Israel-Hamas Topical Guide

Terms, background and guidance related to the Israel-Hamas war, compiled from Associated Press coverage, AP experts and the AP Stylebook. Newsrooms and organizations outside the AP might make decisions that differ from the AP's specific recommendations.

See full AP coverage for updates and more background, context and terms.


Hamas militants stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip into nearby Israeli towns on Oct. 7, which coincided with a major Jewish holiday. The attack, which killed hundreds of civilians, stunned Israel and caught its vaunted military and intelligence apparatus completely off guard.

Israel immediately launched airstrikes on Gaza, destroying entire neighborhoods and killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the days that have followed. The war has become the deadliest of five Gaza wars for both sides. At least 199 people, including children, were captured by Hamas and taken into Gaza, according to Israel.

The leader of Hamas' military wing, Mohammed Deif, said in a recorded message that the assault was in response to Israel's 16-year blockade of Gaza; Israeli raids inside West Bank cities over the past year, violence at at the Al-Aqsa Mosque — built on a contested Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews as the Temple Mount; increased attacks by settlers on Palestinians; and the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied lands Palestinians claim for a future state.

The Hamas attack came on Simchat Torah, a normally joyous day when Jews complete the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll. Israel declared war the next day. Previous Israel-Hamas wars were in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021.


balance

When approaching the 75-year Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is important to understand the deep wells of anger, hurt, bitterness and grievance built up over generations among Israelis and Palestinians who have lived with insecurity and conflict their whole lives, and who have seen many attempts at negotiation and mediation fail.

In some ways, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the world's most intractable problem.

Words should be chosen carefully to reflect respect for different perspectives on the conflict. Palestinians are divided between more moderate and more radical viewpoints. Similarly, among Israelis, some take a more far-right and ultranationalist approach to Palestinian demands and aspirations, and there are those who would want to achieve a peaceful co-existence.

Avoid stereotyping, discuss nuance, and in broad ways maintain a balanced perspective. When talking about attacks, keep in mind that in a conflict going back so many years, there are often many antecedents.


Israel-Hamas war

The Associated Press is calling the present conflict between Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas a war, given the widespread and ongoing nature of military operations in Israel and Gaza.

The decision was made in consideration of the high number of casualties, the mobilization of armies, the organized, cross-border fighting and bombardments, and Israel's declaration of war and announcement that Gaza will be under siege.

For the time being, it can be called the latest war between Israel and Hamas, the latest Israel-Hamas war or simply the Israel-Hamas war if the context makes clear that the reference is not to a previous war.

Do not use terms such as Israel-Palestinian war or Gaza war.

Lowercase the word war. AP capitalizes that word only as part of a formal name, which as of now does not exist.


terrorism

The calculated use of violence, especially against civilians, to create terror to disrupt and demoralize societies for political ends.

The terms terrorism and terrorist have become politicized, and often are applied inconsistently. Because they can be used to label such a wide range of actions and events, and because the debate around them is so intense, detailing what happened is more precise and better serves audiences.

Therefore, the AP is not using the terms for specific actions or groups, other than in direct quotations or when attributed to authorities or others. Instead, we describe specific atrocities, massacres, bombings, assassinations and other such actions.

In the past, the AP had used the terms without attribution sparingly and with great caution.

We continue to use the terms in broad references to terrorism as a threat and anti-terrorism efforts, fear of terror, etc.


militant, militants

AP uses this term to describe Hamas, in keeping with the Webster's New World College Dictionary definition: ready and willing to fight; especially, vigorous or aggressive in supporting or promoting a cause; and Merriam-Webster: aggressively active (as in a cause).

Terms such as Hamas fighters, attackers or combatants are also acceptable depending on the context.

Do not use the term Hamas soldiers or Hamas resistance, other than in direct quotations.

The Israeli army has soldiers. It also can be called the Israeli military. Use its official name, Israel Defense Forces, and the acronym IDF only in direct quotations.


Palestine

Use Palestine only in the context of Palestine's activities in international bodies to which it has been admitted.

Do not use Palestine or the state of Palestine in other situations, since it is not a fully independent, unified state. For territory, refer specifically to the West Bank or Gaza, or the Palestinian territories in reference to both.

Palestinians are Arabs who live in, or whose ancestors lived in, the geographic area that comprises Israel, the Gaza Strip, the occupied West Bank, and east Jerusalem. These areas were once part of the traditional eastern Mediterranean region of Palestine. See Gaza Strip, Gaza; West Bank; east Jerusalem.


Gaza Strip, Gaza

The Gaza Strip is an area of about 140 square miles and 2.3 million people at the border of Israel and Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea. One of two Palestinian territories along with the West Bank, it is one of the most densely populated and impoverished areas in the world. Gaza is acceptable on second reference. Palestinians seek Gaza, along with the West Bank and east Jerusalem — all areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for a future state.

The 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were meant to lay the groundwork for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The interim agreement created the Palestinian Authority and set up self-rule areas in the Palestinian territories, though Israel supplies water, electricity and other utilities. Several rounds of peace talks over the years all ended in failure and violence has been frequent.

Israel unilaterally withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Hamas won legislative elections held in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006, and seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Since Hamas took control, Israel and Egypt have severely restricted the flow of goods into the territory and the movement of people in and out, in what Israel says is a security measure. The blockade has ravaged Gaza's economy, and Palestinians accuse Israel of collective punishment.

In the current war, Israel cut off all fuel, food and electricity. Meanwhile, Hamas says that Israeli strikes had made the Rafah crossing into Egypt — the only other way out with the Israeli side sealed — impassable.


Gazans

Avoid this term. Instead: Palestinians in Gaza.


Hamas

An armed Palestinian militant group, Hamas governs some 2.3 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after violently seizing control of Gaza in 2007 from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. It is one of the Palestinian territories' two major political parties; the other is the more moderate Fatah party.

Hamas has always espoused violence as a means to liberate occupied Palestinian territories. The group has vowed to annihilate Israel and has been responsible for many suicide bombings and other deadly attacks on civilians and Israeli soldiers.

The U.S. State Department designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1997. The European Union and other Western countries also consider it a terrorist organization.

Hamas has carried out suicide bombings and over the years fired tens of thousands of increasingly powerful rockets from Gaza into Israel. It also established a network of tunnels running from Gaza to Egypt to smuggle in weapons, as well as attack tunnels burrowing into Israel.

Hamas was founded in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian refugee living in Gaza, during the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising. The word Hamas is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement.

Over the years, Hamas received backing from some neighboring countries, such as Qatar and Turkey. Recently, it has moved closer to Iran and its allies.

Yahya Sinwar, in Gaza, and Ismail Haniyeh, who lives in exile, are Hamas' current leaders. They realigned the group's leadership with Iran and its allies, including Lebanon's Hezbollah. Since then, many of the group's leaders relocated to Beirut.

Possessive form: Hamas' not Hamas's.

See militant, militants.


Israel

The modern state was declared in 1948 after Arab countries rejected the United Nations' partition resolution — a plan that would have divided the region into two states with Jerusalem controlled by the U.N. Israelis believed in creating a Jewish state in the biblical land of Israel as a guarantor of Jewish survival.

The state was immediately recognized by the United States and admitted to the U.N. Israel was attacked by neighboring Arab countries, winning the war. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in what would become Israel fled or were forcibly expelled and settled in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, a source of tension to this day.

Later wars, including the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 war, further defined the de facto frontiers of Israel, which developed over the years into an undeclared nuclear-armed regional power backed by the United States.

An uneasy peace was achieved with Egypt in 1978 with the Camp David Accords, and the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were meant to usher an eventual two-state solution in which Israel would trade land for peace with the Palestinians.

Although the Palestinians achieved limited autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, the process bogged down in acrimony and repeated rounds of violence, and the goal of a two-state solution was never achieved. Palestinian demands for a return of refugees and their descendants, the construction of Jewish settlements in areas claimed by Palestinians, and the lack of a clear statement of Israel's right to exist from some on the Palestinian side have been among the major impediments to a settlement.

In addition to the Egypt accords, Israel and Jordan reached a peace treaty in 1994. The Abraham Accords of 2020 normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates; Israel and Bahrain; and Israel and Morocco.

Violence has ebbed and flowed. Israel has been subject to attacks from Palestinian militants and Hezbollah for years, including rocket attacks, suicide bombings and other violence against ordinary citizens. Israel has carried out bombardments that have also killed many civilians in Palestinian territories, deadly raids in Palestinian towns in the West Bank, and assassinations against Palestinian leaders both in the region and beyond. At various stages, Israel has occupied southern Lebanon, for multiple years after a full-scale invasion of Lebanon and war in 1982.

In effect, Israel exercises security control of the occupied West Bank, leaving the Palestinian Authority with limited administrative authority over Palestinian population centers. Israel fully withdrew from Gaza in 2005, turning it over to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, while retaining control of most access to Gaza by land, air and sea. The United Nations still considers Gaza to be occupied. Egypt controls access to Gaza's southern border crossing at Rafah.

Fatah in turn was ousted by the militant Hamas group.

Israel has a parliamentary system. The present government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for a total of 16 years since 1996, is a far-right coalition comprised of ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties. After the outbreak of the latest war, Netanyahu formed a wartime Cabinet that includes Benny Gantz, an opposition party leader and former military chief of staff.

Netanyahu, who has been prosecuted for a series of personal scandals, recently has moved to limit the independence of Israeli courts that serve as a check on the government's power.

His coalition includes religious and nationalist parties active in creating West Bank settlements and considered hostile to Palestinians, while more liberal opponents have been staging massive demonstrations against Netanyahu's proposals to limit the judiciary, which they see as a threat to democracy.

On Oct. 11, Netanyahu and a leading opposition figure created a wartime Cabinet to oversee the fight against Hamas. It will consist of Netanyahu, Benny Gantz — a senior opposition figure and former defense minister and army chief — and current Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.


settlements

Over 500,000 Israelis live in Israeli settlements built in the occupied West Bank, in addition to more than 200,000 settlers in east Jerusalem. Israel considers the settlements in east Jerusalem to be neighborhoods of its capital.

The international community overwhelmingly considers all settlements to be illegal. Palestinians say settlers are taking over their homes and lands they had claimed for a future state.


West Bank

One of two Palestinian territories, along with the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority, dominated by the Fatah movement, administers semi-autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israel captured the West Bank, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 war.

The West Bank, which is not part of Israel, can be described as occupied territory.


east Jerusalem

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, territories the Palestinians want for their future state, in the 1967 war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem and views the entire city as its capital. The annexation is not recognized internationally and most of the world considers east Jerusalem to be occupied territory.

The Palestinians view east Jerusalem — which includes some of the holiest sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims — as their capital, and its fate is one of the most sensitive issues in the Mideast conflict.


Jerusalem

Do not refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or refer to the Israeli government as "Jerusalem."

Israel considers the entire city to be its capital. The Palestinians view annexed east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Most of the international community does not recognize Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem and believes its fate should be determined in peace talks.


Temple Mount

The walled, elevated area in Jerusalem's Old City that was the site of the ancient Jewish temples. It now houses the centuries-old Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa Mosque and is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary. Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad made his night journey to heaven from the site.

Any reference to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound/Temple Mount should note both names and its importance to both Muslims and Jews. It is the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the site of the Jewish temples in antiquity.


Al-Aqsa Mosque

The mosque completed in the eighth century atop the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, in the Old City of Jerusalem; Arabs also use Al-Aqsa to refer to the whole area, which houses the Dome of the Rock shrine, too. To Jews the area is known as the Temple Mount, the site of the ancient Jewish temples.

Any reference to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound/Temple Mount should note both names and its importance to both Muslims and Jews. It is the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the site of the Jewish temples in antiquity.


Hezbollah

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 at the height of Israel's invasion of Lebanon. It has become the largest and most heavily armed militant group in the Middle East. The Shiite group, based in Lebanon, is armed and funded by Iran. A senior Hamas leader says Hezbollah was not involved in the attack on southern Israel. In recent days, the group has fired rockets and shells into Northern Israel. Hezbollah, supported by both Iran and Syria, has fought continuously with Israel since its formation, and is the major power broker in Lebanon.


pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian

These shorthand descriptions can be misleading in that people can be critical of the current leadership or policies on either side and still support Israel or the Palestinian people. A critic of the present government of Israel may nevertheless be pro-Israeli, and a critic of Hamas may still be a supporter of Palestinians. When possible, try to say exactly what the individual believes.


Some key players

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israeli prime minister. He was sworn in for his sixth term in 2022, and has built Israel's most hard-right government ever, dominated by ministers who adamantly reject Palestinian statehood.

Yoav Gallant: Israeli defense minister and member of a newly created wartime Cabinet to oversee the fight against Hamas.

Benny Gantz: Former defense minister, military chief and senior opposition figure; member of a newly created wartime Cabinet to oversee the fight against Hamas.

Itamar Ben-Gvir: Israeli security minister.

Eli Cohen: Israeli foreign minister.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari: chief Israeli military spokesman.

Mohammed Deif: leader of Hamas' military wing; he does not appear in public.

Yahya Sinwar: One of Hamas' current leaders, in Gaza.

Ismail Haniyeh: One of Hamas' current leaders, in exile in Qatar.


Other terms


antisemitism

Prejudice or discrimination against Jews. A 2021 change from previous style (anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic).

The term was coined in the 19th century by the German writer Wilhelm Marr, who opposed efforts to extend the full rights of German citizenship to Jews. He asserted that Jews were Semites — descended from the Semitic peoples of the Middle East and thus racially different from (and threatening to) Germany's Aryans. This racist pseudoscience was applied only to Jews, not Arabs.

The previous style was based on common usage. In recent years, that style has come under criticism from those who say it could give credence to the idea that Jews are a separate race. In response, a growing number of Jewish organizations and others have settled on the style antisemitism.

Avoid using the term antisemite for an individual other than in a direct quotation. Instead, be specific in describing the person's words or actions.


cease-fire (n. and adj.); cease fire (verb)


wartime, peacetime

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