Israel is in the midst of its second ground invasion of the Gaza Strip in six years. Here's the story of the ceaseless conflict, told through historic quotes.
"We are a generation that settles the land, and without the steel helmet and the cannon's fire we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home.”
This is from a funeral oration delivered in April 1956 by Moshe Dayan, then chief of the Israel Defense Forces. Dayan, a seminal figure in Israeli history, was honoring a settler killed in a kibbutz near the border with the Gaza Strip, then technically under Egyptian control. The thin slice of land had seen an influx of Palestinian refugees after Israel's 1948 war of independence, as Israeli forces seized and razed myriad Palestinian villages. Neighboring Arab states had fought against Israel's creation.
Dayan was sanguine not just about the strength of arms needed to win and protect a homeland for the Jewish people, but about its effects on the Palestinians displaced and dispossessed as a result. "Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today," he said in the same speech, referring to the Palestinians behind the attack on the kibbutz. "Why should we deplore their burning hatred for us? For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and the villages, where they and their fathers dwelt, into our estate."
A decade later, Israel took control of Gaza following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The founding of Hamas
"Raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine."
This is a line from the 1988 Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement--the founding charter of the militant group Hamas. The Palestinian Islamist faction sprung up as an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and presented something of a challenge to the more secular nationalists who made up the Palestine Liberation Organization of the late Yasser Arafat. It emerged on the scene in Gaza during the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip that began in 1987 and raged for four years until a peace conference in Madrid in 1991.
The First Intifada marked a significant shift in the Mideast: the struggle in the region was no longer between Israel and its neighbors, but Israel and the Arabs who lived under its occupation. It started with acts of civil disobedience and non-violent protests, but Israeli crackdowns and Palestinian radicalization led to a spiraling crisis. Some 120,000 Palestinians were jailed over the course of the First Intifada. At least 1,100 Palestinians died at the hands of Israeli security forces; 1,000 suspected "collaborators" were killed by fellow Palestinians.
The uprising won unprecedented international sympathy and led to the eventual signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, which underlie the now stalled peace process. But it also heralded the arrival of jihadist group Hamas in Palestinian political life.
"By the end of 2005 there will not be a single Jew left in the Gaza Strip."
The late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presented in the summer 2004 to a Knesset committee his plans to withdraw all Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli "disengagement" from Gaza was aimed at curbing Palestinian attacks on Israelis. The Second Intifada, which kicked off in 2000 and lasted half a decade, had seen numerous suicide bombings and terror attacks launched by Hamas and affiliated groups. Israel ceded governance of the Strip to the Palestinian Authority, but retained tight controls on the territory's borders and the movement of its crammed population. Scenes of the forced removal of nearly 10,000 Israeli citizens from settlements in Gaza struck a chord in Israeli society and divided its politics--current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quit the government then over the decision. Sharon was hailed by the international community for his "political courage." Hamas celebrated the Israeli withdrawal as proof of the legitimacy of its violent tactics.
"This is the choice of the people. It should be respected."
In January 2006, Hamas shocked many when it swept elections for the Palestinian parliament. Then-Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia, a member of the late Arafat's Fatah party, conceded defeat after results indicated a Hamas victory. But Hamas's electoral mandate was never really accepted. Western powers and Israel insisted the organization renounce violence, which it did not. Israel clamped down on the border and detained 64 leading Hamas members. According to a 2008 expose in Vanity Fair, American officials in the Bush administration secretly discussed with members of Fatah a sort of coup to dissolve Hamas' government. In June 2007, as tensions between Fatah and Hamas reached their climax, the Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip in a show of force. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the West Bank, summarily dissolved the Hamas-dominated government and the Palestinian territories experienced a de facto split between Hamas in Gaza and Abbas's Fatah in the West Bank.
"The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years."
The last time that Israel mounted a ground operation in the Gaza Strip was at the end of 2008 with Operation Cast Lead. For two weeks Israel ran a combined ground and air campaign that was initially hailed as a success (though it was subsequently criticized for its high death toll). However, just a few years later, Israel ended up militarily intervening in Gaza again, for Operation Pillar of Defense. The comment above was made by Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Nov. 18, 2012, and he was widely criticized for its tone.
A unity government
“Today we declare the end of the split and regaining the unity of the homeland. This black page in our history has been closed forever.”
Following the ousting of the Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood government and the closing of tunnels to and from the Gaza Strip, Hamas's popularity had taken a hit. Unable to pay the salaries of state employees anymore, it agreed to a deal to join a unity government with the Palestinian Authority's Fatah in April.
At the time the news was greeted optimistically, with Palestinian Authority President and leader of the PLO Mahmoud Abbas making the above statement on Palestinian television at the start of June. But the unity government already had one huge flaw from the start: The Israeli government called off peace talks, refusing to negotiate with any government that included Hamas.
The missing teens
“Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”
On Monday, June 30, 2014, the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who had disappeared while hitchhiking were discovered after an 18-day search. In the statement, quoted above, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unequivocal that Hamas was behind the boys' murders, which he said was committed by "human animals."
Hamas have repeatedly denied being involved in the murders of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Frenkel, but Israel has refused to accept these denials. The murders, and the apparently retaliatory murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khieder, were the spark that ignited the current conflict, with hundreds of Hamas members arrested and Palestinians returning to missile strikes.
The rockets and missiles
"Today there is no intention of relaxation and calm. Palestinian blood has been spilled. There is no place for talking about peace with the Israeli occupation. If they want to protect their entity from Hamas's missiles, they will have to put an Iron Dome on every home in Israel."
These comments, made by Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum on July 8, 2014, came after Israeli airstrikes began targeting its members and their weapon supplies in the Gaza Strip. According to Israeli Defense Forces, at this point Hamas and other militant groups had just fired 150 missiles into Israel over a 24-hour time period.
The quote, a mixture of bravado and anger, is telling. Despite the apparent use of new missile technology that significantly increases their range, Palestinian missiles have largely failed to cause deaths in Israel (one Israeli man was killed by mortar fire on July 15). This is in part due to the technology they are using, but also due to the remarkable success of Israel's "Iron Dome" missile defense system, which is said to be 90 percent effective in knocking Palestinian attacks out of the sky. Given the lopsided nature of the death tolls in these conflicts, its understandable to ask why Hamas bothers firing rockets at all. Hamas may well argue it has nothing left to lose.
The human cost
"They are only children."
This comment, made by journalists staying at the Al Diera hotel, took place on July 16, when dozens of foreign journalists witnessed four Palestinian children being killed by an Israeli attack on the beach. The Post's William Booth was among those there, noting that the boys were "scrawny fishermen’s kids whom we saw every day, running around on the beach, playing in the waves."
It was a horrifying moment in the conflict, and a visceral reminder for the international community that many innocents are caught in the middle of this fight. But it wasn't an isolated incident: By this point, the Palestinian Health Ministry was saying that 39 children had already died.
The ground war
"We are moving from Iron Dome to an iron fist."
On Thursday evening, Israel announced that it was moving from aerial strikes to a ground offensive, arguing that they needed to destroy tunnels used by Palestinian militants to infiltrate into Israel. Shortly before the announcement, Naftali Bennett, Israel economy minister, had made the above comments as a warning to Hamas.
Bennett, leader of the Zionist political party Jewish Home, is known for his hawkish views. In this case, however, his views may not be isolated. A poll conducted on Tuesday found that a majority of Israelis did not accept a proposed ceasefire, even though Netanyahu supported it, and other polls have found high support for a ground war among the Israeli public. While there are many voices of dissent, the "iron fist" appears to be popular.