Updated October 8, 2023
On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched the deadliest terror attack on Israel in 50 years, killing hundreds of innocent Israelis and displacing tens of thousands more. Hamas characterizes the attacks as a response to decades of oppression by the state of Israel.
In response to the Hamas terror attacks, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that the country was “at war” and warned of a massive retaliatory response. By day’s end, Israeli airstrikes had killed hundreds of Palestinians, destroyed buildings, and displaced tens of thousands of innocent civilians.
While it is hard to say what precisely comes next, it is our anticipation that the future of this conflict has just been reshaped for a very long time. This is not “just another one” like 2022 or 2021 or 2014. This is one for the history books.
While the history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict traces back decades, and where one begins their telling of the story drastically impacts the telling of the story itself, the current chapter of conflict might be best traced to 2006, with years of intermittent airstrikes from Israel and rocket attacks from Gaza forming the pretext for the other’s “retaliation” or “preemption”.
The already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, due in large part to Israel’s sustained blockade against the city, is heightened by increasing unemployment, poverty, sporadic outbreaks of conflict, and food insecurity. In the West Bank, settler violence and the demolition of Palestinian-owned structures remain high.
Gaza has a population of approximately 2.2 million and a limited infrastructure. Travel and trade routes are under the control of Israeli and Egyptian authorities, making it virtually impossible for Palestinians to escape.
Here are a few things we’re watching right now:
Israel-Hamas War (2023)
On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched the deadliest terror attack on Israel in 50 years, killing hundreds of innocent Israelis, wounding thousands, and resulting in 100 or more hostages and prisoners of war taken by Hamas. Hamas characterized the multi-pronged attacks as a response to decades of oppression by the state of Israel.
In response to the Hamas terror attacks, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that the country was “at war” and warned of a massive retaliatory response and a “long and difficult war”. By day’s end, Israeli airstrikes had killed hundreds of Palestinians, destroyed buildings, and displaced tens of thousands of innocent civilians.
Concerns over the security situation extended north to Lebanon, where UN peacekeeping forces (UNIFIL) maintained their positions, engaging with both Israel and Hezbollah to prevent further escalation.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group and political party, launched artillery and guided rockets on three posts in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah stated that this was an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people and aimed to "liberate what remains of our occupied land."
The scale and tactics of Saturday's incursion from Gaza raised questions about how Israel's security apparatus failed to detect such a complex attack. This lapse was particularly embarrassing for Prime Minister Netanyahu, who had been positioning himself as a strong leader and working towards normalizing ties with Arab states. The attacks may have been designed or timed, in part, to derail the normalization of relations between various Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
This conflict marked the second full-scale hostilities between Israel and Hamas in just two and a half years. Persistent tensions, stemming from Israeli control over holy sites in Jerusalem, the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and constant military actions in the West Bank, have fueled ongoing violence. The recent rise in casualties, including children, has further inflamed the situation, with Hamas calling for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and parts of Israel to join their fight. The assault on Israel evoked painful memories of past conflicts, raising concerns about the region's stability.
Many Palestinians are facing the risk of forcible relocation. The ongoing conflict escalated with the May 2021 threat of the imminent forced relocation of families living in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The continuing demolition of Palestinian-owned properties, unlawful confiscation of Palestinian properties, and forced removal of Palestinians have put hundreds of people, the majority of them children, at the risk of de-facto expulsion and displacement from their homes and homeland.
Settler violence and de jure annexation contradict international humanitarian laws that require Israel to safeguard the rights of Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Israel, as an occupying power, also violates Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of its population to the occupied territory.
Restricted access to the West Bank and Gaza City has made it problematic for aid workers and civilians to move freely and safely through the region.
Economic Stagnation & Food Insecurity
Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 33% of the Palestinian population could not afford nutritious food. The level of food insecurity is particularly high among families headed by women. In Gaza, 64% of women-headed families experience food insecurity. The economic stagnation emanating from the conflict has undermined Palestinians' ability to meet their basic needs, including clothing, housing, and food.
The affected populations cannot counteract the significant consumption gap through coping mechanisms or economic means, which they have already used up due to the current and chronic conflict.
The humanitarian condition in Gaza, where food insecurity and poverty affect 64.4% and 53% of the population, respectively, is alarming due to the accompanying collapse of critical infrastructures and essential social services. In October 2023, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza further exacerbated these conditions.
The socioeconomic fabric in Gaza is rapidly faltering due to the cumulative effects of 15 years of air, land, and sea blockade.
Reports from national surveys demonstrate that a significant portion of Gaza's population, mostly children, suffer from overlapping nutritional problems.
August 2022 Airstrikes
On August 5, 2022, Israel conducted a “preemptive operation” (e.g., airstrikes) against the designated terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza, killing PIJ’s senior commander. PIJ responded by firing rockets into Israeli territory.
On August 7, the UN and Egypt brokered a ceasefire. The PIJ and Israeli army both issued formal statements confirming the cessation of their respective military operations.
On 8 August, Israeli security forces began removing restrictions on Gaza's crossings imposed six days earlier, consequently allowing movement for individuals from and back to Gaza.
The escalation of the conflict has led to the destruction of property and casualties, further worsening the humanitarian condition in Gaza. A report released by OHCHR confirmed that at least 46 Palestinians had lost their lives, including four women and 15 children. The Ministry of Health in Gaza stated that approximately 360 Palestinians had been injured during the airstrikes, including 19 elderly, 58 women, and 151 children.
The adverse implications of the war are felt on both sides, with Israel's national emergency services confirming that 70 Israelis have suffered serious injuries. The organization evacuated 47 Israeli nationals to hospitals from the start of the escalation.
Thirty-one people were injured while running for shelter, three from shrapnel, and another 13 from severe shock. Israeli authorities stated that three shells hit the area near the Erez crossing, resulting in tremendous damages. Israeli authorities reported 1,100 projectiles and rockets were fired from Gaza. Of these, 900 reportedly crossed into Israel, while 200 fell short and landed in Gaza.
West Bank Attacks
Despite the ceasefire, Israeli forces have been using live ammunition in the West Bank to keep Palestinians at bay. On 9 August alone, at least four Palestinians were killed and 90 others injured. Among the people who lost their lives was a four-year-old boy shot during a raid conducted by Israeli forces.
The escalations also led to the untimely death of another 16-year-old boy after he was accidentally shot by military soldiers who were responding to fireworks and stones hurled at them by Palestinians.
Due to the widespread use of live ammunition, Palestinian fatalities have increased dramatically. As of August 23, the UN Human Rights Office has documented the killing of 74 Palestinians, 20 of whom are children. On many occasions, Israeli forces employed lethal force to a degree that clearly violates international human rights law.
At least 2.1 million people require humanitarian aid and protection in East Jerusalem, Gaza City, and the West Bank. Out of these, approximately 934,000 are children.
The circumstances in the State of Palestine constitute a protracted protection crisis heightened by the August 2022 airstrikes and closure of the Gaza Strip, the COVID-19 pandemic, the May 2021 conflict, and an escalating fiscal and financial crisis within the country’s economy. The economic crisis is further fueled by a surge in commodity prices due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
In 2022, the escalations between Israel and Gaza-based PIJ and grave human rights violations have significantly affected the wellbeing and rights of Palestinian children. “Five hundred and thirty five individuals fled their homes due to the intensive air strikes and the destruction of their houses, (sic) the air strikes on Gaza left 21 housing units totally destroyed and 77 housing units severely damaged and an estimated 1,793 housing units with different levels of damage,” according to a report issued by the Shelter Cluster Palestine.
As aid groups sought to raise tens of millions in funding to ensure hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people have access to food, safe water, primary healthcare, and mental health services, they noted that needs are still ongoing from hostilities and destruction that commenced 15 months prior, as Gazans stay trapped in another round of cyclical deprivation.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza City is dire and worsening. Though movement in/out of Gaza had improved since 2022, all of this is likely to now be reversed.
Women and children remain at the frontline of the conflict, particularly with regard to the lack of access to food, safe water, and healthcare services. If the situation in Gaza continues to worsen, as it almost surely will now, the impact on wider regional animosities and realities will be compounded for years to come.
Numerous diplomatic, societal, legal, and humanitarian remedies are needed to ever fully resolve the complexities of the highly asymmetrical Israel-Palestinian conflict. But while the world waits, those suffering in Gaza today need humanitarian assistance now, as much as ever.
HUMANITE in Gaza
HUMANITE Peace Collective is providing essentials (e.g., food, shelter, electricity, medical support) and other forms of holistic care to those displaced from their homes in the October 2023 airstrikes as we prepare for a “long and difficult war”.