Israel-Palestine explainer: Newshub's Mike McRoberts answers commonly asked questions about ongoing conflict

For just over a week, the world has witnessed the worst violence between Israel and Palestine in seven years.

In Gaza, the death toll has risen to 201, including at least 58 children, and in Israel, 10 people, including two children, have died.

The United Nations General Assembly is set to meet on Thursday to discuss Israel's ongoing offensive on the Gaza Strip.

The Project co-host Kanoa Lloyd sat down with Newshub's Mike McRoberts, who has reported from both sides of the conflict, to find out what's different about the crisis this time.

Kanoa Lloyd: Why are Israel and Palestine back in the news?

Mike McRoberts: This is a conflict that's been going on for many, many years, but the reason they're back in the news is because there's been an escalation of that conflict.

It's come about from some pretty onerous decisions by Israel over access to some holy sites for the Palestinians, particularly during the religious month of Ramadan, and then Hamas have fired rockets in retaliation to that. Then, of course, we've seen the Israeli Defence Force launching an attack on Gaza.

So, as it has done many times over the years, gone from one small thing, to a bigger thing, to a bigger thing, and who knows where this might end.

KL: Quite often I hear this described as a religious conflict, is it?

MM: No, this is a conflict about land, but religion has always been the proxy for those disputes.

So you have two different religions, two different ethnicities butted up against each other, and that's why you have these flare-ups that happen during religious festivals or holidays. But at the heart of it, it is all about land and what both sides want.

A combination picture shows a tower building housing AP, Al Jazeera offices as it collapses after Israeli missile strikes in Gaza city, May 15, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2HGN9OJEI6
Photo credit: Reuters

KL: It sounds maybe a tiny bit like colonisation, tiny bit familiar to me as a Māori person in New Zealand. Would that be fair or is it a totally different ball game?

MM: I think people are looking at what's happening and asking questions about the control that Israel has over the Palestinians, the subjugation they have of a population, and that's not good, that never is good.

Again, one of the worst things about this conflict is that there will be many, many more civilian deaths because of it. 

KL: Is this a fair fight? What's the difference between an Israeli airstrike and a rocket being fired from Gaza?

MM: Well, they're both horrendous, and I've been on the ground on both sides when each has happened. 

When Hamas are firing rockets into Israel, they are indiscriminate, they don't have targeting systems on them, so you never know where they're going to land.

In recent years, what we've seen the Israelis do is put in this anti-rocket system. It's called the Iron Dome, and it tries to intercept those rockets above, in the air, so that they don't land, but Hamas have developed a system now where they can get underneath.

I've been there when those rockets have been intercepted or exploded above me and they're terrifying. You've got the sirens wailing, it's not a good place to be.

On the other hand of the equation, what the Israelis are doing are far more targeted strikes that they say are against Hamas leaders and what have you. We still don't see the evidence of that, but okay, if that is to be believed, they are firing these incredible ordnance into a very densely populated area.

Gaza is tiny and there are two million people living in there, so if you do hit a building that has a Hamas leader in it, there's every chance you're going to hit a civilian building as well or there will be some sort of spillover.

KL: I know you have a bit of a connection to some of the recent buildings we've seen destroyed. Can you tell us about that?

MM: The building that had [the Associated Press] and also Al Jazeera, the two media companies housed in there, I did a lot of live crosses from there. Most journalists who go in there, into Gaza, would've used that if they wanted to do their live crosses via satellite. To see that destroyed the other day, I really felt for that.

Also, it's in quite a safe space, quite a safe area of Gaza, not the place that you'd expect to see a building coming down. 

KL: Is this time around worse than others, do you think?

MM: I think this is worse than others. At any time, you can imagine that both could stop and say, 'Okay, this is a ceasefire', but what we're seeing with this particular conflict is this mob violence that's happening within Israel - Arabs against Jews - and that's not something you can control.

That's been spiralling out in some of the most horrible and horrific scenes that we've seen posted on the internet, online, which seems to be encouraging more people to do that. And that's a real worry, that's descending into anarchy territory, and if that happens, who knows what could happen.