, and Samaria. With the introduction of the Oslo Accords, the Gaza Strip, Judea, and Samaria were no longer entirely considered Israel’s land and on September 22, 2005, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza was completed.
Recurring Conflicts With Gaza Since Israel’s Disengagement
After the short-lived Fatah/Hamas unity governments in 2006 and 2007 failed, Israel, understandably, declared the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority a “hostile entity” in September of 2007, and in that same year Hamas established full control over the Gaza Strip, while Mahmoud Abbas took control over portions of Judea and Samaria, also (incorrectly) referred to as the West Bank.
Just two days after Israel had completed its disengagement from the Gaza Strip, on September 24th, 2005, Palestinian terrorists within Gaza fired 30 rockets toward Israel. The 3,107 rockets and mortars fired toward Israel in 2008 sparked the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead that took place from December 27th-31st, 2008. In November of 2012, Operation Pillar of Defense took place and during this period of time, over 1,500 rockets were launched by Gaza terrorists at Israel.
July 8th, 2014 began Operation Protective Edge in which 32 terror tunnels were destroyed by the IDF and over 4,500 rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel. Later, in response to a barrage of 174 rockets and mortars that were fired toward Israel on July 14th, 2018, Israel carried out airstrikes on 40+ Hamas military installations.
One example of Hamas’ blatant disregard for life is this: in May of 2023, when Operation Shield and Arrow took place, one out of every five rockets Hamas fired with the intention of endangering Israeli citizens misfired and, instead, endangered the citizens of Gaza. Every time Hamas attacks Israel from the Gaza Strip, a large percentage of the rockets land on their own civilian population, taking many innocent lives.
Since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, thousands upon thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza with the malicious intention of murdering innocent Israeli citizens. Multiple conflicts have taken place, multiple retaliations, multiple ceasefires, many of them broken by Hamas, and far too many deaths have occurred in the last 18 years.
As the latest conflict shows chilling signs of a repetition of history, one can’t help but wonder that if a ceasefire is the decided resolution to this war yet again, how long will it be before Hamas begins to barrage Israel with more rockets that will inevitably take more innocent lives? As this war progresses, after looking through the extensive history with Gaza, the solution to this conflict may appear only to be the complete dissolution of the hateful, murderous, terrorist group Hamas.