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Gaza under siege

Gaza Buffer
Gaza Buffer
Gaza Remote Sniper Nest
Gaza Remote Sniper Nest

For thousands of years, Gaza has been an important seaport and trade community, exporting agricultural produce to other areas of historic Palestine and serving as a way station for traders traveling along the Egypt-Syria trade route. Located in the southwest most corner of historic Palestine, Gaza is home to a wealth of natural resources including fertile agricultural land, rich fishing grounds, and large offshore natural gas reserves. Gaza also has beautiful beaches, a rich history, and a moderate climate, all of which make it a potentially attractive tourist destination. Add to this a highly educated and youthful population (60 percent under the age of 18, and over 40 percent age 14 or younger), and you might expect that Gaza’s development prospects were positive.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Gaza’s wealth is largely unreachable as a direct result of Israel’s occupation and blockade. Most agricultural land is located in places declared closed military areas (“no go” zones) or has been destroyed during military attacks. Access to traditional fishing grounds is restricted by the Israeli navy. Development of the natural gas reserves is forbidden by the Israeli government. All of this while the movement of people into and out of Gaza is severely restricted and both the import of goods and the export of products from Gaza is strictly limited.

Military attacks over the last 16 years have also resulted in the near complete destruction of Gaza’s business and manufacturing base. As a result, the unemployment rate among Gaza’s 1.7 million residents is over 38 percent and poverty rates are even higher. More than 80 percent of the population is now dependent on international assistance for survival. Yet the people of Gaza have not lost hope, continuing to dream about and work for a better future.

This resource provides additional information about Gaza and the impact of Israeli policies on the people living there.

Is Gaza occupied?

While Israel has argued that it ceased occupying Gaza in 2005 when it unilaterally redeployed its troops outside of Gaza and withdrew its settlers from Gaza, Gaza continues to be occupied in accordance with international law and in the views of the international community, including the U.S., the Europena Union, and the U.N. Israel’s continued responsibility as the occupying power in Gaza results from several factors. First, Israel continues to exert effective control over Gaza including control of the borders, airspace, waterways, population registry, currency, the movement of people, trade, electrical supply, water supply, and more. Second, Israel maintains and exerts a right to conduct regular military operations in Gaza, giving it effective military control over the territory. Under international law, effective control is the key measures of occupation.

Who is the ruling authority in Gaza?

In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections and took control of the Palestinian government. The international community, led by Israel and the U.S., quickly imposed sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority because Hamas is considered a terrorist organization. A failed attempt by Fatah to push Hamas out of government in 2007 led to armed conflict between the two factions, which resulted in Hamas gaining control of Gaza. Since 2007, Hamas has been the de facto government in Gaza, although its government is not recognized by the international community. In 2104 Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement whereby power in Gaza was to return to the Palestinian Authority.  However, implementation of the reconciliation agreement was ended by the Operation Protective Edge which began shortly after the reconciliation agreement was formalized. 

What limits are placed over the movement of both people and goods into and out of Gaza?

The movement of both goods and people into and out of Gaza is severely restricted by Israel and has been restricted for decades. Prior to 1991, Palestinians could move with relative freedom between the West Bank and Gaza. In 1991, Israel imposed a general closure over the occupied Palestinian territory and started to require that all Palestinians acquire military issued permits if they wanted to move between the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza. This permit regime was formalized as a part of the Oslo Accords and until today, Palestinian movement into and out of the Gaza Strip (and other parts of the occupied Palestinian territory) is only possible for those Palestinians who have received travel permits from the Israeli military.

After the start of the second intifada in September 2000, Israel strengthened the general closure that was already in place over the occupied Palestinian territory, more closely regulating travel by Palestinians and placing increased restrictions on the import and export of goods. Restrictions in place over Gaza were further tightened in 2005 when Israel unilaterally withdrew its settlers and redeployed its troops from Gaza. Following the redeployment, Israel placed new and increased restrictions over the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza.

In 2006, following the Hamas victory in parliamentary elections, Israel and the international community enforced sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, including limitations on imports to and exports from all of the occupied Palestinian territory. In 2007, following the Hamas-Fatah split that saw Hamas seize control of the Gaza Strip, sanctions against the Palestinian Authority were ended in the West Bank, but strengthened in Gaza. These strengthened sanctions effectively placed a blockade over Gaza, severely limiting exports and imports and banning nearly all travel by residents of Gaza. Between 2007 and 2010, even basic necessities such as cooking gas, water filtration equipment, toilet paper, tooth paste, clothes, noodles, candy, and spices were blocked from entering Gaza. In 2010, the Israeli government announced an “easing” of the blockade and allowed for a limited increase in imports such as clothing and food. However, severe restrictions on the import of many goods including raw materials necessary for industrial production, construction materials, medical supplies, fuel and many consumer goods were never lifted, and there was no easing on the restrictions imposed over exports from Gaza and the movement of people out of Gaza.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains dire, and the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations both make clear that the blockade constitutes collective punishment under international law.

What is the impact of the blockade on people in Gaza?

The blockade has had a devastating impact on the Gaza population, affecting all aspects of life. According to U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (U.N. OCHA), as of June 2015:

  • Only 451 people per day were allowed out of Gaza via Israel in the first half of 2015, down from 26,000 per day in 2000.
  • Between January and May 2015, only 418 truckloads of goods were allowed out of Gaza.
  • 57 percent of Gaza households are food insecure, and approximately 80 percent receive some form of food assistance.
  • During 2014 Gaza's unemployment rate stood at 43 percent, the highest unemployment rate in the world. Youth unemployment was over 60 percent.
  • Due to fuel shortages and damaged or destroyed electrical Infrastructure, there are power outages for up to 16 hours per day in most areas of Gaza.
  • 70 percent of households in Gaza receive running water for only 6 to 8 hours once every two to four days.
  • Over 90 percent of the water extracted from the Gaza aquifer is unsafe for human consumption, while needed filtration equipment cannot be imported to Gaza.
  • Nearly 90 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage is dumped into the sea off of Gaza every day, while equipment needed to build new or maintain existing treatment facilities are banned from entering Gaza.
  • Two years after the end of Operation Protective Edge, over 75,000 Palestinians remained homeless with only 16 percent of homes destroyed during the attack rebuilt.

It must be emphasized that, despite the terrible human suffering caused by the blockade, the situation in Gaza should not be viewed as a humanitarian crisis that can be resolved through the provision of international aid and assistance. Rather, the current situation in Gaza is a political crisis that can only be resolved through political action. All of the impacts outlined above are the direct result of Israeli actions and policies, and ending the crisis in Gaza therefore requires ending the blockade and Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territory, which are at the root of the crisis.

What is the Gaza “restricted access area”?

The Gaza “restricted access area” (often referred to as the buffer zone) is an area along the wall that has been built between Gaza and Israel. In this area any Palestinian can be shot on sight by the Israeli military. The restricted access area was first created during the second Intifada when Israel began enforcing a 150-meter no-go zone along the Eastern border of Gaza. At that time Israel also began systematically demolishing homes and structures in areas near the Gaza borders in the north and south of the Gaza Strip. In May 2009, the Israeli military announced an expansion of the restricted access area in leaflets they dropped on Gaza that warned people that anyone coming within 300 meters of the border could be shot. Additional homes and structures in this area were subsequently destroyed. In addition to the official 300-meter restricted access area, Israeli forces conduct regular raids one and two kilometers into Gaza and constantly monitor all areas up to two kilometers into Gaza. The land included in the restricted access area accounts for 17 percent of the total Gaza land area and includes 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land.

Did the 2005 Israeli redeployment from Gaza end Israeli military operations in Gaza?

No, while Israeli did withdraw its military bases from Gaza and redeployed its forces to bases outside of Gaza in 2005, it continues to carry out daily military operations in and attacks on Gaza. According to Defense for Children International—Palestine, during the first year after the disengagement the Israeli military fired over 15,000 shells into Gaza, conducted over 550 airstrikes on Gaza, and carried out regular military incursions into Gaza. A total of 525 Palestinians were killed and 1,527 injured during these attacks. This period included two major military operations. Operation Summer Rains during June 2006 left at least 256 Palestinians dead and 848 injured. At least 85 more Palestinians were killed in Gaza during a November 2006 military offensive which was codenamed Operation Autumn Clouds.

The next major Israeli military operation in Gaza was Operation Warm Winter in February and March 2008. During this attack Israel killed 120 (34 children) and injured 269 (at least 63 children) Palestinians. A ceasefire negotiated between Hamas and Israel in June 2008 dramatically lowered violence until Israel killed six Palestinians during an incursion into Gaza in November 2008. Tit for tat attacks between Gaza and Israel escalated over the next month until Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. More than 1,400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, were killed by Israel during Operation Cast Lead and over 16,000 Gazans were permanently displaced from their homes which were destroyed during the attack. Finally, Israel carried out Operation Pillar of Cloud in Gaza during November 2012 killing 168 Palestinians and destroying hundreds of homes.

In July 2014 Israel began Operation Protective Edge. According to U.N. OCHA, 2,220 Palestinians in Gaza, including more than 550 children, were killed during this operation and more than 400,000 people were displaced.  As of 2016, over 75,000 Palestinians in Gaza remained displaced as a result of Operation Protective Edge. Between all of these operations Israel conducted military incursions into Gaza or fired into Gaza using ground artillery, naval forces, and airstrikes on a daily basis. These daily attacks on Gaza by the Israeli military continue.

What about the Palestinian firing of rockets at Israel from Gaza?

Thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel over the years causing both physical and psychological harm to Israelis. AFSC agrees that the firing of all rockets from Gaza into Israel, particularly into civilian areas, must end.

However, we believe that it is important to look at the firing of rockets by Palestinian armed groups in context. For example, of the grad rockets, homemade rockets, and mortars fired by Palestinians between January 1 and November 1, 2012, approximately 70% were fired during three distinct periods of escalation in March, June, and late October. Each of these escalations correlates with an assassination/killing, incursion, or other Israeli military action. Only a small percentage of the other rockets and mortars that were fired during 2012 were fired in isolation from Israeli military actions in Gaza.

During that same time period Israel carried out military invasions of Gaza several times a week. These invasions involve the entry of Israeli tanks, armored personnel carriers, jeeps, and ground forces into Gaza where they destroy agricultural property, destroy homes, attack armed groups, arrest wanted individuals, and attack civilian targets. In addition to these invasions, Israel airstrikes, naval shelling/fire, and shelling and firing from ground forces targeted locations in Gaza several times a week.

During the period between Jan. 1 and Nov. 6 2012, 19 Israelis were injured by Palestinian attacks originating from Gaza. During the same period 71 Palestinians were killed and over 300 injured by Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Following the end of the November 2012 conflict between the Israeli military and Hamas, a ceasefire went into effect whereby Hamas agreed to refrain from firing rockets and Israel agreed to lift the siege. From the signing of that ceasefire until June 2014, Hamas fired no rockets into Israel. It also set up a special police unit to stop the firing of rockets by other groups. This decreased rocket and mortar fire from Gaza to record low levels in 2013. In addition, no Israelis were killed or Injured by rockets fired from Gaza during 2013. During the same period Israel continued regular attacks on Gaza and did nothing to end Its siege. Hamas rocket fire only resumed in 2014 after Israel carried out several attacks that killed Hamas operatives and civilians in Gaza and began a systematic attack on Hamas in the West Bank. A ceasefire, observed by Hamas, was resumed after the end of Operation Protective Edge. In 2015 only 25 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza, none by Hamas.  

It should be clear that the firing of rockets is intertwined with these ongoing Israeli military actions in Gaza. Rocket fire and violence from Gaza will not be ended through the use of increased military force, rather ending violence by armed Palestinian groups requires engagement with them and ending the blockade and the occupation of the Palestinian territory.  

What role is the U.S. playing in this situation?

The United States is complicit in the current situation, playing a key role in sustaining both Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory and the Gaza blockade. Both the current and past administrations have given Israel a green light to carry out attacks on Gaza and have asserted an Israeli right to self defense while failing to recognize an equal right to self defense for Palestinians. The U.S. also continues to support the isolation of Hamas and the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza, which it views as a legitimate tool for undermining Hamas, regardless of the blockades’ impact on the general Gaza population. The U.S.’s refusal to engage with Hamas has also led it to actively oppose reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority through a threatened cut in all assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it reconciles with Hamas. This policy has helped entrench political divisions within the Palestinian polity.

Further, the United States provides more than $3 billion in military assistance to Israel each year. This unconditional U.S. military assistance subsidizes and allows Israel to maintain its occupation in Gaza. More specifically, weaponry purchased by Israel from the U.S. using U.S. military assistance, including missiles and white phosphorus shells, are used by Israel during its attacks on Gaza. Even while calling for an end to violence in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the U.S. government approved the transfer of even more weapons and money to the Israeli military. This policy brings nothing but harm to Gaza and also undermines the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.

How are corporations complicit in helping Israel maintain its occupation of Gaza?

Israel’s military control over Gaza and its attacks on Gaza have all been facilitated through support provided by a number of international companies. These companies include:

The Boeing Company: The Boeing Company was listed in 2012 as the second biggest arms supplier worldwide. Israel has used F-15 fighter jets and Apache AH-64 Longbow helicopters provided by Boeing in attacks on Gaza. Headquartered in Chicago, the company also has important production facilities outside Seattle, Los Angeles, and St. Louis.  

Hewlett-Packard Company: A global technology, computing, and IT service provider, HP administers the Israeli navy's electronic infrastructure and provides all PCs used by the Israeli military. HP technologies also are used in Israeli military checkpoints and in managing the Israeli occupation's population registry. Hewlett-Packard is based in Palo Alto, California. 

Elbit Systems: Elbit Systems is a defense-electronics company headquartered in Israel. It is one of the primary suppliers of weapons and surveillance systems to the Israeli army, including the military UAV Skylark and Hermes drones used in Gaza. The company is also a prime contractor in the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. Elbit Sytems of America has its primary manufacturing site and home office in Fort Worth, Texas.

Lockheed Martin: The world's largest arms manufacturer supplies Israel with F-16 fighter jets, Longbow Hellfire missiles, and AH-64 Apache Longbow helicopter parts.  These are the main weapons used in the attacks on Gaza. Lockhead is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, and has key production sites in Denver, Houston, New Orleans, and San Diego.

A longer list of companies complicit in abuses in Gaza can be found at:

What can you do?

Demand an immediate end to the siege on Gaza: U.S. government policy officially supports Israel’s continued siege on Gaza and the Isolation of Hamas. This is a situation that must end. Contact your government representatives and demand that they call for an immediate change in U.S. government policy and support both the complete end to Israel’s siege on Gaza and engagement with Hamas. The siege is illegal and immoral and must end. Additionally, if any solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is going to be found all political factions including Hamas must be at the table and involved in reaching an agreement. U.S. policy must change.

Join the Palestinian led BDS movement: Support or organize a BDS campaign against any of the companies listed above or others that support Israel’s occupation or violence in Palestine and Israel. For more information about companies complicit in Israel's occupation and violations of international law in Palestine, check out AFSC's online "Investigate" screening tool. The tool includes information on a variety of campaigns and companies and while allowing individuals to screen their portfolios to learn more about their investments. To learn more about specific campaigns in the U.S. that you can support including boycotts targeting Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and G4S check out the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation BDS resource page.

Learn more

The following organizations in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel address and challenge Israel’s policies on Gaza:

About AFSC

Since 1948, AFSC has worked in the U.S., Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territory with Palestinians, Israelis, and other committed activists to support nonviolence, challenge oppression, and (since 1970) to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. This work is guided our “Principles for a Just and Lasting Peace in Palestine and Israel.” These principles support the implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law and call for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, implementation of refugees’ right of return, equality, and justice for Palestinians and Israelis.


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