1947: two states, one Jewish and one Arab?
The city of Gaza, which gave its name to this territory, is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. In the 12th century BC. BC, it is occupied by the Philistines, a word derived from Hebrew which will therefore give the name Palestine. Located along the trade routes of the Middle East, Gaza City, like all of Palestine, has often changed owners over the centuries. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, the Gaza region was included in Mandatory Palestine entrusted to the British.
In 1947, the United Nations proposed dividing Palestine into two: a Jewish state and an Arab state, the latter including the entire Gaza Strip. But this plan, accepted by the Jews, was refused by the Arabs of Palestine and neighboring Arab countries, who launched an offensive against the Jewish state, born in 1948. The Gaza Strip then fell into the hands of the Egypt ; its boundaries are then fixed. At the end of this first Israeli-Arab war, Gaza welcomed nearly 200,000 refugees.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel took Egypt’s place in Gaza. In 1970, the Israeli Parliament decided to establish colonies there. Four years later, certain representatives of the Israeli left, aware of the trap represented by this already overpopulated territory, are calling for its abandonment. But it was not until 2005 that the Israeli army evacuated the 21 settlements and its military positions inside Gaza. The IDF nevertheless retains full control of borders, territorial waters and airspace.
An economic and demographic cauldron
A narrow territory of approximately 360 km² – 41 km long and 6 to 12 km wide – on the edge of the Mediterranean, the Gaza Strip is home to 2.23 million people according to the United Nations, one of the highest densities population in the world – 6,000 inhabitants per km². 40% of the population is under 14 years old and 30% lives below the poverty level. The GNP per capita is $5,600 per year, compared to $9,200 in Jordan. And almost 40% of the population is unemployed. Almost the entire population is Sunni Muslim – Christian communities number around a thousand faithful. Before the Hamas attack, 30,000 Palestinians were allowed to work in Israel. Bordering Egypt for 13 km and Israel for 59 km, the Gaza Strip also has little natural wealth.
Hamas, political party and terrorist movement
Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ideology developed during the Egyptian occupation from 1948 to 1967, Hamas – Islamic Resistance Movement –, considered terrorist by the European Union, France and the United States, is formally created on December 14, 1987, five days after the start of the first intifada. It is made up of a political branch led by Ismaïl Haniyeh, 60 years old, and a military branch led by Mohammed Deïf, 58 years old. Other Islamist organizations exist in the Gaza Strip, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Daesh.
The fratricidal struggle between Palestinians
In 1996, Hamas boycotted the presidential and parliamentary elections in Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank) to protest against the anti-democratic practices of the Palestinian Authority and the negotiations that the latter conducted with Israel. At the same time, Hamas launched a wave of attacks in the Jewish state. Ten years later, Hamas changed its strategy: it decided to participate in the legislative elections and won with 42.9% of the votes against 39.8% for Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. A sort of cohabitation is taking place: the presidency remains in the hands of Fatah, the head of government goes to a member of Hamas. Very quickly, the situation turns bad. The two parties embarked on a fratricidal war which left several hundred Palestinians dead. Hamas took full power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Over the past five years, Hamas has regained a foothold in the West Bank. In 2022, student elections gave victory to Beir Zeit University, near Ramallah, long a Fatah stronghold. In Gaza, the population is entirely under the yoke of the Islamist movement, and the absence of elections since 2006, in this territory as in the West Bank, makes it difficult to assess the real balance of power between Hamas and Fatah.