From Day 1, Gaza History Reflects Volatility and Hatred

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Gaza fire
An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards Gaza from outside the northern Gaza Strip, before the start of a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire July 17, 2014. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Last Sunday, I spoke to about 1,000 people and I asked them a simple question. Who controlled Gaza before Israel took over the area in the Six-Day War?

For about a minute no one answered. Finally a woman yelled out the right answer. I don't write this to shame the congregation—not at all—the results would have been similar in any U.S. congregation. The fact remains that people do know the history of the relationship, and it is essential in understanding the rights and wrongs of the conflict, especially in light of what is going on in the area at present.

1948: Israel declares independence. The War of Independence ensues, whereby five Arab counties attacked Israel and as many as 140,000 Arabs fled from Israel to Gaza. To be clear, David Ben Gurion, in Israel's Declaration of Independence encouraged the Arabs to stay and help build the new state. He guaranteed them the same freedoms Jewish Israelis would enjoy. Still, for many reasons (you can check this out to review the reasons for the exodus) the Arabs fled.

Post War: When the war ended, Egypt controlled Gaza (there is your answer) and turned it into a prison. Even Al Jazeera, the openly pro-Arab, anti-Israel news outlet, recognized how poorly the Egyptians treated their Arab cousins.

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Unlike the West Bank, which was effectively annexed by Jordan in 1950 and its population offered Jordanian citizenship, Egypt maintained Gaza under military rule until a legislative council was elected in 1957. Moreover, unlike Jordan, Egypt had little ties with or concern for Gaza, and thus the Strip received little attention or investment in infrastructure between 1948 and 1967.

The world was silent. No one cared for these Arab refugees. As long as Israel could not be blamed, it was not an issue. "In 1955, one observer (a member of the United Nations Secretariat) noted that 'For all practical purposes it would be true to say that for the last six years in Gaza over 300,000 poverty-stricken people have been physically confined to an area the size of a large city park.'"

1967: The Six-Day War effectively liberated the Gaza inhabitants. That's right, I said liberated. In the early years, Israelis and Gazan Arabs got along just fine. My wife used to go into Gaza with her father as a child to buy vegetables. It was safe. They were happy to be out from under Egyptian control.

EARLY 1970s–1987: The PLO turns Gazans against Israel. Frequent conflicts erupt between Israel and Gaza. In 1987, the first Intifada was unleashed against Israel where Arab youths, armed with larges rocks, targeted both Israeli soldiers and citizens. Israelis were shot at on the highway and sometimes attacked in their homes.

Post Gulf War: President Bush Sr., after crushing Saddam Hussein's attack on Kuwait, calls for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The first peace conference is held in Madrid. Under Clinton, Yitzak Rabin allowed the PLO into Israel to become the de-facto leadership of the Palestinian people. Things were quiet for a season and there was much cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. The PLO became the Palestinian Authority and governed the West Bank and Gaza.

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