Current Issues  
Settlements, Jerusalem, the Security Barrier,
the Right of Return, and more

  
Gaza - p2
CURRENT ISSUES HOME

The Occupation
   Taking Control of Land
   Dispossession, Exploitation
   Splitting the West Bank
   Restriction of Movement
      Checkpoints, Closed Rds

   Imposition of Siege
   Beatings & Abuse
   Detainees
   Home Demolitions
   Destruction of olive trees
   Medical Care
   Water Crisis


The Settlements
   
The Settlements, p2
   Settlers' Violence
   Settlers' Violence, p2


The Separation Wall


"One and a half million people imprisoned"

title of B'tselem article
(see our first page on Gaza)



"The people of Gaza know they have been abandoned.  Some told me the only time they felt hope was when they were being bombed, because at least then the world was paying attention."
Sara Roy

History of Gaza and surrounding area,          1940s to Today

The Gaza Strip is a 146-square-mile strip of coastal land, roughly rectangular, about 25 miles long and 3 to 7 miles wide. One long side lies along the Mediterranean on the west. One short, straight end borders Egypt to the south. The other sides of the rectangle—a long, ragged edge to the east and a shorter, northeastern side—separate the Gaza Strip from Israel.










       


In the map to the right, the Gaza Strip is the very small yellow area on the west (lefthand) border of Israel. 

That western edge of Israel and Gaza is on the Mediterranean Sea, as you can see in the map above.


 There are about 1.5 million Palestinians living there. It is governed by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

 This border was established after the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948, which immediately followed the creation of Israel. The Gaza region became Egypt's military headquarters during the 1948 conflict, and the narrow coastal strip saw heavy fighting. When the cease-fire was announced later that year—following a decisive Israeli victory—the final position of the military fronts became what's known as "the Green Line.” It includes the land granted to Israel by the UN’s partition plan in 1947, plus a bit more Israel took in that first war, in 1948.

 The Green Line is the border between Israel (the green area in the map above to the right) and the Palestinian territories, both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (the yellow areas in the same map).

 The Green Line is also referred to as the “pre-1967” border, for during the Six-Day war in 1967, Israel acquired the Palestinian land (the yellow areas) that the world considers Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The Green Line is the border that much of the international community demands Israel return to, ending the occupation of land acquired in the ’67 war.

 The region that includes Gaza has a long history of occupation—by the ancient Egyptians, the Philistines, the Arabs, the Christian Crusaders, and the Ottomans. It was part of the Ottoman Empire going into WWI, and that Empire was allied to Germany in that first World War. 

 After World War I, the Gaza area became part of the British Mandate of Palestine (the area assigned to Great Britain by the Allies of WWI for the British to oversee and prepare to make independent).

 During the time it was under the British Mandate, the United Nations recommended partitioning the Palestine, which includes the Gaza strip, into Arab and Jewish states, in Resolution 181 in 1947.

 The Arab nations rejected this plan by the United Nations. When Jewish settlers declared the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, the surrounding Arab states went to war to with Israel . By the end of this war, the land that was to have been the Palestinian Arab state was occupied partially by Israel and partially by Egypt and Jordan.

 The Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled or fled Israeli-controlled territory and many wound up in refugee camps in the Egyptian-held Gaza Strip.

 Israel took control of the Gaza Strip during the Six-Day War in 1967, along with the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula.

 As a result of the Oslo accords, Gaza became partly autonomous under the Palestinian National Authority in 1994.  Israel continued to exercise considerable control in the area, however, and Israeli settlements, that had been built during the period of military occupation, remained.

 The initial Israeli settlements in Gaza were established by the Labor government in the early 1970s. Eventually, there were twenty-one settlements in Gaza.

 Jews and Arabs coexisted for more than a decade there but tension rose, and in 1987, a Jewish shopper in a Gazan market was stabbed to death. The next day an Israeli truck accidentally killed four Arabs, sparking the first riots of what would become the first intifada.

 A brief period of calm followed the Oslo agreements in the 1990s as Israel agreed to withdraw from parts of the Gaza Strip.

 In 1994, Israel withdrew from parts of the Gaza Strip as part of its obligations under the Oslo Accords (which also affirmed the rights of the Palestinians to self-government).

 The Palestinian National Authority and Israel shared power in the Gaza Strip for the next 10 years, with the PNA administering civilian control and the Israelis overseeing military affairs as well as the borders, airspace, and remaining Israeli settlements.

 Ultimately, the Palestinian Authority assumed control over about 80 percent of the area, but an escalation of violence, especially after September 2000, led Israel to impose stricter measures on Palestinians in the area, and to engage in frequent military operations to prevent terrorist attacks against soldiers and Jews living in the Gaza settlements as well as infiltrations to attack targets inside Israel.

 In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally ended military rule in the region and evacuated all the Jews from Israeli settlements in Gaza, thus bringing all areas of the Gaza Strip under Palestinian administration.*  However, airspace and coastal waters remained under tight Israeli control.

 In 2007, Hamas seized control of the administration of the Gaza Strip, causing a division between that region and the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank, where the Fatah party is dominant.

 What is Hamas?

The organization grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987 and maintains that it will never agree to a permanent cease-fire while Israel occupies what it views as Palestinian land. Its stated aim is the destruction of the state of Israel.

 Hamas includes political and military arms, but distinctions between the two are often difficult to discern. Khaled Mashaal, who has lived in Damascus since the 1990s, is considered the group’s primary leader.

 The United States, the European Union and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization. It has links to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Members have carried out suicide bombings and Hamas periodically hits southern Israel with Qassam rockets, which are unsophisticated homemade munitions that often fail to hit any target. However the bombardment has caused great tension and fear for Israeli residents of that region. (See statistics on rockets and casualties below.)

 Hamas has also stepped into the void left by the (often claimed) ineffectual and corrupt Palestinian Authority to offer basic services, including schools and health clinics, thereby gaining the trust of many Palestinians.

 Parliamentary elections swept Hamas into power in January 2006. Hamas and the secular Palestinian party Fatah created a unity government at that time. But pitched battles between opposing supporters followed and these led to the dissolution of their coalition in 2007. Tensions between the two groups, which briefly erupted into a virtual civil war, have cooled slightly but remain.   Today, Hamas is in control of the government of Gaza while the Palestinian Authority, dominated by the Fatah Party, governs the West Bank.

 How has Israel reacted to Hamas?

Israel has long taken a hard line against the Islamist group. It has launched an effective assassination campaign against Hamas' leadership, killing among others its quadriplegic founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004.

 Since the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, in June 2007, the Gaza Strip has been under siege. Israel changed the crossing arrangements at the five border crossings under its control and, except for a few cases, did not permit persons or goods to cross between Gaza and Israel. The Karni Crossing, “Gaza’s lifeline,” through which most of the goods coming into or leaving Gaza pass, was almost completely closed, paralyzing many trade sectors and creating an economic crisis.

 Most of the restrictions on the movement of workers and goods were sweeping and indefinite in duration. Because of the severe consequences on the local population, this policy breached a variety of rights that Israel must respect under the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: the right to gain a livelihood, the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate nutrition, clothing, and housing, and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

 In 2007, Palestinian militants from Gaza captured an Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, prompting a major Israeli incursion into Gaza during which it arrested most Hamas cabinet members. (See more about this abduction.)

 In December 2008, then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that no peace can be expected while Hamas remains in control of Gaza.

 Operation Cast Lead: December 27, 2008 - January 18, 2009

A truce between Hamas and Israel, intended to halt Hamas missiles from being fired into Israel and stop Israeli incursions into Gaza, lapsed on Dec. 19, 2008.  Almost immediately dozens of rockets were fired into southern Israel.  (See below statistics on rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.)

 The Israeli military responded on Dec. 27 with its offensive, Operation Cast Lead, a 22-day military campaign. Human Rights Watch documented serious violations of the laws of war by Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, some of which amounted to war crimes. In Gaza, more than 700 civilians died in the fighting; in Israel, 3 civilians lost their lives.

 The magnitude of the harm to the Gazan population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so.

 Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health, which was on the verge of collapse prior to the operation. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless.

 Laws-of-war violations by Israeli forces included drone-launched missile attacks that killed 29 civilians, the killing of 11 civilians holding white flags, and the use of white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas.

 Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups violated the laws of war by firing hundreds of rockets deliberately or indiscriminately into civilian areas in Israel.  These attacks killed three Israeli civilians and one member of the Israeli security forces, and wounded dozens. Nine soldiers were killed within the Gaza Strip, four by friendly fire. More than 100 soldiers were wounded, one critically and 20 moderately to seriously.

 There have been many reports, including written and video testimony from Israeli military personnel, about the questionable and possibly illegal tactics and weapons used by Israel during this offensive. Click here to read the article: “Israeli Soldiers in Gaza Describe a 'Moral Twilight Zone' “

 Since that offensive, the situation in Gaza has become an enormous humanitarian crisis. Click here to read about the situation Gaza one year after Operation Cast Lead, in December 2009.

 The Goldstone Report

The United Nations appointed a fact-finding comission to look into allegations of crimes committed by Israel and by Hamas during the period of Operation Cast Lead.  The results of that investigation and the extraordinary response to their findings can be found at our site, in the Statements section, at the page Goldstone Report.

 What are both sides' demands?

Israel has three main demands: an end to Palestinian attacks, international supervision of any truce, and a halt to Hamas rearming.

In the immediate term, Hamas demands a cessation of Israeli attacks and the opening of vital Gaza-Israel cargo crossings, Gaza's main lifeline.

 Who lives on the Gaza Strip now?

Since the withdrawal of Israeli settlements, the Gazan population is almost entirely Palestinian Arab. More than 99 percent are Sunni Muslims, with a very small number of Christians. The region saw a huge influx of Palestinian refugees after the creation of Israel in 1948—within 20 years, the population of Gaza had grown to six times its previous size.

 The Gaza Strip now has one of the highest population densities in the world: Almost 1.5 million people live within its 146 square miles. Eighty percent of Gazans live below the poverty line.

 Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, the UN agency UNRWA has undertaken to feed the majority of Gazans, but has said they cannot adequately address the humanitarian catastrophe that now exists in the Gaza strip.

 Life in Gaza today

Conditions for the Gazans, many of whom live in refugee camps, have deteriorated drastically in recent years, even before the recent military offensive, with 80 percent living on less than $2.30 per day, according to the United Nations. Two-thirds of all Palestinians do not have access to a sewage system.

 The population of Gaza is subject to Israeli closures and checkpoints, which often make it impossible to travel to or work in Israel and the West Bank.

 Gaza lives under a tight blockade, which makes it impossible for most food, water, medical supplies and other essentials to reach the population.  Rebuilding homes and other buildings after the assault of Operation Cast Lead has been virtually impossible, because the most basic building supplies also are blocked. One report describes efforts now to build homes from mud.

 The Israeli military has severely limited journalists’ access to Gaza following its invasion, but reports indicate the situation is growing grimmer each day.

 Who built the fence between Gaza and Egypt? Who controls the borders of Gaza?

In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty that returned to Egyptian control the Sinai Peninsula, which borders the short southern edge of the Gaza Strip. As part of that treaty, a 100-meter-wide strip of land known as the Philadelphi corridor was established as a buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt. Israel built a barrier there during the Palestinian uprisings of the early 2000s. It's made mostly of corrugated sheet metal, with stretches of concrete topped with barbed wire.

 In 2005, when Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, Israel still controlled the land borders of Gaza on 2 sides (north and east) and all sea access from the Mediterranean to the west. Regarding the fourth side, the south end of Gaza, Israel and Egypt reached a military agreement, based on the principles of the 1979 peace treaty. The agreement specified that 750 Egyptian border guards would be deployed along the length of that border, and both Egypt and Israel pledged to work together to stem terrorism, arms smuggling, and other illegal cross-border activities.


 From November 2005 until July 2007, the Rafah Crossing—the only entry-exit point along the Gaza-Egypt border—was jointly controlled by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, with the European Union monitoring Palestinian compliance on the Gaza side. After the Hamas takeover in June 2007, the European Union pulled out of the region, and Egypt agreed with Israel to shut down the Rafah Crossing, effectively sealing off the Gaza Strip on all sides. The people there now are cut off from the world on every side, for Israel also has a sea blockade imposed on Gaza.

 Hamas must release Gilad Shalit

On 25 June 2006, a band of eight armed Palestinians crossed from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, near Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, and attacked an army post and tank. During the ensuing battle, two members of the band – Muhammad Farwaneh and Hamed a-Rantisi – and two Israeli soldiers – Hanan Barak and Pavel Slutzker – were killed. The soldier Gilad Shalit, who was in the tank at the time of the attack, was abducted by the band and taken, apparently wounded, to the Gaza Strip.

 The identity of the organization that carried out the attack, or of the persons who dispatched the band, is not known for certain. According to media reports, the attack was a joint effort of three organizations: the Popular Resistance Committees, the 'Iz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and the Islamic Army. A few days after the attack, the media reported that Shalit's abductors demanded, in exchange for Shalit, the release of one thousand Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons.

 The abductors' demand contained an implied threat (and in some of the reports the threat was explicit) to execute Shalit if their demand was not met. Subsequently, extensive negotiations, mediated by Egypt , began between the Hamas leadership, which represented the abductors, and Israel on the details of the exchange. The negotiations continued on and off for many months, but the sides did not reach an agreement.

 The location where Shalit is being held is unknown. According to various Hamas spokesmen, Shalit is being held in proper conditions. However, these claims have never been verified, given that the abductors have not allowed representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross, or from any other international organization, to visit Shalit.

 International humanitarian law recognizes, subject to certain conditions, the right of parties taking part in hostilities to capture combatants of the opposing side and hold them until the hostilities end, but only with the objective of removing them from combat. States may also arrest combatants belonging to the other side, and under certain conditions civilians as well, who are suspected of having committed criminal offenses, for the purpose of prosecuting them.

 Contrarily, seizing a person (civilian or combatant) and holding him forcibly with the objective of pressuring the other side to meet certain demands is absolutely prohibited, and is considered hostage taking. This act is much more grievous when it is accompanied by a threat to kill or injure the hostage if the hostage-takers' demands are not met. Furthermore, breach of the prohibition is deemed a war crime, for which everyone involved in the act bears criminal responsibility. The circumstances in which Shalit was abducted and has been held clearly indicate that he was taken hostage.

 Regardless of the question of the legality of the seizure or status of the person who is seized, international humanitarian law states that every person is entitled to be treated humanely and in a dignified manner by the opposing side, whatever the circumstances. Prisoners of war are entitled to a variety of other rights, among them to right to receive visits by the ICRC. Given that Shalit is entitled to the status of POW, denial of his right to these visits also constitutes a flagrant breach of international law. Moreover, the refusal to allow visits and cutting Shalit off totally from the outside world raise the grave suspicion that he is being treated improperly, in particular regarding the medical treatment he has, or has not, received for his injury.

 For these reasons, the Hamas leadership, as the persons holding actual control of the security apparatuses in the Gaza Strip, has the duty to bring about Shalit's unconditional release immediately. Until his release, the persons holding him must treat him humanely and enable representatives of the ICRC to visit him.

 Rocket and mortar fire from Gaza into Israel

(Research from B'Tselem - www.btselem.org)

- From June 2004 to the end of Operation Cast Lead, on 17 January 2009, 19 civilians were killed in Israel by rockets and mortar fire by Palestinians. - Four of them were minors.

- In addition, two soldiers were killed.

- Another Israeli civilian and one foreign national were killed by Qassam rockets in Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, prior to their evacuation in 2005.

- Qassam rocket fire also killed five Palestinians, two of them minors.

 

According to UN figures,

- in 2005, 1,194 Qassam rockets were fired at Israel

(an average of 100 a month),

- in 2006, the rocket fire increased to 1,786

(an average of 149 a month), and

- in 2007, 1,331 were fired (an average of 111 a month).

 

According to Israel Security Agency figures,

- in 2008, 2,048 rockets and more than 1,672 mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel

(this figure does not include the period of Operation Cast Lead, which began 4 days before the end of 2008, during which the rocket and mortar fire increased significantly).


Rocket and mortar fire as a war crime

 Palestinian organizations that fire rockets and mortar shells into Israel openly declare that they intend to strike Israeli civilians, among other targets. Aiming attacks at civilians is both immoral and illegal, and the intentional killing of civilians is defined a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime that cannot be justified, under any circumstance. Furthermore, the rockets and mortar shells are illegal weapons, even when aimed at military objects, as they are greatly imprecise and endanger civilians present both in the area from which they are fired and where they land, thus violating two fundamental principles of the laws of war: distinction and proportionality.

 In a significant number of cases, Palestinians have fired the rockets and mortar shells from civilian residential areas. International humanitarian law (IHL) prohibits attacks from inside or near the homes of civilians, and using civilians as human shields. Palestinian organizations that choose to carry out attacks against communities in Israel from within or near populated areas breach this rule, and in doing so, demonstrate not only their intention to harm Israeli civilians, but also indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians.

 The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip must do everything in its power to stop the rocket and mortar fire, and the Palestinian organizations must cease attacks aimed at civilians, in particular when they are carried out from populated Palestinian areas. The government is responsible for the breaches of international humanitarian law, due to its failure to take sufficient action to stop the firing from areas close to civilian homes, and even more so, as it actively takes part in these attacks. The persons involved in these breaches are guilty of war crimes and bear individual criminal responsibility for their acts.

 http://www.btselem.org/english/Gaza_Strip/Castlead_Operation.asp

http://www.hrw.org/en/features/israel-gaza


Next page: Gaza, p3 >