Israelis and Palestinians have been locked in a struggle for political control over land for most of the past century. Maps of the shifting patterns of control of the land west of the Jordan River from 1947 to the present tell that story.
The Holy Land was demarcated into a single national entity called Palestine under the British Mandate in 1920, after the U.K. and France carved up the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. The British had, in 1917, promised European Jews a homeland in Palestine, and immigration in the decade before and the years immediately after the Holocaust boosted the Jewish population of Palestine to 608,000 by 1946, alongside 1.24 million Arabs, according to a 1947 U.N. report.
Palestinians rejected a 1947 U.N. plan to partition Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, and the declaration of independence by Israel after the May 1948 British withdrawal prompted intervention by troops from Arab countries. Israeli forces prevailed in that war, whose 1949 armistice left them in control over most of the territory. The West Bank and East Jerusalem, however, remained in Jordan's hands, while Egypt controlled Gaza —the two territories between them absorbing close to two-thirds of an estimated 700,000 refugees barred from returning to their homes. The armistice lines prevailed until the war of June 1967, and are commonly referred to as "the 1967 lines."
In the war of June 1967, a lightning Israeli offensive defeated the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in a matter of days, putting Israel in control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights. Soon after, Israelis began building settlements, particularly in the occupied West Bank, which they proclaimed part of the biblical land of Israel. The U.N. Security Council affirmed in 1980 that all Israeli settlements built on land captured in the 1967 war contravene international law.
The 1993 Oslo Accords created the Palestinian National Authority as an interim structure of self-governance, which was given non-sovereign control over major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank and Gaza. In the remainder of the West Bank, Israel steadily expanded its settlements. The number of Israelis living on land occupied during the 1967 war has more than doubled during the Oslo period. But Israel evacuated its military bases and settlements from Gaza in 2005. Today, Gaza is ruled by Hamas, although Israel maintains sovereign control over its airspace and access to the outside world.