This is a map from Wikipedia depicting the status of Gaza during the ongoing war in the Gaza strip:

2023 Israel-Hamas war

I can see that there are areas claimed to be under Israeli control or Palestinian control. However, as there is heavy guerilla warfare going on, it is likely that Hamas fighters can successfully attack Israeli soldiers deep in the "Israeli controlled" areas. Similarly, there are also cases where Israeli tanks have rolled into "Palestinian controlled" areas and shelled targets without any immediate defense from Hamas.

So what exactly is the criteria used be label an area as "under Israeli control" or "under Palestinian control"?

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    That only the map makers know. AFAICT from CNN's reporting, wherever the IDF is, the Gaza population is all gone. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 6:24
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    I think things are pretty much simple, though biased. There is no Palestinian control per se. There is a claimed absence of Israel control, i.e. the territory is not yet cleared of Hamas. So clashes are possible on this territory, depends on the presence of Hamas militants.
    – dEmigOd
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 7:32
  • wherever the IDF is, the Gaza population is all gone - it is good enough for CNN reporting, but what exactly gone means from the points of view of governments, military, UN, etc. - that 50% of the population left? 80%? 90%?
    – Morisco
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 8:59
  • @RogerV.: well the IDF didn't exactly let CNN rummage through the houses to see if there's anyone hiding in the rubble. They just noticed there was nobody around but the IDF. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 14:01
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    @RogerV.: no. They were western guys (Nic Robertson, Oren Liebermann) embedded with the IDF. Which took them on a tour every few days. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 14:36

5 Answers 5


The map in question appears to resemble (as far the division of control goes) the ISW map:

enter image description here

So the (light) blue area appears to correspond to "reported Israeli clearing operations" and "claimed furthest Israeli advances" combined. (Not that these terms are explained much beyond that there.)

And if you wanted to know more

For media inquiries, please email [email protected] .

OTOH, I suspect they are using Gallant's terms there. On Nov 16, ToI paraphrased that he said

the IDF has completed the capture of the western part of Gaza City, and cleared the area of any Hamas operatives and assets.

Which more or less corresponds to that map. FWTW, the same terminology appears in the NYT:

U.S. military officials said their Israeli counterparts tell them to expect more weeks of clearing operations in the north before Israel prepares a separate initiative in southern Gaza, widening the offensive.

And although the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said in a video statement on Monday that Israel had “accelerated our activities against the tunnels” and that Hamas militants had lost control in the north and were fleeing south, military analysts said Mr. Gallant’s statements raised many questions.

Anyhow, Reuters appears to make the same distinction, and more or less use the same map, albeit they zoom in on the recent hospital action:

enter image description here

CBC actually endeavoured to explain the military jargon related to that map:

Clearing operation is a mission that "removes all enemy forces and eliminate[s] organized resistance within an assigned area," according to the U.S. military.

As for the "furthest advances" that probably refers to where there is more active combat. I don't know where the IDF communicated those areas, exactly, or how the ISW assessed that part.

Also interesting from the US military manuals though. Right after defining the 'clear' mission task they define:

Control is a tactical mission task that requires the commander to maintain physical influence over a specified area to prevent its use by an enemy or to create conditions necessary for successful friendly operations. That influence can result from friendly forces occupying the specified area or dominating that area by their weapon systems. Control of an area does not require the complete clearance of all enemy soldiers from the specified area.

Which is probably why Wikipedia combined those two shades of blue and just called them 'control'.

FWTW, also interesting point later on in that military manual:

A unit can control an area without occupying it, but not vice versa. That is the difference between the tactical mission tasks of occupy and control.


Generally speaking, "under control" means you are no longer openly fighting a force to move into a given area (i.e. occupation). When you send a military force into a new area, you generally encounter enemy forces that are openly fighting you to prevent you from taking over the area. The area is under control when the enemy forces

  1. have either been killed
  2. retreated to areas not under control
  3. surrendered

Put a different way

In international law, a territory is considered “occupied” when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.

Reuters put out this map

Israeli control of Gaza

When people talk about guerilla warfare, they generally mean you're encountering small pockets of enemy forces that are engaged in "hit and run" tactics.

Guerrilla warfare is a form of unconventional warfare in which small groups of irregular military, such as rebels, partisans, paramilitary personnel or armed civilians including recruited children, use ambushes, sabotage, terrorism, raids, petty warfare or hit-and-run tactics in a rebellion, in a violent conflict, in a war or in a civil war to fight against regular military, police or rival insurgent forces.

This tactic is mostly used by sides with an inferior force (equipment, personnel, etc). An area "under control" may not be free of all combat


I suspect what "Israeli control" means is any place where there are enough IDF soldiers amassed that they could reasonably prevail if a confrontation arose in that place at that time.

It's unlikely to mean Hamas couldn't mount an attack in principle - there's probably just nothing special to fight over.

"Palestinian control" meanwhile just means the opposite of "Israeli control". It means the IDF aren't present in significant numbers.

As soon as the IDF clear from a place, it is likely that "control" will be immediately considered lost.

The nature of guerilla warfare is that Hamas combatants will be "in control" anywhere where civilians are.

It's usually very difficult to distill the two, and brutalisation of the civilians will typically convert more of them into a combatant role, which can be a vexatious and counter-intuitive transformation for those in regular military service who might have preconceptions about the psychology of civilians as fixed and cattle-like (and themselves as farmer-like).


In much of the region the question of "control" is a complex one. For example the West Bank is administered by the Palestinian Authority, but Israel has established sufficient military and security presence in some parts of it that they are usually considered "Israeli controlled", even though the administration is Palestinian. The Golan Heights is Isreali controlled in the sense that the administration is done by Israel.

In the middle of an active war zone (which is what Gaza is right now) "control" simply means control in the military sense - that one side occupies it with its troops, and can effectively keep the other side out, which controlling activities in the area. In a war zone the side with "control" can change very quickly.

So on the map you ask about the blue areas represent places where Israeli forces are present and secure. It says nothing about their long term intentions.

  • The first paragraph speaks a lot about civil administration - clearly inspired by my answer, but without citing it. You may also want to look up Areas A, B, C in the West Bank, regarding what is controlled and administered by whom. The Golan Heights are annexed by Israel - so the Israeli law applies there.
    – Morisco
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 15:33
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    @RogerV. Yes, that's exactly what I said. You've understood it very well. Not sure who downvoted, but that will get erased over time. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 16:05

Control usually implies a lot more than just being present in the area - it implies safety for representative of certain military to be in the area, as well as who is administering the affairs of the civilian population (food supplies, sanitation, fighting common crime, fire fighting, medical care, etc.)

In fact, the term *territory under Israeli control * is quite common in the description of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is legally more precise than occupation, since occupation implies that the controlled territory is legally a territory of another state, which, e.g., is true when discussing the Golan Heights (taken from Syria), but technically incorrect when talking about West Bank - which is technically a disputed territory, and where the Israelis and Palestinians (represented by the Palestinian Authority) have never agreed on the demarcation line.

Note that the above mentioned administration of the controlled territory is not merely a matter of being nice to the local population - it is responsibility of the controlling military power, under the international law.

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    Not disputing the text, however, in English, they somehow re-defined the meaning of occupation, such that occupation is the execution of military control over the land you fail to recognize as your sovereign one. This let some to call Israel an occupation force let say over those disputed lands. At the same time pretending, PA is not an occupation force, despite those lands not being palestinian sovereign one.
    – dEmigOd
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 11:02
  • @dEmigOd thanks for this detail.
    – Morisco
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 11:07
  • It wasn't me who downvoted, in case you wonder. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 14:34
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    Your definition of "control" works well outside a war zone, but in this case (which is a war zone) "control" just means that your military have control of the area, preventing the other side from being there and controlling the activities of any civilians there. It doesn't imply there being a civil administration. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 14:35
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    This really isn't even answering the question then. The first paragraph talks about what "control" usually means in other parts of the region (but doesn't apply here); the second paragraph about the Golan Heights and West Bank; the third paragraph is a general point about legal responsibilities that may or may not be happening. None of it explain what "control" actually means in this case. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 14:52

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