Israel-Palestine: How did it get to this point?

Palestinian firemen extinguish a fire that was raging in a residential building destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 8, 2023. Picture: Mohammed Abed / AFP

Palestinian firemen extinguish a fire that was raging in a residential building destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 8, 2023. Picture: Mohammed Abed / AFP

Published Oct 9, 2023


Armed group Hamas has launched an attack on Israel, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Many took to social media once again to either express support for Palestine or for Israel. But what lead up to this and how did it get to this point?

It is important to note that it goes beyond just a “fight” between Palestine and Israel. As you will see, more countries were involved throughout history and it goes much deeper than just a conflict.

While the conflict has been getting more attention and made more headlines in recent years, it goes back all the way to 1917.


The British Mandate incorporated the “Balfour Declaration” of 1917 to render "administrative assistance and advice”. The most noteworthy factor was that the declaration expressed support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

From 1922 until 1947, under the Mandate, large-scale Jewish immigration (mainly from Eastern Europe) took place. The Nazi persecution in Europe resulted in an increase in these numbers.

Conflict reached a high when Palestinians demanded independence and others resisted the immigration, resulting in a rebellion in 1937.

The UK, unable to find solutions to the ongoing fighting had the United Nations (UN) take control of the situation.

Partition Plan

The UN proposed terminating the Mandate and partitioning Palestine into two independent States, one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish, with Jerusalem internationalised. This was called Resolution 181 (II) of 1947, also known as the Partition Plan.

One of the two envisaged States proclaimed its independence as Israel. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was created, sparking the first Arab-Israeli War.

The war involved neighbouring Arab States and expanded to 77 percent of the territory of mandate Palestine, including the larger part of Jerusalem.

Arab-Israeli War

In 1949, the Arab-Israeli War ended with Israel’s victory. Their victory came at the expense of Palestinians as a total of 750,000 Palestinians were displaced and over half of the Palestinian Arab population fled or were expelled.

The territory was divided into 3 parts: the State of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), and the Gaza Strip.

Tensions rose in the region, particularly between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

After Israel’s invasion of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, Jordan, Egypt and Syria joined forces and signed mutual defence pacts in anticipation of a possible mobilisation of Israeli troops.

The Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) was drawn up. It formulated the principles of a just and lasting peace.

This included an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the conflict, a just settlement of the refugee problem, and the termination of all claims or states of belligerency.

Six-Day War

However, in June 1967, Israel attacked Egyptian and Syrian air forces, starting the Six-Day War.

After the war, Israel gained territorial control over the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt; the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan; and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Yom Kippur War

In 1973, in what is referred to as the Yom Kippur War or the October War, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise two-front attack on Israel to regain their lost territory.

While the conflict did not result in gains for Egypt, Israel, or Syria, Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat declared the war a victory for Egypt as it allowed Egypt and Syria to negotiate over previously ceded territory.

The 1973 war was followed by Security Council Resolution 338, which called for peace negotiations between the parties concerned.

In 1974 the United Nations General Assembly reaffirmed the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence, sovereignty, and to return to their land.

Camp David Accords

The years to come indicated that there might be peace because in 1975, the UN General Assembly established the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and conferred on the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) the status of observer in the Assembly and in UN conferences.

Then four years later, in 1979, representatives from Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords, a peace treaty that ended the thirty-year conflict between Egypt and Israel.

Peace in region was short-lived as in June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with the declared intention to eliminate the PLO.

A cease-fire was arranged and PLO troops withdrew from Beirut but transferred to neighbouring countries.

In a span of only three days in September of 1982, Israeli-backed Lebanese forces, the Phalange militia, killed more than 3,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians at the Sabra and Shatila camps. The militia were ordered by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to clear out any PLO members. Bear in mind this took place after the ceasefire and after the PLO was believed to have withdrawn from Beirut.

International Conference on the Question of Palestine

In September 1983, the International Conference on the Question of Palestine (ICQP) adopted the following principles: the need to oppose Israeli settlements and Israeli actions to change the status of Jerusalem, the right of all States in the region to existence within secure and internationally recognised boundaries, and the attainment of the legitimate, inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

First Intifada and rise of Hamas

In 1987, a mass uprising against the Israeli occupation began in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip rose up against the Israeli government in what is known as the First Intifada.

This was also the year the Hamas movement was founded in Gaza shortly after the start of the Intifada.

The movement started as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and created a military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in a bid to pursue an armed struggle against Israel and liberate Palestine.

Israeli authorities used so much force that it resulted in mass injuries and heavy loss of life among the civilian Palestinian population.

1991 Peace Conference

In 1988 the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers proclaimed the establishment of the State of Palestine.

A Peace Conference was convened in Madrid in 1991. Its aim was to achieve a peaceful settlement through direct negotiations between Israel and the Arab States, as well as between Israel and the Palestinians.

A series of subsequent negotiations lead up to the mutual recognition between the Government of Israel and the PLO, the representative of the Palestinian people, and the signing in 1993 of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (DOP or “Oslo Accord”).

In which appeared to be a positive turn, it led to the partial withdrawal of Israeli forces, the elections to the Palestinian Council and the Presidency of the Palestinian Authority, the partial release of prisoners and the establishment of a functioning administration in the areas under Palestinian self-rule.

Second Intifada

In 2000, a second intifada was launched. It was sparked for various reasons: Palestinian grievances over Israel’s control over the West Bank, a stagnating peace process, and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa mosque—the third holiest site in Islam. The intifada would last until 2005.

In a response to the Intifada, Israel began the construction of a West Bank separation wall, located mostly within the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This move was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice.

Two-State Solution

In 2002, the Security Council affirmed a vision of two States, Israel and Palestine. In the same year, the Arab League adopted the Arab Peace Initiative.

In 2003, the US, EU, Russia, and the UN, in what was known as the Quartet, released a Road Map to a two-state solution. In 2005, Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from Gaza while retaining control over its borders, seashore and airspace.

After Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, the Quartet conditioned assistance to the Palestinian National Authority (State of Palestine) on its commitment to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements.

Battle of Gaza

In 2007, Battle of Gaza broke out where Hamas did a takeover of Gaza. It was a military conflict between Fatah and Hamas, centred on the struggle for power after Fatah lost the parliamentary elections of 2006.

Hamas fighters took control of the Gaza Strip, removed Fatah officials and Israel imposed a blockade.

More violence erupted as rocket fire and air strikes in late 2008 culminated in Israeli ground operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza.

In 2010, a new round of negotiations broke down after the expiration of the Israeli settlement moratorium.

Palestine Membership

In 2011, President Mahmoud Abbas submitted the application of Palestine for membership in the UN. In the same year, UNESCO admitted Palestine as a Member.

In November 2012, another cycle of violence between Israel and Gaza broke out. This concluded with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.

On November 29, 2012, Palestine was granted non-member observer State status in the UN.

In 2014, peace talks were disrupted when Fatah formed a unity government with Hamas. A military confrontation occurred between the Israeli military and Hamas, resulting in a cease-fire deal brokered by Egypt.

Jerusalem, and the Abraham Accords

The year 2017 would see the US Administration announcing recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

In 2020, the US mediated agreements to normalise relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco (Abraham Accords).

In 2022, the UN General Assembly requested the ICJ to render an Advisory Opinion on the legality of the prolonged Israeli occupation that started in 1967.

Now, in 2023, violence continues to escalate, with clashes, incursions, and large-scale operations taking place.

The real tragedy is the civilians who continue to lose their lives as a result of this conflict.