Hostages held by Hamas. An invasion of Gaza. A crush of refugees fleeing for safety. This conflict has a long history and must be understood in context.

Israeli Palestinian conflict in context

Rockets are launched by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Over the years, News Decoder correspondents have tried to decode the events that occur between Israel, the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank and Israel’s complicated relationship with its Mideast neighbors.

What is happening now seems incomprehensible even for people who have long watched and studied developments in the region. The surprise attack on Israel by Hamas, the Sunni Islamist organization that has led Gaza since 2006, has killed more than 1,300 and injured another 3,227 people. Israeli retaliation has resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 Palestinians and injuries to more than 9,000 others. Children on both sides have lost their lives. Hamas is holding some 200 hostages.

Less than one month ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had announced that the country was on the cusp of an historic peace treaty with long-time enemy Saudi Arabia. That followed on a 2020 peace deal with the United Arab Emirates.

To help you decode how we got from hope to despair, we compiled a range of articles from our correspondents about the Middle East conflict.

Decoding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

by  | 21 Aug 2015

Palestinians and Israelis have been locked for decades in an intractable struggle. Its roots lie in history, religion and national identity. A lasting resolution has escaped many a statesman and yet would mark a major turning point in history.

Biden stirs worries among U.S. allies in Middle East

by Bernd Debusmann Jr | 28 Jan 2021 

Under the presidential administration of Donald Trump, the United States knit close ties with both Israel and Saudi Arabia. After Joe Biden won the presidential election, the U.S. government began reassessing relations with the Middle East.

Israel-UAE deal gives Trump a chance to cry victory

by Bernd Debusmann Jr | 31 Aug 2020

During the presidential administration of Donald Trump, a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates seemed to be a result of Trump’s has transactional approach to foreign policy. But there was more to it than that.

Will COVID-19 hinder change in the Middle East?

by Bernd Debusmann Jr | 1 Apr 2020

Protesters across the Middle East had been hoping for a second Arab Spring — the series of protests in Arab Nations that began in Tunisia in 2010. The peoples of Algeria and Sudan had toppled their dictators and even in Israel, hundreds of thousands had taken to the street to protest the conservative policies of Netanyahu. But COVID-19 drove protestors off the streets.

I discovered a different Middle East in a desert and shop

by Jasmine Li | 21 Jun 2019 

One News Decoder student associated the Middle East with violence, devastation and instability. But on a trip to Israel, she discovered hospitality and generosity among the people who live there.

Angels, demons, double standards in Trump’s Mideast

by Alistair Lyon | 14 May 2018 

Faith is often flaunted in the Middle East but it isn’t always a uniter in the power politics of the region.

Trump and Israel: A chilling signal to Palestinians

By Alistair Lyon | 22 Dec 2016

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump picked as his ambassador to Israel a fervent sponsor of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land and an enemy of any two-state solution to the nearly 70-year-old conflict. In doing so he threatened to destroy long-standing pillars of bipartisan U.S. policy concerning one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, in the midst of bloody upheavals across the Middle East.

Trump, a Middle East wild card

By Alistair Lyon | 24 Nov 2016 

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump suggested steps that could plunge the Middle East further into chaos. Once President, would he change tack?

How has Europe failed in the Middle East?

by Hélène Pinto | 5 Aug 2016 

The failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not an isolated case in the Middle East. Rather, it epitomizes the European Union’s struggle to promote peace and stability in the region.

Iran and Israel’s nuclear arsenal monopoly

by Bernd Debusmann | 3 Aug 2015 

By far the loudest cries of alarm about the Iran nuclear agreement came from the only country in the region that has a nuclear arsenal — Israel.

Israel’s Netanyahu and a broken taboo

by Harvey Morris | 17 May 2015

The golden rule of Israeli politics had always been to avoid any public spat with the United States. The theory was that the electorate would punish any politician who endangered the country’s relationship with its closest and most powerful ally.

Three questions to consider:

  1. What makes peace in the Middle East so difficult to achieve?
  2. Why would Hamas and the Palestinians feel threatened by a peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia?
  3. How do you think peace in the Middle East could be achieved?
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