The Gaza Strip is a narrow piece of land situated between Israel and Egypt along the Mediterranean Sea. Historically, it has been under the rule of various entities, including the Ottoman Empire and later the British Empire. It is one of the two Palestinian territories, the other being the West Bank.
After the establishment of Israel in 1948, Egypt governed Gaza for nearly two decades. However, following Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War against its Arab neighbors, Israel gained control over both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Over the subsequent 38 years, Israel controlled Gaza and facilitated the construction of 21 Jewish settlements in the region.
In 2005, facing international and domestic pressure, Israel withdrew approximately 9,000 Israeli settlers and its military forces from Gaza, transferring governance to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority also had control over parts of the West Bank.
Today, Gaza is home to more than 2 million Palestinians living in an area of roughly 140 square miles, making it one of the world’s most densely populated regions, as reported by Gisha, an Israeli non-governmental organization. Notably, half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 19, but they face limited prospects for economic growth and have restricted access to the outside world.
As for governance and control, Hamas, a militant Palestinian nationalist movement led by Ismail Haniyeh, has been in charge of Gaza since winning elections there in 2006. Subsequently, no further elections have taken place.
Despite appeals from the United Nations and human rights organizations, Israel has enforced a comprehensive blockade on Gaza since 2007, controlling land, air, and sea access to the region. Israel, supported by Egypt, argues that this blockade is necessary to safeguard Israeli citizens from threats posed by Hamas.
The International Committee of the Red Cross considers this blockade illegal and in violation of the Geneva Convention, although Israeli authorities dispute these allegations. The United Nations, various human rights groups, and legal scholars argue that Gaza is still under Israeli military occupation, primarily due to the blockade.
What is Hamas, and who does it represent?
Hamas is one of the two major political parties in the Palestinian territories. Established in 1987 during an uprising against Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas originated as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, advocating for Islamist principles and emphasizing the role of Islam in politics.
Numerous countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization due to its attacks on Israel, including rocket attacks and suicide bombings. In contrast, some countries, like New Zealand, classify only Hamas’ military wing as a terrorist group. Hamas also provides social services, such as education and medical care, to people in Gaza.
Hamas presents itself as a freedom-fighting movement, aiming to end Palestinian occupation and regain significant portions of Israel. However, its use of violence has divided Palestinians and those who support the establishment of a Palestinian state.
According to a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, one-third of Palestinians consider the internal and political divide between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza as the most damaging development since 1948. Additionally, more than half of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank would vote for Hamas over the Palestinian Authority. Hamas gained popularity following a two-week conflict with Israel in 2021, with approximately 75% of those polled viewing Hamas as protecting the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem.
Hamas receives substantial support from Iran, including funds, weapons, and training, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Turkey claims to provide political support to Hamas but has faced accusations of funding Hamas’ terrorism, potentially through diverted funds from Turkish government aid programs.
Living conditions in Gaza are challenging, with Human Rights Watch describing them as akin to “an open-air prison” due to Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian movement. Palestinians in Gaza are generally prohibited from entering or leaving the area, except in rare cases, including urgent medical conditions and specific merchant permits.
In contrast, Israelis, Jewish settlers, and foreigners are not subject to these restrictions and can freely travel to and from Gaza. Over time, Israel has gradually closed land-border crossings from Gaza into Israel, with only one open to Palestinians with Israeli-approved permits. Egypt periodically shuts its land-border crossing for extended periods, making it the only gateway for Gazans to connect with the outside world.
Israel’s 16-year blockade has severely impacted Gaza’s economy, leading to unemployment rates exceeding 40%, as reported by the World Bank. More than 65% of the population lives below the poverty line, and 63% face “food insecurity,” according to the World Food Program. A generation of children in Gaza grapples with the long-term psychological effects of constant exposure to violence, as highlighted in a U.N. report, with an increase in mental health issues like depression among young residents.
The recent unexpected Hamas attack, resulting in the deaths of 700 Israelis, is expected to worsen conditions for civilians in Gaza. Thus far, over 400 Palestinians have lost their lives in retaliatory Israeli airstrikes. There is the possibility of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, which Hamas has pledged to resist vigorously.