Gaza Strip

  • Population (2008): 1 376 289
  • Young people under 15 years old (2004): 49%
  • Density (2008) : 3 823 hab/sq km
  • Population growth (2004): 3.83%
  • Infant mortality (2004): 23.54%o
  • Fecondity rate (2004): 6.04
  • GDP (2003): 768 millions US$
  • GDP per capita (2003): 600 US$
  • Annual growth (2003): 4.5%
  • Unemployment rate (2003): 50%
  • Exports (2003): 603 million US$
  • Imports (2003): 1,900 million US$

The Gaza Strip, a coastal region located in the southern part of the former Palestine under the British mandate, is approximately 45 km long by 8 km wide. It has a population of more than a million Palestinians, of which approximately 670,000 are UNWRA refugees. Some 6,100 Israeli settlers (May 1999 figures) – who occupy approximately 20% of the territory – also live in the Gaza Strip. With 33% of the territory being confiscated for the benefit of these settlers, population density – on the territory effectively accessible to the Palestinians – is over 3,320 inhabitants per km2, one of the highest in the world.

Contrary to the West Bank, Gaza is a completely enclosed zone surrounded by barbed wires. Its inhabitants have no recognized nationality: all of them have a magnetic card written in Hebrew which enables – in theory – only 20,000 of them to go to work every day in Israel – against 120,000 before the Intifada and the massive immigration from the former USSR. Older people still have special Egyptian documents accepted in certain Arab countries but which do not allow them to travel to Egypt; other people wishing to travel abroad have to use Israeli travel documents which they cannot obtain unless they are in order with the occupying forces.

With 362 km2, the Gaza Strip is what remains of the 2,200 km2 of land attributed by the Partition Plan decided on by the United Nations in 1947 to be the southern part of the Arab State of Palestine and which was made up of the coastal plain from Jaffa to the Egyptian border and part of the Negev. The first Israeli-Arab war reduced this to its present size.

Before 1948, this region counted 80,000 inhabitants. 180,000 refugees arrived in just a few days in 1948, most of them from the coastal areas, and the region came under Egyptian rule without having ever been formally annexed to it.

The spontaneous resistance in Gaza during the occupation by the Israeli forces in 1956 led Egypt to adopt a change in attitude by making Gaza a free port zone and by including the production of citrus fruits of the region in its agreements with Eastern countries, which enabled its relative development. The area planted with citrus fruits grew tenfold in ten years, but half of the trees had not yet reached productivity when Israel invaded Gaza for the second time in 1967. The area was in a state of permanent insurrection under the leadership of two groups of fedayin, the PFLP and the Fatah. It was only at the end of 1971, after a massive campaign of repression under Ariel Sharon, that the law and order desired by the occupying forces were finally established.

In an attempt to eradicate the various nationalist tendencies, Israel played the Islamic card. The oldest Islamic movement in the Arab world, the Muslim Brothers, was founded in Egypt and had supporters in Gaza . Thus, for more than ten years, whilst member organisations of the PLO were being hunted down by the Israeli army, the Muslim Brothers were encouraged by Israel to develop their social networks, these eventually gave birth to Hamas (Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement).

As a result of 20 years frustration without any hope of a solution, a traffic accident in Gaza caused by an Israeli truck and in which Palestinians were killed unleashed the Intifada – the Palestinian uprising – on 9 December 1987.

Since the signing of the Cairo Agreement in May 1994 (see « Oslo peace process ») between Israel and the PLO, the Palestinian Authority exercises its civil jurisdiction on 67% of the Gaza Strip.

Following the implementation of the first phase of the Wye River Memorandum, the Palestinian International Airport has been opened in Daniyeh, in the south of the Gaza Strip, on Nov. 24, 1998. The Palestinian Airlines are flying regularly to Amman and Cairo. The first flight to a non-Arab country was inaugurated on March 26, 2000, to Larnaca (Cyprus).

On February 20, 2005, the Israeli government approves the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of settlements located in this region. Four other settlements, north of the West Bank, should also be evacuated. Seventeen ministers voted in favour of the withdrawal while five voted against. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carries out the evacuation of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005.

Following the withdrawal of Israeli troops, Hamas gradually imposes its authority on the coastal strip. At that time, the international community put pressure on the Palestinians so that elections are held in the PA. In January 2006, Hamas is victorious in the elections, but the latter denies the existence of the State of Israel. The Hebrew state refuses to recognize the outcome of the polls, and refuses to pursue negotiations when they take place with Hamas. As for the international community, it cut much of its aid to Palestine.

Tension mounts between Hamas and Israel and clashes took place between May and August 2006 along the border of the Gaza Strip. Hamas kidnaps Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit on June 25, 2006. Hezbollah does the same on July 12 with two Israeli soldiers on the border with Lebanon, which triggered the second Israeli-Lebanese war.

In the months following the conflict, disagreements are increasing in the Palestinian camp. Taking gradually the pace of a real civil war, they will reach a climax in June 2007. Between 12 and June 14, 2007, Hamas launched an offensive against the forces of Fatah in the Gaza Strip and finally declare secession of this territory, which moved under his authority.

Palestine is now divided into two separate entities. Fatah and Hamas refused any dialogue. This division endangers now the attempted resumption of the peace process, Hamas has declared that he won’t recognize the agreements signed by Mahmoud Abbas.

Touched on its border with Gaza by Qassam rockets, Israel is pursuing a policy of repression on the Gaza Strip to prevent the supplies of essential goods. Therefore the inhabitants crossed the border with Egypt at Rafah to refuel in essential goods but also in weapons. In early March 2008, Israel launched a military offensive on the Strip, which has claimed more than 100 lives.