On Oct. 7, Palestinians from Gaza carried out attacks in Israel that killed at least 1,200 Israelis, injured thousands more, and took an estimated 200 hostages. Israel immediately launched attacks on Gaza. Since then, at least 15,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, over 40% of them children. Violence continues to escalate and those numbers continue to grow.
Israel also placed Gaza under hermetic closure—blocking access to fuel, water, electricity, food, medical supplies, and other goods. In the West Bank violence against Palestinians also escalated as settler attacks, mass arrest campaigns, and military raids increased in number. At least 450 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds more injured in the West Bank following the Hamas attack.
AFSC mourns with those who have lost loved ones and all who are suffering. We will continue to work for the changes needed to end this violence and build a just and lasting peace.
To address the situation, it is important to understand the context in which this violence is taking place. Here are five things you need to know:
1. Violence did not begin with the attacks from Gaza.
Even before Oct. 7, this year (2023) was one of the most violent years in Palestine in more than a decade. At least 247 Palestinians—including 47 children—had been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers before the end of September. During the same period, Israeli settlers launched over 800 attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian-owned property. Additionally, over 1,100 Palestinians had been forcibly displaced from their homes.
These actions occurred in a context where Israeli land confiscation, mass arrest campaigns, military attacks on Palestinian cities, and threats to Palestinian control over Al-Aqsa mosque—an important religious site in Jerusalem—have all increased.
Since coming to power, the far-right Netanyahu government in Israel has escalated violence against Palestinian communities while rejecting any possibility of Palestinian independence or equality. Settler leaders now hold sway in Israel and have taken concrete steps toward annexing the West Bank while pushing forward efforts to eliminate Palestinians from the majority of the West Bank.
For Palestinians, violence is an extreme, daily reality.
2. Gaza has been under a violent blockade for 16 years.
For over 16 years, the people of Gaza have lived under an Israeli-imposed blockade that severely limits travel, trade, and everyday life for its over two million residents. As a result, the effects have been brutal, even prior to the expanded siege now underway:
- 80% of people in Gaza rely on international assistance to survive.
- More than 50% of the population are unemployed.
- Hospitals have consistently been out of up to 40% of needed supplies and medicine.
- Approximately 96% of water in Gaza is undrinkable.
- Electricity is only available sporadically.
The blockade severely impacts the lives and health of all Palestinians in Gaza. Children’s growth is stunted due to malnutrition. Palestinians die because they can’t access medical care. Families are separated due to movement restrictions.
And the blockade is enforced through violence. Israeli military incursions into Gaza occur weekly, Israeli forces fire into Gaza daily, and bombings of Gaza occur regularly.
Israel’s military actions in Gaza have claimed thousands of Palestinian lives over the years. Between Jan. 1, 2008 and Sept. 19, 2023, more than 5,365 Palestinians have been killed, including 1,206 children.
After Israel’s previous attacks on Gaza, there were promises that the blockade would be lessened or ended. But the blockade continues with deadly effect for Palestinians in Gaza.
3. Under international law, both Palestinians and Israelis have bounded legal rights to use violence. But violence will not bring just and lasting peace.
The U.S. government has repeatedly said that people living under foreign military occupation—as in Ukraine—have a right to militarily resist their occupation. Palestinians have that same right. At the same time, the laws of war that lay out the right to resist occupation also limit that right, forbidding attacks on civilians—like those witnessed on Oct. 7—and other war crimes.
The same laws of war lay out obligations for occupying powers, including Israel, and limit their actions. For decades, Israel has systematically violated its obligations under international law toward Palestinians, violating their rights and implementing a system of apartheid in the areas it controls. The prohibition on attacks on civilians and civilian targets also applies to Israel.
As a Quaker organization, AFSC opposes all violence and works toward its end. We know that violence will not end through more violence. To bring change, we must address the roots of conflict, including historic and ongoing Palestinian displacement, occupation, and the reality of apartheid.
4. The U.S. funds, arms, and supports injustice, inequality, and violence perpetrated by the Israeli government.
For decades, the U.S. has offered uncritical support to Israel as it has systemically violated Palestinian rights. Despite agreement between international human rights organizations that Israel is enforcing apartheid against Palestinians, the U.S. provides $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel every year. Despite the fact that the current Israeli government opposes the formation of a Palestinian state and has moved to take over Palestinian land at record rates, the U.S. government continues to build close ties with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies. And despite record levels of violence against Palestinians by Israel—including Palestinians with U.S. citizenship—the U.S. continues to offer Israel impunity and blocks efforts at accountability.
This lack of accountability and a sense by Palestinians that they have been abandoned by the international community is important to understanding recent violence. For violence to end, U.S. policy must change. Israel must be held accountable for its rights violations, and the system of apartheid must end.
5. You can take action to help bring change.
Everyone has a role to play in stopping the violence and ending the occupation. Here are a few things you can do right now.
Tell Congress: Call for a cease-fire and humanitarian access in Gaza now!: Urge Congress to do everything they can to end Israel's bombing of Gaza to protect lives.
Donate to humanitarian aid efforts in Gaza. Through our offices in Gaza, AFSC provides support and assistance to Palestinians facing the most need and vulnerability. Donations received now will be used to support individuals and families impacted by the ongoing attacks.
Join the Apartheid-Free campaign. Ending these attacks is a first step, but it isn’t enough. To bring lasting change, the systems of occupation, apartheid, and settler colonialism that are at the roots of violence in Israel and Palestine must end. Learn more about how you can join AFSC in pushing for the end of these systems of violence so that a just and lasting peace can be realized.
Learn more. Explore more resources to get more info and find ways to advocate for peace.