The Gaza Strip - Introduction

The Gaza Strip used to be a scenic trade center between Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is now the world’s largest open-air prison, with some 1.6 million people trapped inside a strip of land about 25 miles long and about five miles wide at its widest points.

With a population density of nearly 4,200 people per square kilometers, it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. It’s worse in the refugee camps, where there are nearly 75,000 people per square mile. Put into context, this is nearly three times greater than the average population density of New York City.

Ever since Israel illegally occupied Gaza in 1967, it has imposed barbarian restrictions upon the population there. Israel has complete control over all of Gaza’s sea ports, borders, and airspace. Even after Israel withdrew its military from Gaza in 2005, it still controlled all points of access into and out of Gaza.

However, once Hamas came to power in 2007, Israel’s restrictions became a total siege.

The result has been devastating on the population, forcing 90 percent of the population to rely upon the United Nations for food aid. Factories ceased to function due to a severe constriction on petroleum, which also affected hospitals and water treatment facilities. Hospitals and water treatment plants run on generators, which frequently break down because replacement parts are prohibited by the siege.

People are no longer able to go to their jobs in Israel, while farmers lost access to markets for their products outside of Gaza. Israel continuously bulldozes farmers’ crops as well as enforcing shoot-to-kill zones, which have been enacted on 43 percent of fertile fields that lie near the border.

No aspect of life has been untouched by the siege. The economy is at a standstill, unemployment is rampant, children can’t get items such as books, papers and pens and many people can’t get access to necessary and sometimes life-saving medical care.

As if the siege weren’t bad enough, Israel pounded Gaza with a three-week offensive in December 2008 and January 2009. Operation Cast Lead lasted for 22 days, where killing total of 1,409 Palestinians, including 355 children. Many Palestinians, up to 100,000, were rendered homeless by the attacks, mostly by tanks, bulldozers, and air strikes. In addition to houses, the Israeli military destroyed or damaged mosques, police stations, hotels, banquet halls, workshops, factories, media and health institutions, and farms.

The economic loss because of Operation Cast Lead was palpable. In the industrial sector, some 70,000 Palestinians lost their jobs, bringing the unemployment rate to 44 percent in April 2009 and causing the percentage of poverty to rise to a whopping 90 percent, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. This extreme poverty has caused very radical changes in the lives of the Palestinians. Many have had to sell furniture and other private belongings, as well as livestock, farm land, and fishing boats just to get by.

Israel, as reported by the Goldstone Report, annihilated industrial sites on purpose. According to the Goldstone Report, “The precise targeting of crucial machinery suggests the intention was to disable the factory [flour mill] in terms of its productive capacity.” In other words, Israel set out to destroy factories and Gaza’s means of productions to render its economy useless. Several other war crimes were committed by Israel, such as bulldozing 31,000 chickens belonging to one farmer, as well as bombing a sewage lagoon, thus spilling tons of sewage into the surrounding land. Countless numbers of factories as well as agricultural buildings were also destroyed during Operation Cast Lead.

Because Israel allows less than 25 percent of necessary humanitarian supplies and food, Palestinians have turned to a ‘tunnel economy,’ a network of underground passages between Egypt and Gaza through which people smuggled life-sustaining items from kerosene to livestock. However under pressure from Israel and with help from the United State, Egypt has been constructing an underground steel barrier at least 100 feet deep in efforts to shut down the tunnels.

Meanwhile, international humanitarian groups such as Viva Palestina and the Free Gaza Movement have made numerous attempts to break the siege. One such attempt, the Freedom Flotilla, which was comprised of nine vessels loaded with 10,000 tons of donated humanitarian aid, met with deadly Israeli aggression in international waters.

On May 31, 2010, Israeli naval commandos wrested control of the vessels and arrested more than 800 humanitarian activists. Commandos dropped down onto the deck from Apache helicopters overhead while firing live rounds of ammunition at the unarmed passengers. The Israeli soldiers killed nine unarmed, humanitarian activists, including one American.

More than a year after the attack on Gaza, there is still extensive damage in Gaza that needs reparation; it will take around $527 million to bring Gaza back up the pre-Operation Cast Lead conditions, the United Nations Development Program reported. If Gaza were to be renovated to improve the living conditions and provide a better well being to citizens of the Strip, a substantially larger sum of money will be required.

~ American Muslims for Palestine, 2010