The History of the Gaza Strip

The Gaza Strip is a territory 25 miles (40 km) long and 4–5 miles (6–8 km) wide, for a total of 140 square miles (363 square km), slightly more than twice the size of Washington, D.C. It is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the west, by Israel on the north and the west and by Egypt on the south. The terrain is flat to rolling, sand and dune-covered coastal plain. The climate is temperate, with mild winters and summers that are dry and warm to hot.

It is not now recognized as a de jure part of any extant country. It has more than two million inhabitants and is one of the most densely populated places on Earth.

The known history of Gaza spans 4,000 years. It was ruled, destroyed and repopulated by various dynasties, empires, and peoples. In the early 16th century, it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

Ancient Jewish Presence in Gaza

There was a Jewish presence in Gaza since Biblical times. Both Abraham and Isaac lived in Gerar, a city in Gaza. After the Exodus from Egypt, when the Jews finally reached the Promised Land, Gaza was given to the tribe of Judah as a share of its inheritance.

During the Talmudic era, Gaza was home to a large Jewish population and served as a major port of commerce. One of the oldest synagogues ever found in the Land of Israel is in Gaza, and it dates back to the early sixth century, more than 1,400 years before Hamas or the PLO were founded.

In 1965, on the outskirts of Gaza City near the sea, Egyptian archaeologists discovered a mosaic floor from the synagogue. It measured 3 meters by 1.8 m. and depicted King David playing a lyre, with his name written clearly in Hebrew. It was transferred to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for restoration. On November 7, 2023, Israeli soldiers prayed in the synagogue for the first time in decades.

1917 – The British Mandate for Palestine

Gaza after surrender to British forces, 1918

The Gaza Strip was conquered by the British army from the Ottoman Empire and became part of the British Mandate for Palestine.

1948 – Under Egyptian Military Rule

When Israel declared independence in 1948, several Arab armies invaded and the Egyptian army conquered Gaza. Under the UN Partition Plan of 1947, Gaza was supposed to have been part of a Palestinian state, but the Arabs rejected this plan. Thus, after the cease-fire was reached in the War of Independence, Gaza remained under Egyptian military rule, but Egypt did not permit the Gazans to become Egyptian citizens.

1956 – Israel Conquered Gaza

During Israel’s Sinai Campaign, Israeli forces briefly conquered both the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. 

1957 – Israel Withdrew From Gaza

Israel withdrew from both the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, effectively returning it to Egypt although there was no formal agreement. Again, Egypt did not permit the Gazans to become Egyptian citizens.

1967 – Israel Reconquered Gaza

In the Six-Day War of June 1967, Israel reconquered both the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip; it returned the Sinai to Egypt under the 1979 peace treaty – but not Gaza. It seems that this time around, Egypt didn’t want it.

1987 – Start of the Intifada

Rioting and violent street clashes between Gaza’s Palestinians and occupying Israeli troops marked the birth of an uprising that came to be known as the Intifada (Arabic for “shaking off”).

1994 – Israel Transferred Authority to the Palestinian Authority

Israel began a phased transfer of governmental authority in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the terms of the Oslo Accords that were signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The fledgling Palestinian government, led by Yasser Arafat, struggled with such problems as a stagnant economy, divided popular support, stalled negotiations with Israel over further troop withdrawals and territoriality, and the threat of terrorism from militant Muslim groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which refused to compromise with Israel and were intent on derailing the peace process.

2000 – Start of Second Intifada

A breakdown in negotiations between the PA and Israel was followed by a further, more extreme outbreak of violence, termed the Second Intifada.

2003 – Israel Announced Withdrawal

In an effort to end the fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a plan that centered on withdrawing Israeli soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip.

2005 – Israel Completed Pullout

In September 2005 Israel completed the pullout from the territory, and control of the Gaza Strip was transferred to the PA, although Israel continued to patrol its borders and airspace. A total of 1,700 families were uprooted at a cost of nearly $900 million. This included 166 Israeli farmers who produced $120 million in flowers and produce. Approximately 15 percent of Israel’s agricultural exports originated in Gaza, including 60 percent of its cherry tomato and herb exports. Israe also lost 70 percent of all its organic produce, which was also was grown in Gaza. Since the disengagement process was completed, no Jews have resided in the Gaza Strip.

2006 – Under Hamas Governance

In the 2006 PA parliamentary elections, Fatah—which had dominated Palestinian politics since its founding in the 1950s—suffered a decisive loss to Hamas, reflecting years of dissatisfaction with Fatah’s governance, which was criticized as corrupt and inefficient. Hamas’s victory prompted sanctions by Israel, the U.S.A. and the EU, each of which had placed the organization on its official list of terrorist groups. The Gaza Strip was the site of escalating violence between the competing groups, and a short-lived coalition was ended in June 2007 after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza and Israel responded with airstrikes, which continued through 2023, in addition to Gazan protests.

2018 – Israel Eases Restrictions

After months of violence between Israel and Hamas in mid-2018, Israel began to ease restrictions on its blockade as a part of an effort to incentivize a more long-term cease-fire agreement between the two. In 2019 Israel allowed the flow of additional goods into and out of the territory, expanded the permitted fishing zone for Gazans to its largest extent in more than a decade, and began allowing thousands of Gazans to cross the border to work in Israel. Qatar, meanwhile, began offering tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip at the end of 2018, after both Israel and Egypt agreed to allow the aid. By 2021 it had disbursed nearly $400 million to the territory. It appears that this aid has been used by Hamas to build tunnels and arm itself.

October 7, 2023 – Large-scale Terrorist attack by Hamas Followed by War

On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a coordinated land, sea, and air assault that took Israel by surprise. At least 1,200 Israelis were killed in the attacks—the deadliest day for Israel since its independence—and about 240 Israelis and international citizens were taken hostage. On the following day, Israel declared war for the first time since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

As of 2024, the future of Gaza is unknown. Restoring control to the Palestinian Authority, which was ousted by Hamas, would have to be successful in the face of remaining Hamas loyalty, Israel does not want to govern it, and the Palestinians would never accept that. Egypt has rejected taking a role there. An international coalition will most likely take over, but it will be difficult under any circumstances.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *