One year ago today, Israel began its 51-day aerial and ground offensive against the besieged population of the Gaza Strip. During the military campaign, Israel concentrated the population into the center of the territory, thus exacerbating its severe density; sealed the borders; launched more than 6,000 airstrikes; and fired almost 50,000 artillery and tank shells. Under these circumstances, the results could only be devastating—and they were. The offensive killed 2,251 Palestinians, including 551 children; communities were devastated, with 142 families losing three or more members; more than 1,500 children were orphaned; more than 150,000 homes as well as 140 schools were partially or completely destroyed; and 373,000 traumatized children were left in need of psycho-social treatment.
The intervening year has brought little relief to the people of Gaza. Not a single home that was destroyed has been rebuilt, the siege remains intact, and 80 percent of the population is dependent on some form of aid for survival. Yet, amid the instability, Palestinians in Gaza can count on one certainty: Last summer’s onslaught of the Gaza Strip will be repeated with similar or greater force.
Despite the ferocity of Operation Protective Edge (Israel’s name for the onslaught), the destruction of the coastal enclave, home to nearly 2 million Palestinians, was not an exceptional policy in the face of exceptional circumstances. It is Israel’s official policy toward the Gaza Strip, and a particularly brutal extension of its broader policy toward all Palestinians.
Israel’s policies toward Palestinians are built on a set of twin axioms: to obtain maximum amount of Palestinian land with the minimum number of Palestinian people and to concentrate a maximum number of Palestinians onto a minimum amount of land. Israel removes, dispossesses, and concentrates Palestinians throughout Israel and the occupied territories regardless of their geographic residence or legal jurisdiction. It does so by martial law in the West Bank, by a mix of martial and administrative law in East Jerusalem, and by civil law in Israel. In the Gaza Strip, it does this by siege and warfare.
Israel explains its crippling siege and devastating attacks on Gaza as necessary responses to Hamas rocket fire. In this scenario, Hamas is the powerful aggressor, and there would be no conflict without it. Yet this claim does not withstand empirical and historical evidence.
Gaza, once a city-district of historic Palestine and now a “Strip,” sits on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Its harbor and fertile land has made it a focal point of trade and empire for centuries, including for the Romans, Napoleon’s France, the Mongols, and now Israel. Prior to 1948, the Gaza district contained almost 90 towns and villages. It was 38 times larger than the current Strip, making it the largest district in Mandatory Palestine (the name for the territory during the period of British rule, after World War I), until Zionist militias destroyed a majority of these towns. Upon Israel’s establishment, a truncated Gaza absorbed nearly 25 percent of Palestinian refugees exiled from their former homes, increasing the enclave’s population from 80,000 to 280,000. That number has grown to 1.8 million today, making Gaza one of the most densely populated places in the world.