Oct 21, 2023 - World
Axios Explains

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The people, places and terms to know

Animated illustration of a text box with a blinking text cursor in between quotation marks. In the background are the Palestine and Israel flags.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack and Israel's response come amid the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The big picture: The broader conflict is complex and carries its own lexicon of terms and meanings.

Here are the people, organizations and terms to know in order to better understand the broader conflict and this moment:

People, parties and groups

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli prime minister and leader of the Likud party.

  • Netanyahu's coalition government includes extreme-right parties.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Abir Sultan/AFP via Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Abir Sultan/AFP via Getty Images

Yoav Gallant

Israeli defense minister.

  • A former general, he oversaw Israel's disengagement of Gaza in 2005.
  • As a politician, he was minister of education, housing and immigration and a supporter of Israeli settlements, which have been deemed illegal under international law.

Benny Gantz

Former Israeli defense minister.

IDF

The Israel Defense Forces under the Ministry of Defense. The national military of Israel has about 169,500 active troops and 465,000 trained reservists that it depends on.

War Cabinet

A small cabinet formed when Netanyahu and Gantz decided to establish an emergency unity government to address the Hamas-Israel war.

Ismail Haniyeh

The leader of Hamas.

  • Haniyeh, who lives in exile, was elected Hamas' political leader in 2017. The U.S. designated him a terrorist a year later.

Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian president and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

  • Abbas leads the Fatah party, which has long advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas led the negotiating team of the PLO during talks with Israel that culminated in the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
  • In 2005, Abbas was elected to a four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), but he continues to delay elections. Many Palestinians view the PA as weakened and are angry with its security cooperation with Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: Getty Images
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: Getty Images

Hamas

The Palestinian Islamic political party that governs Gaza. It has an armed militant wing called Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Hamas is the acronym of the "Islamic Resistance Movement" in Arabic.

  • Hamas carried out the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel and numerous other attacks in the country since the group was formed in 1987. The entire group or its military wing is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., Israel, the EU, U.K. and several other countries.
  • Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 after violently ousting the Palestinian Authority from the Strip.
  • Hamas over the years has been supported by Iran, which has provided weapons and money to the group.

Hezbollah

Hezbollah is an Iran-backed political and militant group based in Lebanon. It was initially formed to fight against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1980s.

  • The entire or parts of the group have been designated a terrorist organization by several countries, including the U.S. and Israel.

Fatah

The dominant political party of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and is led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

  • Fatah is a secular party that advocates for a two-state solution.

Palestinian Authority

Also known as the Palestinian National Authority, the PA is the governing body in areas of the occupied West Bank.

  • The PA, currently led by Fatah, was established in 1994 as part of the Oslo Accords. It was meant to be an interim governing body for the occupied Palestinian territories for five years with the aim of establishing a permanent state of Palestine.

Palestinian Liberation Organization

The PLO is an umbrella political organization formed in 1964 with the goal of liberating Palestine.

  • It includes numerous groups and political parties and represents Palestinians at the UN, which has granted the organization non-member observer status.
  • Fatah has been the dominant party in the PLO for decades.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad

The PIJ is the second-largest militant group in Gaza. It is supported by Iran and has supporters in Gaza, the occupied West Bank — particularly Hebron and Jenin — Lebanon and Syria.

  • The group, which was founded in 1981, is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S., the U.K. and other countries.
  • Unlike Hamas, the PIJ is not involved in politics. Its goal is the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state. It believes military and violent means are the only way to achieve its stated goals.
  • The group has carried out numerous attacks against Israeli civilians since its founding.

UNRWA

Created after the war in 1948, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East provides direct relief and works programs for Palestine refugees.

Places

Gaza Strip

A densely populated Palestinian enclave home to more than 2 million Palestinians — about half of whom are under the age of 18.

  • It's roughly 140 square miles — about the size of Detroit or Las Vegas.
  • Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007 when it ousted the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in a violent takeover after winning the Palestinian elections the previous year.
  • Gaza was controlled by Egypt from 1948 to 1967, when Israel captured the Strip in the Six-Day War.
  • The Palestinian Authority was given some governing power in 1994, though Israel kept a military presence in the Strip for security reasons and to administer Jewish settlements that had been built in the Strip.
  • Israel in 2005 withdrew its forces and evacuated Israeli settlers in a process called disengagement.

Rafah Crossing

The sole crossing point between Egypt and Gaza. Of the three crossings along the enclave's borders, it's the only one not controlled by Israel.

Data: OpenStreetMap, WorldPop; Map: Will Chase/Axios
Data: OpenStreetMap, WorldPop; Map: Will Chase/Axios

Occupied Palestinian Territories

The UN considers the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as occupied by Israel in violation of international law.

Occupied West Bank

The occupied West Bank is home to large Palestinian cities, including Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah and Nablus. It's also home to hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers who live in settlements deemed illegal under international law.

  • The Oslo Accords, signed by the PLO and Israel in 1993 and 1995, divided the West Bank into three areas — A, B and C.
    • Area A: About 18% of the occupied West Bank. Most affairs here, including internal security, are controlled by the PA. Israeli forces do, however, enter Area A routinely for what they call "external security" purposes.
    • Area B: About 21% of the West Bank. The PA mostly has administrative control here, but shares security control with Israel. Palestinian Security Forces, however, must coordinate with the IDF.
    • Area C: About 60% of the West Bank. Israel maintains near-exclusive control in this part, including over security and construction. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers live here. Many of the West Bank's natural resources and open land are in Area C.

Settlements

Israeli residential areas in the occupied territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are widely deemed illegal by the international community.

East Jerusalem

Following the Six-Day War, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, creating what it calls a "unified Jerusalem," which is not recognized by the UN.

  • East Jerusalem has a majority Palestinian population.
  • Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state of Palestine.

Jerusalem

Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem as its "unified, eternal" capital, with the Knesset and other major government offices located in the city.

  • The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious — and sensitive — issues in the conflict, as Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state.
  • The Trump administration in a highly controversial move in 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there.
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Map: Axios Visuals

Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

The compound, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram al-Sharif, is the most religiously sensitive site in Jerusalem. It is the holiest site for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims.

  • Under the "status quo" rules around the site, worshippers are not allowed to spend the night in the mosque. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound, but not worship there.
  • The compound, often a flashpoint in the conflict, is administered by the Jordanian Islamic Waqf and protected by the Israeli police, per the status quo rules.

Politics, weapons and laws

Gaza blockade

Israel and Egypt have imposed a strict land, sea and air blockade on Gaza for the last 16 years, restricting movement of Palestinians in and out of Gaza and the passage of fuel and other supplies.

Administrative detention

Israel routinely places Palestinians in custody under a controversial tactic known as administrative detention, which allows someone suspected of committing a future offense to be indefinitely held without facing a trial or charge.

  • Evidence against the individual is considered classified and Israel is not required to show it to the person being held or their lawyer.

Iron Dome

Israel's highly effective missile defense system that involves radar that detects incoming projectiles and launches interceptor missiles that destroy those deemed to be heading for populated areas. (Read more about how the Iron Dome works.)

Right of return for Palestinian refugees

According to the UN, "right of return constitutes a fundamental pillar of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination."

  • It's based on UN Resolution 194, adopted in 1948, and additional international frameworks that state refugees have the right to return to their homes or if they choose, be compensated for property lost or damaged and support for voluntary resettlement.
  • Israel does not consider Palestinians being allowed to return to their previous homelands as a right.
  • Many Palestinian refugees hold on to the keys to their homes or their families' homes from before they were displaced in 1948 or 1967.
 Palestinian holds a flag during a protest marking 'Land Day' along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, in the eastern Gaza Strip in March 2023.
Palestinian holds a flag during a protest marking "Land Day" along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, in the eastern Gaza Strip in March 2023. Photo: Mahmoud Issa/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two-state solution

In its simplest form, a two-state solution envisions establishing two sovereign states next to each other: Israel and Palestine.

  • Its framework, based on the 1967 borders with agreed-upon land swaps, is promoted by many Western governments, including the U.S.
  • There is much debate as to whether the two-state solution is still feasible after more than five decades of occupation and Israel's settlement expansion.

History

First and second intifadas

The intifadas are two Palestinian uprisings against Israel. Intifada in Arabic translates to "shaking off."

  • The first intifada began in December 1987 and ended in 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accords.
    • Hamas was established at the beginning of the first intifada.
    • Israel was widely criticized for its harsh crackdown during the first intifada. Estimates on the number of people killed vary, but about 1,000 Palestinians and 150 Israelis were killed over the six-year uprising.
  • The second intifada began in 2000 after Israel's then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the al-Aqsa Mosque compound with more than 1,000 security forces deployed around the city.
    • Discontent and anger about peace talks had already been simmering among Palestinians, resulting in the breakdown of the Oslo process just months before fighting began.
    • Israel again imposed a harsh crackdown. For Israelis, the second intifada was marked by suicide attacks by Palestinian militants.
    • More than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed by the beginning of 2005.

Nakba

The Nakba, or "catastrophe," refers to the mass forced displacement and killing of Palestinians in the events that led to the founding of Israel in 1948.

Oslo Accords

Two agreements were signed between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in 1993 and 1995.

  • They were intended to be a path to a two-state solution, which has not been achieved.

Editor's note: This list is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to explain every complexity of the conflict, but rather give users a guide as they read about the war.

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