A simple guide to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza

Note: The figures in this article are as of the time of writing in January 4th 2009. As of January 12th more than 900 Palestinians had been killed and more than 4000 injured. At least 250 of the Palestinians killed were children.


The current ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza has resulted in the death of more than 400 people and the injury of more than 2000 people in just one week. It has also directly affected the lives of more than 1.4 million people.

Unfortunately, many of the Western media outlets have not paid attention to this situation, or blindly stated Israel’s view without regard for the humanitarian crisis and the rising death toll. My advice to people in the west (and specially the United States) is to diversify their news input. Use automatic aggregators like Google News to read their news. Read/Watch international news sources like BBC News and AlJazeera English.

The following is a simple guide to this conflict.

  • What is Gaza ? The term Gaza refers to either the Gaza Strip or Gaza City.
  • Gaza Strip: The Gaza strip is a small strip of land along the Mediterranean between Israel and Egypt. The total area of the Gaza Strip is 360 sq. kilometer (139 sq. mile) which is roughly twice the size of Washington D.C.
  • Gaza City: Gaza City is the largest city in the Gaza.
  • Population: The Gaza Strip is inhabited by 1.48 million people. The small area means the population is highly dense. Almost half of the population of the Gaza Strip are children under the age of 14.

Here are a couple of maps to put things in context:

Map of Israel/Palestine Map of Gaza Strip

  • Occupation: Prior to 1948, The Gaza Strip was part of the British Mandate of Palestine. After the 1948 war which led to the creation of the state of Israel, the Gaza Strip was under the governance of Egypt. In 1967 Israel seized control over the strip until its withdrawal in 2005.
  • Settlement: Israel maintained settlements in Gaza Strip from 1967 to 2005. In 2005 Israel withdrew from its settlements in the Gaza Strip. The current population (1.48 million) are all Palestinians.
  • Government: As of June 2007, Hamas took control of Gaza following a battle with Fatah (both of which are Palestinian parties). Since then, Gaza has been under the authority of Hamas. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and its president Mahmoud Abbas currently have no jurisdiction there.
  • Why are they fighting with Israel? Although Israel withdrew its physical presence from the strip in 2005, the Palestinians did not gain sovereignty over Gaza.  Israel continued to control the Gazan sea front, the air space above Gaza, the roads into Gaza, and even the fuel and electrical supplies of Gaza. Israel sealed off the Mediterranean from Gaza and prohibited the entrance of supplies to it by sea or air. The only remaining exit was via the border with Egypt through Sinai. But this border has been mostly closed because of Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Israel.
    Food, water, medicine, fuel, and electricity were all controlled by Israel and coming from Israel to Gaza.
  • The Blockade: After Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel severely limited the entrance of supplies to the strip. Approximately 84% of the population are living off of U.N. humanitarian supplies. Hospitals are suffering severe shortage of medication and equipment. Water is available only for a few hours every few days.
  • The Rocket Attacks: Palestinian fighters from Hamas and other factions fired makeshift, steel rockets called Qassam Rockets onto close southern Israeli towns, mainly Sderot. Although limited in casualties and destruction, the Qassam rockets caused terror and insecurity among the Israeli residents of the targeted towns. Israel also launched missile attacks against Gaza from sea and air.
  • The Cease-Fire: In June of 2008, Israel and Hamas entered a 6-month cease-fire to stop the attacks from both sides. As part of the truce, Israel agreed to lift the blockade on Gaza and allow food and medical supplies to enter Gaza.
  • Outcomes of the Cease-Fire: In October the cease-fire started to break apart. Israeli attacks on Gaza resumed and the blockade had not been lifted. Supplies in Gaza remained scarce and limited. Hamas and other factions also violated the cease-fire by launching rocket attacks on Israel.
  • Current Conflict: After the cease-fire ended, violence escalated again. Rocket attacks resulted in the death of one Israeli civilian, and Israel stepped up its attacks. On December 27th 2008, Israel launched a wide-scale offensive on the Gaza Strip and completely sealed off all of its borders. A week of aerial bombing from Israel has resulted in wide spread destruction and the death of more than 460 Gazans (more than a 100 of which are civilian women and children by U.N. estimates). The death toll among Israelis during that week was 4, 3 of which were civilians.
  • Humanitarian Crisis: The vast majority of Gaza residents are unarmed civilians. Gaza has no advanced military installations. So the majority of Israeli bombs fell on individuals and in residential areas. Some of the buildings targeted by Israel were police stations, ministries, mosques, and houses. There are more than 2000 wounded people in Gaza with no medical aid. Many Gazans have found their homes destroyed and with nowhere to go.

A Palestinian Perspective: Certainly all Palestinians would like the violence to stop. Also not all Palestinians or all Gazans support the rocket attacks. As I mentioned before, the vast majority of the population of Gaza are civilians. At the same time Israel has followed a path of mass punishment. Israel claims that its attacks are made to stop Hamas from firing rockets at Israel and to achieve peace. However, the killing of more than 400 Palestinians in Gaza in just one week will not sway them towards peace. A continuous blockade will not send a powerful message of peace. Violence only yields more violence.

I, as well as many other Palestinians, do not condone the rocket attacks or the death of any civilian. However, Israel’s response has been terrible and disproportionate. This cycle of violence must end.

What is perhaps more shocking in this whole situation is that the world stood still and watched as Gazans were bombed and slaughtered. No country rushed to ask for a cease-fire. No country rushed to help the escalating humanitarian crisis. The world stood in idle as 460 people were killed and 2000+ people were injured in 7 days. The hospitals can not cope with the injured and have to make choices on who to treat. Fuel is running out, so ambulances can not make all the needed trips. The situation is getting worse and worse every day.

Here is a small button you can use to encourage people to learn more about what is going on in Gaza. It can also be optionally linked to this article if you would like to spread the word.


Leave a comment ?

20 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the detailed information on Gazas history, It gave me a better picture indeed.

  2. I am sad because this war hat is not going to finish in peace. I think there are factions that don’t want the war to stop. Everybody suffer with this conflict. I can see no end to this conflict in the near future or in the long run. The young and the old are the ones who bear the impact of the no end of this conflict.

    There are no will to end the war, because the hurt is so deep and affect every family member from both-sides.
    I say this because there are many suicide bombers willing to dye for the cause.
    I see this conflict with a never ending solution, but is my wish for the goodwill to prevail and end this conflict as soon as possible.
    I am for peace not war.

    Stop the war and achieve peace as a way to show the world it is possible to live together even with different ideologies.

    The United Nations should give the example how to work together to find a long last resolution for this and others conflicts in the world.

    Give Peace a Chance, and everybody will be better off and in harmony.

  3. Thanks za3tar, you explained the thing in terms anyone can understand

  4. America continues to fail demonstrating truth.
    Americans continue to be ignorant. clueeeeless.
    This is perfect za3tar! Bless Bless 🙂

  5. I follow closely the gaza coverage of different networks. Besides the choices performed by each of the channels on the main focus, I saw the interview live of Reda Mansour, on CNN.com. Things are moving… i hope… The medias – even the western channels – are becoming more conscious of the risk they are taking focusing on Hamas and not covering enough the humanitary crisis which is by the way not recognised by Mr. Reda Mansour. I recommend to look for the interview on the web, the journalists just lost his control in regards of interdiction of journalists in Gaza !!! No response from Mr. Reda Mansour but to admit that it will play against invaders.

    As usual, Israel will loose the media war, a field on which they used to excel.

    I agree with the Prime Minister zipi livni said ” The equation in the middle east have changed” the question is on which direction !

  6. 1. Israel, including the Gaza Strip, is located in the Middle East (maps provided below). She is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Lebanon to the North West, Syria to the North East, Jordan to the East, and Egypt to the South West. The Gaza Strip is located in the South West corner of Israel bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Israel to the North and East, and Egypt to the South.

    2. Modern Day Israel was established in 1948 in accordance with international law.

    3. Gaza, which is part of Biblical Israel, was acquired by Modern Day Israel in the defensive 6 Day War, which occurred in 1967. Israel successfully, albeit with casualties, fought off Syria, Egypt, and Jordan whom were all trying to wipe Israel off the face of the map.

    4. Under the order of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (whom has been in a coma since January 04, 2006) Israel withdrew entirely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. The most expressed rational defending this move was that the territorial concession of Gaza to the Arabs would lead to Peace. Arabs had been demanding that Israel withdraw from Gaza among, literally, the entire country. A significant amount of Arabs still call for the destruction of Israel.

    5. After winning a democratic election in the Gaza Strip beating out their rival Fatah the Hamas terrorist group seized control of Gaza in June 2007. That means that a majority of those out of the 1.5 million people in Gaza who voted supported a known terrorist organization.

    6. Prior to withdrawing from Gaza in 2005 Israel had to endure 179 rocket attacks against her. In the year after Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip Arab terrorists fired 946 rockets against her- a 500% increase.

    7. After negotiations brokered by Egypt; Hamas and Israel agreed to a 6 month cease-fire on June 19, 2008 which was supposed to last until December 19, 2008. During this “cease-fire” 215 rockets were launched against Israel from the Gaza Strip.

    8. Israel had observed the truce down to the letter and at the end of the “cease-fire” Israeli officials publicly voiced their yearning to extend the agreement despite continues rocket attacks against her. Hamas had simultaneously issued statements that they would not extend the “Cease-fire” because Israel had “not respected the truce”.

    9. In response to suffering for over 8 years due to having over 4000 rockets fired at them; over the course of the last 10 days Israel has been waging one of the most morally just, humanitarian oriented, militarily impressive defensive wars with the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip and has managed to keep civilian casualties lower than anyone could have possibly predicted in one of the most densely populated areas of the world.

    10. A) The overwhelming majority of those that have been killed by what is called “Operation Cast Lead” are Hamas terrorists and not civilians. B) A percentage of the remarkably small amount of civilians that have been killed had been ordered to hover around potential sites for IAF (Israeli air force) attacks to raise the number of “civilian” casualties. C) Hamas purposely operates within or near civilian centers such as Mosques, schools, playgrounds and ordinary neighborhoods.

  7. Thanks za3tar! I haven’t read it yet but I’m planning to inshallah, I think everyone should learn whatever they could lay their hands on about Palestine and the history of the conflict, because history is power… I’m trying to do so right now and this looks very informative! keep these posts coming and keep the good work up!

  8. إن حقايق العالم لا تتغير بالآلاعيب السياسة و التغييرات الموسمية. و فلسطين هي ملک الفلسطينين و الحکومة الصهيونية هي حکومة غاصبة و لقيط. الأراضي الفلسطينية المحتلة هي ملک للسکان الأصليين في فلسطين و سوف يضطر الصهاينة يوما- بهمة الشعوب المسلمة- إلی إعادة فلسطين إلی أصحابها الأصليين و هو يوم سوف يأتي لا محالة
    .السید القائد الامام الخامنئی

  9. “Outcomes of the Cease-Fire: In October the cease-fire started to break apart. Israeli attacks on Gaza resumed and the blockade had not been lifted. Supplies in Gaza remained scarce and limited. Hamas and other factions also violated the cease-fire by launching rocket attacks on Israel. ”

    As I understand it, Isreal was the first to violate the cease-fire, and once violated the other party has no obligation to observe it, right? Which means Hamas technically didn’t violate anything, which means Israel has no right to say they are defending themselves since they are the ones who started it…

    Anyway I juat have a question, do you still believe in peace and co-existence with Israel? Well, I don’t. I never did actually but there were times when I thought I was wrong but now I’m more convinced than ever that it’s impossible. From now on I’m forbidding myself from feeling sorry for any “civilain” killed in Israel. I don’t believe there are “civilians” in Israel to begin with, becuase killing 800 Palestinians and showing no regret or respect for their souls and adopting that self-rightuous attitude about it makes my blood boil and makes me want all Israelis wiped out to death. If this makes me prejudiced and a wanna-be terrorist, so be it…

  10. zevn:
    I disagree with many of the points you made. But i thank you for expressing your comments in a civil manner. Many of the other Israel supporters often come here with nothing more than hate speech which does not facilitate real discussion. So thanks for the civil discourse.

    You mentioned that since Hamas won in the last elections then the majority of Gazans must support a terrorist organization. I personally do not neither support Hamas nor Fatah, but i can tell you that Hamas won the last elections due to the people’s frustrations with Fatah. The previous governments had many corrupt elements that really frustrated the citizens. Add to that the general frustration that the negotiations that the PA and Fatah were taking with Israel were not fruitful. After all, Israel continued to increase checkpoints, increase closures, tighten borders, and expand illegal settlements. So from the people’s perspective, the fruitlessness of the negotiations of Fatah and the corruption issues made them vote against it in the elections. Just to give you a perspective on this, the slogan for the Hamas party during the elections was “Change and Transparency in Government” .. this is what attracted people.

    Also, Hamas’s win does not mean that the majority of people approve of *all* of its actions. Do not forget that Hamas actually started as a non-military party that built hospitals and daycare centers for the poor. So people did not necessarily vote for it because they wanted rockets to be fired, but because of their frustrations with Fatah and what they saw on the ground in terms of what Hamas and NGOs did to the population.

    Regardless of their voting record, that does not give Israel the right or the justification to punish and kill people because of their votes.

    A second point i want to make. How can you honestly claim that Israel the percentage of the civilians killed by Israel in Gaza is small ? If even the U.N. says that 250 of the 800 Palestinians killed in Gaza were children and another 50 of the killed were women. If you feel very sympathetic for the death of the 3 Israeli civilians since this conflict, shouldn’t you feel anything for the 300+ innocent civilians that were killed by Israel in Gaza ?

    Finally, you claim that Israel is carrying out the “humanitarian oriented” military operation and trying to avoid civilian casualties. However, we all know that Israel also bombed a U.N. school were hundreds of Palestinian civilians were taking refuge. Of course you will state the Israeli position that Hamas takes human shields and that there were some rockets fired from there. Well, the U.N. says that it monitored the location and no rockets were fired from that area. But even if i believed the Israeli statement for a second, we all know that the U.N. had supplied Israel with GPS coordinates of all of its schools and facilities (as is always done in war). Also, it was well known to Israel (i.e. published) that civilians were taking refuge in the U.N. schools and that the U.N. was monitoring it to make sure only civilians get through. So Israel had complete knowledge in advance that if they bomb that school many civilians will be killed. Even if we believed that two rockets were fired from the school’s area (although the U.N. monitors and says that did not happen), even if that happened, why did Israel choose to bomb the school and kill tens of civilians just to punish two fighters ? That does not seem to go well with your argument that Israel is avoiding civilian casualties.

  11. Ola: Regarding the ceasefire argument, i was only stating that the ceasefire was broken without really saying who broke it first. Personally i do not think that Israel honored the truce from the first place. I mean, they were supposed to allow food, fuel, and medical supplies into Gaza as part of the ceasefire, but they did not do it (to the extent they agreed to). So yeah you are right, Israel did break the ceasefire first.

    As for the prospects of peace and co-existence. I think that it could happen if the Israeli government changed and the extremists on both sides got overwhelmed by the moderates.

    Certainly there many extremists Israelis that do not to co-exist with us Palestinians. We have all seen those “Death to All Arabs” signs. What is unfortunate in this issue is that these Israeli extremists have a loud voice in the Israeli government and politics. What is worse, if the right-wing Netanyahu wins in the upcoming elections (and the signs say that he will), then the extremists will have an even louder voice in the Israeli government and politics, and things will get even worse than now.

    The current Israeli government has allowed the cold-blooded killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians as did the previous governments. It is truly barbaric and disgusting. And i can’t help but think that things will only get worse as the right-wing Israeli extremists become stronger and stronger.

    However, i still think that killing any civilian any were on earth is terrible. I just wish that Israelis realize that as well some day. They get sad over the death of 3 or 4 of their civilians, but they have no problem with killing more than 400 of our civilians in cold blood.

  12. Let’s wait till the number reaches 1000, which doesn’t seem do far away. Maybe they’ll feel a trace of regret…

  13. Egyptian chronicles: Follow Up : Day 21 - pingback on January 16, 2009 at 10:47 pm
  14. Hi i added this button to my blog, its linked back to here.. thank you 🙂

  15. To za3tar,
    Your description regarding the situation in Gaza and the plight of the Palestinian people is spot on. And your post’s to ZEVN and Ola are also correct.
    I think we both understand that Israel has contimually flouted U.N. resolutions in it’s bid to wrestle land from the Palestinians. In addition, both the U.N. and the I.C. of the Red Cross have presented evidence for an investigation against Israel for ‘War Crimes’. This continual carnage vested by Israel upon the Palestinians gave rise to Vivapalestina.org to carry out SEIGE busting operations into Gaza by land and by sea. We take the view that the U.N. the U.S.A. and the International community have failed the Palestinians in an attempt for a lasting peace.
    Our last convoy to Gaza was a success bringing in 23 ambulances, possibly over 100 tons of provisions medical, food blankets etc, if one includes the additional convoy from Libya. Oh and not forgetting one very large generator for one of the hopitals in Gaza. The journey was a hazardous one, and not all the drivers made it. Our convoy was stoned and detained at the Egyptian border crossing for two days.
    Our next SEIGE busting mission starts on October 4th 2009. Taking a different route this time.

  16. I am really got sick from this conflict ;(

  17. Greetings to all. The reasons for Arab-Israeli conflict is the occupation of Palestine.
    Palestine Arab Islamic state like the rest of the Arab and Islamic states surrounding
    Them. Means that there are Jews and Zionists in Palestine a big mistake, because this entity
    Zionist is not consistent with the surrounding area (such as language, customs, traditions and religion)
    The only solution to end the Arab-Israeli conflict is the expulsion of Jews from Palestine
    All of Palestine. The Jewish people will not rest and will not feel comfortable and stability
    But if it gets out of Palestine and the Middle East completely. If people continue to
    Jews in Palestine and the Middle East, the death and destruction will continue.
    Palestine Arab Islamic state and will remain

  18. There is no state called Israel.
    State of thieves called Israel a
    basis of the displacement
    and killing of Innocent nation .
    state of thieves basis
    bloodshed and war
    And the arrest of people
    for tens of years to
    prevent him from claiming
    The right to life .
    basis steal the land of the
    Palestinian people
    And then steal
    the land of the Arab-Muslim
    the entire .State of the
    thieves do not know the law …..
    Does not recognize the
    law of the United Nations,
    a state that considers itself above the
    law . the law is the siege of Gaza
    And the bloodshed and
    destruction of houses and
    killing innocent people
    and occupying the country
    This is a country named Israel thieves

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