Stretching approximately 40 kilometres in length by 6-12 kilometres in width, Gaza's population density is an astonishing 5,479 individuals per square kilometre.
Despite its relatively diminutive size, Gaza now finds itself at the epicenter of one of the most brutal Israeli assaults in history.
The story of Gaza took a significant turn after World War II when the British Mandate of Palestine concluded. The United Nations proposed a partition plan for Palestine, dividing it into separate Jewish and Arab states. During the first Arab-Israeli war that followed Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, Gaza fell under Egyptian control.
After the war, many of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forcibly displaced by Jewish forces established refugee camps in Gaza. These camps persist to this day, with 70 percent of the strip’s population being refugees.
Israel captured Gaza during the 1967 war, along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and began the period of occupation that was marked by Israeli settlement. These settlements left profound and lasting scars on the lives of Gazans.
The situation grew even more complex with the Oslo Accords of 1993 declaring Gaza and the West Bank a single territorial entity. However, by that point, the United States and Israel had already embarked on their mission of dividing Gaza and the West Bank.
During the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000, Israel sealed all entry points between Israel and the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, including shuttering the Gaza International Airport.
In 2005, the Intifada came to an end, and Israel unilaterally withdrew its settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, an event referred to as the "disengagement." Paradoxically, instead of ushering in greater Palestinian autonomy, this move led to the imposition of a severe Israeli blockade on Gaza, curtailing the movement of goods and people to and from the territory. Gaza came to be known as an "open-air prison" as Palestinians were barred from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.
The political landscape took another turn when Hamas secured a majority in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. Fatah initially refused to participate in the proposed coalition government, leading to a brief unity government agreement. However, this unity government crumbled under pressure from Israel and the United States, prompting the Palestinian Authority to establish a government without Hamas in the West Bank, while Hamas formed its administration in Gaza.
In response, the United States and Israel, with the support of the European Union, swiftly imposed a harsh siege and conducted military operations as a punitive measure against Gazans for electing Hamas.
The Israeli blockade
Despite the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the United Nations and international human rights organizations still consider Gaza to be under Israeli occupation.
Israel maintains de facto direct external control over Gaza and indirect control over life within the territory. It controls Gaza's air and maritime space, the majority of its land crossings, and reserves the right to enter Gaza at will, often enforcing a no-go buffer zone within Gaza territory.
Gaza’s airport remains closed and Gazan airspace is under Israeli radar control, while the Israeli Navy enforces a maritime blockade of the Port of Gaza and its coastline. Typically, the fishing zone has been limited to approximately six nautical miles (around 11 kilometres) from the Gaza coastline. In certain times, this zone was reduced to as little as three nautical miles (approximately 5.5 kilometres).
Gaza is dependent on Israel for its essential utilities, including water, electricity, and telecommunications. Almost all of Gaza's liquid fuel and about half of its electricity are supplied by Israel, while Gaza's sole power plant runs on crude diesel imported via Israel.
Israel has further imposed draconian, restrictions, decried by the UN, on crucial materials entering Gaza through official crossings, including cement, glass, steel, wood, paint, doors, plastic pipes, metal pipes, aggregate, generators, high voltage cables. The list includes vital goods like lentils, pasta, tomato paste, juice, papers, pencils, and even hearing aid batteries for deaf children.
The impact of the blockade on Gaza's economy has been devastating. Gazans “have been living under collective punishment,” the UNRWA says, with 81.5 percent of the population in poverty.
Food security in Gaza has deteriorated significantly, with 63 percent of the strip's population experiencing food insecurity and relying on international assistance, according to the UNRWA. Access to basic necessities, including medical supplies, clean water, and electricity, is unreliable, with daily power cuts averaging 13 hours per day.
Currently, 90 percent of the water from the aquifer is not safe for drinking without treatment, limiting the availability of clean water. Gazans consume an average of 70 litres of water per day, falling below the global WHO standard of 100 litres per person per day.
Economic growth has been stifled, with unemployment rates soaring to as high as 46 percent in recent years.
Regions and refugees
Gaza itself is administratively divided into multiple regions hosting eight refugee camps:
Gaza City: Gaza City serves as the largest city and administrative centre of the Gaza Strip. It is known for its high population density and houses government offices, businesses, and educational institutions. Additionally, the city is near the Beach Camp (Shatei refugee camp), one of the most densely populated areas hosting over 90,000 refugees.
North Gaza: This region includes towns like Jabalia and Beit Hanoun. It is known for its agricultural activities and has a significant population. Jabalia refugee camp, one of the largest and oldest refugee camps in Gaza, is situated in this governorate where over 116,000 Refugees live in an area of three square kilometres.
Deir Al-Balah: Located in the central part of Gaza, Deir al-Balah is known for its citrus farms. Nuseirat Refugee Camp is located nearby. The Deir Al-Balah refugee camp, the smallest such camp in Gaza with about 27,000 resident, is also nearby.
Khan Yunis: In the southern part of Gaza, Khan Yunis serves as an important economic and cultural centre. The Khan Yunis refugee camp, another densely populated area, is situated within this area.
Rafah: Situated in the southernmost part of Gaza. Rafah refugee camp, the largest camp in Gaza with 133,326 residents, is in this area.
Pathways to the world
Within this confined space, a web of borders, checkpoints, and crossings paint a complex tapestry of movement and restriction that shape the lives of its inhabitants.
To the north and east, Gaza shares a border with Israel. To the south, Gaza shares a border with Egypt.
These borders are heavily fortified with walls, fences, and checkpoints, making it extremely difficult for Gazans to exit.
Located at the northern border of the Gaza Strip, Erez Crossing is under Israeli control. It primarily serves as the main point of entry and exit for individuals traveling between Israel and Gaza. However, its usage is predominantly limited to humanitarian purposes, medical patient transfers, and restricted business access.
This border, also under Israeli control, includes the Karni Crossing, which was previously a vital point for the transfer of goods. However, since 2007, Karni Crossing has largely remained closed.
At the southern border of the Gaza Strip, near the town of Rafah, Israel maintains control over Gaza's southern border through Kerem Shalom Crossing.
This crossing is primarily used for the transfer of goods into Gaza. However, it is subject to rigorous inspections and strict controls on the types of goods permitted to enter Gaza.
Situated in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, Rafah Border Crossing is subject to Egyptian control. It serves as the primary gateway for travel between Gaza and Egypt. It often experiences periods of closure and limited operation.
Mediterranean Sea (western border):
Gaza's western border consists of the coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. Israel enforces a maritime blockade of the Port of Gaza and the surrounding coastal waters, extending for approximately 40 kilometres. This blockade restricts the movement of ships in and out of Gaza's waters, impacting the territory's ability to engage in maritime trade and transportation.
The Separation fences
While Gaza itself is not enclosed by a wall, as is the case in the West Bank, there are significant barriers and fences along the 51-kilometre border with Israel.
In some areas, there are concrete walls that are several meters high. The fence is equipped with sophisticated electronic surveillance systems, including cameras, sensors, and monitoring equipment to detect any movement.
In 2005, Israel created a buffer zone between the border fence and the populated areas of Gaza, typically extending several hundred metres into Gaza that is off-limits to Palestinians.
Lethal force has been used to deter individuals from entering the area. This has had a devastating impact on Palestinian farmers and communities near the border, as they lose access to agricultural lands. It is estimated that around 17 percent of Gaza's total agricultural land falls within the buffer zone restrictions, leading to economic hardship, food insecurity, and a heavy reliance on humanitarian aid. Moreover, about 1,200 Palestinian homes and structures were demolished by Israel during the creation of the buffer zone, displacing thousands of residents.
Besides the buffer zone, Gaza is enclosed by what is commonly referred to as the "Gaza Envelope," an area that extends several kilometers separating Gaza from Israel. Presently, nearly 55,000 Israeli settlers live illegally in this envelope.
These illegal settlers predominantly hailed from Eastern European backgrounds and are associated with far-right extremist ideologies. Most of them were relocated from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
In 2007, the Knesset passed a law officially acknowledging these settlements as part of a strategy to hinder the formation of a contiguous Palestinian state.
The area surrounding Gaza is further sealed by a combination agricultural land and military installations.
Sderot, just about two kilometers the border from northern Gaza
Ashkelon, a major urban centre approximately 15 kilometres north of Gaza City.
Netivot, approximately 12 kilometres from the northern Gaza border and is home to a significant number of Jewish immigrants.
Ofakim, roughly 10 kilometres to the east of Gaza,
Nirim, is approximately only about 800 metres of the Gaza border,
Kibbutzim and Moshavim, agricultural communities scattered only few kilometers from Gaza.