Israel-Gaza violence: The conflict explained

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A pro-Palestinian woman and a pro-Israeli man shouting at each otherImage source, Getty Images

A ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants is holding, after three days of violence in which at least 44 people have died.

It's the most serious flare-up since an 11-day conflict in May 2021.

The ceasefire was mediated by Egypt - which has acted as an intermediary between Israel and Gaza in the past.

The latest violence began with Israeli attacks on sites in the Gaza Strip, which its military said was in response to threats from a militant group called Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

It followed days of tensions after Israel arrested a senior PIJ member in the occupied West Bank.

A 100-year-old issue

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Bethlehem in the early 20th Century

Britain took control of the area known as Palestine after the ruler of that part of the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire, was defeated in World War One.

The land was inhabited by a Jewish minority and Arab majority.

Tensions between the two peoples grew when the international community gave Britain the task of establishing a "national home" in Palestine for Jewish people.

For Jews it was their ancestral home, but Palestinian Arabs also claimed the land and opposed the move.

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Image caption,
A Haganah (Jewish Underground) fighter just before the start of the Israeli War of Independence 1948

Between the 1920s and 1940s, the number of Jews arriving there grew, with many fleeing from persecution in Europe and seeking a homeland after the Holocaust of World War Two.

Violence between Jews and Arabs, and against British rule, also grew.

In 1947, the UN voted for Palestine to be split into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem becoming an international city.

That plan was accepted by Jewish leaders but rejected by the Arab side and never implemented.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The soldiers of allied Arab Legion forces fire on fighters of the Haganah, the Jewish Agency self-defence force, in March 1948

The creation of Israel and the 'Catastrophe'

In 1948, unable to solve the problem, British rulers left and Jewish leaders declared the creation of the state of Israel.

Many Palestinians objected and a war followed. Troops from neighbouring Arab countries invaded.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes in what they call Al Nakba, or the "Catastrophe"

By the time the fighting ended in a ceasefire the following year, Israel controlled most of the territory.

Jordan occupied land which became known as the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza.

Jerusalem was divided between Israeli forces in the West, and Jordanian forces in the East.

Because there was never a peace agreement - with each side blaming the other - there were more wars and fighting in the following decades.

The map today

In another war in 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as most of the Syrian Golan Heights, Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula.

Most Palestinian refugees and their descendants live in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in neighbouring Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Neither they nor their descendants have been allowed by Israel to return to their homes - Israel says this would overwhelm the country and threaten its existence as a Jewish state.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Israeli military commanders arrive in East Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967

Israel still occupies the West Bank, and although it pulled out of Gaza the UN still regards that piece of land as occupied territory.

Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The US is one of only a handful of countries to recognise the city as Israel's capital.

In the past 50 years Israel has built settlements in these areas, where more than 600,000 Jews now live.

Settlements are held to be illegal under international law - that is the position of the UN Security Council and the UK government, among others - although Israel rejects this.

What's happening now?

Image source, Getty Images

Tensions are often high between Israel and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.

Gaza is ruled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has fought Israel many times. Israel and Egypt tightly control Gaza's borders to stop weapons getting to Hamas.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank say they are suffering because of Israeli actions and restrictions. Israel says it is only acting to protect itself from Palestinian violence.

The threatened eviction of some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem has also caused rising anger.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Palestinians celebrate the ceasefire in Gaza City

What are the main problems?

There are a number of issues which Israel and the Palestinians cannot agree on.

These include:

  • What should happen to Palestinian refugees
  • Whether Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank should stay or be removed
  • Whether the two sides should share Jerusalem
  • And - perhaps most tricky of all - whether a Palestinian state should be created alongside Israel

Peace talks have been taking place on and off for more than 25 years, but so far have not solved the conflict.

What does the future hold?

In short, the situation isn't going to be sorted out any time soon.

The most recent peace plan, prepared by the United States when Donald Trump was president, was called "the deal of the century" by Israel's then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But it was been dismissed by the Palestinians as one-sided and never got off the ground.

Any future peace deal will need both sides to agree to resolve complex issues.

The BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, said the violence in May 2021 was the fourth big war between Hamas and Israel since 2008.

He's seen previous wars end like this before, adding: "Similar things have been said by both sides in claiming victory and then essentially the seeds of the next conflict are sown.

"I can tell you one thing for certain - that if the status quo does not change favourably, there will be another round of this."

Correction 21st June 2021: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the US as recognising Israel's claim to the whole of Jerusalem and this has been amended to instead explain that the US recognises the city as Israel's capital.

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