Brief History Backgrounder

Brief History Backgrounder

Important facts, dates, and other information about Israel, Gaza and Hamas to provide historical background and context for the current conflict.

The Jewish People and the Land of Israel

  • Jewish civilization in the Land of Israel reaches back nearly 4,000 years.
  • The Abrahamic religions—first Judaism, followed by Christianity in the 1st century and Islam in the 7th century— emerge in the Land of Israel and the Middle East.
  • Following the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 by the Roman Empire, Jewish civilization continued in the Land of Israel, at the same time that significant numbers of Jews were exiled.
  • During the 2000-year period of exile, Jewish migration to the Land of Israel from North Africa, the Near East and Europe continued unabated.
  • The Jewish people are the only people who, though exiled, maintained an attachment to the land from which they were exiled.
  • As the modern period emerged in the 17th century, Jews began to slowly move back to the Land of Israel and the Jewish population continued to increase.
  • In the middle of the 19th century, both secular and religious Jews began to formulate plans for Jewish communal development in the Land of Israel. It is this that stimulated Theodore Herzl and the First Zionist Congress in 1897.
  • In 1881 a wave of pogroms overtook the Jews of Eastern Europe, thousands of whom, nurtured by Zionist ideas, both religious and secular, began to move to the Land of Israel.
  • Jews also built new communities in uninhabited areas; Jews founded the city of Tel Aviv on what was a sand dune in 1909.

Birth of the modern State of Israel

  • After World War I, Britain obtained a Mandate from the League of Nations to govern the areas which now comprise Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jordan.
  • Though relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities in British Mandate Palestine were always fraught, tensions began to dramatically rise when, following World War II and the Holocaust, many Jews fleeing Europe arrived in the land.
  • In 1947, the UN proposed splitting British Mandate Palestine into two states:
    • One state for Jews (Israel) and one state for Arabs (Palestine)
    • On behalf of the Jewish community, the Jewish Agency for Israel accepted the United Nations Partition plan that was approved by the UN on November 29, 1947.
    • The local Arab community and the surrounding Arab nations rejected the partition plan. Their position was that there should not be a Jewish state at all.
  • On May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq invaded Israel.
    • Israel defeated this mass invasion and reached armistice agreements with the invading Arab nations in 1949, setting the borders for the modern State of Israel until 1967’s Six Day War.

The US relationship with Israel

  • President Truman was the first world leader to recognize Israel, 11 minutes after Israel announced its independence.
  • The two countries have shared values and common interests, including a commitment to democracy, Jewish rights and responsibilities, free speech and freedom of religion—along with equal rights under law for people of all faiths, genders and backgrounds.

Israel’s changing borders

  • In 1967, a coalition of Arab countries—led by Egypt, Syria and Jordan—mobilized to attack Israel, closed the Red Sea to shipping destined for Israel, and threatened Israel’s water supply.
    • In response, Israel launched a preemptive attack on military targets in Egypt and Syria. At the time, Egypt controlled the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip; Jordan controlled the West Bank (including eastern Jerusalem); and Syria controlled the Golan Heights.
    • Israel won a decisive victory that included capturing the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, eastern Jerusalem (including the Old City), the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
    • The status of these territories became a major point of contention in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  • In 1979, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt and peace was made between the two countries.
  • Also in 1979, Israel offered Gaza to Egypt, but Egypt declined.
  • As part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinians were given control over most of Gaza, excluding a few Israeli settlements and military outposts, and both sides agreed that a Palestinian Authority (PA) would be established and assume governing responsibilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew all civilians and military personnel from Gaza. Prior to Hamas’s Oct. 7, 2023 attack on Israel, there had been no Israeli presence in Gaza for nearly 19 years.

Gaza’s dual borders

  • Gaza has two borders: one with Israel, and one with Egypt.
  • Both Israel and Egypt control entry and exit to Gaza from their respective borders for security reasons.
  • Egypt has maintained a blockade of Gaza since Hamas took control, with tight controls on both people and goods.
  • Until Oct. 7, Israel allowed Gazans to work in Israel, even with the long history of terror attacks, and facilitated the movement of goods and utilities into Gaza.

Hamas’ role in Gaza

  • Since 2006, Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, has been the sole governing entity in Gaza.
  • In 2006, Hamas was elected by the Palestinian people in Gaza over the Palestinian Authority. By 2007, Hamas killed or evicted from Gaza all other officials, maintaining governmental control to this day.
  • Hamas’ charter calls for the murder of Jews, the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamist state in its place— from the border of Lebanon to the Israeli city of Eilat, and from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea (that’s what is meant by the common refrain for protestors, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”).
  • Hamas embeds its command centers, rocket and missile launchers, and military operations within hospitals, mosques, civilian neighborhoods and schools—regularly using civilians as human shields.
  • Antisemitic, militaristic, and other adversarial content continues to be directed against Jews and Israel in Palestinian school textbooks, often funded by the United Nations through UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), which may have direct ties to Hamas.
  • Hamas has kept the Palestinian people in Gaza in poverty, stealing billions of dollars of humanitarian aid to build Hamas’s army and military infrastructure.
    • Hamas has built more miles of terror tunnels in Gaza to attack Israel then there are miles of subway tunnels in New York City.

Timeline on the Israel-Hamas border

1993:  Oslo Accords signed, ending state of hostilities between PLO and Israel; Nobel Peace Prize for Israeli Prime Minister from Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman (Palestinian Authority President) Yassir Arafat; Palestinian Authority begins to take over Palestinian population centers of Jericho and Gaza.

2000:  After Camp David, Arafat reverted to terror; Israel begins construction of security barrier on Gaza border to end constant flow of suicide bombers into Israel.

2005:  To enable the Palestinians in Gaza to govern themselves, Israel unilaterally withdrew all civilians and military personnel out of Gaza, leaving Gaza entirely to the Palestinians; there was no longer any Israeli presence in Gaza.

2006:  Militarist Islamist Hamas wins parliamentary elections in Gaza and evicts or murders the secular Palestinian Authority officials.  Hamas in total control of Gaza. Subsequently, significant conflicts between Israel and Gaza ensured in the years that followed.

October 7, 2023:  Thousands of armed Hamas terrorists and allies, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, broke through the security barrier between Israel and Gaza under the umbrella of missile and rocket fire. Hamas called its operation, “Flood Al Aqsa;” They committed mass atrocities, raping, torturing and murdering 1,200 civilians, and taking 240+ innocents hostage. In addition to the thousands of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists, an unknown number of Gazan civilians crossed the border and looted the ravaged Israeli towns, Kibbutzim and Moshavim.