FAST FACTS: The 2014 Gaza conflict
MANILA, Philippines – After several failed attempts at a binding ceasefire, Israel and Hamas militants on Tuesday, August 5, agreed on a 72-hour truce to temporarily stop weeks of deadly attacks.
The current conflict is the latest in a violent history between the two sides.
Here’s what you need to know to understand the key players and factors underlying the bloodshed in the region.
Why are Israel and Palestine fighting?
The latest outbreak of violence is the latest in the two sides’ conflict over territory and control.
Palestinians want to establish their own state on land currently controlled by Israel.
The 1967 Middle East war left the Jewish state in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Both have large Palestinian populations.
Palestinians consider the West Bank illegally occupied Palestinian land. It is important to Israel, however, because it is home to several Jewish holy sites.
The West Bank is governed by the Palestinian secular group Fatah, which is recognized by the international community.
Gaza, meanwhile, is controlled by the militant group Hamas, which took control in 2007 after a short conflict with Fatah.
While Israel has pulled out its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, the Jewish state continues to control Gaza's borders, airspace, and flow of goods.
Feelings of confinement and economic hardship brought about by the restricted movement of goods prompted Palestinians – including Hamas – to protest what they consider intolerable restrictions.
What is Hamas?
Hamas is an Islamist political organization and a militant “resistance” group against Israel. The word is an acronym for "Harakat Al-Muqawama Al-Islamia," or Islamic Resistance Movement in English. In Arabic, it means zeal or enthusiasm.
It is considered a terrorist group by the United States, Israel, Britain, and the European Union.
The group’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and the establishment of an Islamic fundamentalist Palestinian state.
This has become a sticking point in peace process efforts, as the group is fundamentally against the very existence of Israel.
But Robert Blecher, Israel and Palestine Program Director at the International Crisis Group, said claims that Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction are “outdated.”
What is the Palestinian unity government?
In April 2014, Hamas and the secular political party Fatah agreed to form a joint national government.
The joint government would also recognize Israel – contrary to Hamas’ charter – and commit to a two-state solution for the peace process.
What triggered the 2014 crisis?
Three Israeli teenagers were abducted in the West Bank, prompting Israel to launch a massive manhunt. Troops conducted house searches and detained Palestinian suspects.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas. Hamas denied involvement in the abduction; other reports suggested a “lone cell” may have been responsible.
The bodies were later found buried in a shallow grave, and investigators said the boys were apparently executed. Israel launched air strikes against Gaza in retaliation, as conflict began spreading over Israel's crackdown on Hamas.
Two days later, a Palestinian teenager was found burned to death, allegedly the work of Jewish extremists. Clashes mounted, air strikes and rocket attacks between Israel and Hamas increased in frequency, eventually leading to Israel’s launch of Operation Protective Edge.
What does each side demand for the fighting to stop?
Israel wants to demilitarize Gaza, destroy a vast network of cross-border tunnels that it says Hamas uses to attack Israel, and end the militant group’s firing of rockets into the Jewish state.
Hamas’ political leaders want Israel to stop the blockade of Gaza and its control over access points.
Why is it difficult to broker a ceasefire?
There have been several attempts at a ceasefire, some of which Israel has accepted. But these did not last long; the two sides resumed fighting, blaming the other for breaking the truce.
Hamas has said that hostilities would not stop until Israel agrees to its demands, which includes the lifting of the blockade of Gaza. Israel, meanwhile, has said it will continue destroying tunnels used by Hamas to attack the Jewish state.
The current lull, which started August 5, is the longest to take hold so far.
Creating a lasting solution to end the conflict is more complicated, as this involves questions over delineation of territory, and how to deal with Jewish settlements and Palestinian refugees, among other issues.
Israel does not trust Hamas, and it does not trust the current Palestinian government formed by Hamas and Fatah. While the joint national government would recognize Israel and commit to a two-state solution, Israel doubts this would hold up.
Why are most of the casualties civilians?
Gaza is a small but densely populated area. Palestinian officials say Israeli air strikes are hitting residential areas, but Israel says they are targeting homes belonging to senior Hamas militants.
Israel also says the militants are purposely firing from civilian areas to use them as human shields, a charge Hamas denies.
Israel has also defended their air raids, saying Hamas has fired long-range rockets towards Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, endangering civilians.
How has media framed the conflict?
Western media has come under criticism for allegedly being biased for one side.
The Guardian columnist Owen Jones, in an opinion piece, called for balance in the news after a BBC headline that initially read “Israel under renewed Hamas attack.”
Noting that more Palestinians have died in the conflict, Jones said media coverage has not reflected the reality in the conflict between a militarily superior Israel and Hamas militants firing “almost entirely ineffective missiles.”
He wrote: “The macabre truth is that Israeli life is deemed by the western media to be worth more than a Palestinian life – this is the hierarchy of death at work.”
With the UN calling on Israel to exercise restraint as civilian casualties piled up, analyst Steven Stotsky, writing for TIME Magazine, said casualty figures from Hamas should also be viewed with suspicion.
He said the group aims to turn public sentiment on their side by casting the Israeli military as indiscriminate and their attacks as disproportionate.
Analyzing the demographics of fatalities in the conflict, Stotsky raised doubts on figures provided by Hamas and Gaza-based groups claiming that as many as 75% of those killed were non-combatants.
The Times of Israel also noted that US media were more sympathetic to Israel, while British media tended to criticize the Jewish state.
Both Hamas and the Israeli side have also sought to use social media to drum up support for their causes and turn public sentiment against the other.
Hamas and its armed wing have produced a 5-minute music video as part of its propaganda program to rally Palestinians behind their cause and to address Israelis directly.
An expert says Hamas built its Israel-focused propaganda strategy over more than a decade, a strategy learned from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
The messages are intended to create fear and turn Israelis against their own government.
Hamas’ armed wing has also reactivated the Hebrew-language version of its Twitter feed when the latest round of violence began on July 7.
On the Israeli side, military spokesperson Twitter accounts used Arabic and featured video footage that aimed to illustrated the "targeted" nature of air strikes.
When the current crisis erupted in early July, Twitter saw the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack used hundreds of thousands of times, accompanied by images that purported to show Palestinians suffering from the Israeli airstrikes. But BBC noted that some of the images were from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, while others dated to 2009.
Are there Filipinos in danger in Gaza?
On July 19, the Philippines ordered the mandatory evacuation of its nationals from Gaza.
The Philippine foreign affairs department raised Alert Level 4 in the area, citing security threats posed by the conflict.
There are an estimated 109 Filipinos in the Gaza Strip, about 113 Filipinos in the West Bank, and 36,400 Filipinos in Israel. – Rappler.com