The Gaza Strip is one of the centers of Arab-Israeli turmoil in the Middle East. Here are some facts related to this area.
The Gaza Strip is a narrow piece of land that extends along the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Israel on the east and north, and by Egypt on the southwest. It measures around 25 miles, or 41 kilometers, in length, while its width is between 4 to 7.5 miles, or 6 to 12 kilometers. The area gets its name from its main city, Gaza. Internationally, the Gaza Strip has not been given recognition as being a part of any sovereign nation.
The territory’s shape was demarcated by the Armistice Line after Israel was created in 1948 and the ensuant Arab-Israeli war. The Strip was administered by Egypt for the next 19 years, from 1948 to 1967. However, Israel got hold of it during the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, and ever since, this portion of land has been under the control of the Israelis.
Israel pulled out its troops as well as thousands of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and proclaimed that it was the end of their occupation of the territory. However, since Israel still has control over the territory’s airspace, territorial waters, as well as the land borders, Israel’s end-of-occupation claim has not been accepted internationally.
This territory has one of the highest population densities and overall rates of growth in the world. In 2007, its population numbered up to 1,482,405, which gives the area a population density of 10,665 persons per sq mi, or 4,118 per sq km. Over half the population lives in the urban centers of the region, with Gaza City being the largest amongst them. Some of the other important urban centers in the Gaza Strip are Jabaliya, Bayt Lahiyah, Rafa, and Khan Yunus.
The Gaza Strip’s inhabitants comprise Palestinian Arabs, with a vast majority of them being Sunni Muslims, and the rest being Christians. The main language spoken here is Arabic. Indigenous Gazans make up just 40 percent of the population, the rest comprising residents of refugee camps and permanently settled refugees. Even though the indigenous Gazans comprise less than half of the region’s population, they have disproportional influence over the political and economic affairs of Gaza.
Refugee families comprise most of the residents here, who were expelled or fled from the area that became Israel in 1948, with most of them living in 8 refugee camps, which receive humanitarian services like education and health services from the United Nations. While some of these camps like Bureij and Nuseirat are self-contained, some of the others have merged with the towns nearby.
The Gaza Strip and its residents are governed nominally by the Palestinian National Authority, although, after the battle of Gaza in 2007, when the Fatah was defeated along with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, affiliated to the Fatah, the control of this region is actually in the hands of the Palestinian militant organization, Hamas, the de facto government, which actually won the parliamentary elections held in 2006. The streets in much of the Gaza Strip are controlled by militant groups.
A metal fence built by the Israelis separates the Gaza Strip and Israel, which is guarded by the Israeli forces, and is under frequent attacks by Palestinian militants. In order to prevent smuggling and control traffic, Israel was keen on keeping control of the Philadelphi Route, which is the area that borders Gaza and Egypt, after the pullout in 2005. However, international pressure resulted in Israel abandoning the plan and handing over to Egypt the responsibility of managing the border.
The Rafah border that crosses into Egypt is managed by Palestinian forces under the supervision of the officials of the European Union. According to a US brokered deal, Israel is allowed to use video surveillance in the area, but does not have the right to prevent people from crossing.
Notwithstanding the isolation of the region, Israeli interests continue to be attacked by the militants from the Gaza Strip since the pullout in 2005, short range homemade rockets being their main weapon, which can reach Israeli populations nearby. Israel counters these with air strikes, missile attacks, and shelling.
Current status is subject to the Interim Agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, with further negotiations required to determine its permanent status.