News·5 min read

What Is the Gaza Strip? And Other Israel-Hamas War Terms, Explained

Israeli soldiers near a kibbutz in southern Israel search vehicles torched by Hamas during its  Oct. 7, 2023 attack on Israel.
Israeli army soldiers search the remains of a vehicle torched by Hamas in southern Israel.JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images
October 13, 2023

*Editor’s Note: Language is not static and the Israel-Hamas war is evolving quickly. We will continue to update and add terms as this situation unfolds.

The war between Israel and Hamas is an escalation of decades of conflict. The October 7th terror attack and the fighting that’s followed has killed thousands of people and has no end in sight. It’s important to know the terms and historical background to understand this conflict in full. Here are the terms you’ll likely see the most, starting with the region…

The West Bank

The West Bank sits between Israel and Jordan and is home to more than 2 million Palestinians. It's partly governed by the Palestinian Authority — the main governing body of Palestinians. Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 and has since expanded its settlements in the area — with more than 400,000 Israelis now reportedly settled there. Efforts to expand settlements are partly responsible for rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians. The West Bank is one of two Palestinian territories, the other being…

Gaza Strip

One of the most densely populated places in the world, home to more than 2 million Palestinians. It’s roughly 25 miles long and 6 miles wide — about twice the size of Washington, DC. It borders the Mediterranean Sea, Israel, and Egypt. Control of the territory has changed over the years. Most recently: Egypt starting in 1949 and Israel starting in 1967, until it withdrew in 2005. Two years later, Hamas seized control. Israel still controls Gaza's airspace, shoreline, and most of its border crossings. The only border crossing that Israel doesn’t control is Rafah — located between Egypt and southern Gaza. Many Palestinians are fleeing south, amid evacuation orders from Israel. 

Evacuation orders

Israel’s military has been warning people in northern Gaza to leave as it continues to retaliate after Hamas’s terror attack. That’s 1.1 million people told to evacuate a really dense area ahead of a potential ground invasion, without a clear place to go. And Hamas is calling for Palestinians to stay put. The WHO and UN implored Israel to retract the evacuation order — saying it’s impossible for that many people to suddenly relocate without “devastating humanitarian consequences.” Neighboring Egypt is facing growing pressure to take in Gazans. So far, the country has offered to get humanitarian aid into Gaza, but Egyptian officials are wary of taking in Palestinian refugees for fear of getting further involved in the conflict and overwhelming the country. 

Human shield

A warfare tactic where civilians — voluntarily or forced — are used as a “shield” in order to prevent or impede military targets from being attacked. Using human shields is a war crime, according to international law. Israeli officials have long accused Hamas of using Gazans as human shields, and President Biden made the same claim in a speech this week. The Israeli military has also warned Palestianians to heed their recent evacuation warning to avoid being used as a human shield. 

Blockade and Siege

Since 2007, Gaza’s been under an Israeli blockade, backed by Egypt, that restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory. In retaliation to the October 7th terror attack, Israel turned the blockade into a "complete siege" — blocking the entry of water, food, and fuel into Gaza. The territory’s only power plant has already run out of fuel. Despite concerns over Gaza’s dwindling supplies, an Israeli official says the siege won’t end until hostages are released. Israel says the blockade, in addition to its Iron Dome missile defense system, is necessary to protect Israelis from Hamas and stop the flow of weapons. However, human rights groups say the blockade violates international law, and some call Gaza an “open-air prison.”

Iron Dome

Israel’s missile defense system. The Israeli military says the system has been able to intercept most of the 5,000+ rockets that Hamas has fired at Israel since the attack began Saturday. In the past, the Israeli army and others have accused Hamas of launching rockets from or near schools, mosques, and other residential areas. The US is a big supporter of Israel's military, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and has contributed nearly $3 billion toward the Iron Dome to date.


Short for the Israel Defense Forces. Israel requires the majority of Israelis to serve in the military when they turn 18 — with men serving 32 months and women serving two years. Serving is a key pillar of Israel's identity. After their required service, most are in the reserves and can be called to serve up until the age of 40. Following the deadly October 7th terror attack, Israel called about 360,000 reservists from around the world to take up the fight against Hamas.


The Islamist militant group was founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood Palestinian branch. One of the two main political parties in the Palestinian territories, Hamas won control of Gaza’s parliament in a 2006 election and seized power from the Palestinian Authority a year later. Hamas — the Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement — is most known for its commitment to armed resistance against Israel. In its founding charter, the group called for the annihilation of Israel and replacing it with an Islamic state. The US and EU have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, with some countries — like New Zealand — giving that label only to Hamas’s military wing. Meanwhile, Hamas has received support from countries like Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. Hamas is responsible for Saturday’s terror attack, calling it a retaliation for years of occupation and violence. Others are calling the attack a pogrom.


An organized massacre of a large group, typically because of their race or religion. Hamas's October 7th terror attack that killed hundreds of Israelis is being referred to as a pogrom and the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.

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