WASHINGTON — This week's violence between Israel and Gaza is three things: complicated, confusing and important. As a result, you might have found yourself wondering what it's all about but too caught up in the minute-to-minute news cycle to grasp the basics. So, here is some basic background on the questions you may have nagging at you. Read it and consider yourself equipped for Thanksgiving dinner debates.
First, a disclaimer: History looms large in the Israel-Palestine conflict. For every one incident, there are decades of Israeli and Palestinian histories that inform both sides' interpretation of that incident and its deeper meaning. For practical purposes, this list is limited to simple, surface-level explanations.
1. What is the Gaza Strip?
The Gaza Strip is a small Palestinian territory, about twice the size of Washington, D.C., located along the Mediterranean coast between Egypt and Israel. Palestinians are ethnic Arab and majority Muslim. It is deeply impoverished, kept in isolation by the Israeli military and ruled by Hamas, an anti-Israeli terrorist group.
2. Whoa! How did that happen?
In 1948, the United Nations declared that the British territory known as Palestine would be divided into two independent countries: Israel and Palestine. Arab leaders rejected the declaration and invaded to maintain a unified, independent, Arab Palestine. They lost, and by the time fighting ended, Israel controlled even more of the land than the U.N. declaration had granted the new country. One of the areas still under Palestinian control was the Gaza Strip. Israel occupied the territory in 1967, after another failed invasion by Arab states but withdrew its troops and settlers in 2005. Israel still maintains extremely tight restrictions on trade in and out of Gaza, which has a 40 percent unemployment rate. Thirty-eight percent of Gazans live under the poverty line. Gaza is not an independent country.