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A contextualized understanding of the recent attacks in Israel and Palestine

guest column

At the time of writing this article (Oct. 22), the death toll from recent devastation in Palestine has increased to 4,651 — including 1,750 children. 

Following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and the intensification of Israel’s military campaign against Palestine, President Price — like countless other institutional leaders — condemned Hamas and expressed unequivocal support of Israel, never uttering the word Palestine. 

Without any acknowledgment of Israel’s actions in the last week — siege, bombardment campaigns, settler violence and forced displacement — Price’s second statement continued to attribute sole responsibility for civilian death to Hamas. He reiterates, “It has now been more than a week since the horrific Hamas terror attacks in Israel.” He then continues, “In that time, thousands of innocent Israeli and Palestinian people have lost their lives.” Price fails to describe how Palestinian lives were lost as if their deaths weren’t caused by Israeli airstrikes, which have now destroyed the third oldest church in the world. 

Widespread public response to recent events has erased the 75-year history of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. As such, in this article, we provide heavily-sourced and well-evidenced historical, political and humanitarian context that should preclude any understanding of the current turmoil. 

The so-called Israel-Palestine 'conflict' 

The narrative often painted of Israel and Palestine is one of a “two-sided conflict.” However, history illustrates a military superpower illegally occupying and perpetuating violence on an indigenous Palestinian people, with the unwavering support of Western powers. 

In 1947, in opposition to the native Palestinians, the United Nations General Assembly partitioned Palestine into two independent states, one Palestinian-Arab and the other Jewish. A year later, the new Israeli state violently expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians, ethnically cleansing approximately 530 communities. This would be referred to as Al Nakba, “catastrophe” in Arabic. 

In 1967, Israel, backed by the United States, defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the June War. Israel consequently expelled 300,000 Palestinians and seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. In resolutions 242 and 338, the United Nations recognized Israel’s presence in these territories as an illegal occupation of Palestinian land. 

Although the U.N. has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Israel, the state continues to expand its illegal settlements by demolishing and raiding Palestinian homes and encouraging its citizens to settle in internationally recognized Palestinian land. Since 2004, the Israeli government has demolished 7,802 structures, leaving 23,618 Palestinians homeless. The state often justifies this by claiming that “the structures lacked building permits — permits which the Israeli army systematically refuses to grant to Palestinians.” 

The Israeli occupying state has sought to control every aspect of Palestinian life, inflicting deep “silent harm and psychological trauma… resulting from the erosion of economic, social, and cultural rights,” and leading to severe short and long-term consequences. 

In the West Bank, Israel has illegally built hundreds of military closures, such as checkpoints, roadblocks and Jewish-only roads, intentionally making “simple daily tasks for Palestinians who are trying to get to work, school or hospital a constant struggle.” In occupied land, Israel has unjustly detained, imprisoned and tortured Palestinians, with over 800,000 arrests and detainments since 1967. They are often “presumed guilty without evidence” and “brutalized in Israeli custody.” 

Israel’s occupation has also prevented Palestine from establishing any formal army. Israel is ranked as the fourth strongest military in the world, behind only the U.S., China, and Russia. The settler state receives roughly $3.8 billion every year from the U.S., the majority of which is for military assistance. Meanwhile, the U.S. sends Palestinians $500 million, almost all of which goes directly to humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). 

The power imbalance is most grimly reflected in the disproportionate death tolls of Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Between 2008 and September of this year, Palestinians suffered 6,407 fatalities and 152,560 injuries in comparison to Israel’s 308 and 6,307, respectively. The dehumanization of the Palestinian people makes their deaths a normal function of occupation. Israeli death is the exception.

In a 280-page report, Amnesty International assessed these conditions and concluded, “The totality of the regime of laws, policies and practices described in this report demonstrates that Israel has established and maintained an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis — a system of apartheid — wherever it has exercised control over Palestinians’ lives since 1948.” 

To be clear, apartheid is a legal and technical term in international criminal law, as outlined by the U.N. Apartheid Convention. It is perpetrated when “inhumane acts are committed within the context of a systematic attack directed at a civilian population with the intention of creating a system of domination by one racial group over any other.”

Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and other organizations have reached the same conclusion in their investigations. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories called it “apartheid by default.” 

Israel-Palestine as a hyphenated notion fails to recognize the severe power imbalance that is a settler-colonial state occupying stolen land and imposing a system of violent apartheid. 

A growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza 

The history of violence against Gaza traces back many years, to a time before Hamas even existed. 

Leading up to 2005, 8,500 Israeli settlers illegally lived in the Gaza Strip, which is internationally recognized as Palestinian land. 

In 2005, Israel pulled its settlers from Gaza. During the ensuing 16-year blockade, Israel has maintained direct control over Gaza's territorial waters, airspace and six of Gaza's seven land crossings. Israel regulates the flow of imports and exports from Gaza—which at times they have frozen altogether—and controls the water supply, electricity, telecommunications, sewage networks and other utilities. 

UNICEF's report illustrates the 15-year consequences of Israel’s control:

  • The blockade controls movement and work; the number of allowed exits of people per month from Gaza to Israel went from about 500,000 to below 10,000. 
  • Almost 50% of the population is unemployed. 
  • Israel only allows 64% of patients access to necessary specialized medical treatments. 
  • The Gaza Power Plant only meets about 50% of the electricity demand. 
  • 31% of households don’t have the financial resources to access essential education needs.
  • 62% of Palestinians in Gaza require food assistance. 
  • 78% of piped water is unfit for human consumption. 
  • The blockade has decimated Gaza’s economy, with an estimated loss of $16.7 billion between 2007 and 2018. 

For the 16 years leading up to Oct. 7, these were the conditions imposed upon the people of Gaza, conditions that the Human Rights Watch defines as “systemic oppression” and the U.N. as the largest “open-air prison” in the world. 

Blockade aside, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are no strangers to Israeli airstrikes and attacks. In 2000, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2021, Israel repeatedly met Palestinian resistance, peaceful or not, with disproportionate and large-scale bombardment and military offensive campaigns that targeted civilians:

  • In 2000, after Palestinians protested the Israeli storming of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Israel bombed and destroyed Gaza International Airport. 
  • In 2008 and 2012, Israel launched major military offensives bombarding Gaza for 22 and for eight days, respectively. In total, these bombardments killed 1,437 Palestinians. 19 Israelis were killed. 
  • In 2014, after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank, Israel launched a seven-week military operation killing 2,251 Palestinians. 73 Israelis were killed. 
  • In 2018, Palestinians peacefully protested occupation in the Great March of Return, and in response, Israeli forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition against the crowds. 214 Palestinians were killed, and 36,100 were injured. One Israeli soldier died, and seven were injured. 
  • In 2021, Palestinians in East Jerusalem protested against planned evictions and the frequent storming of the al-Aqsa mosque by settlers and soldiers. After Hamas’ demands to quell these provocations were ignored, they fired rockets into Israel. Consequent Israeli airstrikes killed 260 Palestinians. 12 Israelis died. 

In the five days following Oct. 7, Israel dropped over 6,000 bombs on the densely inhabited territory — more bombs than during its 50-day bombardment of Gaza in the 2014 massacre. Airstrikes have targeted residential buildings, houses of worship, education facilities and even refugee camps

The Palestine Red Crescent has issued a warning about a "humanitarian catastrophe unfolding before the world’s eyes with the international community seemingly indifferent to the suffering and plight of the two million civilians in Gaza." The United Nations has labeled Israel’s battering of Gaza as ethnic cleansing. 

Moreover, the Israeli government forced more than one million Palestinians from their homes and is administering a complete and total siege of Gaza, cutting off all food, water, power and electricity. Human rights organizations like Amnesty International have asserted that the "collective punishment" of civilians constitutes a war crime. 

Aid was meant to enter Gaza through the Rafah Crossing on the Egyptian border. However, Israel targeted the crossing with airstrikes and rendered it inoperable. Even with civilian Palestinian casualties in the thousands, aid has yet to enter Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, “It’s only the beginning.” 

The origin of violence

In the wake of the recent attacks, politicians have pledged billions of dollars to sanction Israel’s untempered retaliation on Gaza and systematically dehumanized Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, made clear the brutality of what is to come saying, “We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly.” 

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham told an interviewer, “Level the place.” 

“Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48,” Israeli member of Knesset Ariel Kallner declared. You’ll recall Nakba refers to the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. 

“I don’t think Israel can be expected to co-exist or find some diplomatic offramp with these savages…They have to be eradicated,” U.S. Senator Marco Rubio argued in response to a question about how Israel should avoid massive casualties of innocent civilians and the roughly one million children in the Gaza Strip. 

Media and politicians have constructed a rhetorical climate that justifies Palestinian genocide and blatantly fails to contextualize Hamas’ attacks within a broader historical and humanitarian assessment. The narrative that these attacks came “unprovoked” ignores 75 years of well-documented violence and oppression against Palestinians on behalf of the Israeli occupation. 

There is no excuse for violence against innocent civilians: 

  • Just as there is no excuse for the Israeli government’s relentless and indiscriminate bombing of more than 4,200 civilians in Gaza (at the time of writing this) since Oct. 7.
  • Just as there is no excuse for keeping a population of two million people under siege within a confined 25 by six-mile enclave and cutting off their supply of food, water, fuel and electricity. 
  • Just as there is no excuse for the numerous, brutal Israeli military campaigns, killing 6,407 Palestinians between 2004 and 2023. 
  • Just as there is no excuse for enacting apartheid. 
  • Just as there is no excuse for the repeated killings of Palestinian journalists, such as Shireen Abu Akleh in May of 2022 while she was wearing a press vest and reporting on a raid in the West Bank. 
  • Just as there is no excuse for the Israeli occupation of internationally recognized Palestinian land and the continued expansion of settlements through the demolition of Palestinian structures and expulsion of its people.

Just as many have rightly condemned the violence towards Israeli civilians, we call on them to also condemn the violence towards Palestinian civilians and stop sanctioning their continued battering. Any condemnation of violence against civilians that does not in the same breath condemn Israeli occupation, colonization, settler violence, indiscriminate airstrikes, apartheid and the murder of Palestinian civilians remains hypocritical. 

The events on Saturday, Oct. 7 were a deadly reaction to millions of Palestinians being killed and placed under indefinite persecution, apartheid and occupation — all of which are legal terms that the U.N. and several human rights organizations have conclusively used to define life under Israel. A people cannot experience this for decades and be expected to never resist or retaliate, and the U.N. protects this right. 

On the Palestinian people, U.N. Resolution 45/130reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial domination, apartheid and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle,” within the bounds of international law. 

Over the past 75 years, Palestinians have attempted every means of resisting their oppression, including peaceful protests, political lobbying, and financial boycotting (BDS). Every means of protest is met with mass violence and a tightening of apartheid — under a narrative that paints Israel as the victim having the “right to defend itself.” 

The goal of eradicating Hamas under the veil of “defending itself” does not give Israel a free excuse to carpet bomb Gaza into oblivion. Their history of oppression shows that even when Hamas is not in the picture, case in point the West Bank, Israel continues to kill innocent Palestinian civilians, such as the more than 1,000 Palestinians killed in the West Bank since 2008. 

Violence begets violence, and as Jewish Voices for Peace explains, the root cause of violence is Israel’s systemic oppression of the Palestinian people. 


Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti proclaimed, “If you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, ‘secondly.’” 

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie extrapolates, “Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.”

Start with Hamas’ attack and not with Israel’s systemic violence against Palestinians since 1948 and you have an entirely different story. 

An authentic commitment to peace requires understanding the origins of systemic violence. By providing context, we hope to uncomplicate the so-called “conflict” — internationally recognized as occupation and apartheid against the Palestinian people — and bring the Palestinian story and Palestinian humanity out of the margins.


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