The Gaza Strip

“Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key.”
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, John Dugard

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Updated: 31/08/2007

The History of Gaza
• the Gaza Strip was established at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Its boundaries were defined by the ceasefire lines. It was placed under Egyptian rule and held in trust for a future Palestinian state. • At the end of the 1956 Suez-Sinai War, the Gaza Strip was occupied by Israel. A year later Israel withdrew its troops as a result of international pressure and a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was placed in the Gaza Strip. • In June 1967, Israel recaptured the Gaza Strip during the Six-Day War. In November of the same year UN Security Council Resolution 242 called on Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and other ‘occupied territories.’ • In 1970, the first Jewish settlement, Kfar Darom, was built in the Gaza Strip. This settlement was illegal under international law, but nonetheless the Israeli government continued to expand settlements in Gaza. The increasing Jewish presence in Gaza sparked Palestinian activism and helped motivate the founding of several political groups. Confrontations between settlers and Palestinians became increasingly violent. • In 1987, Hamas was founded as an Islamic resistance movement. It was established in Gaza just before the beginning of the first Palestinian Intifada, which started in the Jabalia

Gaza: The Facts
• Gaza is an arid rectangle of territory at the southeast end of the Mediterranean. 45 km (25 miles) long and 10 km (6 miles) wide, it is wedged between Israel to the north and east, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to the south. • The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on earth with 3,823 persons per km2. • The population of Gaza tripled in 1948-49 when it absorbed approximately 175,000 Palestinian refugees fleeing their homes in what is now Israel. • There are now about 1.5 million inhabitants in the Gaza Strip. • The majority of the population are young refugees: the average age in the Gaza Strip is 16.

Map: BBC 2006

Refugee camp of northern Gaza and rapidly spread to East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The first Intifada was characterised by strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts and demonstrations against the Israeli military. It lasted until 1993. • The Camp David Summit in 2000 renewed hopes for peace. But the Israeli military and Palestinians engaged in a new round of intense fighting as a result of Ariel Sharon’s visit to the esplanade of the al-Aqsa Mosque, which led to the second (al-Aqsa) Intifada in September 2000. –

• On September 12th, 2005, Israel withdrew its military personnel as well as all Israeli settlers from Gaza. It claimed this amounted to “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip. However, Israel still controls all of Gaza’s borders, plus its airspace and territorial waters. Military incursions, targeted assassinations and constant closures of Gaza’s borders are still commonplace. The Gaza Strip therefore remains under active Israeli occupation. • In June of 2007, violent clashes escalated between the armed wings of political factions Fatah and Hamas, killing more than 100 people in Gaza. Both parties accused one another of orchestrating a military coup and attempting to assassinate each others’ leaders. Hamas routed Fatah forces and retained control of Gaza. Hamas and the state of Israel have historically refused to recognize each other. Israel responded to the Hamas victory by effectively sealing Gaza off from the outside world.

• Under international humanitarian law even if Israel ‘s control of the Gaza Strip does not amount to “effective control” and the territory is not considered occupied, Israel still bears certain responsibilities . International humanitarian law is not limited to protecting civilians living under occupation, but includes provisions intended to protect civilians during an armed conflict, regardless of the status of the territory in which they live.

The Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza
• The Gaza Strip has been facing a humanitarian crisis since April, 2006, when western donors cut aid to the Palestinian Authority in an effort to isolate the democratically elected Hamas government. • In 2006, average GDP in the Gaza Strip was less then $1,500, the same as Mozambique and less than Rwanda. • In Gaza approximately 80% of Palestinians are now living in poverty; 35% of them are classified as “extremely impoverished”. • The Karni crossing, which serves as the main conduit for commercial goods into Gaza, has been closed since June 13th, 2007. This has devastated the Gazan economy. 80% of all industrial sector businesses are either temporarily shut down or running at below 20% capacity. This sector is 95% dependant on imported raw materials, and over 66,000 workers have been temporarily laid off. • Due to constant closures, the movement of essential commodities through Sufa and Kerem Shalom crossings has been massively restricted. Gaza now suffers shortages of es-

Gaza and International Law
• The laws of occupation are incorporated into the 1907 Hague Convention and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. These laws impose general responsibility on the occupying state for the safety and welfare of civilians living in an occupied territory. The laws of occupation apply if a state has “effective control” over the territory in question. • The broad scope of Israeli control in the Gaza Strip, which exists despite the Israeli military claim of a lack of permanent presence in the strip, creates a reasonable basis to assume this amounts to “effective control,” and that the laws of occupation therefore continue to apply.

sential commodities, such as powdered milk, rice and vegetable oil. The resulting rise in market prices has made it extremely difficult for families to have an adequate, healthy and balanced diet. The high price of animal fodder, and shortage of cattle, has led to a steep rise in the price of fresh and frozen meat. However, the price of local cash crops for export (especially fruits and vegetables) is decreasing. • The health sector remains unstable. According to the July 2007, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Gaza Situation Report, primary and secondary health care facilities are still functioning despite shortages of electricity and supplies such as X-ray film, laboratory kits, patient beds and examination tables. However there are ongoing shortages of chronic disease drugs and anaesthetics, and a considerable portion of equipment and machines are out of order, overloading the remaining capacity of hospitals. • Also according to UNRWA, 22% of Gaza homes are not connected to the sewage system, making sanitation a major problem.

Inside the Erez crossing, going to Gaza. Photo: Olly Lambert. –