The Story of the Gaza Strip: History & Today

Gaza Strip

These days, the Gaza Strip is all over the news. After Hamas terrorists penetrated into Israel from the Gaza Strip on 7 October 2023, brutally slaughtered hundreds of innocent Israeli civilians, and kidnapped over 200 more Israelis, Israeli forces had no choice but to enter Gaza to fight and destroy Hamas. But in this post, I want to focus less on Hamas and more on the Gaza Strip.

So, Gaza Strip is all over the news, but I don’t know if everyone knows where Gaza is or its complex history. So, this post is for all you people who want to learn more about the history of Gaza and the relationship between Gaza and Israel today. I will provide as many facts as possible but will sometimes also highlight the Israeli point of view because I feel the Israeli point of view is often not heard.

The relationship will probably change following this war, but let’s see what happens. Meanwhile – here’s all you need to know about the Gaza Strip.

If you want to learn more about Hamas, I’d recommend reading “Son of Hamas.” You can read my full book review of “Son of Hamas” here.

The head image is from iStock. 

What is the Gaza Strip and where is it located?

The Gaza Strip is a small piece of land bordered by Egypt in the south, Israel in the east and the north, and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. It is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) long and 6 to 13 kilometers (3.7 to 8 miles) wide. The total area of the Gaza Strip is about 365 square kilometers, which is 141 square miles. It is home to about 2.2 million Gazan-Palestinians.

We Israelis do not see the Gaza Strip as part of Israel. Instead, we see it as a separate territory managed by Hamas. It’s hard to define it because the Gaza Strip – as well as parts of the West Bank – are not formal states, but they do have control of those areas. Formally, the Gaza Strip is under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, but in reality, it is managed by the terrorist organization Hamas. Since the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel has defined the Gaza Strip as hostile territory and has treated it accordingly ever since.

The history of Gaza

What was before the Gaza Strip?

In the Middle East and specifically in Israel, people like to talk about what was here before. The concept of the “Gaza Strip” was created in 1949, so what was there before? In ancient Biblical days, the area was part of the Land of Canaan. Bible study scholars believe it was part of the district of Gerar, which was populated by the Philistines, an ancient people who most likely originated from ancient Greece. These people were eliminated by the Babylonians in the 7th century BCE. It is believed that the story of Abraham’s well took place in this area of Gerar.

If we focus on the city of Gaza, it is one of the most ancient cities in the world and is even mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. It was a port city and, therefore, an important strategic point throughout history. 

Over the years, Gaza was passed from one hand to another, from the Christians to the Muslims and back. It was also populated by Jews. But the next interesting stage in Gaza’s history came in 1947, when there was a British mandate in the area.

In August 1947, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine suggested dividing the Land of Israel into two states – one Jewish state and one Arab state. Because there was only one Jewish village in the area of today’s Gaza Strip, they suggested including this area in the Arab state. The 1948 Independence War started, and later, the Gaza Strip was created. 

The Partition Plan from 1947. Gaza is in the orange area (the Arab State)

1949-1967 – Under Egyptian control

The Gaza Strip area was formed following the 1948 Independence War. Not many know, but after conquering the area during the war, the Egyptians decided to establish the All-Palestine government in the Gaza Strip. The Jordanians were against this move. They claimed that it was against the will of the Arabs in Palestine, but most scholars believe the real reason was that they wanted to control both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and apply the Jordanian rule there. Despite Jordan’s objection, the Egyptians declared the Gaza Strip as a Palestinian client state, but the government was mainly established for political and symbolic reasons. It didn’t really have executive capabilities.

In February 1949, Egypt and Israel signed the Armistice Agreements that fixed the boundaries of the Gaza Strip. Following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 and the unification of Egypt and Syria in the United Arab Republic in 1958, the All-Palestine Government ceased to exist in the Gaza Strip. Egypt took complete control of the area. During the Egyptian control, the Gazans were allowed to cross into Egypt only if they had the appropriate permits from the Egyptian security authorities.

1967-1994 – Under Israeli control 

During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel took control of the Gaza Strip and declared it as a closed military area. At that time, around 350,000 Gazans were living in the area, almost half of them living in the refugee camps that were neglected under Egyptian rule. 

Israel established several civilian towns inside the Gaza Strip. One of the reasons for establishing those towns was security, as the Israeli government believed that a Jewish presence in the Gaza Strip would provide more control over the area and guarantee less terror. Over the years, the Jewish population in the Gaza Strip grew to 8,000 people. Most Jewish settlements were in the southern part of the strip, in an area called Gush Katif, but there were also a few in the center and the northern part of the Gaza Strip.  

At the beginning of the 1970s, more and more terrorist organizations started raising their heads in the Gaza Strip. In 1971, two Israeli children were murdered in their family car by Palestinian terrorists near the city of Gaza. That led to a wide Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, which included the arrest of terrorists and the destruction of many houses in the refugee camps.  

Later, Gazans were permitted to travel from the strip into Israel, including the West Bank, for work purposes, family meetings, and medical reasons. If they wanted to travel abroad, they had to receive a special permit from Israel, which required a lot of bureaucracy. In 1991, they no longer needed to request it in advance and could ask for it at the border crossings on their way abroad.

From 1967 to 1982, Israel also controlled the Sinai Peninsula. During that time, Israel closed the Rafah Border Crossing that led to Sinai and enabled Gazans to enter Egypt through Arish only for humanitarian reasons. After Israel signed the peace agreement with Egypt in 1979, it handed Sinai to Egypt in 1982, and the Rafah Crossing opened again to connect Gaza to Egypt. It was open every day, almost all day, except for Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha.

In 1987, the Palestinians began the First Intifada, which led to more and more Israeli and Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip.  

1994 – The Gaza-Jericho Agreement

In May 1994, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, which was supposed to be the first step in handing over the authority in Gaza and Jericho from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. Here are the main points that were agreed upon as part of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement:

  • Israel will withdraw its military forces from the Gaza Strip and Jericho within three weeks. It will hand its military bases in those areas to the Palestinian Authority police, who will be in charge of the public order and internal security of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
  • To ensure the security of the Israeli settlements, the Israeli forces will station themselves inside the Israeli settlements and on main roads in the Gaza Strip and along the borders to ensure the safety of the Israeli civilians.
  • Both the Palestinians and the Israelis, including the Israeli army forces, will be allowed to use the roads in the Gaza Strip.

As agreed in the agreement, Israel did withdraw its forces from most areas of the Gaza Strip, except the areas where there were Jewish settlements. The rest of the area was managed by the Palestinian Authority, although Israel still had sovereignty.  

Read the agreement here.

Read more >> Is Palestine a state? 

Here’s a video from Old News:

2000-2005 – The Second Intifada and the Israeli disengagement from Gaza  

The Second Intifada, which broke out in September 2000, continued until 2005. Throughout those years, there were many terror attacks against Israelis in the Gaza Strip and in Israel itself. Missiles started being shot from the Gaza Strip to civilian areas in Israel, and there were terror attacks against the Jewish settlements and the border crossings, where Israeli soldiers were stationed.

In October 2004, following the rise of terror events, the Israeli government decided to completely withdraw from the Gaza Strip, hoping that this would lead to better security and maybe even peace in the region. Today, this move, which took place from August to September 2005, is known as “the Israeli disengagement from Gaza.” It included not only the Israeli security forces but also the Jewish settlements. 

Many Israelis were against the evacuation of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip, especially because it was done as a one-sided act without any commitments from the Palestinians. The people who opposed the plan claimed that evacuating thousands of Jewish citizens unwillingly from their homes was against human rights. But despite the massive opposition, the government decided to go with the plan because they believed it would lead to peace. 

About 8,600 Jewish citizens were taken out of their homes by the Israeli security forces and evacuated from the Gaza Strip, most of them unwillingly. After the Israelis were completely evacuated from the strip, Gazan Palestinians came into the abandoned houses, celebrated, and burned down the Jewish synagogues that remained there. Today, there are no Jewish settlements in Gaza. 

Watch the video by i24 News to learn more about what happened after Israel withdrew:

From 2005 until today – Under Palestinian-Hamas control 

After Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) remained there on its own. It faced challenges regarding security in the Gaza Strip because there were many armed Palestinian organizations that refused to leave their weapons. The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, tried negotiating with the organizations and persuading them to disarm, but with no success.

The security situation in the Gaza Strip only became worse. In June 2006, terrorists from the Popular Resistance Committees penetrated into Israel and kidnapped the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. He was released only in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 terrorists who were held in Israeli prisons, many of them with life sentences following dreadful terror attacks.

In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian elections in the West Bank, which led to violent clashes between the different Palestinian organizations, especially between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian Authority’s organization. In 2007, Hamas violently took over Fatah’s governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip and killed any Fatah personnel who tried to resist. In response to this violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, Fatah took control of the West Bank and outlawed the militant wing of Hamas. This led to two separate political entities within the Palestinians: the political entity of Fatah, which rules the West Bank, and the political entity of Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip.

The rise of Hamas in the Gaza Strip has led to more and more rocket attacks and terror attacks against Israel. Following this, Israel has declared the Gaza Strip as a hostile territory managed by terrorists. It has done several military operations there to try and minimize the violent attacks. 

In recent years, before the attack on the 7th of October 2023, Israel believed that Hamas had settled a bit and was now caring more about the needs of its civilians in Gaza. Therefore, it allowed more funds and supplies into the Gaza Strip and raised the number of work permits for people in Gaza, hoping that Hamas would use these resources to develop Gaza’s infrastructure and create more opportunities for the Gazan people.

Unfortunately, we all saw what happened on the 7th of October. From the Israeli point of view, it seems like Hamas cares more about killing Jews and taking over the entire State of Israel than it cares about the people of Gaza. That is why Israel has started a war against Hamas, in the hope that we will be able to destroy this terrorist organization, remove it from our border, and free the Gazan people from those leaders who don’t really care about them. Read more about the Israel-Hamas War here.

Let’s see how things develop.

The Gaza Strip today

Who controls the Gaza Strip today?

Today, the Gaza Strip is controlled and governed by the Sunni Islamist terrorist organization, Hamas. It claims to be a political and military organization and is perceived as such by many Palestinians, who have voted for it in their elections. Opposed to the Fatah organization in the West Bank, Hamas is a radical religious organization that operates according to its religious ideology.  

The Gaza border crossings

Today, there are three border crossings along the Gazan border, two of them connecting to Israel and one connecting to Egypt.

  • Erez Border Crossing – In times of peace, Gazan workers who have security clearance pass through this border crossing into Israel to work in the construction and agriculture fields. The border crossing is also used to transfer sick people from Gaza to hospitals in Israel. After the Gazans receive appropriate permission from the Israeli authorities, Israeli peace activists come to the Erez Border Crossing to pick up the sick Gazans and drive them to the hospitals. In times of war or conflict, the crossing is usually closed, because as I’ve already mentioned, Israel sees Gaza as a hostile territory, and we don’t want to allow hostile people into our territory in times of conflict. Many of the terrorists who slaughtered Israeli civilians on the 7th of October 2023 were Gazan civilians who had work permits in Israel.
  • Kerem Shalom Crossing – This border crossing that connects Israel to the Gaza Strip is used only for transit of goods and is not used for pedestrians. Nowadays, it is used very rarely because it has been targets of many Palestinian terror attacks over the years.
  • Rafah Crossing – The border crossing that connects Gaza Strip to Egypt. Both Israel and Egypt have an interest to keep the Rafah Crossing closed. Egypt’s interest is to prevent Hamas and other terrorist organizations from entering Egypt and influencing its population. Israel pressures Egypt to keep the Rafah Crossing closed, but Egypt holds the keys to the crossing and can choose to open it whenever it wishes.
The Erez Crossing. Image taken from Wikipedia, Public Domain

Electricity in Gaza

Many times, people say that Israel blocks essential needs from the Gaza Strip, such as electricity. But people forget to mention that electricity is blocked not only from Israel but also from Egypt, an Arab country that is supposed to be in favor of its Arab neighbors. So, let’s discuss this.

Gaza has four sources of electricity. It has its own fossil fuel power plant in the Gaza Strip, which supplies about one-third of the electricity to Gaza. They also take electricity from Egypt and have emergency fossil fuel generators and solar panels if required.    

Most of the electricity supplied to Gaza is provided by the Israel Electric Corporation. It does limit the amount of electricity it transfers to the Gaza Strip and transfers electricity only for about 4 to 8 hours each day, but not because we are evil. Here are two reasons for the limited electricity to the Gaza Strip:

Palestinian debts to the Israel Electric Corporation

In September 2023, Reuters reported that the Palestinian Authority’s electricity debt had reached 2 billion shekels, which is about 528 million US dollars. The Palestinian Authority is responsible for buying electricity from the Israel Electric Corporation so electricity can be transferred to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 2017, the Palestinian Authority refused to pay for the electricity in the Gaza Strip because they claimed that Hamas, the official governor of Gaza, was not paying the PA for the electricity. The PA also stopped paying Egypt for the fuel it transported into Gaza for the local power plant. Actually, the PA were the ones who requested Israel to limit the electricity into the Gaza Strip. Israel doesn’t even get paid for the electricity that it DOES transfer to Gaza, because the PA lets the debt accumulate until Israel periodically erases it.

It seems that instead of paying the PA for electricity, Hamas prefers putting its money elsewhere, on its rockets or offensive tunnel construction, for example.  

Read more about the electricity crisis in an article from BESA.

The electricity goes to terror

Both Israel and Egypt understand that Hamas is a terror organization. As I’ve discussed above regarding the border crossings, Egypt also doesn’t freely open its border crossing with Gaza because it understands the consequences.

It has been reported that Hamas steals electricity from power lines that were intended for civilian use in Gaza. Instead of letting the power light schools and hospitals, they take the electricity for their own terroristic needs. Sometimes, Hamas’ own rockets even damage the electricity lines that transfer electricity to the Gaza Strip.

While Israel does everything it can to send electricity to those who really need it, it is hard to stop Hamas from taking it for their own needs.

Financial aid to Gaza

I was riding the train a few months ago and, by chance, got to sit down next to two European representatives, who were somehow connected to the funds sent to the Palestinian Authority. They were talking about BILLIONS that they plan to give the PA. But they also mentioned something interesting. They said that this money is going to the wrong places, that the PA is very corruptive, and that the PA is torturing prisoners in its prisons. One said, “We need to find a way to make the money go to the right places.”

And yes, from what we in Israel know, the financial aid to the Palestinians is not going to the right places. We hear Palestinians who work in Israel and are afraid to keep their money in the Palestinian territories because they’re scared the government will steal it from them. We hear about Palestinian schools that teach children that they must kill Jews because they are evil. And that’s funded by international financial aid.

Gaza is no different. From 2014 to 2020, UN agencies have transferred around 4.5 billion US dollars into Gaza. Those dollars are sent to schools where the kids are taught to hate Jews, which later leads to more terror. We also believe it goes to the Hamas rockets, offensive tunnels, and military bases. Because if Hamas had taken those billions and used them for their civilians’ needs, I believe we would have seen a much more developed Gaza Strip. If they had focused more on peace-making and less on war-making, things would have looked completely different.

A few days ago, I heard a lecture by someone who was once a left-wing peace activist. He said that he traveled to Gaza once as a peace activist, and they showed him the refugee camps. And when he was in the refugee camps, he looked outside the camps and saw modern, good-looking towers right next to them. He understood that the Palestinian leaders in the Gaza Strip want to keep the refugee camps as they are and not develop them so they can show them to people from the West and get more financial aid, which will not go to the refugee camps but to those towers where the Palestinian leaders lived in wealth. 

So, in Israel, we believe that international financial aid has promoted terror and kept peace away. Because the organizations who send this aid do not check where it really goes and what is really happening over there.

Here’s, for example, a play that Gazan children held in their school. VERY “peaceful”:

Is the Gaza Strip important to Israel and what will happen next?

Religious Jews believe that the Gaza Strip is part of the Greater Israel and that it is part of the Jewish promised land. So, of course, many religious Jews would have wanted to settle in the Gaza Strip, in the place that GOD promised to the Jewish people. On the other hand, many other Jewish people in Israel are against the idea, and it does not seem to be the direction we are headed.

It is still unclear what will happen in the Gaza Strip once we get rid of Hamas (if that is even possible). Some call to resettle the Jewish settlements that were abandoned in 2005, and others suggest handing the Gaza Strip over to the Palestinian Authority or to a different Palestinian or international organization. The question is if anyone can deal with the terror that will most probably still be present there.  

Conclusion

Looking at the history of the Gaza Strip, it seems like reaching peace in the region is complicated. There’s not only a war between Israel and Hamas. There’s also a war among the Palestinians themselves, and the Arab countries care more about their own interests. Still, I hope one day, we will be able to live in peace with our neighbors.

I hope this post helped you understand a bit about what’s going on in Gaza. 

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Yours,

Lior

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