Center for Israel Education, October 14, 2023

Michael Jacobs,  Ken Stein and Scott Abramson

Hamas was formed in the Gaza Strip well before it published its August 1988 Charter. It found its ideological roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in the late 1920s and advocated Islamic-based government and rejected the Western cultural penetration of secularism, individual rights and democratic freedoms. With poverty growing in the Gaza Strip, mosque networks delivered food, mentoring, education, afternoon day care, medical assistance and religious indoctrination. Support for a fervent Islamic path was catalyzed by individual mosque leaders who rejected Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s peacemaking with Israel in the 1970s. The Islamic revolution in Iran that toppled the secular Shah and ingested fundamentalist Islamic ideology across countries in the Middle East landed on favorable ears in the Gaza Strip as well. During the First Intifada, starting in late 1987, Hamas urged Palestinians to confront Israeli authorities in the West Bank and Gaza. It coordinated labor strikes against Israel and conducted a campaign to try to make Muslims adhere to a strict Islamic code. In 1988, Hamas issued its charter, remarkably like the 1964/1968 PLO Covenant in calling for armed struggle against Israel and the liberation of Palestine, with an emphasis on Islamic fervor and doctrine to guide the Palestinian present and future.

The following events, statements, and clashes relate to Hamas-Israel  relations. Entries do not  focus on the broader Palestinian-Israeli conflict, inter-Palestinian relations, or correlate Hamas actions to Arab politics. The timeline has been assembled primarily from entries on the CIE website. A detailed description of the four previous Hamas-Israel wars, deaths, wounded and duration of clashes is found at the end of the timeline.   This timeline includes only major occurences.

August 18, 1988 — Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, declares in its charter its unyielding determination to use jihad to replace Israel with Palestine.

December 1992 — After Palestinian terrorists killed six Israelis in the West Bank early in the month and Hamas kidnapped and killed another Israeli in midmonth, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin deports 400 Palestinians to southern Lebanon, among them two well-known Hamas leaders, Abdel Aziz Rantisi and Mahmud Zahar. Both will return to Gaza and continue leadership roles in Hamas for more than a decade.

September 9, 1993 — PLO leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin mutually recognize each other. Arafat’s primary objective, according to Arab sources, was his fear that he was losing control over the PLO. He sensed that recognition of the PLO by Israel would foster international legitimacy to his continuing rule, which it did until his death in 2005. Hamas adopts the view that Arafat’s recognition of Israel is an act of unforgiveable treason; Hamas leaders repeatedly engage in scathing condemnation of the PLO. 

October 9, 1994 — Hamas terrorists kidnap Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman, an American citizen, at Bnai Atarot in central Israel. Hamas demands the release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners within five days. Wachsman is killed in an Israeli rescue attempt, as is the head of the rescue team.

November 21, 1994Abdalllah al-Shami, “The state of Israel has no right to exist over the land of Palestine. Recognizing the legitimacy of Israel is a disavowal of our people’s right. We have been against the legitimacy of the occupation from the beginning. The entire land is owned by our people. We do not mind if the Jews want to live on our land. However, we will not agree whatsoever to live under their flag and under their control.” Abdallah al-Shami, official Hamas spokesman, Al-Muharrir (Paris), November 21, 1994.

November 1, 1995 — Days before his assassination, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin tells an interviewer that he endorsed the Oslo Accords largely because of his belief that strengthening the secular PLO would weaken the Islamist Hamas.

January 5, 1996 — Shin Bet assassinates Hamas bomb maker Yahya Ayyash, known as “The Engineer,” by detonating explosives hidden in his cellphone in Gaza City. 

March 4, 1996 — A Hamas member detonates a bomb packed with nails outside Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center, which is crowded with costumed children on the eve of Purim. The bombing is the fourth in nine days, combining to kill more than 60 Israelis.

April 22, 1997 Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, “Islam does not permit giving up one inch of Palestine and states that Palestine belongs to the Muslims, belongs to the Palestinian people, not to the Jews,” Abd al-Azziz Rantisi, co-founder of Hamas, al-Hayat, April 22, 1997.

September 28, 2000-February 8, 2005 —Hamas takes a leading role in suicide attacks during the Second Palestinian Intifada (uprising against Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip). The attacks for which Hamas claims credit include three Jerusalem attacks and a Haifa bus bombing in 12 hours in December 2001, a Passover seder bombing in Netanya in March 2002, a Haifa restaurant bombing in March 2002, a bus bombing outside Haifa in April 2002, a pool hall bombing in Rishon LeZion in May 2002, a bus bombing in a Haredi Jerusalem neighborhood in August 2003, and bombs in two Beersheba buses in August 2004. More than 1,000 Israelis are killed in these 4½ years  by Hamas and other Palestinian organizations.

October 3, 2001 — The U.S. government freezes the assets of Hamas in the United States, and the European Union does the same in Europe, in a push for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution. The U.S. Treasury freezes the accounts of Hamas-connected organizations in 2003 and 2006.

March 20, 2005“If Hamas enters the government, it is ready to accept a long-term truce and keep the conflict open. The issue does not necessarily have to be settled by this generation. There are countries that remained under occupation for long years. Therefore, if our generation cannot act, it must not make concessions.”  Mahmoud al-Zahhar, co-founder of Hamas, al-Jezirah satellite television, March 20, 2005. 

August 15, 2005 — The Israeli military begins Israel’s complete unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, including forcing Israelis to abandon their homes to be resettled in Israel proper. Israel moves more than 9,000 Israelis out of the Gaza Strip, turning it over to the Palestinian Authority to govern.

January 4, 2006 — Ehud Olmert becomes acting prime minister after Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Gaza disengagement, slips into a coma from which he never recovers. Olmert refuses to negotiate with Hamas unless it rejects terrorism.

January 25, 2006 — Hamas wins the second elections held for the Palestinian Legislative Council with more than 44% of the votes, good for 76 of the 132 seats; the PLO’s Fatah is second with 43 seats. Hamas was not part of the previous legislative council. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh becomes the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister in late March; a Fatah-Hamas unity government replaces his government a year later. This was a year after the death of longtime PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat. Before his death, Hamas had been in open competition for the hearts, minds and leadership of the Palestinian Arab National Movement.

June 25, 2006 — Hamas militants enter Israel via a tunnel, disable a patrolling Israeli tank, kill two of its four-man crew, and seize another crew member, Gilad Shalit, and drag him back to Gaza. He is not released until October 18, 2011, when he is exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. 

September 18, 2006 Mahmoud al-Zahar. “Hamas rejects this [the Arab Peace Initiative] because it means recognition of Israel.”  Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of Hamas, al-Ayyam, September 18, 2006.

March 28, 2007 — An Arab summit meeting that reaffirms a commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is unable to resolve the differences between Hamas and Fatah, resulting in continuing anarchy and violence in Gaza.

June 7, 2007 — Hamas wins a brief but bloody civil war against the Palestinian Authority rule in the Gaza Strip and ousts all Fatah officials. On June 14, President Mahmoud Abbas dismisses the unity government, led by Ismail Haniyeh, and declares a state of emergency.

December 27, 2008 — After facing 12,000 rockets fired from Gaza over eight years, including 3,000 in 2008 alone, Israel launches Operation Cast Lead, its first large-scale military operation against Hamas. The 22-day air and land attack aims to eliminate rocket fire, stop terrorism and 

halt weapons smuggling. On a 14-0 vote with the United States abstaining, the U.N. Security Council passes Resolution 1860 to call for the war to end. The Goldstone Report, issued in 2009 and partially recanted in 2010, accuses both sides of war crimes.

June 14, 2009 — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is prepared to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with a two-state solution that includes a demilitarized Palestinian state. In this Bar-Ilan speech, he calls on Palestinians to choose the path of peace or the path of Hamas, which repeatedly proclaims a commitment to “liberate” the Israeli cities of Ashkelon, Beersheba, Acre and Haifa. He refers to Israel leaving Gaza in 2005: “Territorial withdrawals have not lessened the hatred, and to our regret, Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way.” Goldstone later admits that his report was slanted against Israel’s actions.

January 19, 2010 — Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander, is drugged and suffocated in a hotel room in Dubai. The killing is blamed on the Mossad, although no one is caught or takes credit. 

April 23, 2010 — U.S. envoy George Mitchell holds “proximity” talks between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but Hamas rejects any negotiations with Israel.

December 14, 2011Ismail Haniyeh,  “The principles [of Hamas] are definitive and non-negotiable: Palestine means Palestine in its entirety, from the River to the Sea. There will be no concession of a single inch of the land of Palestine. The fact that Hamas, at one stage or another, accepts the goal of gradual liberation – of Gaza, of the West Bank, or of Jerusalem – is not at the expense of our strategic vision with regard to the land of Palestine,”  Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh Al-Aqsa Television, December 14, 2011.

November 14, 2012 — An Israeli airstrike kills Hamas’ military chief, Ahmed Jabbari, after a surge in rocket fire from Gaza. The strike starts Israel’s second major military action against Hamas, Operation Pillar of Defense, an air war that lasts eight days. The Iron Dome system, first used in 2011, intercepts 421 rockets during the operation.

November 28-29, 2012 – Khalid Mishaal, “Palestine, from its river to its sea, from its north to its south, is the land of the Palestinians; their homeland, and their legitimate right. We will not relinquish an inch or any part of it -for any reason or under any circumstances and pressures. We are not fighting the Jewish people merely because they are Jewish. We are, however, fighting those who are Zionist occupiers and aggressors. We will fight anyone who tries to attack us, seize our rights or occupy our land regardless of their religion, affiliations, race or nationality. The Zionist project is a racist, hostile, and expansionist project based on murder and terrorism. Hence, it is the enemy of the Palestinian people and nation and poses a real threat to them, Khalid Mishaal, Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies & Consultations, Beirut, November 28-29, 2012. 

December 8, 2012 — Less than three weeks after Pillar of Defense, the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, marks the anniversary of Hamas’ founding by reiterating that the organization will never accept Israel and by calling for its elimination. Israel’s demise remains a core element of Hamas ideology and fervor.

April 23, 2014 — Hamas, Fatah Reconcile — Hamas and the Fatah-led PLO end their seven-year rift, aiming to unite governance of Gaza and the West Bank. But the reconciliation doesn’t last. 

June 12, 2014 — Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, ages 16 to 19, are abducted while hitchhiking near Alon Shvut in the West Bank. Their Hamas kidnappers kill the teens when they call the police for help. Their bodies are found 18 days later amid rising violence between Israel and Hamas that leads to Operation Protective Edge.

July 8, 2014 — The third and, until October 2023, deadliest fight between Hamas and Israel, Operation Protective Edge, begins with airstrikes and escalates to a ground invasion. The fighting lasts 50 days and kills more than 2,000 Palestinians and 72 Israelis, as well as a Thai worker in Israel.

October 12, 2014 — More than 50 countries meet to discuss rebuilding Gaza after Operation Protective Edge. Led by $1 billion from Qatar and more than $300 million from the United States for Gaza, the U.N. relief agency and the Palestinian Authority, those countries promise to contribute over $5 billion. But less than 5% of that amount is delivered by April 2015.

November 18, 2014 — Two Palestinian cousins kill four rabbis and a Druze police officer who intervenes at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack, but Hamas praises it without explicitly claiming credit. 

October 12, 2017 — With Egyptian mediation, Hamas and Fatah repeat the effort of 2014 to reconcile and rule over Gaza and the West Bank together. But, again, they quickly break apart.

March 30, 2018 — As Israel prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary in May, including the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Hamas begins the Great March of Return, weekly demonstrations aimed at breaking through the fence between Gaza and Israel. Dozens of Palestinians are killed over seven months. Fire kites and balloons are launched into Israel, causing wildfires. After Palestinian Islamic Jihad adds a barrage of 30 rockets in October, Israel launches an airstrike on 80 military targets. Most are Hamas sites because Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rockets fired from the territory it controls.

March 25, 2019 — After a rocket destroys a home in Mishmeret, north of Tel Aviv, Israel strikes military targets in Gaza, and rockets are fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Egyptian diplomatic intervention helps prevent the exchange of fire from escalating into war.

May 10, 2021 — Fighting breaks out between Israel and Hamas for the fourth time, but for the first time the air war is not directly connected to events along the Gaza-Israel border. Instead, Hamas issues an ultimatum related to violence in Jerusalem at Al-Aqsa mosque and protests in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, then launches rocket barrages at population centers across Israel. The rocket fire and airstrikes continue until May 21. 

September 22, 2022 — In his only speech to the U.N. General Assembly as prime minister, Yair Lapid criticizes the hatred spread by Hamas and its sponsor, Iran, and urges the people of Gaza to reject the violence of Hamas.

October 7, 2023 — More than 1,000 Hamas terrorists infiltrate Israel and systematically murder more than 1,300 Israeli civilians, men, women, and children.

Synopses of the previous four Israel-Hamas military clashes, duration and casualties in each

Operation Cast Lead, December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009
On December 27, 2008, after seven weeks of near-constant rocket and mortar fire on its settlements around Gaza, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead. Its objective in the ensuing 22-day war was straightforward: to bring quiet to its rocket-battered south. To this end, Israel conducted an extensive air campaign, assisted by its navy,  against Hamas targets throughout Gaza. A week into the war, Israeli ground troops invaded Gaza to take out the Hamas personnel and rocket launchpads embedded among the civilian population. Hamas, for its part, escalated the rocket and mortar barrages that had provoked the war, raining down projectiles on Israeli cities (Ashdod, Beersheba, and Gedera) that distance had until then protected from attacks. Having dealt Hamas a decisive blow, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire, which Hamas initially refused but eventually accepted. Israel had achieved its objective, and until 2011, Israeli communities within rocket range of Gaza enjoyed security they had not known for years. 

Operation Pillar of Defense, November 14-21, 2012
After a sudden surge in rocket attacks from Gaza in which 120 projectiles fell on southern Israel, Jerusalem launched Operation Pillar of Defense, which began with the assassination of Ahmad al-Jabari, the deputy commander of Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. This time, Israel amassed ground troops on the border with Gaza, but it limited its offensive to aerial attacks directed at the usual targets: Hamas’ weapons depots, tunnels, command and control centers, and the homes and offices of its commanders. Although this round of hostilities was shorter than the last, Hamas and Islamic Jihad managed to fire twice as many rockets and mortar shells at Israel. Thanks to Iran, which supplied its clients in Gaza with its Fajr-5 missiles, the range–and not just the number–of these projectiles was greater, and for the first time, Jerusalem (Israel’s Israel’s capital and largest city) and Rishon LeZion (its fourth largest city) came under attack. From the shorter-range rockets, however, Israel had more protection than before because its Iron Dome air defense system was now operational, and intercepted almost 90 percent of the rockets and shells lobbed from Gaza.

Operation Protective Edge, July 8, 2014 to August 26, 2014
Like its antecedents in 2008-2009 and 2012, this third major confrontation between Israel and Hamas began with an upsurge of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel. This 50-day conflict began, also like Operation Cast Lead, with air strikes followed, about a week later, by a ground invasion. This time Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and smaller organizations in Gaza rained down almost 5,000 projectiles on Israel, with some reaching as far north as Haifa, about 100 miles north of Gaza. Hamas also fired rockets toward Ben-Gurion Airport, forcing Israel to suspend air traffic for several days. The Iron Dome air defense system again proved its worth and intercepted most of the rockets bound for population centers.

Operation Guardian of the Walls, May 10-21, 2021
After Israel refused an ultimatum from Hamas and Islamic Jihad to withdraw its security forces from the Temple Mount, Hamas and Islamic Jihad unleashed a barrage of rockets and mortars at Israel. In response, Israel mounted an air campaign, supported by artillery, on Gaza, targeting Hamas infrastructure and high-rises that it had repurposed as command and control centers. In addition to the 4,300 projectiles that were fired at Israel (an average of 400 a day), Hamas deployed unmanned seacraft (“submarines”) primed to explode next to Israeli targets. This was also the first confrontation between Hamas and Israel paralleled by clashes between Jews and Arabs in cities throughout Israel.

Comparison of deaths and wounded in Israeli-Hamas military fighting. 

2008-2009, 2012, 2014, 2021* and 2023

According to IDF sources and BBC sources

Center for Israel Education, October 12, 2023

Dr. Scott Abramson, CIE

*This table does not include deaths on either side between the major confrontations

Operation Name and Dates
Palestinian Deaths Palestinian WoundedIsraeli Deaths Israeli WoundedDuration
Operation Cast Lead Dec 27, 2008 to Jan 18, 20091,166 (including 295 civilians, 162 undetermined)5,300 wounded13 (10 IDF, 3 civilians)518  (336 IDF, 182 civilians)22 days
Pillar of Defense  Nov 14 to Nov 21,  2012177 (120 fighters, 57 civilians)950 wounded6 (2 IDF, 4 civilians)239 (20 IDF, 219 civilians)8 days 
Protective Edge July 8 to Aug 26, 20142,251 (789 combatants,  1,462 civilians)

11,231  wounded72 (66 IDF, 6 civilians)556 (469 IDF, 87 civilians)50 days
Guardian of the Walls May 6-21, 2021253  (124 combatants, 129 civilians)1,948 wounded13 (1 IDF and 12 civilians)315 (3 IDF and 312 civilians) 11 days
Estimated subtotals 2008 to 2021Palestinian deaths 3,700Palestinian wounded 9,400Israeli deaths 103 Israeli wounded 1650 Average duration 24 days
Operation Swords of Iron, October 7, 2023 –