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The Global Conflict Tracker is an interactive guide to ongoing conflicts around the world of concern to the United States with background information and resources. This project is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Updated July 13, 2024
A missile explodes in the sky over a building at night.
A missile explodes in Gaza city during an Israeli air strike on October 8, 2023.
Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images
A soldier in green fatigues walks away from a damaged building.
An Israeli soldier patrols near a police station, which was the site of a battle following a mass infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot, Israel, on October 8, 2023.
Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Civilians stand in the rubble of a demolished building.
Palestinians search for survivors after an Israeli airstrike on the refugee camp of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip on October 9, 2023.
Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images
A Palestinian demonstrator holds a sling during a protest marking the seventieth anniversary of the Nakba near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah in the West Bank.
Mohamad Torokman/Reuters
Mourners carry the bodies of three Palestinians killed by Israeli forces during a funeral in Nablus, on February 8, 2022.
Raneen Sawafta/TPX Images of the Day via Reuters
An Israeli border police officer gestures as machinery demolishes a Palestinian house near Yatta, in the West Bank, on November 3, 2021.
Mussa Qawasma/TPX Images of the Day via Reuters
A Palestinian boy walks past the remains of a tower building destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, on May 12, 2021.
Suhaib Salem/TPX Images of the Day via Reuters

It has been ninr months since Hamas launched its deadly attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, prompting the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to engage in aerial campaigns and ground operations within the Gaza Strip. On June 8, the IDF undertook an operation in central Gaza to rescue four hostages while Gazan authorities reported that 274 Palestinians were killed, and hundreds of others were injured. Other efforts to free the more than one hundred remaining Israeli and foreign hostages taken by Hamas on October 7 have been largely unsuccessful, and their location and health status are unknown. Almost two million Gazans—more than 85 percent of the population—have fled their homes since October 2023. Recent casualty estimates from the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry place the death toll in Gaza at around 34,000, though such numbers are challenging to verify due to limited international access to the strip. On June 9, Benny Gantz, an important member of Israel’s war cabinet, resigned from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government over the progression of military operations in Gaza and the absence of post-war planning by Netanyahu; Netanyahu later dissolved the six-member war cabinet. On July 13, Israel conducted a major strike on south Gaza targeting two top Hamas commanders that killed at least seventy-one people. Meanwhile, neither Hamas nor Israel have agreed to the terms laid out by U.S. President Joe Biden for a ceasefire and hostage release. 

The conflict has sparked increased regional tensions across the Middle East. Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon have engaged in cross-border skirmishes with the IDF, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have shot missiles at Israel and commercial ships in the Red Sea, and other Iran-backed groups have launched dozens of attacks on U.S. military positions in Iraq and Syria. (For more on the direct confrontation between Iran and Israel and the role of the United States, visit the Confrontation With Iran page.) 

Background

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the end of the nineteenth century. In 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181, known as the Partition Plan, which sought to divide the British Mandate of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was created, sparking the first Arab-Israeli War. The war ended in 1949 with Israel’s victory, but 750,000 Palestinians were displaced, and the territory was divided into 3 parts: the State of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), and the Gaza Strip. 

Over the following years, tensions rose in the region, particularly between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Following the 1956 Suez Crisis and Israel’s invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria signed mutual defense pacts in anticipation of a possible mobilization of Israeli troops. In June 1967, following a series of maneuvers by Egyptian President Abdel Gamal Nasser, Israel preemptively 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.

Six years later, 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; the conflict did not result in significant gains for Egypt, Israel, or Syria, but Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat declared the war a victory for Egypt as it allowed Egypt and Syria to negotiate over previously ceded territory. Finally, in 1979, following a series of cease-fires and peace negotiations, representatives from Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords, a peace treaty that ended the thirty-year conflict between Egypt and Israel. 

Even though the Camp David Accords improved relations between Israel and its neighbors, the question of Palestinian self-determination and self-governance remained unresolved. In 1987, 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. The 1993 Oslo I Accords mediated the conflict, setting up a framework for the Palestinians to govern themselves in the West Bank and Gaza, and enabled mutual recognition between the newly established Palestinian Authority and Israel’s government. In 1995, the Oslo II Accords expanded on the first agreement, adding provisions that mandated the complete withdrawal of Israel from 6 cities and 450 towns in the West Bank. 

In 2000, sparked in part by 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—in September 2000, Palestinians launched the second intifada, which would last until 2005. In response, the Israeli government approved the construction of a barrier wall around the West Bank in 2002, despite opposition from the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. 

Factionalism among the Palestinians flared up when Hamas won the Palestinian Authority’s parliamentary elections in 2006, deposing longtime majority party Fatah. This gave Hamas, a political and militant movement inspired by the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, control of the Gaza Strip. Gaza is a small piece of land on the Mediterranean Sea that borders Egypt to the south and has been under the rule of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority since 1993. The United States and European Union, among others, did not acknowledge Hamas’ electoral victory, as the group has been considered a terrorist organization by western governments since the late 1990s. Following Hamas’ seizure of control, violence broke out between Hamas and Fatah. Between 2006 and 2011, a series of failed peace talks and deadly confrontations culminated in an agreement to reconcile. Fatah entered into a unity government with Hamas in 2014.

In the summer of 2014, clashes in the Palestinian territories precipitated a military confrontation between the Israeli military and Hamas in which Hamas fired nearly three thousand rockets at Israel, and Israel retaliated with a major offensive in Gaza. The skirmish ended in late August 2014 with a cease-fire deal brokered by Egypt, but only after 73 Israelis and 2,251 Palestinians were killed. After a wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in 2015, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah announced that Palestinians would no longer be bound by the territorial divisions created by the Oslo Accords.

In March of 2018, Israeli troops killed 183 Palestinians and wounded 6,000 others after some Palestinians stormed the perimeter fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel and threw rocks during an otherwise peaceful demonstration. Just months later, Hamas militants fired over one hundred rockets into Israel, and Israel responded with strikes on more than fifty targets in Gaza during a twenty-four-hour flare-up. The tense political atmosphere resulted in a return to disunity between Fatah and Hamas, with Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party controlling the Palestinian Authority from the West Bank and Hamas de facto ruling the Gaza Strip.

The Donald J. Trump administration reversed longstanding U.S. policy by canceling funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees, and relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Trump administration also helped broker the Abraham Accords, under which Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates normalized relations with Israel, becoming only the third and fourth countries in the region—following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994—to do so. Similar deals followed with Morocco [PDF] and Sudan. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah rejected the accords, as did Hamas.

In early May 2021, after a court ruled in favor of the eviction of several Palestinian families from East Jerusalem properties, protests erupted, with Israeli police employing force against demonstrators. After several consecutive days of violence, Hamas, the militant group which governs Gaza, and other Palestinian militant groups launched hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory. Israel responded with artillery bombardments and airstrikes, killing more than twenty Palestinians and hitting both military and non-military infrastructure, including residential buildings, media headquarters, and refugee and healthcare facilities. After eleven days, Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire, with both sides claiming victory. The fighting killed more than 250 Palestinians and at least 13 Israelis, wounded nearly 2,000 others, and displaced 72,000 Palestinians.   

The most far-right and religious government in Israel’s history, led by Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and his Likud party and comprising two ultra-Orthodox parties and three far-right parties, was inaugurated in late December 2022. The coalition government prioritized the expansion and development of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, endorsed discrimination against LGBTQ+ people on religious grounds, and voted to limit judicial oversight of the government in May 2023 after a delay due to nationwide protests in March. 

Concerns

Following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas on October 7, 2023, President Joe Biden made a strong statement of support for Israel. On the same day that Israel declared war against Hamas, the United States announced that it would send renewed shipments of arms and move its Mediterranean Sea warships closer to Israel. While the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the renewed violence, the members failed to come to a consensus statement. Given the history of brutality when Israel and Palestinian extremist groups have fought in the past, international groups quickly expressed concern for the safety of civilians in Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as those being held hostage by militants in Gaza. In the first month of fighting, approximately 1,300 Israelis and 10,000 Palestinians were killed. Increasing loss of life is of primary concern in the conflict.

While the United States said there was “no direct evidence” that Iranian intelligence and security forces directly helped Hamas plan its October 7 attack, Iran has a well-established patronage relationship with Hamas and other extremist groups across the Middle East. Israel has exchanged artillery fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah almost daily and struck Syrian military targets and airports, prompting concern that the war could expand north. To the south, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have launched multiple rounds of missiles at Israel as well. Meanwhile, the Islamic Resistance of Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias, has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on U.S. military targets in Iraq and Syria since the war began.

A 2023 effort by the United States to help broker a normalization accord between Israel and Saudi Arabia was thrown into chaos by the October conflict. Saudi Arabia has long advocated for the rights and safety of Palestinian Arab populations in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Especially in Gaza, those populations are now in the path of IDF operations, jeopardizing the progress the Israelis and Saudis made toward a common understanding. However, the United States says the Saudis have indicated they are still interested in the deal.

Recent Developments

In early October 2023, Hamas fighters fired rockets into Israel and stormed southern Israeli cities and towns across the border of the Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,300 Israelis, injuring 3,300, and taking hundreds of hostages. The attack took Israel by surprise, though the state quickly mounted a deadly retaliatory operation. One day after the October 7 attack, the Israeli cabinet formally declared war against Hamas, followed by a directive from the defense minister to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to carry out a “complete siege” of Gaza. It is the most significant escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in several decades.

Israel ordered more than one million Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate ahead of a ground invasion that began on October 27th. The ground invasion began in the north in conjunction with Israel’s continued aerial assault. The first stage of the ground invasion ended on November 24 with the hostage-for-prisoner swap that also allowed more aid into Gaza. After seven days, the war resumed—particularly in Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza that Israel claims is a Hamas stronghold.

Under pressure from its principal ally, the United States, Israel announced it would begin to withdraw soldiers from the Gaza Strip in January 2024. Since then, military analysts speculate that the IDF has pulled out at least 90 percent of the troops that were in the territory a few months ago, leaving one remaining brigade. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, is unwavering in his position that an Israeli offensive in Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip where over one million Palestinians have taken refuge, is essential to eradicating Hamas.

In mid-March, Israel conducted a two-week raid on al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical center in Gaza. Israel claimed Hamas was operating out of al-Shifa, and it reportedly killed 200 fighters and captured an additional 500. The U.S. intelligence community later determined that Hamas had used al-Shifa as a command center and held some hostages there, but the Islamist group evacuated the complex days prior to the Israeli operation. In late April, two mass graves were discovered at al-Shifa and Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, another target of an Israeli operation. More than 300 bodies were found among the two sites; the United Nations has called for an independent investigation.

On April 1, Israel launched an airstrike on an Iranian consular building in Damascus, Syria, killing multiple senior Iranian military officers. In response, Iran engaged directly in the war by launching over 300 drones and missiles at Israel on April 13. Though Israel was able to ward off the attack and only sustained minor damage to an air base, the escalation marked Iran’s first-ever direct attack on Israel. As Israel weighed an extensive counterstrike on multiple military targets in Iran, the United States and other allies advised against actions that they feared would further widen the war. Israel ultimately launched a more limited aerial strike on military bases in Isfahan and Tabriz on April 19. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi later downplayed the response, suggesting Iran aimed to avoid further escalation.

Gaza is desperately low on water, fuel, and supplies as Hamas has rejected the most recent cease-fire proposals mediated by the United States and Egypt, while Israel has limited the amount of aid that can enter. Many humanitarian agencies suspended their operations after Israel killed seven World Center Kitchen employees in an airstrike. The World Food Programme warns famine is now imminent in Gaza. Only eleven out of thirty-five hospitals in the strip remain partially functional due to attacks on medical infrastructure and a lack of basic supplies. The World Health Organization has warned of disease spread in addition to mounting civilian casualties.

The displacement of millions more Palestinians presents a challenge for Egypt and Jordan, which have absorbed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the past but have resisted accepting anyone during the current war. They fear that Gazans, many of whom were already displaced from elsewhere in Israel, will not be allowed to return once they leave. Egypt also fears that Hamas fighters could enter Egypt and trigger a new war in the Sinai by launching attacks on Israel or destabilizing the authoritarian regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. So far, negotiations have resulted in only 1,100 people exiting Gaza through the Rafah border crossing to Egypt. The other 1.5 million displaced Gazans—70 percent of the territory’s population—remained confined to southern Gaza and face increasingly dire living conditions and security risks.

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