'If one were to look from a purely statistical basis, the Gaza Strip could make a valid claim to be the worst place on earth.’
Abu Yusef, 2011
2005 disengagement to the 2006 elections to the 2007 split and siege to the 2008 cast lead.
Gaza is Still Occupied Despite the 2005 withdrawal of ground troops from Gaza Israel continues to de-facto control its borders and essential governmental services such as water, electricity, communication systems, and even the population registry. As an occupying power Israel has specific obligations to protect the civilian population and its property, which are under its control.
Population and Area At the end of 2010, the population of Gaza was estimated at 1,657,155. While this might not seem like a lot of people; after all, some cities throughout the world are 10-15 times larger. But this seemingly small number of people is confined to a mere 365 km sq, making it the most densely populated place on the planet - with a total of 4,540 people per km sq.
While this number is already astronomical, it is actually a gross underestimate derived by crudely dividing the number of people by the number of square kilometres, thus assuming that all of the Gaza Strip is populated. As we shall see in coming sections, large portions of the Gaza are restricted to Palestinians. In reality, the population of Gaza is concentrated in urban areas and refugee camps that often have population densities 2-3 times higher than the numbers that already make the Strip the most densely populated on earth. If the status quo continues, the crisis of population density in the Strip is set to worsen dramatically.
Gaza is also on the top of the list of another socio-ecoomic indicator, fertility rates. Women in Gaza produce an average of 5.19 children each, ensuring that the population will double in the coming decades.
Gaza: Nation of Children, Nation of Refugees
With such high fertility rates, Gaza’s population pyramid is decidedly 'bottom heavy’, especially compared to Western countries. While a young population can be the beginning of a rapidly growing and productive economy, in the midst of occupation and siege, it just means a greater and greater dependence upon international aid and limited local resources.
The average age in the Gaza Strip is 17.2 years old. Some estimates have put the median age at as low as 15.3 years. This is a particularly important statistic for readers to keep in mind throughout the publication. When reading about Gaza, possibly the 'worst place on earth’, keep in mind that the vast majority of people confined to this hell are infants, children and youth.
Gaza has not always been so densely populated. Following the War of 1948, tens of thousands Palestinians fled their homes into the Gaza Strip. This influx dwarfed the local population. Today in the 8 camps throughout the Gaza Strip administered by UNRWA, 518,147 refugees reside. While this probably places Gaza as the region with the highest percentage of refugees as part of the total population, this too is likely an underestimate, as many of Gaza’s refuges were never, or are no longer, registered or receiving benefits.
The Blockade of the Gaza Strip
'Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key.’
-United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, John Dugard
The Gaza Strip has been facing a humanitarian crisis ever since April of 2006, when border closings and the lack of foreign aid caused a severe shortage of fuel, foods and medical care. Gazans suffer shortages of essential commodities and the rise in market prices has made it difficult for families to have an adequate, healthy and balanced diet.
The Karni crossing, which serves as the main conduit for commercial goods into Gaza, has been closed since June 13th, 2007. This has devastated the Gazan economy. ”In June 2007, there were 748 truckloads of exports leaving Gaza for Israel and other countries. A month later there were none”.
According to the UN, 2010 marked a slight improvement in the quantity and diversity of goods and material being allowed into Gaza to support humanitarian and reconstruction activities. This improvement was due, in part, to sustained advocacy from humanitarian and diplomatic partners. During the first six months of the year, the average number of truckloads entering the Strip every month rose to 2,455, compared to 2,340 in the last six months of 2009 - a 4.7% increase.
Source: United Nations, 2010
The Buffer Zones: By land and by sea
The “buffer zone” between Israel and the Gaza Strip is a military no-go area that extends along the entire northern and eastern perimeter of the Gaza Strip adjacent to Israel, but inside Palestinian territory. Following the collapse of the peace process and the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, Israel unilaterally enforced a 150-metre “buffer zone” within the Gaza Strip, which it extended to 300 metres in May 2009. The precise areas designated by Israel as the “buffer zone” are unknown and at times extend up to 1.5 kilometres inside the Gaza Strip, which is only 5-12 kilometres wide. Israel restricts Palestinians’ access to the land located in the “buffer zone”, sometimes through the use of live fire. From January to May 2011, at least 19 civilians have been killed, including seven children and 252 others were injured, including 73 children.
While the Buffer Zone occupies 17% of the total land of the Gaza Strip, already the most densely populated place on earth, it captures 35% of the total agricultural land. Since Israel began enforcing the Buffer Zone in 2005, 996 homes have been demolished and a further 371 have been partially demolished. In addition to homes, Israel has destroyed:
305 water wells
197 chicken farms
377 sheep farms
'Operation Cast Lead’
In late December of 2008, Israel launched a 22 day assault on the Gaza Strip. After weeks of aerial bombardment and an intensive ground invasion, the already denigrated Gaza lay in ruins. As a result, over 1,400 Palestinians, including over 350 children, lost their lives. In addition, 60,000 families had their homes completely flattened or partially demolished. The number of Palestinian lives lost is even more telling when compared to Israeli losses during the war and over the years preceding it. Over the course of the assault, thirteen Israelis lost their lives, four of them as a result of 'friendly fire’.In the year prior to the war, the Israel Project (2009) counted eight Israeli deaths as a result of rockets and mortars being launched into civilian population centres from the Gaza Strip, most of them in the final months of the year leading up to the war.
1948 - Arab-Israeli War - Gaza Strip’s boundaries were defined by the 1949 Armistice and placed under Egyptian rule to be held in trust for a future Palestinian state.
1956 - Suez-Sinai War - The Gaza Strip was occupied by Israel. A year later they withdrew their troops and a UN Emergency Force was placed in the Gaza Strip.
1967 War - Israel recaptured the Gaza Strip on June 5th.
1970 - The first settlement, Kfar Darom, was built in the Gaza Strip
1987 - The first Palestinian Intifada and Hamas, an Islamic Resistance Movement, begin in Gaza. The Intifada comes to an end with the signing of the Oslo Accord and establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1993.
2000 - Ariel Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque sparks the Second Intifada.
2005 – Israel 'disengages’ from the Gaza Strip in September without consultation or coordination with the Palestinian Authority.
Though the settlers are gone, Israel maintains the occupation through strict control over the land sea and air space of the Gaza Strip, as well as regular attacks.
2006 – Hamas wins the January Parliamentary Election by a landslide. Israel and the international community place sanctions on Palestine and withhold Value Added Taxes.
2007 – Violent clashes erupt between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza, resulting in Hamas securing control of the Strip. Egypt responds by sealing off the border.
2008 – On January 17th Israel sealed off the borders to Gaza following a rise in rocket attacks.
2008 – 2009 – Israel’s 'Operation Cast Lead’ kills over 1400 people, including 300 children, and destroys tens of thousands of homes and factories.
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