The Gaza Strip, the 140-square-mile stretch of land located along the Mediterranean coast between Egypt and Israel, has endured decades of protest, military operations and violence as Israel and the Palestinian Authority have both asserted the right to control the area. It is separated by Israeli territory from Jerusalem, which holds deep religious and cultural significance for both Arabs and Jews, with both Israel and Palestinians claiming Jerusalem as a capital city.
Strife has been an enduring fact of life in Gaza, from the time Israel gained official statehood in 1948 to the present day—including the 2023 coordinated assaults Hamas launched on Israel from Gaza, prompting an Israeli declaration of war on the Palestinian militant group. Here is how conflict over ownership of the region has played out over the last 70 years.
The Arab-Israeli War Grants Egypt control of Gaza
Before Israel became a nation, the majority of people dwelling in the region were Arabs who lived in what was then known as Palestine.
On May 14, 1948, Israel was officially declared a state, marking the first Jewish state in over 2,000 years. Just one day later, war broke out between Israel and five Arab countries—Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. At the end of this conflict, known as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Egypt was given control of the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Refugees Leave Jewish Israel and Settle in Gaza
In the aftermath of the war, scholars estimate that more than 700,000 Palestinians left or were forced to flee their homes in the newly formed Jewish Israel. Thousands of Palestinian refugees settled in the Gaza Strip. Many were essentially trapped between two countries—Egypt and Israel—that wouldn’t grant them easy passage.
As of 2018, most of the Palestinian inhabitants are the original 1948 war refugees and their descendants, many still living in refugee camps.
In 1967, Israel Gains Back Control During the Six-Day War
Egypt controlled Gaza until the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel seized the strip, along with several other important areas of land.
The 1993 and 1995 Oslo Peace Accords between Palestinian and Israeli leaders negotiated for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and other key areas, which happened in 2005 under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Hamas Takes Control in 2006, Leading to More Conflict with Israel
An Islamist political group called Hamas won elections and took control of Gaza in 2006. Since then, Hamas has occupied the strip, which has become a site for protests, bombings, land assaults and other acts of violence. Israel and the United States, as well as several other countries, consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Palestinians in Gaza don’t have an official army, but they do possess thousands of guns, rockets and other weapons. Since Israel controls the Gaza coastline, experts believe many of these weapons are smuggled into the region or provided by anti-Israeli allies in other countries, such as Iran.
Major conflicts between Israel and Hamas in Gaza since 2005 include Operation Case Lead (2008-2009) and Operation Pillar of Defense (2012). Both were in response to rocket fire over the Gaza-Israel border, while the kidnapping and murdering of three Israeli teenagers by two Hamas members sparked a seven-week conflict known as Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Palestinians protest at the Gaza-Israel Border to Return to Israel
In spring of 2018, tensions erupted when the U.S. Embassy relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Perceiving this as signal of American support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinians responded with a planned protest called the “Great March of Return” at the Gaza-Israel border. As some protestors turned violent, they were met with Israeli force resulting in dozens of protester deaths.
In May 2021, violence between Israelis and Palestinians escalated, following clashes and demonstrations in Jerusalem, and tensions have continued to escalate. In October 2023, Hamas militants launched a coordinated assault on Israel, kidnapping and killing more than 1,000 Israelis, many of them civilians, leading Prime Minister Netanyahu to declare "we are at war." Israel began retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza, leading to thousands of Palestinian deaths.