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Telos Tuesdays | Gaza – Before and After October 7, 2023

This briefing was compiled by our team in November 2023 to provide context for what Gaza was like before the October 7th attack on Israel by Hamas, what conditions in Gaza have been like since, and what it means for us as peacemakers to speak out to promote the security, dignity, freedom, and human rights of ALL people. Because of the ever-changing nature of the conflict, some of this information (specifically numbers of displaced, killed, and injured people) may not reflect the most current figures.

Since the brutal attack by Hamas on October 7th that killed over 1200 Israelis and took over 200 hostages, Israel has relentlessly retaliated against Gaza, a small strip of land bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Unrelenting Israeli airstrikes and an ever-expanding ground invasion have reduced Gaza to rubble and have displaced over 1.8 million civilians. Already over 17,177 people, primarily women and children, have been killed. Entire families and bloodlines have been killed.

We saw a brief glimmer of hope with the short 7-day ceasefire in November that allowed for the release of over 100 of the hostages held by Hamas. On December 1st, the violence and suffering resumed.

As the hostilities continue, the risk of even greater escalation rises. If it spreads to Jerusalem and its sacred spaces, it has the potential to expand dramatically into a regional and global affair, which will make none us safer.

As Americans, we are implicated in the events unfolding in Gaza. The US has given more than $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel each year for nearly a decade. After October 7th, President Biden requested an additional $14.3 billion and has lifted restrictions on accessing US weapons stockpiles. That investment means the US has the agency and responsibility to use its influence to press for an alternative path.

How did we get here? Gaza prior to October 7th
Gaza is a small strip of land—only 140.9 square miles—on the Mediterranean coast. It includes Gaza City, one of the world’s oldest cities, and once housed the second-largest library in antiquity. It is home to beautiful beaches, rich history, and more than 2 million people.

But Gaza’s larger story took a dramatic turn during the 1948 war and the Palestinian Nakba, when Palestinian refugees from nearby towns and villages in what is today Israel were forced to flee and found refuge in the Gaza Strip. As a result, the area’s population tripled almost overnight. Today, more than 1.7 million people in Gaza are descendants of those refugees. With over 2.2 million residents, over half of whom are children, Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

Gaza: 2005-2023
In 2005, after decades of direct military occupation and illegal settlements, Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, removing thousands of Israeli settlers and military forces from within the area. Crucially, the Israeli government refused to withdraw from Gaza as part of a negotiated diplomatic solution, and instead withdrew unilaterally. A year later, Hamas won elections and gained control of the Strip by 2007, and Israel implemented a complete blockade of the area.

For nearly 20 years, Israel, in coordination with Egypt, has controlled all air, land and sea borders of the Gaza Strip, restricting the number and type of people and goods allowed in and out. This situation has led to the near collapse of the Gazan economy and a massive drop in the number of people allowed to leave Gaza for work or medical treatment. As a result, many prominent human rights NGOs have described Gaza as the world’s largest “open-air prison.”

Many critics of Israeli policy note that Israel has used Hamas control of Gaza to drive divisions among Palestinians. Even Netanyahu saw Hamas rule in Gaza as a strategic asset for Israel, as it reduced international pressure to negotiate a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, it gave the right wing elements of his coalition more room to build more settlements in the West Bank, especially around Jerusalem. We see this happening now.

During these years, the Strip has been run internally by Hamas, a militant Islamist group that is considered a terror organization by the US, Israel, and the European Union. Hamas has curtailed rights to free speech, brutally repressed dissent, and promulgated a violent ideology that disregards the humanity of Israelis. There have not been elections in Gaza since 2006.

Escalations through the years
Following Hamas’ election in 2006, a series of intense and devastating escalations between Israel and Hamas has ravaged the area. These conflicts have been characterized by extensive military operations and airstrikes from the Israeli military and rockets from Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups targeting Israeli civilians in southern Israel and beyond. This violence has led to significant casualties in the Gaza Strip, casualties across southern and central Israel, as well as destruction in both Gaza and Israeli villages bordering the area.

According to the UN, between 2006 and October 7, 2023, 5,365 Palestinians were killed and nearly 63,000 injured, and 170 Israelis were killed with more than 4,000 injured in Gaza or Israel proper.

Life under Hamas’ governance has further exacerbated the injustice of the blockade and the violent conflicts with Israel. Hamas has historically used funds and materials for development for its own militant purposes, withholding those resources from Palestinian civilians. At the same time, the amount of materials allowed into Gaza is woefully inadequate for the population, and Israeli airstrikes have destroyed civilian infrastructure like power plants and water treatment centers.

After 16 years of blockade, as of 2022, the unemployment rate in Gaza was among the highest globally at 46.6%, with youth unemployment at 62.5%​​​​. The Gaza Power Plant could only meet about 50% of the region’s electricity demand resulting in power cuts averaging 11 hours per day, and 97% of water in Gaza was contaminated and unfit for human consumption, posing serious health risks, especially to children​​

Gaza now: Ongoing catastrophe
The situation since October 7th has been nothing short of catastrophic. In response to the Hamas terrorist attack that killed over 1200 Israelis and took over 200 hostages, Israel has relentlessly carried out airstrikes targeting Gazan residential towers, hospitals, refugee camps, bakeries, schools, and other civilian infrastructure. Over half of all housing structures have been damaged or destroyed, and over 1.8 million people (or 80% of the population) have been displaced, including tens of thousands who have been injured.

Since October 7th, over 17,177 people have been killed the majority of which are women and children. Thousands more are still missing under the rubble. Since the end of the temporary ceasefire on December 1st, the situation has only worsened.
There is no going back to life in Gaza prior to October 7th.

Food supplies and potable water are nearly exhausted, and in some places have completely run out. Without fuel, electricity, medical supplies, and water, over 18 hospitals are inoperable. In Al-Shifa hospital, which has been surrounded by Israeli military forces, ICU patients, including neonatal infants, have died because of the lack of electricity to power life-saving technology.

Already pushed to the south by the Israeli military ground invasion, refugees fear that even if it was possible to flee to Egypt to escape the violence, they would never be allowed to return to their land and homes in Gaza. This fear has particular resonance as the majority of Gazans are refugees from southern Israel who fled during the Nakba in 1948 and were never allowed to return.

There is no safe place for refugees to flee in Gaza. Even in the South, where the Israeli army has told civilians to go, homes, refugee camps, and civilian infrastructure have been bombed and the army is advancing a ground invasion. Hundreds of thousands remain trapped, awaiting their death.

The people of Gaza have suffered terrible injustices, even before October 7th. Now, the situation is catastrophic.

This must end. All parties must be held to account under international law.

War crimes do not justify war crimes. Revenge is not justice. We cannot bomb our way to peace.

We ask that you join us as we continue to speak up and call for a permanent ceasefire, a return of all Israeli hostages, the protection of civilians, an end to collective punishment, and expansion of humanitarian aid into Gaza. We know that this is just the first step, but it is crucial to ending the current catastrophe and moving towards a lasting, just solution anchored by the protection of human rights for all.

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