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As Israeli bombs are dropped throughout the Gaza Strip and Hamas missiles are launched into Israel, the media coverage has focused on discussing Gaza as a known yet ill-defined entity. We are made aware of  roughly where it is (next to Israel), who lives there (Hamas) and what happens there (rockets are made and launched). But this reductionist view of Gaza doesn’t provide any insights into the common, everyday lived experience of the 1.8 million Palestinians who live in the 360 sq. km that makes up the Gaza Strip.

The lived experience of many Gazans can be communicated through the basic demographic indicators that reveal a place that is isolated, crowded, young and poor. But it must be kept in mind that the set of circumstances that define daily life in Gaza are neither the result of chance nor happenstance; rather, the conditions found in Gaza are the result of conscious decisions by political leaders in Palestine, Israel, Egypt and the United States.

Gaza is restricted by a blockade.

The Gaza Strip has been referred to by some as “the world’s largest open-air prison” because its borders are tightly controlled by its neighbors.

Israel has prohibited air traffic in Gaza since the 1993 Oslo Accords. Similarly, access to Gaza by sea has been heavily restricted by an Israeli blockade (represented in orange on the map) since the mid-1990s.

The land borders of Gaza are primarily managed by Israel and, along the Israel-Gaza border (represented in red on the map), Israel has erected a network of barriers and crossing points that control Palestinian ability to enter and exit the Gaza Strip.

Along the Egypt-Gaza border (represented in green on the map), the Egyptian government with Israeli assistance constructed a network of barriers to prevent Palestinians from entering Egypt. One checkpoint, Rafah, is controlled by the Egyptians and effectively offers the only legal entry and exit point for Palestinians living in Gaza. Egypt, often at odds with the ruling Hamas party in Gaza, has regularly closed the Rafah crossing, thus eliminating any opportunity for Palestinians to leave Gaza

Palestinians Crossing at Erez,
Daily Average

Erez Exits 2000-2013

Sources: UN OCHA-OPT

Truckloads Exiting Karem Shalom
January – May

Kerem Shalom Exits 2007 - 2013

Sources: UN OCHA-OPT

Gaza is densely populated

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. At 5,046 people per square kilometer, the Gaza Strip ranks only behind Macao, Monaco, Singapore and Hong Kong in population density for a country or semi-autonomous region.

The limited territory of the Gaza Strip (360 km2) provides little space for civilians to move out of harms way during military strikes waged by the Israeli military. Furthermore, Israeli air strikes into this limited territory with high population density ensures that innocent civilians will be harmed during military operations regardless of the depth of planning, oversight and review by the Israeli military.

Countries / Territories with
High Population Density, 2013

Gaza PopDens2

Gaza is young.

The Gaza Strip has an estimated population of 1.8 million according to the US Census Bureau. 1.16 million – or nearly 64% of all Gazans – are 24 years of age or younger. Only 74,000 (4.1%) of Palestinians living in Gaza are 60 or older.

By way of comparison, in Israel those under 24 years of age represent 43% of the total population and those over 60 represent 15% of the total population. In the United States, 33% of Americans are 24 and younger; 20% are 60 and older.

The result, for Gazans, is a population that is heavily skewed towards its younger age cohorts. When combined with extreme poverty and increasingly curtailed social and physical mobility, the youth-dominated population of Gaza is a problematic mix.

Sex-Age Pyramid for Gaza, 2014

Gaza - Age-Sex Pyramid 2014

Sex-Age Pyramid for US, 2014

US Pop Pyramid 2014

Gaza is poor.

Gaza is economically crippled. This is due in large part to tight control and heavy restrictions placed upon the free flow of people, goods and money in and out of the Gaza Strip by Israel. Through its control of the Israel-Gaza border and the naval blockade of Gazan ports, Israel is able to not only monitor what enters and exits Gaza, but also determine whether or not the crossings are open or closed. Throughout the conflict, Israel has repeatedly closed the crossings in order to achieve political or military goals. This, of course, has resulted in Gazans digging tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border and smuggling people, goods, money and weapons into the Gaza Strip.

By any metric, Gaza is in a worse economic position when compared to the West Bank. Economic output, as measured by GDP, is more than three times less than the West Bank. Unemployment is nearly twice as high as the West Bank and average wages are nearly a third lower. When considering that more than 60% of Gazans are 24 and younger and this age cohort experiences some of the greatest levels of unemployment, it is not difficult to begin to comprehend the hopelessness that plagues Gazan daily life.

Economic Indicators, 2013

Gaza Economic Table

Sources: UN OCHA OPT

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  Posts

October 18th, 2015

Mapping the Dead in the Latest Israeli-Palestinian Violence

Basma Atassi at Al-Jazeera has put together a great storymap that explores the latest violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Complete with pictures, text and place location, this resource allows you to get a good sense of where, when and how the violence is occurring. Definitely worth a look.

October 16th, 2015

Netanyahu, Context & Responsibility

At the center of this current iteration of violence in Israel and Palestine stands the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has reacted to this violence as if he was surprised that Palestinians would resort to violence when for decades he has done everything within his power to thwart the establishment and growth of a responsible Palestinian civil society, expanded settlements with the explicit aim of crippling an emerging Palestinian state, and undermining the responsible leadership of Mahmoud Abbas at every possible opportunity.

October 8th, 2015

Abbas, Netanyahu and Responsible Leadership

Abbas is demonstrating his commitment to deescalating tensions and calming the violence that is a direct result of Netanyahu’s persistent efforts to whip Israeli society into a panicked frenzy about an existential threat lurking behind every corner.

June 30th, 2015

Our Dictator in Cairo – Abdel Fatah el-Sisi

So, once again, the foreign policy of the US has chosen perceived immediate stability over the somewhat more bumpy and unpredictable evolution of democracy in the Middle East. It’s not the first time we’ve done this… it’s sort of our thing at this point… we’re pro’s out it.

June 22nd, 2015

The Many Victims at Mother Emmanuel

The problem with Gosnell and others who make these arguments is that they believe intentionality serves as some magical “Get out of Jail Free” card that absolves perpetrators of the violence they commit. Further, and in many ways far more problematic, is the realization that Gosnell and others only want to use this logical canard to absolve themselves or other like them. No such compassion regarding intentionality and the multiplicity of victims derived from violence will ever be used with the families of the 9-11 hijackers. In the end, the fundamental mistake that Gosnell and others make over and over again is that they focus on issues of intentionality rather than on issues of responsibility.

March 4th, 2015

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Congress

There are two things to never forget when considering Netanyahu’s views of regional threats. First, he is desperately seeking his “Churchill moment”. Second, he has a record of being blinded by his own biases and is never, ever a sober analyst of a situation

February 16th, 2015

Cursed Be The Peacemakers?

This video, produced by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, has been released as part of the current Israeli political contest where the extreme right wing of Israel is attempting to maintain the rightist complexion of the Israeli government. For me, the truly offensive aspect of this video is how it makes the case that working for peace between Israelis and Palestinians or defending Palestinian and Israeli human rights somehow makes you a threat to the country.

February 14th, 2015

The Danger of Molly White’s Islamophobia

Rep. White is the new poster child for the anti-Muslim bigotry, Islamic hatred and Islamophobia that is so deeply embedded in American society that it can hide in plain sight.

July 15th, 2014

In Focus: The Gaza Strip

As Israeli bombs are dropped throughout the Gaza Strip and Hamas missiles are launched into Israel, the media coverage has focused on discussing Gaza as a known yet ill-defined entity. We are made aware of roughly where it is (next to Israel), who lives there (Hamas) and what happens there (rockets are made and launched). But this reductionist view of Gaza doesn’t provide any insights into the common, everyday lived experience of the 1.8 million Palestinians who live in the 360 sq. km that makes up the Gaza Strip.

July 14th, 2014

Middle East News Review #28

The Middle East was plagued with news of violence this week. In Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Libya, episodes of violence resulted in death and destruction. Iran continued its negotiations with the US and EU this week in the hopes of reaching an agreement over the country’s nuclear program and removing the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. In Iraq, violence between the militant group ISIS and the Baghdad government reached new heights as 29 people were found massacred in an apartment and Human Rights Watch condemned the government for mass executions carried out earlier this year. The direct physical violence in Iraq was mirrored this week with political turmoil as the government of Nouri al-Maliki erupted into conflict with the semi-autonomous Kurdish government.