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Goodbye Gaza! Part 1: Let’s Talk Territory


So what in the living hell has been happening this month in the area referred to as Palestine, and why is it so important to the future of this region?  I thought originally that I would start this story with Hamas and Fatah, the two political parties involved in this struggle for leadership, but now I think its best if we start with geography to set the place and space up for your understanding. So let’s take a quick tour of the area and name some names…

Gaza Strip + West Bank = Palestine = 'the Occupied Territories'Introduction to Palestine/Israel geography a.k.a. long story short: Currently, the area we refer to as Palestine is a political entity comprised of 2 separate geographic spaces, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. See map at right. Notice I call it a ‘political entity’ as opposed to a state/country.  Cause it’s not.  Yet.  There has been movement towards Palestine becoming a full sovereign state for the last decade or so, but this has not been accomplished—and the current events of June 2007 have radically complicated the process.  But I am getting ahead of myself…


The Mandate from HellAfter the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire at the conclusion if WWI, many territories that are now states in the Middle East were controlled by European powers under a system known as mandates. Of most interest to our particular story, the British had the mandate over what is now Palestine, Israel, and Jordan (see map).  During Brit control thousands of Jews were allowed to migrate to the area, fulfilling a desire to re-obtain their ancient homeland in a movement referred to as Zionism.  This went on at a slow pace for decades, but became radically accelerated after WWII, as the Nazi-sponsored Jewish Holocaust energized the Zionist movement to really formalize the whole Jewish homeland/state concept.

The UN Plan that started it allBut there was one small problem for the incoming Jews—there were already other people living there! Shitloads of people! The people we call Palestinians!  Arab/Muslim Palestinians that were living there weren’t too keen on this process, and friction between the groups developed.  The Brits saw the impending shit-storm that was brewing, so they bailed out and handed over the entire area to the UN to let them sort it out.  Subsequently, a majority of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem to be placed under international administration, and on November 29, 1947 the UN General Assembly voted 33 to 13 in favor of the 1947 UN Partition Plan. (see map) The partition plan was rejected out of hand by the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs, by the Arab League, and by most of the Arab population.

This led Jewish leaders to declare the independent State of Israel the day prior to official British withdrawal, on 14 May 1948. All the surrounding Arab countries immediately attacked it, and the ensuing 1948 Arab-Israeli War ended with the former mandate territory controlled by the State of Israel, the Kingdom of Jordan, and the Kingdom of Egypt.  Israel had successfully defended itself from the Arab attack and the US, the Europeans, and the UN recognized its sovereignty.  But the fun had just begun…

I won’t go into detail here, but you should probably at least know this: since 1948 there have been multiple wars between Israel and the neighboring Arab states over control of the territories, but the most critical one was the 1967 6-Day War. Try and figure out how the war got its name. After that, try and figure out who is buried in Grant’s tomb.  Anyway by this war’s end, Israel had gained control of eastern Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. (see map)

Oh what a difference 6 days can make!

The results of the war affect the geopolitics of the region to this day.  The Sinai Peninsula eventually reverted back to Egypt and the Golan Heights will probably soon revert back to Syria, but the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been under Israeli occupation and control since 1967…and continuing to this day.  Which brings us to the end of this chapter…

The West Bank and Gaza Strip are sometimes referred to as ‘the Occupied Territories’, as in occupied by Israel forces. The areas, and specifically the borders, are patrolled and controlled by the Israeli military–complete with check points and road blocks and high security throughout.  Some in Israel would argue that the areas were won in a war, so they should just claim them outright as part of Israel.  But many more folks (including most other countries in the world) think that perhaps those territories should be controlled by the Palestinians, and even made into a separate sovereign state…which of course was the plan that the UN had put forth back in 1947. This idea is referred to as ‘the 2-state solution’ and we’ll talk more about it later.

Look for the blue dots = Jewish settlements

All this mess has been further complicated by Israel‘s off-and-on support of the movement of Jewish settlers into these contested territories. So there are lots of Jewish settlements/towns/people throughout the West Bank, although there are not anymore in the Gaza Strip since the Israeli government forcibly removed them a few years back as a diplomatic gesture to promote the peace process. You may have also heard lately about a big-ass wall that Israel has been building around parts of the West Bank to improve security between the West Bank and Israel proper, but also protecting Jewish settlement areas within the West Bank itself. 


This shit is so confusing.  I hope this has helped. At least know what these geographic terms mean: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Israel, ‘the Occupied Territories’, and Palestine.  Now that you have the geo-vocab, we can get into the nuts and bolts of the politics. This one last map may help you understand the changing geography of what/where ‘Palestine’ is:




Watch the incredible, amazing shrinking state!

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