GAZA STRIP (Heb. רְצוּעַת עַזָּה; Ar. ﱠ ﻏَ عﺎُﻄةَﺰﻗ), an area located on the coastal plain between Israel and Egypt, covering
around 140 sq. miles (362 sq. km.), and between 3 and 4.5 miles (5–7 km.) wide and 28 miles (45 km.) long. The Gaza Strip is not a separate geographical unit, but rather a political one that emerged after the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, when the territory of Palestine, a British Mandate from 1920 to 1948, was divided into three major entities: the independent State of Israel, inhabited predominantly by Jews, and the two Palestinian Arab "territories" of the West Bank (ruled by Jordan at that time) and the Gaza Strip (ruled by Egypt).
Gaza Strip under Egyptian Rule
The Armistice Agreement of February 1949 between Israel and Egypt established the borders of the Gaza Strip according to the ceasefire boundaries, although the districts of Beit Hānūn and ʿAbasān were given to Egypt by Israel. This agreement proved to be fragile. From the early 1950s, Palestinian Fidā'iyyūn (lit. those who are ready to sacrifice their lives for their cause) launched attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israeli military and civilian targets. Taking the view that Egypt had initiated these attacks, Israel carried out several raids in the Strip. In 1956, as part of the *Sinai Campaign, Israel occupied the Strip and held it between November 2, 1956, and March 8, 1957. The subsequent period of Egyptian control that followed was relatively quiet, until the outbreak of the Six-Day War in June 1967, when Egypt lost the Strip to Israel (and Jordan lost the West Bank to Israel).
Demographic change was much more radical in the Strip during the 1948 War than in the West Bank, and had significant economic and social consequences. Some estimates suggest hat during the 1948 War the population of the Strip multiplied by 4.5 times (from 80,000 to 360,000) due to the influx of Palestinians from Arab villages in Israel pouring into the Strip in search of protection from the Egyptian army. Eight refugee camps were set up and administered by the newly created United Nations Relief and Works Agency (unrwa) where their residents obtained food, basic housing, medical care, and schooling. Unemployment was high because there were not enough jobs in the local economy, largely based on agriculture and small businesses; employment outside the Strip was not permitted until 1952, when Egypt opened its border to allow workers to enter. Yet even then job opportunities were limited. At least half of the labor force remained unemployed, and those who found work earned very little.
In 1957, after regaining control of the Strip, Egypt took some measures to relieve the situation, which included improving the seaport of *Gaza and encouraging exports. Although this had a positive effect for some Palestinians, it did not bring about fundamental structural change, and "national output" from the Strip did not significantly increase; in the last full year of Egyptian control over the Strip, per capita gnp stood at only us$80 (about 1,500 nis in 2005 prices).
From Direct Control to Disengagement: Israel and the Gaza Strip
At the end of the Six-Day War in June 1967, Israel seemed very determined to hold on to the Strip. Prime Minister Levi *Eshkol declared that "Israel intends to keep the former part of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip" and his defense minister, Moshe *Dayan, declared that "the Gaza Strip is Israel's and steps will be taken to make it part of this country." Even so, a full annexation did not follow these declarations. Although small settlements of Israeli Jews were established in the Gaza Strip, it was only in stages that the notion of annexation was replaced by that of separation.
In the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978, Israel signed "a framework for peace in the Middle East" which called for the implementation of an autonomy plan for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but left open the question of sovereignty over these territories. In 1994–95, in the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (plo), a timetable was drawn up for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and for the formation of a self-governing Palestinian entity, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The so-called permanent status issues such as the fate of Palestinian refugees, the future of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and agreed borders between Israel and a Palestinian entity, were deliberately excluded from the Accords and left for future negotiations. Subsequently, the Palestinian Authority (pa) was established as the new governing regime in the Strip. Israel handed over some areas in which both civilian and security authority were transferred to the pa. However, violence and violations on both sides have held back progress in accordance with the Oslo Accords timetable. Nevertheless, the process of separation has been ongoing.
In September 2005, Israel withdrew its troops and all Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and relinquished control of certain areas of the northern West Bank, in accordance with its unilateral Disengagement Plan, and the pa took control of the Strip. Israel, however, was to continue to control the Strip's borders and gateways, although the southern border – the "Philadelphi Road" – was to be guarded by Egypt. While the Israeli government expressed its hope that existing economic relations with the pa would be maintained, the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 threw future relations into doubt.
[Amos Nadan (2nd ed.)]
Nationalism, Politics, and Violence
The history of Gaza since 1967 should be seen within the context of the reemergence of Palestinian nationalism, Islamic political revival in Palestinian politics that began in the 1970s, and attempts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab conflict, especially since the outbreak of the Intifada in 1987. Regarding the ebb and flow of politics and violence within Gaza itself, it was highly volatile in the first years of Israeli rule, quiescent and peaceful between 1972 and the early 1980s, and after the eruption of the Intifada in December 1987, became steeped in almost perpetual violent struggle against Israeli rule. Gaza also became the scene to the most extreme forms of internecine political contention and violence, mostly between Fatah, the largest nationalist faction within the plo, and the Hamas, the major Islamic movement.
Why violent opposition to Israeli rule was greater in Gaza than in the West Bank during the first years of Israel's rule had to do with Egyptian policy before the Six-Day War. Unlike Hashemite Jordan, which went to great efforts to stifle Palestinian identity and curtail plo political activity, Egypt, the former ruler, had been engaged since 1959 in actively promoting a Palestinian identity and institutions in Gaza as part of its political offensive against Israel. After 1964, this included the plo and its military arm, the Palestinian Liberation Army; their performance against the Israel Defense Forces (idf) in the Six-Day War won high marks from Israeli military analysts.
It was these former officers and soldiers in the pla who served as the nucleus of violent opposition to Israeli rule that began in 1968 and reached its zenith in 1970–early 1971 when 17 Israelis were killed in Gaza as a result of terrorist activity emanating from there. Terrorist activity was virtually stamped out by Israeli forces under General Ariel Sharon, Head of Southern Command, who employed techniques such as specialized anti-terror units acting in disguise and the employment of armored military craft in urban warfare, which later became better known in subsequent more intense rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence under increasing media scrutiny.
Yet Israel's response in itself was hardly sufficient to wipe out terrorism. Israel, after initial hesitation, opened its labor market during these years to a job-hungry population (see below) while an additional ten percent of the workforce was directly linked to providing transportation for these commuters. Employment in Israel was the major factor in the vast improvement in the standard of living. It also had its limitations – the Israeli market offered blue collar work only – a form of employment that became a growing source of frustration for an increasingly educated Palestinian workforce. Nevertheless, prosperity brought tranquility until the early 1980s.
Calm gave way to increasing tension as the plo, principally Fatah and the Islamic Brotherhood, began forming "front" social and political institutions that not only provided social services but had the added advantage of employing the new augmented ranks of high school and university students. There was also political friction, focused mainly around Gaza University, established in 1978, between student blocs affiliated to Fatah, Islamic Jihad, formed in 1983, and the local Muslim Brotherhood, which in early 1988, after the outbreak of the Intifada, became known as the Hamas.
These organizations became recruiting grounds for the "military" wing of these political forces in Gaza with the result that even before the outbreak of the Intifada, Gaza became the stage of increasing acts of terror, the most dramatic of which was the clash in October 1987 between three al-Jihad al-Islami members who had escaped detention and Israel General Security agents, leading to the death of an Israeli agent. The incident had a dramatic effect; for the first time since 1971, "the resistance," as it was known in Palestinian society, had succeeded in killing a member of an elite security unit of almost mythic proportions.
The trend of increasing violence paled in comparison to the mass violence that broke out on December 8, 1987, in Jabaliyya Refugee Camp and elsewhere over rumors that an Israeli had deliberately crashed into a vehicle killing four Palestinians. Thousands took to the streets in massive daily confrontations against a small hard-pressed Israeli military presence in Gaza. If political forces were not responsible for the outbreak of Intifada, they were crucial in assuring its persistence; the Unified National Command of the West Bank and Gaza, consisting of members of the four major factions under the plo umbrella, Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestinian Communist Party, organized activity directly and through a series of leaflets; the Hamas and Islamic Jihad did much the same through its own separate organizations and leaflets.
Soon mass activities and violence, characterized by stone throwing and use of incendiary bombs, gave way to increasing terrorist activity by a professional "salaried" hard core; the establishment of the ʿIzz al-Dīn al-Qassām Brigades in Gaza, Hamas' military wing in 1989, and its kidnapping and killing of an Israeli soldier in that year were, in retrospect, the most significant actions. This ushered in a series of killings culminating in the expulsion to Lebanon of nearly 413 Hamas and Jihad activists in December 1992. Their expulsion and even more so their subsequent repatriation, was an egregious mistake; in Lebanon they perfected their skills to use explosives, under the aegis of Hizbullah, leading to the introduction of suicide-bombing, a new and more lethal mode of terrorism. The first suicide bombing, by a member of the al-Jihad al-Islami, took place in April 1993 in the Jordan Valley. Nevertheless, Fatah was still the major political and military force, even in Gaza, when the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo peace process was created.
For a brief period in Palestinian politics between the establishment of the pa in July 1994 and the entry of the pa into the six major towns of the West Bank in January 1996, Gaza held the limelight as Yasser *Arafat set up headquarters in the city of Gaza. Even afterwards, Arafat, realizing the popularity of the two major Islamic organizations native to Gaza, spent much of his time, if not most, in Gaza to assure his control in the area. Most of the other formerly Tunis-based Palestinian politicians and organizations preferred, however, Ramallah and even though sessions of the Palestinian Legislative Council, elected in January 1996, took place in both, increasing government business was transacted in the latter.
Arafat's political instincts were correct. For the pa and Arafat, Gaza became a major source of opposition; in November 1994, pa security forces gunned down 12 mostly Hamas activists coming out of mosque in the city of Gaza to quell a continuation of mass protests against the pa for arresting and harassing its members; the three suicide bombings of late February–early March 1996 resulting in 57 deaths in Israel were all planned, organized, and carried out in Gaza by the Hamas. Israel reacted to suicide-bombing by curtailing work permits and targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists.
Nevertheless, there was some room for hope and prosperity. An airport in Dahaniya in Gaza was opened, the Erez industrial park in the north rapidly expanded, and another industrial park was established in Karni, but none of these developments could make up for restricted and much reduced access to the Israeli labor market and led to a 40 percent decline in the average income level since the Oslo peace process in 1993.
Access to the Israeli labor market terminated almost completely with the outbreak of armed conflict between the pa and the Palestinian factions in September 2000; Gaza became the stage of mass armed demonstrations and protests and soon thereafter of recurring armed assaults and suicide attacks against the Israeli military and civilian presence there, including 18 settlements established since 1971. Unlike Judea and Samaria, where two massive idf military offensives in 2002 and the partial reoccupation of its towns brought about a significant reduction of terrorism and armed attacks, in Gaza terrorism and guerrilla activity increased from 2002 to 2005 reaching levels of violence unparalleled in Judea and Samaria, which even the assassination of Ahmad Yasin, the founder and leader of Hamas in March 2004, and one month afterwards of his successor, ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Rantīsī, only temporarily reduced.
[Hillel Frisch (2nd ed.)]
Socioeconomic Features under Israeli Rule
The Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip in 1967 brought immediate economic relief to Gaza's residents, as Israel opened its labor market to Palestinians. In 1968, according to Israeli statistics, about 82.5% of the Strip's laborers were employed. In 1973 this figure reached 99.1%, with about one-third (32.7%) of these workers finding their main employment in Israel. The level of employment in Israel continued to increase. In 1979 it stood at 42.4% and in 1986 at almost half of the total (46.1%); in Israel, the Palestinian workers from Gaza were engaged in labor-intensive jobs, but their wages were far lower by 59% than those of the Israeli workforce. From 1968 to 1986 the average annual population growth in the Strip stood at 2.2%, with an annual growth of 2.5% in per capita gdp (from 3,508 nis to 5,964 nis in 2005 prices); yet this deteriorated between 1979 and 1985 (from 6,593 nis to 5,346 nis). These trends were significantly different from the more economically viable West Bank: in 1968 per capita gdp in the Gaza Strip was 18% less than in the West Bank, but by 1986 it was lower by 55%.
The Intifada ("uprising") of 1987 was the first Palestinian national revolt since the Israeli occupation 20 years earlier. The socioeconomic roots and consequences of this Intifada were significant. At its onset, the 1987 Intifada was a spontaneous disturbance, not directed by a recognized national leadership; it also started in the poorest region – the Gaza Strip – and spilled over into the West Bank. The group of rebels who initiated the revolt was essentially people who used to work in Israel, who felt poor and discriminated against, and hoped for change. To some extent, the Intifada of 1987 acted as a labor-separator between the Strip and Israel. By 1993, the level of Gazan workers employed in Israel and in Israeli settlements had dropped to 26.5%. Moreover, several suicide attacks by Palestinians in Israel in 1994 and 1995, and the border "closure policy" of the Israeli government, brought a further reduction of Gazans employed in Israel: in 1995 only 3.3% of Gazans who were employed had found work in Israel. However, this gradually changed, and by 1998 the number had risen to 16.2%.
The Intifada of 2000, the second revolt against Israeli occupation, was supported and sustained from the outset by the pa, as well as by the Islamic opposition groups in Gaza. While per capita gdp figures suggest that the economic crisis of the first Intifada was not particularly serious, the socioeconomic consequences of the 2000 Intifada were undoubtedly much more severe. There was an average annual decline of more than 14% in gnp in Gaza between 1999 and 2002, and the average level of Gazan employment in Israel fell to below 1% between October 2000 and mid-2004.
[Amos Nadan (2nd ed.)]
O. Eran, "Arab-Israel Peacemaking," in: A. Sela (ed.), The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East (2002), 127–47; A.M. Lesch and M. Tessler, Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinians: From Camp David to Intifada (1988); The Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force Survey: Annual Report, 1998; Z. Schiff and E. Ya'ari, Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising – Israel's Third Front (1990); State of Israel, Central Bureau of Statistics, National Accounts of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Area 1968–1993 (1996); United States, Department of State, The Camp David Summit (1978); World Bank, Four Years – Intifada, Closures and Palestinian Economic Crisis: An Assessment (2004); Regularly updated data about Gaza Strip and the West Bank are available on the Internet: http://www.pcbs.org; http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/.
Gaza Strip (gäz´ə), (2007 pop. 1,416,543) rectangular coastal area, c.140 sq mi (370 sq km), SW Asia, on the Mediterranean Sea adjoining Egypt and Israel, in what was formerly SW Palestine, now officially administered by the Palestinian Authority.
People and Economy
The Gaza Strip is a densely populated and impoverished region inhabited primarily by Sunni Muslim Palestinian refugees; the majority live in large, overcrowded refugee camps. Arabic, Hebrew, and English are spoken. The city of Gaza is the principal city and administrative center. Other cities include Beit Lahia in the north and Khan Yunis and Rafah in the south. There were about 7,000 Israeli settlers living in 21 semimunicipal developments in the Gaza Strip until the settlements were evacuated in 2005. The number of inhabitants has fluctuated with tensions in the Middle East, increasing greatly due to the Arab-Israeli Wars.
The Gaza Strip has small construction and handicrafts industries, and some farming, including citrus fruits, olives, and livestock. However, Gaza depends on Israel for nearly 90% of its imports (largely food, consumer goods, and construction materials) and exports (mainly citrus fruit and other agricultural products), as well as employment. The economy, such as it is, has been devastated by recent fighting and, since 2007, the Israeli blockade.
Between 1917 and 1948 the region was part of Great Britain's Palestine mandate from the League of Nations. After the armistice agreement of 1949 until the 1967 war (with the exception of the Israeli occupation from Nov., 1956, to Mar., 1957), the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian administration; the 1948 Arab-Israeli war led to an influx of Palestinian Arab refugees that tripled the region's population. However, the Palestinians were never given Egyptian citizenship, thereby remaining stateless. After the 1967 war, Israel occupied the region and established settlements there, but autonomy for the area was promised by the 1978 Camp David accords.
With the inception of the Palestinian uprising (Intifada) in Gaza in 1987, the city became a major center of political unrest and violence, and the Gaza Strip remained under frequent military curfew, imposed by Israeli troops sent to quell violence and maintain order. High unemployment and low wages have been chronic problems. As a result of the Persian Gulf War (1991), masses of Palestinian workers in that region fled back to their families in the Gaza Strip, creating a dire economic crisis and greater unemployment.
In 1993 an accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) called for limited self-rule in the area. Under a May, 1994, agreement, Israel's occupying forces left much of the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian police force was deployed. Israel retained frontier areas and buffer zones around Israeli settlements. The breakdown in peace talks in 2000 and the subsequent resumption of violence hurt the local economy. Although the Gaza Strip saw less fighting with Israelis than the West Bank, in 2003 the Israeli army moved more aggressively to control sections of the Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian attacks. The Israelis also launched attacks against leaders of Hamas, which has many supporters in the territory and has carried out many suicide attacks. The Gaza Strip is also the main base for the Islamic Jihad, another militant Palestinian group. The area also was the scene of fighting between PLO-dominated Palestinian Authority forces and Hamas.
In Jan., 2004, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon announced a plan for the withdrawal of all Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip, and it was subsequently adopted by his government. The settlements were evacuated in Aug., 2005, and Israeli forces withdrew the following month. The Strip threatened to descend into anarchic violence after the withdrawal, with the Palestinian Authority unable to exert effective control over the territory. The Gaza Strip also continued to be a source of attacks against Israel and suffer retaliatory Israeli attacks. These escalated into open warfare in June, 2006, after Hamas guerrillas captured an Israeli soldier and Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, and in the following months Israel continued to mount operations into the territory.
The situation in Gaza became economically dire as a result of continual conflict (some of it between Hamas and Al Fatah) and the restricted funding available to the Palestinian Authority. In June, 2007, the fighting between Palestinians ended with Al Fatah's defeat, placing the Gaza Strip under Hamas's control. The region nonetheless continued to be the scene of intra-Palestinian conflict, and Israel subsequently restricted the flow of goods into Gaza to humanitarian aid.
In response to ongoing rocket attacks from region, Israel tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip in Jan., 2008; the resulting shortages led Hamas to force open the Egyptian border, which had mainly been closed since 2005, for several days. In May, 2010, a Turkish aid convoy challenging the blockade was boarded in international waters in a deadly raid by Israeli forces. The raid, which was widely condemned internationally, focused global attention on the blockade; Egypt subsequently reopened its border crossing, and Israel eased its blockade on imports somewhat.
In June, 2008, a six-month cease-fire was established with Israel that included a partial reopening of the border. The cease-fire largely held until a significant outbreak of fighting in Nov., 2008, and was officially ended the next month. Late in Dec., 2008, Israel mounted an offensive against Hamas, with ground operations in Jan., 2009. Some 1,300 persons, about half of whom were civilians, died in the Gaza Strip before Israel and Hamas separately declared cease-fires in mid-January and Israeli forces withdrew; more than 20,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Both sides subsequently were accused of war crimes by international human-rights organizations and a UN fact-finding mission. In 2011 the head of the latter said he no longer believed Israel had targeted civilians as a matter of policy, but his coauthors defended their report.
Sporadic rocket and mortar attacks and Israeli air strikes, as well as minor cross-border incursions, continued. In Nov., 2012, Israeli air strikes, including one that killed the Hamas military chief, sparked the most intense cross-border attacks in four years. A new round of cross-border attacks began in July, 2014, after Israeli blamed Hamas for the murder of three teenage settlers in the West Bank and launched air strikes against the Gaza Strip, leading to a ground offensive by Israel; a cease-fire was established in August. Some 2,200 died in the fighting, the majority Palestinian civilians.
Territory about 28 miles long and from 4 to 8 miles wide (230 square miles) along the Mediterranean coast between the Egyptian Sinai Desert and the southern frontier of Israel. It contains the cities of Gaza, Khan Younis, and Rafah, as well as eight refugee camps and twenty-five Israeli settlements and military areas. The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated regions of the world. In 2003 its population was estimated at 1,330,000 Palestinians and 5,000 Israeli settlers. The settlers and military areas occupy about 40 percent of the land. Along with the rest of Palestine, this area was under British control from 1918 and was part of the British Mandate from 1922 to 1948. After the creation of the State of Israel and the Arab-Israel War of 1948–1949, the area came to be called the Gaza Strip and fell under Egyptian administration but was given an autonomous status. Before 1948 the Gaza Strip had around 70,000 inhabitants; during and after the war it absorbed 250,000 Palestinian refugees. It became the scene of numerous frontier incidents between Egypt and Israel caused by anti-Israel operations mounted by Palestinian groups. At the time of the Suez-Sinai War of October 1956, the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip experienced their first occupation by the Israel Defense Force (IDF), which led to a renaissance of Palestine nationalism. Israeli troops occupied
Gaza until March 1957, when United Nations forces took over and were themselves later replaced by an Egyptian regiment. During the War of June 1967, the Israeli Army reoccupied the Gaza Strip, which by then was home to 360,000 people. The Israeli government placed the area under its definitive control, encouraging the building of Jewish settlements and expelling about 40,000 people from Gaza, mostly to the West Bank.
From 1967 to 1971 the Palestinian resistance struggled against the Israeli occupation. Numerous Palestinian activists were imprisoned by the Israeli authorities or were exiled to Lebanon. Political figures in Gaza and the West Bank (also occupied by Israel) formed a Palestinian National Front that advocated the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories. From May 1979, as required by the Camp David Accords, Egypt and Israel started negotiating the autonomy of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These talks were not successful because of the opposition of most Gazans, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, to the Camp David Accords. Both President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt and the Israeli government imposed sanctions on the Gazans for their opposition. In April 1980 the Egyptian president proposed that autonomy first be applied in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis placed it under a civilian administration in 1981. The departure of Palestinian forces from Lebanon in 1982 and frictions within Fatah thwarted any lingering impulse to revolt on the part of the Palestinians from within for several years. In 1987, however, not only was HAMAS born in the Gaza Strip, but that December the first Intifada began. The "war of stones" against the IDF lasted almost six years. In March 1993 the Israelis closed Gaza to the outside world, which resulted in an economic decline. This closure has remained in effect, either in full or in part, ever since. In 1994, during the application of the Oslo Accords, approximately 60 percent of the Gaza Strip and a part of the West Bank attained administrative autonomy under the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Yasir Arafat. Some security matters remained under Israeli control. The stalling of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the final status of the Palestinian territories caused new waves of anti-Israel attacks, as well as a further increase in unemployment, which affected more than half the population. The al-Aqsa Intifada, which began in 2000, worsened the situation. The Israelis responded by carrying out planned assassinations and an increasingly intense program of intimidation by military means. In May and June 2004 the Israelis invaded in force, particularly in the refugee camp at Rafah. Under the pretext of looking for tunnels under the Egyptian border and increasing open security areas near the border, they killed dozens of people and destroyed hundreds of houses.
In 2004 Ariel Sharon's government was promoting a plan that would involve Israeli evacuation of the Gaza Strip and the abandonment of the settlements there but whose acceptance by the PA would entail implicit Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to unlimited settlement and unilateral determination of borders in the West Bank. In October 2004 the Knesset voted to back Sharon's plan to remove Israeli troops, as well as twenty-one settlements from Gaza and four small settlements from the northern part of the West Bank. The vote—sixty-seven for, forty-five against, and seven abstentions—marked the first time in twenty years that the parliament had favored the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the region. Fearing an extended delay in the start of the withdrawal process, Sharon rejected his Likud Party's call for a referendum on leaving Gaza, thereby splitting the ruling Likud and creating turmoil in the political landscape.
SEE ALSO Aqsa Intifada, al-; Arab-Israel War (1967); Arafat, Yasir Muhammad; British Mandate; Camp David Accords; Fatah, al-; HAMAS; Intifada (1987–1993); Israel Defense Force; Oslo Accords; Oslo Accords II; Palestine Liberation Organization; Palestine Authority; Palestinian National Front; Sadat, Anwar al-; Sharon, Ariel; Suez Crisis; West Bank.
The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are almost all Palestinians with a population estimated at 1,100,000 (2003). Some 65 percent of these are refugees, descendants of the 250,000 refugees who flooded into the territory in 1948 during the first Arab–Israel War. Few carry passports and everyone is stateless. Arabic is the primary language; Islam is the primary religion, but Christians are also in residence. Eight UN-sponsored Palestinian refugee camps are located in the Gaza Strip.
The boundaries of the Gaza Strip have not changed since 1948; with only one-fifteenth the
area of the West Bank, it has one of the highest population densities in the world. The Strip is almost rectangular, bordered by Israel on the north and east and by Egypt on the south. It has no capital, but its largest cities are Gaza City, Khan Yunis, and Rafah. It measures some 28 miles (45 km) by about 5 miles (8 km).
The northern third belongs to the red sands of the Philistian plain; the southern two-thirds (south of the main watercourse, the Wadi Gaza) belong to the more fertile sandy loess of the northern Negev Desert coast. It is hot and humid in the summer, cooler and humid in the winter, with limited rainfall.
Gaza's economy is small, underdeveloped, and weak, historically generating close to 50 percent of its national product from external sources. Under Israeli control, its economy became heavily dependent on wage labor in Israel, where over half of Gaza's labor force was traditionally employed. Israeli military law undermined local economic development, and the combined impact of the first (1987–1993) and second (2000–) Palestinian uprisings and the Israeli government's harsh response has seriously weakened the local economy. Natural resources, notably land and water, are very limited and diminishing, and no mineral resources exist. Agriculture historically played a large role in the local economy, with citrus the primary agricultural export. Industry is largely traditional and rudimentary. Small factories manufacture beverages, tobacco, textiles, clothing, wood products, and plastics.
In ancient times the area was inhabited by the Philistines. It is mentioned in the Bible as the place of Samson's death and as the burial place of one of the great-grandfathers of the Prophet Muhammad. The Gaza area was conquered by many peoples, including the Jews (Hebrews), Romans, and Arabs, before it became part of the Ottoman Empire. After World War I, when the Ottoman Empire was dismembered, the Gaza region became part of the British mandate over Palestine. In 1947 the mandate disintegrated and resulted in a call for the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. Following the Arab–Israel War of 1948, the Egypt–Israel General Armistice Agreement of February 1949 left Egypt ruling the Gaza Strip under a military administration. During the Arab–Israel War of 1956, Israel controlled the Gaza Strip from November until March of 1957, when it reverted to Egypt.
Since the Arab–Israel War of 1967, Gaza has been under Israeli military rule. The Palestinian uprising (or intifada) started in Gaza in 1987. In 1993 the Oslo peace process began with an agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to implement limited autonomy in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank town of Jericho. The failure of the Camp David Summit (July 2000) effectively ended this process. The second Palestinian uprising, known as the al-Aqsa Intifada, has created unprecedented hardship for Palestinians, especially those living in the more impoverished Gaza Strip.
Roy, Sara. The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-Development, 2d edition. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2001.
Sara M. Roy
The Gaza Strip is part of Palestine, a term that refers to the entity which has governed the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1994. As of 2005 Palestine had not yet become an independent sovereign state, but it was widely seen as a state-in-the-making for the Palestinian people.
The Gaza Strip is an area of 360 square kilometers (139 square miles) along the Mediterranean coast between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Israel. Mostly composed of sandy plains and low, rolling hills, with 1.3 million inhabitants, the region is one of the most densely populated in the world. The population is overwhelmingly Palestinian Arab and Muslim (98.7%). However, a Christian Palestinian minority of about 1 percent does exist. Approximately 75 percent of the residents of Gaza are refugees from Palestine. Until 2005 there was also a post-1967 Jewish population of settlers which numbered about 7,000.
The Gaza Strip economy is primarily based on agriculture. Remittances from migrant laborers—the vast majority of whom work in adjacent Israel—and from the Palestinian diaspora provide vital sources of income. Since the 1990s employment within the emergent Palestinian bureaucracy, with its southern administrative center in Gaza City, has also sustained many Palestinian families.
The Gaza Strip was formerly part of the Palestine Mandate, administered by Great Britain from 1923 to 1948. During the war that followed Israel's declaration of independence in 1948, the Gaza Strip fell under Egyptian rule and was administered by an Egyptian military governor. Although Egypt maintained political control, the Gaza Strip was never annexed . Instead, it was held "in trust" for the Palestinian people, and its laws, court system, and bureaucracy were kept relatively unchanged.
Israel conquered the Gaza Strip during the Arab-Israeli War in June 1967. It did not annex the Gaza Strip, but through a military government controlled almost every aspect of Palestinian life. Israel has also sponsored the settlement of Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers, an action the United Nations (UN) has rejected as illegal.
The Gaza Strip fell under a so-called Palestinian Authority (PA) that was created in the Oslo Accords, a series of agreements concluded between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993. In 1996 PLO leader Yasser Arafat (1929–2004) was elected president of the PA; eighty-eight members of the Palestine Legislative Council were also elected. The Gaza Strip has been a stronghold of
Islamist opponents of peace negotiations with Israel, who have boycotted the PA elections and advocated violence to end Israeli military occupation.
According to the terms of the Oslo Accords, the PA is not a sovereign state; it lacks full functional and territorial control over the region. Arafat's authoritarian tendencies and charges of both corruption and incompetence within the PA led to reforms in 2002 and 2003. In 2004 Israel mounted a series of raids into the Gaza Strip, ostensibly to stem weapons-smuggling from across the border in Egypt, but also crippling much of the PA infrastructure and demolishing scores of Palestinian homes in the process. After Arafat's death in November 2004, West Bank and Gazan Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas, a principal architect of the Oslo Accords, declared an end to the armed intifada (uprising) against Israel and promoted negotiations toward a final peace. In 2005, the Israeli government forced all Israeli settlers to leave Gaza, withdrawing its troops and leaving the Gaza Strip to the PA.
Brown, Nathan. Palestinian Politics After the Oslo Accords: Resuming Arab Palestine. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
Robinson, Glenn. Building a Palestinian State: The Incomplete Revolution. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1997.