The Tragic History of the Gaza Strip
By: Christian Jimenez/Arab America Contributing Writer
Today Gaza is a mess dealing with constant problems including the recent missile attacks by Israel. The strip and its inhabitants have been suffering, but this tragic story has been going on for years and it looks like there is no end in sight for Gaza.
History of Gaza and Hamas
The Gaza Strip is a small piece of land only measuring around 365 square kilometers, residing on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The history of Gaza is a complex one and it is one that began with the 1948 Arab-Israeli War when Israel took over 75% of the historical area of Palestine, leaving only the West Bank to be occupied by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip occupied by Egypt. The Gaza Strip was thus under Egyptian administration and control, but Egypt never annexed or integrated it with the rest of Egypt as Jordan had done with the West Bank. Despite this, under Egyptian control, the Gaza Strip was a place where many Palestinians would flee after the Nakba, as around 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their original homes. Two decades after the Nakba, Gaza’s prospects would again change with the 1967 War when Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan, and Syria to take over the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip, making Israel the new occupier of these lands. It was at this time that all of the historical regions of Palestine were under Israeli surveillance and control as new Israeli settlements would be built up in both Gaza and the West Bank. Eventually, there would be some change with the Oslo Accords in the 1990s where the Israelis pledged to withdraw from Jericho and Gaza and allow the Palestinian Authority to administer and govern both regions. The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, would then withdraw all Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip by 2005. However, this withdrawal would not end the problems for Gaza, as many more struggles with Israel would occur.
Another important player in Gazan history is Hamas, which formed in the 1980s as a Palestinian offshoot of the wider Muslim Brotherhood during the first Intifada, as they advocated for a religious and militant struggle to oust the Israelis from Gaza and the rest of Palestine. Hamas would also become a large rival to Fatah, since they opened and ran charities, mosques, and other Islamic organizations that granted them popularity against Fatah, who were now seen as ineffective and corrupt.
The intra-Palestinian struggle would soon come to a head as Hamas participated in the 2006 elections after initially boycotting it, leading to a great electoral victory for them. Fatah would eventually control the West Bank and Hamas would control the Gaza Strip. The inability for these two groups to work together would eventually see economic problems with reduced funding for the Palestinian Authority. As a result, it would be Israel who would have the largest role in Gaza since Hamas was viewed very negatively by them, convincing the Israelis to turn the strip into what many people see today as a giant open-air prison. Israeli actions against Gaza would include a trade embargo from land and sea prohibiting many imports and exports. There would also be many Israeli military operations against Gazans throughout the 21st century as Israeli airstrikes and ground operations usually resulted in civilian casualties on Palestinians, including women and children, as well as a hardening on the blockade.
Recent Conflicts and Suffering of Civilians
In 2008, Israelis disproportionately hardened the blockade between Gaza and its neighbors by airstrikes leading to many civilian deaths. Israel reported they were defending its citizens after Hamas allegedly shot rockets into Tel Aviv. The initial fighting would soon result in a ceasefire between the two sides in June 2008 for around six months. By 2009, Israeli ground troops poured into Gaza as an offensive against Hamas leading to 1,300 people being killed with around half of them being civilians. There would also be 20,000 buildings destroyed by Israel before they withdrew by January of the same year.
The second time of heightened tensions between Hamas and Israel would occur in 2012-2014, as there were border raids as well as an Israeli airstrike against a Hamas leader in 2012. By 2014, there would be another ground offensive led by Israel causing 2,200 deaths with the majority being Palestinian civilians.
It’s relevant to note that since 2018, many peaceful protests against Israel by Palestinian civilians have been held every Friday on the Gaza-Israeli border. It has been coined as the Great March of Return, which has attracted worldwide attention to the Palestinian cause, but has also resulted in the tragic deaths of Palestinian civilians with some of them children.
Due to Israeli blockades, Gazans have been forced to find other ways to obtain aid for its citizens. Shipments from sympathetic countries towards Gaza’s plight, underground tunnels, and smuggling routes with Egypt have helped Palestinians survive throughout the years. However, the region’s economy is abysmal and living standards are awful as around 70% of Gazans live below the poverty line. The water system is poorly maintained as 40% of water is lost due to problems with water transport infrastructure; and the supply is also contaminated leading to disease outbreaks from time to time, causing a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Today history repeats itself as Gaza is once again suffering from Israeli airstrikes. This, combined with Israel’s actions against Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, has caused another serious flareup in the crisis. Today many Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes as the Health Ministry of Gaza reported that over 800 Palestinians have been hurt with over 200 killed, including children, due to Israeli bombardments. There have also been vast infrastructure damage in Gaza, including apartment buildings, government buildings, schools, banks, police stations, and even a building used by various new stations such as AP and Al-Jazeera have been destroyed. Another ceasefire has been signed recently bringing an end to this chapter of violence in Gaza, but there seems to be no end to the unfortunate suffering of the Palestinians living on this small strip of land beside the sea.
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