The Gaza Strip, home to two million Palestinians, is frequently on the news. The small enclave is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and has been aptly described as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

It is a small self-governing Palestinian territory that came under Israeli occupation, along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Bordered by Israel and Egypt on the Mediterranean coast, the strip is about the size of the US city of Detroit – about 360sq km.

Gaza was part of historic Palestine before the state of Israel was created in 1948 in a violent process of ethnic cleansing, expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes.

It was captured by Egypt during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and remained under Egyptian control until 1967, when Israel seized the remaining Palestinian territories in a war with the neighbouring Arab countries.

Gaza is but one of the focal points in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although it is part of the Israeli-occupied territories, the Gaza Strip was severed from the West Bank and East Jerusalem when Israel was created. A range of Israeli restrictions have since been created that further compartmentalise the Palestinian territories.

Siege

The Israeli blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip, in its current form, has been in place since June 2007, when Israel imposed an airtight land, sea and air blockade on the area.

Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, as well as two of the three border crossing points; the third is controlled by Egypt.

Movement of people in and out of the Gaza Strip takes place through the Beit Hanoun (known to Israelis as Erez) crossing with Israel, and the Rafah crossing with Egypt. Both Israel and Egypt have kept their borders largely shut, and are responsible for further deteriorating the already-weakened economic and humanitarian situations.

Israel allows passage through the Beit Hanoun crossing only in “exceptional humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases”.

According to a 2016 United Nations report, the Rafah crossing had been continuously closed since October 2014, including for humanitarian assistance, except for 72 days of partial openings.

According to the same report, one-third of exit permit applications for medical treatment outside of Gaza submitted in 2016 were rejected or delayed by Israel.

But Israel has restricted the movement of Palestinians in and out of Gaza for much longer than the past 10 years. Starting in the late 1980s with the eruption of the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, Israel began to impose restrictions by introducing a permit system that required Palestinians in Gaza to get difficult-to- obtain permits to work or travel through Israel or access the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Since 1993 in particular, Israel has used “closure” tactics on the Palestinian territories on a regular basis, at times barring any and all Palestinians in certain areas from leaving, sometimes for months at a time.

In 1995, Israel built an electronic fence and concrete wall around the Gaza Strip, facilitating a collapse in interactions between the split Palestinian territories.

In 2000, when the Second Intifada erupted, Israel cancelled many of the existing travel and work permits in Gaza, and significantly reduced the number of new permits issued.


READ MORE: Gaza – a life under occupation


In 2001, Israel bombed and demolished the Gaza airport, only three years after it opened.

Four years later, in what Israel called the “disengagement” from Gaza, some 8,000 Jewish Israelis living in illegal settlements in Gaza were pulled out from the Strip.

Israel claims that its occupation of Gaza ceased since it pulled its troops and settlers from the territory, but international law views Gaza as occupied territory since Israel has full control over the space.

In 2006, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, won general elections and seized power in a violent conflict with its rival, Fatah, after the latter refused to recognise the outcome of the vote. Since Hamas’ rise to power in 2007, Israel has severely intensified its siege.