The news over the last couple of weeks has been dominated by conflict between Israel, the Gaza Strip and the ever growing loss of life. This appears to be a battle which is regularly inflamed and causes a serious polarisation of the International community. But what do you actually know about the Gaza Strip and the everyday battle for survival?
Where is the Gaza Strip?
The Gaza Strip is an area along the Mediterranean Sea which borders Israel and Egypt. In total it is around 25 miles long and between 4 and 8 miles wide with a total area of some 139 miles². However it is one of the most heavily populated areas of the world with around 1.4 million people crammed into this tiny “state”.
Is the Gaza Strip an officially recognised state?
Rather bizarrely the Gaza Strip (which derives its name from the capital city Gaza) is not officially recognised by the vast majority of countries outside of the Arab nations and has no sovereignty. Over the years this small area of the Middle East has changed hands and changed control on many many occasions with conflict still continuing to this day.
Who administers law and order?
The Gaza Strip has close associations with the West Bank area which is governed by the Palestinian Authority. It had actually been under the administration of the Palestinian Authority’s until June 2007 when the Hamas terrorist movement effectively seized control of the area and reopened long-term hostilities with the state of Israel. The Palestinian civil war in 2007 between Hamas (Islamic resistance movement) and Fatah (Palestinian liberation movement) ended with the Gaza Strip completely overrun by Hamas supporters.
However, this is where the situation starts to get very complicated!
While officially Israel has no say in the administration of the Gaza Strip, due to a number of international agreements over the years, the Israeli government dictate what and who goes in and out of the country. They control airspace over the Gaza Strip, all entry points into and out of the Gaza Strip, the movement of goods in and out of the area as well as immigration and emigration paperwork. In effect Israel has the future of the Gaza Strip in its hands and the ability to cut the region off from the outside world. A recent attempt to build a new sea port, to enable the import and export of goods in and out of the Gaza Strip, was reduced to rubble by the Israeli government which also controls the economy of the region.
The economy of the Gaza Strip
When you consider that the economic output from the Gaza Strip fell by around one third between 1992 and 1996 this is the real impact which the ongoing friction and regular battles have on the economy. There have been numerous accusations of mismanagement and corruption aimed at the former Palestinian government (prior to the takeover by Hamas) where large bribes were allegedly taken in exchange for the shipment of goods.
Prior to the infiltration of the Hamas movement into the Gaza Strip in 2007 over 25,000 residents of the area made the daily trip to Israel for employment. When Hamas took over the region and reignited the ongoing conflict the Israeli government decided to close all borders with the Gaza Strip. When you also take into account that the Egyptian government, under an agreement from decades ago, decided to close the only other entry point into the region, this has given the Israeli authorities ultimate control of the Gaza Strip without actually having any Israeli diplomats or military on the land.
Life in the Gaza Strip
Even prior to the recent hostilities life in the Gaza Strip was very tough with unemployment very high and international investment in the region very low. Over 60% of the population live in poverty with little likelihood of a serious change in this figure in the short to medium term. Not only do the Israeli authorities control all goods which are imported to and exported from the Gaza Strip but they also supply energy to the region which they have in the past switched off with no notice.
Of the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip almost 1 million are UN registered refugees with no official home. The 1948 Arab-Israeli war is blamed by many for the situation we see today as the vast majority of those now living in the Gaza Strip lost their homes during the conflict. The friction between the Jewish-based state of Israel and the Muslim dominated West Bank and Gaza Strip is the underlying reason for the inexplicably high levels of conflict over the years.
The future of the Gaza Strip
The recent hostilities in the area seem to have been provoked by a string of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. These attacks appear to have strayed further into Israel than ever before bringing more and more of the population under threat. The Israeli authorities reacted swiftly to this new threat with a serious aerial bombardment of Hamas positions, which went on for many days, as well as a much rumoured land-based attack which saw Israeli forces enter the Gaza Strip on 3 January 2008.
Despite international pressure on both parties to agree a ceasefire, Israel appears determined to wipe out Hamas once and for all although many innocent civilians have been caught up and become victims of the violence. Even the likes of the US, which has been highly supportive of Israel for many years, have been attempting to broker a long-term peace agreement although there is little sign of a breakthrough at this moment in time.
As you can imagine, in an area of the world that is not officially recognised as under the ownership of any one party, the economy and property market are virtually non-existent. Such is the ferocity of the fighting over the years that many prominent buildings, local authority operations and houses have been obliterated time and time again. Many people believe we will never see peace between the Gaza Strip and Israel although some people live in hope that pressure from various leading countries around the world will one day see a long-term peace agreement.
Until that day, life in this part of the world will be a struggle with very little in the way of an economy or investment markets.