Note: The figures in this article are as of the time of writing in January 4th 2009. As of January 12th more than 900 Palestinians had been killed and more than 4000 injured. At least 250 of the Palestinians killed were children.
The current ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza has resulted in the death of more than 400 people and the injury of more than 2000 people in just one week. It has also directly affected the lives of more than 1.4 million people.
Unfortunately, many of the Western media outlets have not paid attention to this situation, or blindly stated Israel’s view without regard for the humanitarian crisis and the rising death toll. My advice to people in the west (and specially the United States) is to diversify their news input. Use automatic aggregators like Google News to read their news. Read/Watch international news sources like BBC News and AlJazeera English.
The following is a simple guide to this conflict.
- What is Gaza ? The term Gaza refers to either the Gaza Strip or Gaza City.
- Gaza Strip: The Gaza strip is a small strip of land along the Mediterranean between Israel and Egypt. The total area of the Gaza Strip is 360 sq. kilometer (139 sq. mile) which is roughly twice the size of Washington D.C.
- Gaza City: Gaza City is the largest city in the Gaza.
- Population: The Gaza Strip is inhabited by 1.48 million people. The small area means the population is highly dense. Almost half of the population of the Gaza Strip are children under the age of 14.
Here are a couple of maps to put things in context:
- Occupation: Prior to 1948, The Gaza Strip was part of the British Mandate of Palestine. After the 1948 war which led to the creation of the state of Israel, the Gaza Strip was under the governance of Egypt. In 1967 Israel seized control over the strip until its withdrawal in 2005.
- Settlement: Israel maintained settlements in Gaza Strip from 1967 to 2005. In 2005 Israel withdrew from its settlements in the Gaza Strip. The current population (1.48 million) are all Palestinians.
- Government: As of June 2007, Hamas took control of Gaza following a battle with Fatah (both of which are Palestinian parties). Since then, Gaza has been under the authority of Hamas. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and its president Mahmoud Abbas currently have no jurisdiction there.
- Why are they fighting with Israel? Although Israel withdrew its physical presence from the strip in 2005, the Palestinians did not gain sovereignty over Gaza. Israel continued to control the Gazan sea front, the air space above Gaza, the roads into Gaza, and even the fuel and electrical supplies of Gaza. Israel sealed off the Mediterranean from Gaza and prohibited the entrance of supplies to it by sea or air. The only remaining exit was via the border with Egypt through Sinai. But this border has been mostly closed because of Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Israel.
Food, water, medicine, fuel, and electricity were all controlled by Israel and coming from Israel to Gaza.
- The Blockade: After Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel severely limited the entrance of supplies to the strip. Approximately 84% of the population are living off of U.N. humanitarian supplies. Hospitals are suffering severe shortage of medication and equipment. Water is available only for a few hours every few days.
- The Rocket Attacks: Palestinian fighters from Hamas and other factions fired makeshift, steel rockets called Qassam Rockets onto close southern Israeli towns, mainly Sderot. Although limited in casualties and destruction, the Qassam rockets caused terror and insecurity among the Israeli residents of the targeted towns. Israel also launched missile attacks against Gaza from sea and air.
- The Cease-Fire: In June of 2008, Israel and Hamas entered a 6-month cease-fire to stop the attacks from both sides. As part of the truce, Israel agreed to lift the blockade on Gaza and allow food and medical supplies to enter Gaza.
- Outcomes of the Cease-Fire: In October the cease-fire started to break apart. Israeli attacks on Gaza resumed and the blockade had not been lifted. Supplies in Gaza remained scarce and limited. Hamas and other factions also violated the cease-fire by launching rocket attacks on Israel.
- Current Conflict: After the cease-fire ended, violence escalated again. Rocket attacks resulted in the death of one Israeli civilian, and Israel stepped up its attacks. On December 27th 2008, Israel launched a wide-scale offensive on the Gaza Strip and completely sealed off all of its borders. A week of aerial bombing from Israel has resulted in wide spread destruction and the death of more than 460 Gazans (more than a 100 of which are civilian women and children by U.N. estimates). The death toll among Israelis during that week was 4, 3 of which were civilians.
- Humanitarian Crisis: The vast majority of Gaza residents are unarmed civilians. Gaza has no advanced military installations. So the majority of Israeli bombs fell on individuals and in residential areas. Some of the buildings targeted by Israel were police stations, ministries, mosques, and houses. There are more than 2000 wounded people in Gaza with no medical aid. Many Gazans have found their homes destroyed and with nowhere to go.
A Palestinian Perspective: Certainly all Palestinians would like the violence to stop. Also not all Palestinians or all Gazans support the rocket attacks. As I mentioned before, the vast majority of the population of Gaza are civilians. At the same time Israel has followed a path of mass punishment. Israel claims that its attacks are made to stop Hamas from firing rockets at Israel and to achieve peace. However, the killing of more than 400 Palestinians in Gaza in just one week will not sway them towards peace. A continuous blockade will not send a powerful message of peace. Violence only yields more violence.
I, as well as many other Palestinians, do not condone the rocket attacks or the death of any civilian. However, Israel’s response has been terrible and disproportionate. This cycle of violence must end.
What is perhaps more shocking in this whole situation is that the world stood still and watched as Gazans were bombed and slaughtered. No country rushed to ask for a cease-fire. No country rushed to help the escalating humanitarian crisis. The world stood in idle as 460 people were killed and 2000+ people were injured in 7 days. The hospitals can not cope with the injured and have to make choices on who to treat. Fuel is running out, so ambulances can not make all the needed trips. The situation is getting worse and worse every day.
Here is a small button you can use to encourage people to learn more about what is going on in Gaza. It can also be optionally linked to this article if you would like to spread the word.