Gaza: The Basics
Some history and background on the Gaza Strip.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of Palestinians streamed into Egypt for a shopping frenzy after gunmen in the Gaza Strip destroyed part of the barrier along the border. In the past two weeks, following a rise in rocket attacks, Israel had ramped up its blockades, refusing to allow anything besides humanitarian supplies to pass into the region. Below, the Explainer tackles a few basic questions about the region.
What exactly is the Gaza Strip?
The Gaza Strip is a roughly rectangular territory surrounding the city of Gaza, wedged between the Mediterranean Sea and Israel. To the southwest, it shares a seven-mileborder with Egypt. The region has a long history of occupation—by the ancient Egyptians, the Philistines, the Arabs, the Christian Crusaders, and the Ottomans. AfterWorld War I, the Gaza area became part of the British Mandate of Palestine, and it was occupied by Egypt in 1948, in the aftermath of the first Arab-Israeli war. Israel took control of the region during the Six-Day War in 1967, along with the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula.
In 1994, Israel withdrew from parts of the Gaza Strip as part of its obligations under the Oslo Accords (which also affirmed the rights of the Palestinians to self-government). The Palestinian National Authority and Israel shared power in the Gaza Strip for the next 10 years, with the PNA administering civilian control and the Israelis overseeing military affairs as well as the borders, airspace, and remaining Israeli settlements.
In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally ended military rule in the region and withdrew all Israeli settlements, thus bringing all areas of the Gaza Strip under Palestinian administration. * In 2007, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, causing a division between the region and the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank, where the Fatah party is dominant.
How did it come to be that shape?
The rectangular Gaza Strip is about 25 miles long and three to seven miles wide. One long side lies along the Mediterranean. One short, straight end borders Egypt: This follows the border that existed between Egypt and the British Mandate of Palestine. The other sides of the rectangle—a long, ragged edge and a shorter, northeastern side—separate the Gaza Strip from Israel. This border was established after the first Arab-Israeli War, which also resulted in the creation of Israel. The Gaza region became Egypt's military headquarters during the 1948 conflict, and the narrow coastal strip saw heavy fighting. When the cease-fire was announced later that year—following a decisive Israeli victory—the final position of the military fronts became what's known as "the Green Line," or the border between the Palestinian territories (both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank) and Israel.
Who lives on the Gaza Strip?
Since the withdrawal of Israeli settlements, the Gazan population is almost entirely Palestinian Arab. More than 99 percent are Sunni Muslims, with a very small number of Christians. The region saw a huge influx of Palestinian refugees after the creation of Israel in 1948—within 20 years, the population of Gaza had grown to six times its previous size. The Gaza Strip now has one of the highest population densities in the world: Almost 1.5 million people live within its 146 square miles. Eighty percent of Gazans live below the poverty line.
Who built the fence between Gaza and Egypt? Who controls the border?
Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.
Photograph of Egyptain riot policemen by Abid Katib/Getty Images.