WASHINGTON — The militant group Hamas launched a shocking attack against Israel less than two weeks ago on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, leading to thousands of deaths and retaliation by Israeli forces in an area known as the Gaza Strip.
The conflict has put millions of Israeli and Palestinian lives at risk as attacks have intensified day by day with hospitals and homes destroyed and some civilians held hostage. The death toll of Americans in the country has risen to 30, and more than a dozen Americans remain missing.
The chaos embroiling the Middle East has also stirred confusion among people in the U.S. seeking to understand the devastation in the area. Here’s a closer look at some lingering questions about the conflict.
The Israel-Hamas war explained: Understanding the conflict in Gaza amid rush to evacuate
History of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the early 20th century, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The tension began after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, following the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime.
For decades, Palestinians have fought for self-determination and self-governance, while Israeli forces sought to expand territory.
Hamas’ offensive is connected not only to specific Israeli military activity but to what the group views as a campaign to rob Palestinians of their land and displace them by force. For years, the group has vowed to annihilate the state of Israel and claimed responsibility for deadly attacks.
Can Palestinians leave Gaza?
It is very difficult for Palestinians to leave Gaza.
Gaza is surrounded by blockades imposed by Israel and Egypt, which restrict movement. Israel prevents access to and from Gaza by sea and air. Land movement is restricted to three crossings: the Egypt-controlled Rafah crossing and Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, which Israel controls.
The U.N. has said that mass evacuation orders in the area will affect more than a million people. A total evacuation would mean the entire 2.23 million population of Gaza would have to squeeze into the southern half of the strip. Gaza, which is only 25 miles long in its entirety and just over twice the size of Washington, D.C., is the 63rd-most densely inhabited urban region in the world.
Many are voicing uncertainty about safety anywhere in the strip if they leave their homes.
Who controls the West Bank?
The West Bank is east of Israel, and about three million Palestinians live there, most of them Muslim Arabs. The West Bank also contains a number of Jewish holy sites.
What is a kibbutz?
Small Israeli communities called kibbutzim have been affected by the conflict. A kibbutz, which means gathering in Hebrew, is a kind-of communal body traditionally focused around farming or other environmental goals.
The first kibbutz was established 90 years ago. Today, approximately 125,000 people live on about 250 kibbutzim, CNN reported.
David Leach, author of the book “Chasing Utopia: The Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel,” told NPR that historically, early kibbutzim “were exercises in radical democracy.”
Where do the 2024 candidates stand on the Israel conflict?
Former President Donald Trump had criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event in Florida last week, saying that the countries’ intelligence failed and that its enemies were “very smart.” He also said Netanyahu was not prepared in a Fox News Radio interview.
However, Trump walked back his comments on Monday to Iowa voters, saying that he supported Israel in its war with Hamas.
Other Republican candidates, such as Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley and Chris Christie, have all supported standing with Israel.
“I think it is wrong when we in the United States or in the UN or anybody else create a false equivalence between Israel defending its own homeland versus the behaviors of the terrorists who target Israel,” said Ramaswamy during a town hall event last week presented by Seacoastonline and the USA TODAY Network.
The incumbent, Democratic President Joe Biden, has expressed strong support for Israel since the beginning of the conflict and will visit the country Wednesday.
How to help Palestinians and Israeli civilians
Many organizations are collecting donations to help families living in Israel and Gaza.
One such organization is the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, which has provided medical attention and basic necessities to vulnerable children for the past 30 years and opened a new fundraising campaign after the latest attack.
Another organization is IsraAID, an Israel-based group that is also collecting funds to help affected communities. IsraAID helps coordinate humanitarian activities in shelters housing Gaza border region evacuees and provides mental health resources to families, according to its website.
Other organizations include:
Contributing: Anna Kaufman