Israel and Palestine Are at War Again, but What Is the Point?
“The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years.” This statement, made boldly and publicly over a decade ago by then- Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, encapsulates the conflict between Israel and Palestine at any moment in history since the most recent peace treaty between them in 1993. Once again, all-out war has erupted between the two nations, when on October 7th of this year, Hamas fighters infiltrated Israeli towns and massacred 1,400 men, women, and children. Hamas - the de facto warlords that have ruled Gaza since 2007 - have one aim in mind: Remove the Jewish people from Israel or die trying. In 11 years since Yishai prophesied the systematic destruction of Gaza, nothing has changed. So as tanks again roll into the rubble of former neighborhoods and city streets, I ask, “what’s the point?”
Since Hamas came to power in 2007, the two sides have quarreled, as Hamas fires rockets at Israeli cities and Israel in turn tightens its grip around the land in a fashion which the United Nations Special Reporter, Michael Lynk, likened to “apartheid.” This relationship is cyclical, and every attempt to break the wheel of war between these two peoples has been met with deception and tragedy. The Palestinians are split between two separate territories, Gaza to the South, and the West Bank, to the Northeast. Hamas only rules Gaza, and in the West Bank, Fatah, a separate party, rules only about 30% of its land, as the rest of it falls under direct Israeli supervision.
While the living conditions in both territories are poor, Fatah has adopted a much more diplomatic approach to relations with Israel over the decades, and in the month since Hamas’s attack on Israeli civilians, has remained relatively passive in the conflict. Hamas on the other hand, has been armed and funded by various states in the Middle East namely Iran, to the aim of destabilizing the nation as much as possible. Both sides continued to act in poor faith over the following 16 years, ultimately resulting in the war we witness today.
This war is the third chapter of unrest in the last 40 years, the two previous being named Intifadas, or “shaking off” in Arabic. The first was in the 1980’s, in response to Israeli settlers moving into the West Bank for various reasons, mainly of which the political and religious motivations to further entrench Jews into Palestine. It was small in comparison to what was to come, beginning with protests and boycotts that turned violent. West Bank Palestinians mobbed and lynched a few hundred Jews while the Israeli military responded, killing over 1,000 Palestinians with military weapons.
This was around the time that Hamas was founded, believing that the tragedy in the West Bank was due to Palestinian leadership becoming too secular and passive to Israeli occupation. From this time forward, Hamas was labeled a terrorist organization by most of the world, including much of the greater Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza.
During this period, peace treaties like the Camp David Accords and Oslo Accords failed to appease either side through compromise. Assassinations, suicide bombings, and sabotage from hardliners on both sides derailed any chance at compromise, until a second, much larger Intifada began in the year 2000. This revolution lasted five years and claimed the lives of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians, most of which were civilians.
The Second Intifada changed the dynamic between Israelis and Palestinians completely. At this point, the West Bank and Gaza had been separated for two generations and each were governed by separate powers. Palestinians in Gaza had evicted the Israeli occupation, and Hamas took its place, to the detriment of the living conditions there. Israel erected huge concrete walls and checkpoints, furthering the policy of separation and containment of Palestine, all but giving up on a lasting solution. Since the year 1967, domestic and international forces have failed to bring the two sides together, always to the culmination of unrest, reprisal, and death to the innocent civilians stuck in Gaza and the West Bank.
Hamas’s actions on October 7th seem to have assured the return of Gaza to the Middle Ages. It will be the continuation of a long pattern of conflict between the two sides. If I were to trust history, then the thousands of lives lost in this chapter of conflict will be in vain. However, after the decimation of Gaza and destruction of Hamas, Israel will have the opportunity to choose: Continue the pattern or make this war meaningful by assuring it is the last between two disparate sides.