The Gaza Strip: history, what it is and who controls it

Elizabeth Smith

The Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave from which Hamas’ recent military operation against Israel started, is a portion of territory about 360 square kilometers wide located northeast of the Sinai Peninsula.

It borders Egypt to the west, while to the north it faces the Mediterranean Sea. To the south and east is Israel. There are about two million inhabitants. This is a number that makes the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

This strip of territory constitutes the smallest portion of the Palestinian territories. The larger one is the West Bank or West Bank. Separating them is Israel.

History of the Gaza Strip

Conquered over the centuries by Alexander the Great and the Romans, the outline of the Gaza Strip as we know it today began to emerge following the end of World War I.

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire that garrisoned the area, in 1918 the League of Nations (a body similar to today’s United Nations that operated in those years) turned over management of the territory to the British administration.

Exactly thirty years later, coinciding with the creation of the State of Israel and the end of the British mandate, Egypt occupied Gaza.

Palestinian refugees who fled because of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war had settled there. Cairo was in charge of the Strip until 1967, when during the so-called Six-Day War Israel managed to occupy it.

The conflict pitted Egypt and Syria against Israel. Which at that time proved capable of pushing back its enemies to the point of gaining new territory, including part of the West Bank.

Read also: Why is there conflict in the Gaza Strip? The history and reasons for the war

The Oslo Accords

The Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip lasted until 2005 when, under pressure from the international community, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew military forces and colonial settlements developed during the 40-year occupation.

As stipulated in the 1993 Oslo Accords, Gaza was supposed to be controlled by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), with which Tel Aviv had entered into the pact. In 2006, however, the armed Islamist party Hamas won the elections in the Strip.

This event led Israel to impose, in 2007, an embargo of Palestinian skies and sea and control of people and goods entering and leaving. In doing so, Tel Aviv achieved a major impoverishment of the area and a deterioration of essential services.

As Nbc explains today, the International Red Cross has declared the embargo illegal as “collective punishment for people living in the Gaza Strip.” This is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Which has the objective to protect civilians who are in enemy hands or occupied territory.

If civilians in the Strip are being challenged by Israeli blockades, Egypt is also doing its part. Cairo has repeatedly closed its borders to Gazawis. A small proportion of them leave the Palestinian enclave every day to go to work in Israel. But once their shift is over, return is mandatory.

Other citizens of the Strip cannot cross the borders except in extreme cases, such as needing treatment. Last year, the nongovernmental organization Human rights watch called Gaza “an open-air prison.”

With its restrictions on the Strip, Israel wanted to weaken Hamas. However, the measure had the opposite effect. Social anger grew ever greater, leading a large part of the Gaza population (on average very young) to see the terrorist organization as the only alternative to Israeli violence and the political inability of the PNA.

Read also: Who is gaining from the war between Israel and Hamas?

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