Israel-Hamas War: A History and US Involvement

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By Nathan Cartmell

The recent Israel-Hamas war has once again brought the United States’ involvement in the Middle East to the forefront. On Oct. 7, Hamas-led militants launched an unprecedented attack against Israel, killing over a thousand people, mostly civilians. This has ended up being the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. Over 200 hostages were taken, and most haven’t been returned. The U.S. has been a staunch supporter of Israel since its establishment in 1948, despite the subsequent conflicts with its Islamic neighbors. With how heated the debate has been between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporters has been, I feel that it might be helpful to know a bit of background behind the conflict.  

The idea of persecution of Jews and conflict between them and other faiths can be traced back thousands of years. Still, the modern form of the Jewish state discussion started in the late 19th century with the idea of Zionism, which was the idea that the world’s Jewish people should have a country of their own. After World War I ended and the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1918, the League of Nations created the British Mandate of Palestine out of a portion of the Ottoman’s former territories, and Jewish immigration to Palestine increased considerably in the wake of that, which caused conflict and eventually a Civil War between the Jews and the Arabs, who also claimed that area as their own.  

The modern incarnation of Israel mainly stems from the aftermath of World War II and the Nazi regime’s atrocities, as well as the Cold War-era tensions that arose in the Middle East.  

In 1947, the United Nations partitioned Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs. Neither side was satisfied. In 1948, Israel declared its independence, and in a matter of days, five neighboring Arab countries invaded the former Mandate, starting the First Arab-Israeli War. After the 1949 armistice, Israel took control of more territory than the partition called for them to be in control of. 

Following the end of the war, no new Arab state was established as the territories were occupied by Egypt and Jordan, namely the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This led to the expulsion or flight of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from Israeli territory to neighboring countries, leaving only 150,000 within the Green Line. At the same time, around 260,000 Jews emigrated, fled, or were expelled from Arab countries to Israel, with the number reaching approximately 650,000 over the next two decades. 

The Six-Day War in 1967 resulted in the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel has since effectively annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and has established settlements across the occupied territories. These actions have been rejected as illegal under international law. While Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and, more recently, normalized relations with several Arab countries, efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have not succeeded. 

Israel’s practices as the longest military occupation in modern history have drawn international condemnation for the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, as well as violating the human rights of Palestinians, while the Islamic extremist group known as Hamas has been essentially governing the Gaza Strip for several years and has committed violent actions against Israelis living in Gaza. The United States has supported Israel for decades, first during the Six-Day War and again during the Yom Kippur War, both against Arab forces backed by the Soviet Union.  

Even after the Cold War ended, the United States still is intertwined deeply with Israel and sends billions of dollars in aid to the country every year. In the wake of the Hamas attack, there has been a sharp rise in antisemitic and anti-Muslim violence across the world, including in the U.S. According to Last Week Tonight show host John Oliver, “It’s not been an easy time to wear a yarmulke or a hijab in America over the [last] month.”