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KEY FACTS ON THE GAZA STRIP
A more detailed profile on the Gaza Strip can be found on BBC, along with key maps and timeline of the current siege. For some history on Gaza, read Gaza: A City with a Six Millenia History by Dr. Saeb Shaath. Also read the excellent op-ed in the New York Times: What You Don't Know About Gaza by Rashid Khalidi, published Jan 8, 2009. WHERE IS GAZA?
The Gaza Strip (also known as Gaza) is a coastal strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, 45 km (25 miles) long and at most 10 km (6 miles) wide. It borders Egypt to it south-west and Israel to its north and east.
Image courtesy of BBC News
WHO LIVES THERE?
Nearly 1.5 million Palestinians live in Gaza, many of them concentrated in one-half of the territory. In this area, the population density is nearly 20,000 people per square mile, one of the highest in the world. Over one-half of its residents are children. In addition, with an annual growth rate of nearly 3.5%, Gaza's young and fertile population is projected to reach over 2 million people in 8 years.
More than three quarters of Gaza's residents are refugees who were driven from their homes during past wars with Israel (in 1948 and 1967), and their descendants. Israel has permanently barred their return. Over half of these refugees still reside in Gaza's eight refugee camps.
Overall, there are over five million Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza, while a quarter of them live in Gaza which is 1.5% of the whole territory. Most Gazans live on less than $2 a day with deteriorating health and malnutrition, and up to 80 percent are dependent on food aid, according to humanitarian groups. WHO GOVERNS GAZA?
The Gaza Strip is not recognized internationally as part of any sovereign country.
Egypt, which governed the Gaza Strip from 1948-1967 controls the southern border between the Gaza strip and the Sinai desert (however the de-facto control of this border rests with Israel).
Israel, which governed the Gaza Strip from 1967-2005, still controls the strip's airspace, territorial water and offshore maritime access, as well as its side of the Gaza-Israeli border. This continued control has allowed the Israeli state, which opposes Hamas, to control the inflow and outflow of multiple types of resources, including food, electricity, water, fuel, import/export goods and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Strip is currently claimed by the Palestinian Authority as part of the Palestinian territories, though following the June 2007 battle of Gaza, actual control of the area is in the hands of the de facto government dominated by Hamas. However, Israel still remains the ultimate power controlling territorial access and flow of all resources to the Gaza Strip.
Prior to Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the United States considered the Gaza Strip to be an Israel-occupied territory. Following the withdrawal, no official US government statement has been made on the status of the Strip. However, the CIA World Factbook on the Gaza Strip (an official U.S. government publication), which was last updated on December 18th, 2008, continues to list the Gaza Strip as an Israeli-occupied territory. WHAT IS HAMAS?
Hamas or "Movement of Islamic Resistance" was founded in the Gaza Strip shortly after the outbreak of the first Palestinian intifada in December 1987. It was established by Palestinian members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization founded in the 1920s in Egypt, whose emergence in the Gaza Strip was initially welcomed by Israeli military authorities as an alternative to the PLO.
Hamas is not a member organization of the PLO, and has opposed the Oslo accords. It initially treated the Palestinian Authority - a product of the accords - as illegitimate, and refused to participate in the first Palestinian Authority elections in 1996. However, it fielded candidates in municipal elections in January 2005, winning majorities on 28 of 84 town councils in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Hamas members also participated in elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council held in January 2006, although running under the banner of the "Change and Reform Party." The new party promised reforms of the Palestinian Authority and more steadfast support of Palestinian rights to freedom and independence. It did not, however, reiterate Hamas's goal of establishing an Islamic state in Palestine. In 2006, Change and Reform Party candidates took 74 of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, formed a new Palestinian government.
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Gaza Under Siege
Gaza Map of Bombing Intensity and Casualties, Dec 27, 2008 - Jan 18, 2009
The Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip from 27 December 2008, to 18 January 2009, was the most violent and deadly offensive by Israel since the second Intifada began. According to the UN, 1,434 Palestinian residents of Gaza were killed by the Israeli forces, and over 5,000 were injured. Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed, and the Gazan economy remains in ruins. Israel has been controlling and limiting the amounts of international aid that are allowed into the Gaza Strip, and has thus caused a mounting humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including an acute shortage in clean drinking water, food, medical supplies, power, construction and repair materials, and sanitation.
The attack drew the attention of the entire world, and shocked local activists with the intensiveness of the onslaught.
Gaza Siege Map
Below is a detailed map on recent siege in Gaza created by an independent team of designers, architects, researchers, and activists; see more info. and maps here or download the PDF. Also see a map mashup and timeline of attacks and casualties during the Gaza siege. Finally, see the website: Virtual Gaza for a satellite map of Gaza overlaid with testimonies from the residents during the recent siege. It was created by the Alliance for Justice in the Middle East (AJME) at Harvard University and the MIT Center for Future Civic Media.
Map courtesy of Kharita | Download PDF
Background to the Attack
- The Gaza Strip was populated by refugees deported from Israel in 1948, beginning its dependency on aid. In 1967, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, and despite the 2005 redeployment, Israel remained the only sovereign country in Gaza, and, stemming from its role as the occupier, continues to hold full responsibility for the wellbeing of the population there, as mandated by international humanitarian law. This is because Israel never allowed the population of Gaza the freedom to use their territorial waters, to control their own borders, to manage their own airspace or to trade freely with the world.
- Israel has striven towards a separation of Gaza from its surroundings, in order to better control it, and to avoid a merging of the Palestinian and Jewish populations.
- The Gaza Strip has become the world's most aid-dependent region in the world, with over 90% of the population relying on aid shipments of some sort.
- In order to deal with the forbidding siege placed on the Gaza Strip by Israel, hundreds of tunnels were dug to connect Gaza with Egypt, and the smuggling of products through the tunnels has become the main coping mechanism of Palestinians in Gaza to obtain essential products. The tunnel economy, however, is likely to have long-term negative repercussions on the economy of the Gaza Strip.
- The Free Gaza Campaign has attempted to break the siege on Gaza by sending boats laden with humanitarian supplies and peace activists. These boats, however, were attacked by the Israeli navy.
- Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 by force, after its victory in the Palestinian general elections in 2006 was overturned, and a non-elected government was instated in its stead.
The Course of the Attack
- The cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas held up for about six months, but was broken by Israel in November 2008, by killing six Palestinians and inuring four. Hamas retaliated by firing 35 rockets into Israel. A month later Israel began its attack.
- The attack began with a massive air bombardment on the first day, in which over 257 Palestinians were killed, and at least 597 were injured.
- The bombardment proceeded to destroy basic infrastructure in Gaza, and also forced aid agencies to stop their relief efforts due to the dangers of operating under bombardment. About half of the population in Gaza lost access to drinking water.
- After a week of bombing, Israel began its ground invasion of Gaza.
- The population of Gaza had no where to flee, with Egypt preventing civilians from fleeing south, and Israeli forces closing in on all other sides, leading to high numbers of civilian casualties.
- Israel captured fewer prisoners during the attack than anticipated, because the fighting was very intense and people in the path of the advancing Israeli army were more often killed than captured. Nevertheless, about 200 Palestinian prisoners were taken, and held in unsanitary, undignified and dangerous conditions, denied sufficient food, showers and toilets, and abused by soldiers.
- Residential houses were shelled by Israeli forces, based on suspicions that some of the residents may be affiliated with Hamas. Targets also included the El-Wafa Hospital, several schools, the Islamic University, an UNRWA enclave, and press agencies.
- Israeli forces opened fire on medical teams as they were rushing to rescue injured Palestinians, killing 23 emergency medical personnel and injuring 50. Thousand of injured Palestinians languished in pain without medical attention.
- The attack ended when Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire. Sporadic shelling by Israel and a few rockets fire by Hamas continued after the cease-fire.
- A team of Israeli legal experts advised the Israeli military on how to avoid committing war crimes during the attack, but the advice was ignored.
- Multiple evidence exists that Israel used illegal weaponry against civilian targets, and violated numerous clauses of international war law.
- Several international organizations found that Israel has committed war crimes during its attack on Gaza, including the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
- Israel has taken action to evade legal prosecutions by concealing the names of officers who participated in the attacks, and by creating a task force to deal with international lawsuits against Israeli officers.
Gaza After the Attack
- The continuing siege on Gaza has prevented the clearing of dangerous rubble, the restoration of water and sewage systems to normal working order, and the rebuilding of damaged and destroyed houses.
- A survey found that 59% of fathers and 75% of mothers in Gaza were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Economic Aspects of the Attack
- Damage to the Gaza Strip from the attack is estimated at over US $2.2 billion. The recovery plan proposed by the Palestinian Authority focused not only on rebuilding and restoration but also on taking over the strip from Hamas.
- The cost of the attack to Israel was relatively small, estimated at about US$ 1.5 billion, about 10% of the cost of the 2006 war with Lebanon. The direct impact of the attack and of the Hamas rockets has been largely considered minor, especially compared with the 2006 war with Lebanon.
- Many Israeli companies actually profited from the attack, especially weapon companies, but also companies providing logistics and fortifications.
- Israeli farmers have used their influence over the Israeli military to decide which products will be allowed through the siege to Gaza, getting rid of surplus in order to control prices within Israel.
- The siege has jacked up prices inside Gaza, creating shortages and lowering the standard of living of Palestinians. Food prices, for example, rose by 28% in the months after the attack.
- International aid to Gaza is profitable to the Israeli economy, which continues to collect taxes and fees from every shipment of humanitarian goods going into Gaza.
- Donor states convened at Sharm el-Sheikh and pledged US $4.5 billion in funds to reconstruct Gaza, but Hamas has been excluded from the committee, and is not allowed to have anything to do with the reconstruction. As a result, the funds have been frozen and reconstruction has been delayed.
- The failure of international governments to hold Israel accountable for its crimes in Gaza has increased the public support that Hamas enjoys in the Gaza Strip.
- Also, grassroots activists and civil-society organizations were prompted to step up their campaigns against Israel, and many have joined the call to boycott Israel.
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