Gaza in Crisis and Here's How It Happened

The Israeli Defense Forces' attack on Gaza is now well into its third week as Hamas militants continue to fire their primitive rockets into southern Israel, and with both sides so far rejecting the U.N. cease-fire resolution passed last week (the U.S. abstained).

More than 900 Palestinians have been killed so far, including at least 300 children, according to Palestinian figures. Thirteen Israelis have died, according to Israel. Now, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is travelling to the region in another attempt to stop the death and destruction in Gaza.

What is Gaza exactly? Was it always an impoverished, over-populated strip of territory in the Eastern Mediterranean? Here's a question-and-answer.

Question: Was Gaza always problematic?

No, it wasn't always impoverished. Gaza was an important coastal region 3,000 years ago run by the Philistines, a piratical, seafaring people from Crete, in the Aegean. They weren't very nice, however, if you believe the biblical story of the Jewish hero Samson. Samson was famously strong but unwisely revealed the secret of his strength to the temptress, Delilah, and was, subsequently, shorn of his locks while he slept. He was taken to Gaza and blinded by the Philistines with a hot poker. But his hair grew back, he recovered his strength and he got even. He pulled down the pillars of the temple. Some describe this as the first suicide attack in the Middle East.

Question: When did it become known as the Gaza Strip?

When it became part of the British Palestinian Mandate, with the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1. Under the U.N. partition plan in 1947, it was projected to become an independent Arab state.

But with Israel's War of Independence in 1948, tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs from Ashkelon, Beersheva and other towns, in what is now southern Israel, fled into the Strip, which had been occupied by Egypt. Egypt closed its own borders to the Palestinian refugees and refused to give them Egyptian citizenship. The Palestinians of Gaza have been stateless ever since, many still living in refugee camps and largely dependent on U.N. relief efforts.

It's worth noting that many Palestinians who stayed put in their homes in the war of 1948 were later granted citizenship by Israel. There are now about 1 million Arab Israelis.

History of Gaza

Question: When was Gaza occupied by Israel?

Israel occupied the Gaza Strip after the Six-Day War in June 1967, until its withdrawal in 2005.

In some ways, the economic conditions for the Palestinians improved during this period: they were allowed to cross over into Israel to work; about 35 percent of Gaza's GNP was from wages earned in Israel. Israel also became a major trading partner; Gazan agricultural products, for example, were exported to Israel and often re-exported by Israel to the rest of the world, as "Produce of Israel." By this time it had become one of the most densely populated regions on Earth, 1.5 million people on a strip of land 20 miles long and 7 miles wide.

About 8,000 Israelis were allowed to settle in Gaza on about 25 percent of the territory and take the lion's share of its scarce water resources. They were forcibly removed by the Israeli army in August 2005 as part of the withdrawal plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (now in a coma in an Israeli hospital). Their settlements were destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces, which withdrew all its forces from Gaza by December 2005.

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