The eyes of the world continue to look on as violence in the Gaza strip escalates to new extremes each day.
The often polarising nature of the media coverage of the conflict has also left may people confused about the conflict itself.
So let’s contextualise the current situation and break down the cases of both sides.
When and where is this all happening?
Gaza is a tiny piece of land, spanning only 40km x 11km and holding nearly 2 million residents, making it one of the most congested populations in the world. It is home to the Palestinians, a stateless community of mostly Muslim Arabs. The other population of Palestinians lives in the West Bank, in the West of Israel. The West Bank is currently not involved in the crisis, but attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank have been cited as a reason for the recent attack on Israel by Hamas.
The Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which governs Gaza but is also designated a terrorist organisation by a number of countries including Australia, began the current conflict early on the morning of October 6, storming into Israel from Gaza. Clips surfaced of Hamas tearing down the fences erected at the border with bulldozers and whatever means possible. Hamas fighters attacked sentry posts, settler communities and an outdoor music festival, killing an estimated 1,200 Israelis and taking up to 200 more hostage. Israel claimed some 1500 Hamas fighters died in the attack.
Bulldozer operated by Gaza Resistance tearing down the israeli occupation fence erected on the border
Literally breaking apart the israeli-created mass prison in the Strip pic.twitter.com/wP983VWRsG
— Hussein (@EyesOnSouth1) October 7, 2023
By 10.35am, Israel declared war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in a national address that the Palestinian fighters will see resistance at a “magnitude that the enemy has not known” and will “pay an unprecedented price”.
The world is currently witnessing bloodshed at new heights, with a higher number of civilian casualties than previous conflicts, and Israel claiming to have dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza in six days.
But this did not just happen overnight. Tensions have been brewing for most of a century.
The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said: “The most recent violence does not come in a vacuum, but grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year long occupation and no political end in sight.”
IDF spokesperson, Daniel Hagari called the attack on Israel “the worst massacre of innocent civilians in Israel’s history”.
Israel continues to urge more than a million civilians to evacuate the north part of Gaza, as the IDF prepares for a ground invasion, possibly when visiting US president Joe Biden departs the Middle East in a few days time. Hamas is insisting Palestinians stay in place.
While Israeli and Egyptian authorities are not allowing Palestinians to leave Gaza, Palestinians are also aware those who have previously left the occupied territories have been permanently refused reentry by Israel.
They rain rockets and bullets on us. We rain leaflets on them telling innocents to leave their homes.
There is no proportionality in this war. There’s evil and then there’s those fighting against it. pic.twitter.com/QzGvS9O5WC
— Israel ישראל 🇮🇱 (@Israel) October 14, 2023
The two sides
The two dominant narratives in the situation are pro-Palestine and pro-Israel.
In the context of the current state of affairs, pro-Palestinian supporters argue the Palestinian people have a right to form a state under their own authority without intervention from the Israeli government. The pro-Israel cause argues Israel has a right to defend itself against attack, and that occupying and blockading the Palestinians is defensive.
However, Israel has also continued to illegally evict Palestinians and resettle the land with Israelis. It has been the subject of more UN resolutions condemning its actions in the occupied territories than the combined number of resolutions against all other countries.
Founded upon the idea of ‘Zionism’, Israel’s national ideology reflecting the perspective that the Jewish people deserve their own state in their ancestral homeland, has led to a myriad of issues for the Islamic Palestinian community who are also fighting for their right to their own state.
Journalist and former SBS presenter Mary Kostakidis told Central News: “Two million people cannot live in an open air prison for so long and not resort to violence.
“Unfortunately national states don’t act on principle, they act in self interest.”
She claimed the solution was “a secular state that treats all citizens equally and [provides] reparation for land that has been stolen over decades”.
The pro-Israel argument
But what is the core of the pro-Israel argument?
Central News spoke to a Jewish university student, who we will refer to as Jane.
“What’s happening in Gaza right now is deeply saddening,” Jane said. “My family and friends are in Israel right now, and they’re terrified.
“Many people I know have already lost loved ones… Israel has no choice but to defend themselves.”
Jane’s views represent much of the sentiment of the Western world, with nations such as Australia and the US taking a similar stance.
In a statement Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said: “Australia stands against terrorism. We stand in solidarity with Israel… I reiterate Israel’s right to defend itself.”
US President Joe Biden also emphasised support for Israel, both before and during his current visit to Tel Aviv.
The United States stands with Israel in the aftermath of the acts of sheer evil perpetrated by Hamas. pic.twitter.com/xoQyKRqzEL
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 13, 2023
Kostakidis claimed the nature of Australia’s response was flawed.
“Our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister ought to have expressed outrage at the daily killing of Palestinians,” she said. “They have not.
“That outrage is saved for Israeli lives. And no one calls them to account.”
However, the international response doesn’t go unnoticed, with Jane saying: “What is happening in Israel now is an act of barbaric terrorism and antisemitism, and it requires international support for the good of the Jewish people.”
However, as Jane explains, despite the fact that they support Israel, it doesn’t mean they are anti-Palestine.
“As long as pro-Palestine is separated from pro-Hamas, I completely understand and empathise with the pro-Palestinian movement.”
The pro-Palestine argument
Palestinians and Jews lived together under a British mandate across the entire area that is now modern day Israel and the occupied territories, until 1948 when the United Nations announced a plan to partition Palestine into Independent Arab and Jewish States. It had followed the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that proposed the creation of an independent state for the Jews, an idea given greater urgency after WWII and the horrors of the Holocaust. But the proposal, which gave more land to Israel than to Palestine, despite Palestinians making up 90 per cent of the population, was rejected by the Arab population.
This led to the Palestine War which Israel won. Israel subsumed 78 per cent of the Palestinians’ land and then expelled 700,000 Palestinians, a time Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe.
Following the Six-Day War in 1967 Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt, and began the occupation of both areas – now lasting 56 years.
Central News spoke with Erin Scully, a pro-Palestinian activist from Sydney, who said the Palestinians were “just trying to take back their land as they should, and unfortunately this seems to be the only way the world will listen as they haven’t for over 75 years.”
She argued the Palestinian community was “simply tired of seeing their people and land be taken”.
Scully criticised the NSW state government’s move to halt any plans for a Palestine march after Premier Chris Minns initially said the protesters had “proven they’re not peaceful” following scenes of Israeli flags being burned and antisemitic phrases being chanted at the Opera House last Monday.
Protest organisers, Palestine Action Group Sydney, condemned these actions, and said on Facebook they “were disgusted and deplored by the action. This is not what our movement stands for. We oppose Zionism, an ideology distinct from Judaism”.
“You are not allowed to have a pro-Palestine march due to being ‘antisemitic’ and ‘supporting terrorism’ but you can have a Jewish one and even the Premier will come, yet the things that Israelis have been doing to the Palestinians for over 75 is disgusting and wrong,” Scully said.
“I think that everyone needs to understand that both sides have family’s and friends and a faith and land that they have called their home.”
Jane said activism online can be helpful, and generate new perspectives and spread vital information quickly, but also had its dangers.
“Digital activism is necessary to spread awareness and support for international issues,” she said.
“On the other hand, it spreads a wealth of misinformation and performative activism.”
“The amount of inaccurate information that gets spread is terrible,” she said.
“The media [too] shows what it wants and what it’s told to show.”
Main image shows Gaza in 2014 via United Nations/Flickr.