Hayam Albetar, the head of research and studies at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Gaza, told Al-Monitor in 2015, “The northeastern area of Khan Yunis is known as ‘Maabar al-Hijrat’ [Passage of Immigration] because it was the gate to Gaza from the south — for the Canaanites, Persians, Romans, and Muslims. There were also Byzantine villages in this area.” Khan Yunis is a city in the southern region of the Gaza Strip.
Gaza, the home of great civilizations throughout history, is now on the tongues and headlines of the world media not only because of its 5000-year history that is full of ups and downs but also due to the tragedy imposed upon it by Israel.
Gaza, home of great civilizations
Perhaps this is a new chapter in the history of Gaza, a land with a rich and lengthy history that has witnessed civilizations and powers come and go and achieve victories and numerous defeats. It’s not without reason that Jamal Al Shobaki, the Palestinian ambassador to Rabat, stated, “Israel has turned Gaza into a graveyard for children. This regime has not studied read history because [if it did, it would have known] Gaza is the graveyard of all invaders. All those who colonized Palestine vanished, while Gaza, Palestine, and Al-Quds (Jerusalem) remain.”
We’re talking about a region of approximately 360 square kilometers called the “Gaza Strip,” a narrow strip along the eastern Mediterranean Sea, with Gaza being one of its cities. The length of this area is 40 kilometers, and its width ranges from 10 to 15 kilometers. It borders the occupied lands to the north and east and is connected to Egypt to the south. The Gaza Strip, along with the western bank of the Jordan River, is currently Palestinian territory outside Israeli occupation and under Palestinian control.
One of the most notable features associated with Gaza is its high population density. The Gaza Strip, with a population of over 2.3 million people, is considered one of the most densely populated areas in the world. This feature, however, is not natural or historical, but rather a result of Israel’s occupation policies. The majority of the Gaza population consists of Arab refugees who fled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. By 1967, the population of the Gaza Strip had multiplied sixfold, and since then, it has been steadily growing. Poverty, unemployment, and unfavorable living conditions are palpable phenomena in this area.
The land of Palestine and the port of Gaza, due to their geographical position as a connecting point between Asia and Africa, have historically been focal points of attention for major powers and witnessed the rise and fall of empires and shifts in power dynamics. Due to its long history and unique position as one of the crucial ports in the Eastern Mediterranean, Gaza has been renowned as the “Prized City” in Egyptian.
Gaza was conquered by the Greeks, mainly the Cretans, in the late second millennium BCE. These Greeks, known as Mycenaean Greeks, who settled here, were called Philistines (seafaring people).
Until 1300 BCE, Canaanite Arabs inhabited Palestine. From that time, migrants from the island of Crete and the Aegean Sea arrived in the region, intermingling with the local Arabs and becoming known as Palestinians.
In 732 BCE, the Assyrians became rulers of Palestine, and in 605 BCE, the Chaldeans occupied the area. In 538 BCE, the rule of the Jews ended for the second time, and it is said that 50,000 Jews were exiled to Babylon. In 538 BCE, Cyrus the Great, the third Persian king of the Achaemenid Empire, conquered Palestine and liberated the exiled Jews in Babylon.
For about 200 years, Palestine, including Gaza, was under Iranian control until it was the turn of Alexander the Great to march and conquer the region. The Iranian garrison in Gaza withstood Alexander’s siege, but due to the lack of reinforcements, it was defeated in the end. Two centuries later, the Romans ousted Alexander’s successors from Gaza until the region came under Muslim control in 637 CE. Gaza saw other rulers come and go until, ultimately, in 1516 CE, the Muslim Ottomans took control of this region.
Britain is involved
In 1877, the first session of the Ottoman Parliament was held in Istanbul, and the first representatives of Palestine were elected to this assembly from the city of Al-Quds. In 1882, the Ottoman government prohibited the sale of lands in Palestine to foreign Jews.
In 1896, Abdul Hamid II, the then Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, rejected Herzl’s proposal suggesting the granting of Palestine to the Jews, stating, “I cannot turn a blind eye to any part of the Ottoman Empire... I cannot consent to the vivisection of a living body.”
In 1897, the first Zionist Congress was held in the Swiss city of Basel, marking the beginning of the activities of the World Zionist Organization.
In 1916, the Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed, splitting up the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France.
In January 1918, following the Ottoman defeat by the British in World War I, all of Palestine was occupied under the command of Edmund Allenby, a British general of Jewish origin, and Palestine came under British administration until 1947. In 1920, the British civil administration in Palestine was established, and Herbert Samuel, a Jewish man, was selected as the first High Commissioner of Britain for Palestine.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly officially recognized the presence of Zionists in Palestine by approving the Partition Plan. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its existence at 4:00 p.m. in Tel Aviv. Shortly after, the United States recognized it.
Oslo, a peaceless agreement
From that date until 1993, when the Oslo Peace Agreement was signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, the land of Palestine, the Arab world, and Israel witnessed various events, including the triple wars. However, the Oslo Peace Agreement has not brought peace so far as Israel’s excessive demands remain unabated. According to the Gaza-Jericho Autonomy Agreement (Oslo I Agreement), a form of self-governance with limited powers was granted to Palestinians in 60% of the Gaza Strip and the city of Jericho on the western bank of the Jordan River. Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO, entered Gaza for the first time in 27 years in early July 1994.
Following the temporary peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon in 1949 after the first Arab-Israeli war, control of the Gaza Strip was handed over to Egypt. This situation continued until 1967 when Arabs suffered defeat by Israel for the second time, and Israel reoccupied the Gaza Strip. Israelis had established settlements in the Gaza Strip over the years, and nearly 8,000 Jews were living in this area. This situation, however, led to heightened tensions between Palestinians and Israelis. Despite the 1994 Oslo Agreement, which had relinquished the Gaza Strip to the PLO, Israelis remained present in the strip and in the constructed settlements until 2005. However, in that year, Israel withdrew its soldiers and non-military personnel from Gaza.
Hamas control of Gaza
A year after the Palestinian parliamentary elections, the Hamas movement secured the majority of seats, appointing Ismail Haniyeh, a prominent figure within Hamas, as the leader of its self-governing body. Tensions between Hamas and the Fatah movement led to clashes between the two Palestinian organizations, ultimately resulting in the expulsion of Fatah members and full control of Gaza by Hamas in 2007. Subsequently, Israel quickly imposed a blockade on Gaza, severely restricting the movement of goods and people in and out of the region. This blockade persists to this day, earning Gaza the reputation of being the world’s largest open-air prison.
From 2008 to the present, the Israelis launched numerous harsh attacks against the people of Gaza, resulting in the deaths of over 17,000 Gazans. Notable among these attacks was the operation known as Cast Lead, which took place from December 27, 2008, to January 17, 2009, claiming the lives of 1,419 Gazans. Israel’s Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, 2014, and continued until August 26, 2014, resulting in the martyrdom of 2,100 Gazans. The most intense and destructive Israeli attack on Gaza is the ongoing operation known as Iron Swords, initiated on October 7, following Operation Protective Edge and a heavy Hamas attack on Israel. Over 13,000 innocent Gazans, mostly women and children, have been martyred in this operation.
Between 98% to 99% of the population in Gaza are Sunni Muslims, and less than 1% are Christians. While Arabic is the spoken language in Gaza, Hebrew and English are also prevalent among Palestinians.
Crimes amid international silence
Gaza, throughout its 5,000-year history, has experienced numerous ups and downs, witnessing many victories and defeats. Nonetheless, it is not unfounded to claim that the toughest and most devastating attack on this region is the recent Israeli assault, supported by the United States and other Western countries. Astonishingly, the most atrocious assault on Gaza, lasting over 40 days and resulting in the massacre of more than 13,000 people, occurred in an era marked by human rationality, development, and human rights led by the Western world, particularly the United States, amid an international silence and sometimes with the support of human rights advocates!
The number of martyrs and the amount of incurred damages and losses are significant, but undoubtedly, this is not the end point of Gaza’s history. Gaza will rise again, and perhaps the words of the Palestinian ambassador to Rabat will prove true: “Gaza is the graveyard of all invaders.”