Israel’s current war on Gaza – how did we get here?

While the news focus on events as they unfold from day to day, it is essential to understand the broader context in which Israel’s war on Gaza is taking place.

While the international news flow understandably focuses on events as they unfold from day to day, it is essential to understand the broader context in which Israel’s war on Gaza is taking place.

The latest in a series of recent wars on Gaza

Even if it exceeds the level of destruction caused in Israel’s previous wars on Gaza, the current war is only the latest in a series of such wars since 2007, when Hamas first assumed rule over the Gaza Strip.

During this time, according to the UN, Israel’s armed forces have killed a total of 3937 civilians in Gaza, while attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups killed 177 Israeli civilians. These figures do not include the many thousand civilians, of whom an estimated 40 percent are children, killed in Gaza since 7 October 2023 (most recent numbers here) or the upwards of 900 civilians, including dozens of children, killed in Israel on that date.

Repeated war crimes and a looming genocide

The recent Gaza wars have seen repeated violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which requires proportionality between military objectives and the extent to which their realisation causes harm to civilians. Disregarding this immutable requirement constitutes a war crime. By the same token, attacks by Hamas’ armed wing and other armed groups in Gaza have repeatedly violated International Humanitarian Law.

Since 7 October, the Israel State has tightened its devastating and illegalblockade of Gaza, cutting off the flow of essential resources and services to the enclave, whose land, sea and air borders it controls. The already grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza caused by 16 years of siege has been vastly exacerbated by the widespread destruction of vital civilian infrastructure in the current war, including hospitals, water supply, power plants and communications infrastructure, creating a catastrophic humanitarian emergency.

UN experts are now warning that the Palestinian people are at risk of genocide, stating that “Israel’s allies also bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action.”

The underlying realities: Indefinite occupation, systematic human rights violations, and illegal land grab

The wider historical context comprises decades of systematic discrimination against Palestinians conducted in a fashion the UN, along with Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations, has labelled as apartheid, as well as grave violations of International Humanitarian Law by Israel, including indefinite military occupation coupled with de facto annexation of territory in the form of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which the UN has repeatedly condemned in a plethora of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

In short, this – and not Hamas’ war crimes on 7 October – is the backdrop for the current war and the vast level of death and destruction it is causing for Gaza’s already impoverished and oppressed civilians.

Further reading

IMS recommends the following sources, which range from UN organisations to international human rights groups to trusted Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations:

Human Rights Watch: A threshold crossed – Israeli authorities and the crimes of apartheid and persecution

B’Tselem: Not a vibrant democracy – this is apartheid

Al-Haq publications on human rights violations and the Gaza Strip

Amnesty International: Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity

Breaking the Silence: Testimonies from current and former Israeli soldiers

Yesh Din on human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

List of United Nations resolutions concerning Israel (Wikipedia page)