Catherine O’Donnellemail@example.com/Executive Editor
This article has been updated to reflect the latest information available.
Since the Hamas attack in Israel on October 7, in which more than 1,200 Israelis were massacred, according to latest figures from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the world has been gripped by the rapidly unfolding events playing out in the Middle East.
Israel and Palestine have been caught up in a bitter struggle for survival since the turn of the twentieth century. There is a deep, complicated history behind the violence taking place today.
This is a timeline of some (but certainly not all) of the key events that have led to the current war. With events changing rapidly by the hour, it is important to continue following the news for further updates.
British Mandate Period: (World War I to World War II)
1917: The Balfour Declaration is issued by the British government, expressing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
1920: The League of Nations grants Britain the mandate to govern Palestine, which will expire in 1948.
1948 Arab-Israeli War
In 1947, the United Nations passes a plan to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under international administration.
May 14, 1948: David Ben-Gurion declares the establishment of the State of Israel. The next day, Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, invade Israel. Up to one million Palestinians are forcibly expelled from Israel to the surrounding Arab states, including Lebanon and Jordan, where many of their descendants still reside in refugee camps.
This expulsion became known by the Palestinians as the “Nakba” or “catastrophe.”
1949: Armistice agreements are signed, resulting in Israel’s recognition by some Arab states, but no formal peace treaties are agreed upon.
The West Bank is controlled by Transjordan (now Jordan), and Gaza is controlled by Egypt. Periodic conflicts and tensions persist.
Over the next decades, millions of Jews immigrate into Israel from Europe, Asia and North Africa.
1967: The Six Day War. Israel launches a preemptive strike against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, leading to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, along with the Golan Heights in Syria.
1973: The Yom Kippur War. Egypt and Syria launch a surprise attack on Israel, leading to a conflict that ends with a ceasefire and negotiations.
1979: Egypt becomes the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel, signing the Camp David Accords with the United States as a mediator.
1987: The First Intifada (Palestinian uprising) begins in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in response to continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
1987: Hamas (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement) is formed by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian refugee living in Gaza. The group vows to annihilate Israel and is subsequently responsible for many suicide bombings and other deadly attacks on civilians and Israeli soldiers.
1993-1995: The Oslo Accords are signed by the Israelis and Palestinian Liberation Organization. This leads to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and allows it limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas is not a party to the accords.
1997: The U.S. State Department designates Hamas a terrorist group. The European Union and other Western countries also consider it a terrorist organization.
The Second Intifada erupts, resulting in significant violence and casualties.
2005: Israel unilaterally withdraws from the Gaza Strip. Jewish settlers in Gaza are forced to leave.
2006: Hamas wins Palestinian legislative elections and takes control of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority continues to run the West Bank under Israeli occupation. Israel and Egypt co-ordinate a blockade of the Gaza Strip and control the flow of resources into and out of Gaza. More than two million Palestinians – half of them under the age of 18 – live in the Gaza Strip, an area of 141 square miles, the third most densely populated territory on Earth.
2008: Israel launches Operation Cast Lead, a military invasion in response to rocket attacks from Gaza.
2014: Another Israeli incursion, Operation Protective Edge, takes place in Gaza.
2017: Under President Donald Trump, the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, leading to widespread protests and international criticism.
2021: Israeli police raid the Muslim holy site of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
2022: A string of terrorist attacks in Israel. A right-wing coalition headed by Benjamin Netanyahu (who is under indictment for corruption) takes control of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, with the stated aim of increasing Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank.
2023: Netanyahu and his government attempts to overhaul the Israeli judiciary to weaken the power of the courts.
This causes an outpouring of protest by Israelis, and many reservists threaten not to report for duty.
October 7: In a surprise dawn attack, Hamas massacres more than 1,200 Israelis, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, including children, women, and the elderly, and takes around 240 hostages back to Gaza. It is the worst single attack on Jews since the Holocaust. Israel announces it is at war with Hamas and launches a campaign of missile strikes on Gaza.
In the following days, Israel enforces a total blockade preventing food, water, fuel and medical supplies from entering the Gaza Strip, and Palestinians from leaving the territory.
As Israel prepares for a massive ground invasion, Palestinians are instructed to leave the north of the Gaza Strip and move south. Violence flares in the West Bank and along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where Israel clashes with Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia and ally of Hamas. There are also exchanges of rockets with pro-Hamas groups in Syria.
Israel launches an intense bombardment of the Gaza Strip. On October 28, Israel announces the war has entered a “new phase” of ground operations inside Gaza.
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 11,000 Palestinians, many of them children, have been killed as of November 13, 2023. These figures do not distinguish between civilians and Hamas fighters, and have not been independently verified. Many more Palestinians are feared dead beneath the rubble.
Israel claims Hamas is using the civilian population in Gaza as human shields, basing themselves in hospitals, mosques and schools. This claim has not been independently verified. Calls for a ceasefire from around the world continue to grow.
Gaza: A Palestinian territory within Israel’s borders, which is currently governed by Hamas. Its borders are heavily controlled by Egypt and Israel. Egypt and Israel have coordinated a blockade, and control the flow of resources into Gaza.
West Bank: An area of territory in east Israel. The Palestinian National Authority controls the West Bank. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis live there in settlements, many of them illegal.
Hamas: Designated an extremist terrorist organization by the U.S, the E.U and other Western countries, Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and creation of an independent state for Palestine.