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A history of violence

Hamas’ attack on Israel is only the latest in a 75-year war

Rockets fired from Gaza City (right) are intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense missile system (left) on Oct. 10. Eyad Baba/AFP via Getty Images

A history of violence
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Israelis on Oct. 7 woke up to a nation in crisis.

Rockets rained down on cities and towns, bulldozers toppled border fences, and hundreds of armed militants from Gaza flooded the border and crossed into Israel. Some militants arrived by paragliders; others used boats to storm Israeli beaches.

The ensuing death and carnage by armed members of Hamas claimed more Israeli lives than any attack since the Holocaust and caught Israel by surprise. But threats from the terrorist group are nothing new. A ­rundown of Hamas’ history reveals an organization with a persistent commitment to wiping Israel off the map.

Launched in 1987 as an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has never been shy about publicizing its core mission and has frequently resorted to suicide bombings and other attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Iran is a primary financial backer of Hamas, and the U.S. State Department designated the group a terrorist organization in 1997.

Israel has never quite figured out how to govern the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and various international powers have proposed Palestinian statehood on part of the land—a solution rejected by Arabs prior to Israel’s independence. In 2005, Israel took the first steps toward that plan by evacuating all Israelis from the Gaza Strip.

But Palestinians in Gaza voted Hamas into power, and civil war broke out between Hamas and the previous party in power, Fatah. In 2007 Hamas took control of Gaza and imposed Islamic law in the territory.

A year later, Hamas militants fired rockets into Israel, and Israeli forces retaliated. In the first of what would be many clashes, the conflict killed 13 Israelis and more than 1,000 Palestinians. Hamas’ popularity has waned in recent years as Palestinians suffer under its governance as well as Israeli blockades.

On Oct. 7, Israel launched a counterattack operation to demolish Hamas and end its reign of terror. Israeli forces killed thousands of civilians and Hamas operatives during the first week of strikes. Meanwhile, Hamas took nearly 200 hostages, including several Americans, into Gaza and threatened to kill them one by one if Israel continued shelling Gazan homes without warning. On Oct. 17, an errant rocket likely fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad hit a Gaza hospital site, killing an estimated 100-300 people, according an assessment from U.S. intelligence officials.

The conflict underscores Iran’s continuing role in terrorist networks across the region and the 75-year chasm between Palestinian and Israeli leadership as they vie for control of a tiny piece of land that is rich with religious significance. Below, we look back at the road that led Israel to this latest war.

—This summary has been updated to reflect a U.S. intelligence assessment regarding the Oct. 17 rocket explosion at a Gaza hospital.


The Balfour Declaration signals Britain’s support for the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Terror amid the Holocaust

Terror amid the Holocaust AP


The Holocaust: Nazis murder one-third of the world’s Jewish population.


The United Nations General Assembly approves a partition plan that divides Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under international jurisdiction. Jewish representatives accept the plan—but the Palestinians reject it.


Israel declares independence on May 14, and neighboring Arab countries declare war.

The Arab-Israeli War

The Arab-Israeli War Bettmann/Getty Images


Arab-Israeli War: Egypt, Syria, Transjordan (later Jordan), Lebanon, and Iraq join forces in an attempt to terminate Israel’s statehood ambitions. More than 700,000 Palestinians flee their homes while Israel absorbs nearly 600,000 Jewish immigrants expelled from Muslim countries. Israel wins the 10-month war, but Egypt gains control of the Gaza Strip and Jordan takes over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and its Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holy sites.


Israel joins British and French forces in a battle to return the Suez Canal to Western control. Egypt triggers the invasion when it nationalizes the canal and blocks Israeli shipping, cutting off exports to the Southern Hemisphere. The United States, fearing war with Egypt’s Soviet ally, brokers a cease-fire eight days into the conflict.

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat Terence Spencer/Popperfoto via Getty Images


The Palestinian Liberation Organiza­tion (PLO) is founded. The group’s charter calls for Israel’s destruction, and the PLO launches terrorist attacks that kill thousands of Israelis. Yasser Arafat commands the PLO from 1969 until his death in 2004. In 1988 he renounces terrorism and acknowledges Israel’s statehood.


Six-Day War: Israel launches preemptive strikes against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan after Egypt bans Israeli shipping from the Straits of Tiran and builds up troops in the Sinai. Israel wins the war and nearly triples its size, gaining control over the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Golan Heights, and Sinai Peninsula. Israelis celebrate their return to Jewish holy sites in East Jerusalem’s Old City but wrestle with how to manage more than 1 million Palestinians in the newly occupied territories.


Jordan expels the PLO. Arafat establishes a new base in Lebanon where the group continues to carry out attacks against Israel.


Palestinian members of the Black September terrorist group kill an Israeli athlete and a coach during the Munich Summer Olympics, then take nine Israeli team ­members hostage. Israel refuses to negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners and all nine athletes die in a shootout.


Yom Kippur War: Egypt and Syria launch a surprise attack against Israel with heavy casualties on all sides. Israel prevails against the Arab armies, but the 19-day war is widely viewed as an Israeli intelligence failure.

President Jimmy Carter brokers the Camp David Accords

President Jimmy Carter brokers the Camp David Accords AP


During historic meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat becomes the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel. U.S. President Jimmy Carter brokered the treaties, known as the Camp David Accords.


The PLO tries but fails to assassinate Israel’s ambassador to Britain. Israel invades Lebanon, forcing the PLO to regroup in Tunisia, where it operates until 1994. The Israeli-backed Phalange militia murders nearly 3,000 Palestinians in a two-day raid of the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps.


Hamas founded.

The first Palestinian intifada

The first Palestinian intifada Esaias Baitel/AFP via Getty Images


The first Palestinian intifada (“uprising” in Arabic). Angered by what they say is unjust treatment by the Israeli government, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza stage protests that turn violent and evolve into a yearslong uprising. Some 160 Israelis and more than 1,000 Palestinians die in the violence.


Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sign the Oslo Accords. In these treaties, Israel agrees to ­gradually withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank and hand over governance to the Palestinian Authority. Arafat and the PLO return to Gaza after a 27-year exile.


Jordan becomes the second Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel and resolves crucial land and water disputes during the negotiations.


A Jewish extremist assassinates Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel laureate Yitzhak Rabin. The assassination underscores the controversial nature of “land for peace” deals among Israelis who question the sincerity of Palestinian leadership.


Lebanon War: Israel launches a three-week offensive against the Iranian-backed militant organization Hezbollah following the terrorist group’s campaign to dismantle Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon.


The second Palestinian intifada. Nearly 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis die in the uprising.


Israel removes nearly 9,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in a step toward Palestinian self-rule and a two-state solution to the conflict.


Hamas Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images


Hamas gains control of Gaza.


Hamas militants fire rockets from Gaza into Israel, and Israeli forces retaliate. The three-week conflict kills more than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.


Israel deploys the Iron Dome. The anti-rocket missile defense system gives Israel the capability to intercept rockets regularly fired from Gaza into Israel.


Hamas militants kidnap and murder three Israeli teenagers, launching seven weeks of fighting that kills more than 2,000 Palestinians and 73 Israelis. Hamas uses a network of underground tunnels to smuggle weapons from Egypt into Gaza in preparation for the attack.

A man carries an injured child in the West Bank

A man carries an injured child in the West Bank Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images


Fighting erupts after weeks of tension in the West Bank, and Hamas fires more than 3,700 rockets at cities and towns inside Israel. Israeli forces retaliate with airstrikes they claim destroyed 60 miles of militant tunnels in Gaza and killed more than 200 Hamas members, but the reprisal also costs civilians their lives. Hamas often houses its weapons factories and launch sites in civilian centers like schools and hospitals. Israel tries to avoid civilian casualties by first warning ­residents with phone calls and “knock on the roof” nonexplosive missiles.


Completion of Israel’s “iron wall” ­barrier. The massive structure runs along Israel’s 40-mile border with Gaza and includes an underground wall to curtail tunneling, a 20-foot-high above-ground fence, and radar systems. For its part, Egypt attempts to destroy militant tunnels on its 9-mile-long border with Gaza, but Hamas finds ways to maintain its extensive labyrinth. The tunnels are believed to be as deep as 100 feet below ground with entrances under schools, mosques, and other civilian structures.


Israel attacks an Islamic Jihad headquarters in what it claims is a ­preemptive strike against the Iranian-backed militant group. The attack triggers three days of violence, including more than 1,000 rockets fired from Gaza, but Israel’s Iron Dome defense systems prevent Israeli casualties.

Oct. 7, 2023

Hundreds of Hamas militants storm southern Israel as the nation wraps up the Jewish holy day of Sukkot. The attackers kill more than 1,400 people, primarily Israeli civilians, and take 199 hostages. Among the dead are at least 30 Americans. Israel vows to destroy Hamas and launches a deadly offensive in Gaza as the United States sends a carrier strike group to the Mediterranean.

Antonio Macías Montaño’s mother weeps over her son’s body at a cemetery near Tel Aviv, Israel. Macías was killed by Hamas terrorists while attending the Supernova music festival in southern Israel.

Antonio Macías Montaño’s mother weeps over her son’s body at a cemetery near Tel Aviv, Israel. Macías was killed by Hamas terrorists while attending the Supernova music festival in southern Israel. Francisco Seco/AP

Jill Nelson

Jill is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas at Austin. Jill lives in Orange County, Calif., with her husband, two sons, and three daughters.



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