Described as “the world’s largest open-air prison” by human rights groups, the Gaza Strip faces its biggest humanitarian crisis yet as airstrikes rain down on its civilian population .
Since the start of the conflict five days ago, nearly 1,000 people have been killed by Israeli retaliatory airstrikes, while another 5,000 have been injured and hundreds of children and families have been affected.
A 40-kilometre-long enclave that has been under blockade since 2007, more than 65 percent of its 2.3 million residents live below the poverty line, with conditions for children previously described as poor. “hell on earth”.
With the last power plant shut down and hospitals “at capacity”, the latest “full siege” of the Gaza Strip has blocked all electricity, food and water, with no escape routes available for its desperate citizens.
A brief history
A narrow patch of land on the Mediterranean Sea that was once part of the Ottoman Empire, the Gaza Strip was controlled by Egypt for two decades after Israel declared statehood in 1948.
However, after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War against its Arab neighbors, the country came under their control for the next 38 years.
During this period, Israeli troops monitored the territory and construction of 21 Jewish settlements began, causing tensions and resentment between the two populations to rise.
In 1993, a historic agreement was reached with the signing of the Oslo Accords, granting the Palestinians limited control in Gaza and the West Bank and considering statehood after five years. This never happened due to ongoing tensions, with Israel accusing the Palestinians of reneging on security agreements.
Facing international pressure, Israel ultimately withdrew around 9,000 Israeli settlers and military personnel from the Gaza Strip in 2005, leaving it governed by the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.
A year later, Hamas won a surprising victory in Palestinian elections and has controlled Gaza since 2007. Considered a terrorist organization by the international community, Israel imposed a land, air and sea blockade that crippled its economy.
Despite the devastating effect on Palestinian civilians and condemnation from the United Nations and human rights groups, Israel maintains that the blockade is necessary to protect its citizens from Hamas.
Can people leave and enter the Gaza Strip?
The blockade imposed by Israel prevented people and goods from freely entering or leaving the Gaza Strip, a measure that was also imposed by Egypt.
The Israeli government prohibits Palestinians from entering or leaving Gaza “except in extremely rare cases, which include urgent, life-threatening medical issues and a very short list of traders,” according to B’Tselem, an Israeli group for the defense of human rights.
Israelis, Jewish settlers and tourists are not subject to these restrictions and are free to enter and leave. Egypt also periodically closes its land border crossing at Rafah, which is often the only way Palestinians in Gaza can access the rest of the world.
The International Committee of the Red Cross considers the blockade illegal and says it violates the Geneva Convention, while the UN and various human rights groups consider the Gaza Strip to still be under military occupation by Israel.
Israel reserves the right to enter Gaza at will with its army and maintains a prohibited buffer zone on Gaza territory.
What are the living conditions in Gaza?
With more than two million Palestinians living in approximately 140 square miles, Gaza is “one of the most densely populated territories in the world,” with half of its occupants under the age of 19.
Described as an “open-air prison” by Human Rights Watch and lined with walls and fences, living conditions in Gaza have long been difficult, with 95% of residents surviving without access to drinking water.
Eight recognized refugee camps stretch across the Gaza Strip, with a depleted economy struggling to create job opportunities and a population dependent on international aid.
Despite these challenges, life continued in the besieged enclave, with a number of universities offering training courses and markets selling local crafts. Home to around 16,000 students, Al-Azhar University offers courses in agriculture, medicine and dentistry, while Al-Quds Open University operates six centers across Palestine.
Recent airstrikes have targeted the Islamic University of Gaza since Saturday, with Israel describing it as a “training institution for the development and production of weapons”.
Along the coast, fishermen able to work within the 15 nautical mile fishing limit continue to sell their products, while small restaurants along the coast sell fresh sardines and watermelons.
Addressing The independentDr Nathaniel George, senior lecturer in Middle East politics at SOAS University, said a ground attack from Israel will be “the largest, deadliest and most brutal of all that has taken place previously “.
“2.3 million people in 140 square miles, half the population are children, and it’s just carpet bombing,” he said. “You have to imagine that half of the population of the Gaza Strip is made up of children under the age of 18. For a child who grew up primarily in this period of intense blockade by Israel and Egypt and where the peace process is completely disrupted. »