• Monday, Jun 21, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:32 pm

How conflict, blockades and history have shaped the geography of Gaza

Israel Palestine Gaza
How much longer will this continue? REUTERS

Children are also frequently harmed in attacks because they make up an unusually high percentage of the population

As a new round of violence between Israelis and Palestinians spirals toward all-out war, the death toll has grown increasingly lopsided.

On the Palestinian side, health officials say more than 180 people in the Gaza Strip, including children, have been killed in Israeli military operations, including airstrikes and shelling. Israel has counted less than a dozen fatalities so far amid rocket attacks from Gaza.

Israel's sophisticated antimissile defence system and far greater firepower play major roles in explaining the imbalance - as does the unusual geography of the Gaza Strip.

Gaza City is more densely populated than Tel Aviv and other major world cities like London and Shanghai, and much more so than the areas of Israel that surround it. That means that even targeted airstrikes in Gaza have a high likelihood of hitting civilians.

Children are also frequently harmed in attacks because they make up an unusually high percentage of the population: Unicef estimates that there are roughly 1 million children living in the Gaza Strip, meaning that a little under half of all 2.1 million people in Gaza are children.

The burden of such conflicts "is just ferociously on the shoulders of civilians, and mostly women and children," said Dmytro Chupryna, deputy director of Airwars, an organization that monitors civilian casualties. "Most civilian casualties we see is when civilians are hiding in the basement, because there's nowhere else to run."

The Israeli communities that surround the Gaza Strip are far less dense. Farmland dots the landscape, contrasting with the crowded skyline of high-rise apartment buildings along much of the Gaza Strip.

Approximately 1.4 million of the residents of the Gaza Strip are Palestinian refugees, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency - well above half of the population. 

Refugee camps sprung up in the territory as Palestinians fled from the violence of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and continued to grow as more Palestinians were displaced as a result of the second conflict in 1967.

A high birth rate and the arrival of new refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria in recent years means that the population has continued to swell - and the United Nations expects it to double in the next 30 years.

Roughly twice the size of the District of Columbia, the impoverished Palestinian territory is surrounded by Israel on almost all sides. It also shares a small land border with Egypt.

Living conditions in Gaza are bleak: 95% of the population does not have access to clean water, according to UNRWA, and electricity shortages periodically bring life to a halt. 

The territory has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, World Bank statistics show, and the United Nations estimates that roughly 80% of the population relies on international aid to survive and access basic services.

In an area as dense as Gaza, Chupryna said, airstrikes run the risk of having secondary effects, hitting already weak infrastructure and leaving civilians without power or water.

Israel restricts travel outside the Gaza Strip and also maintains a blockade by air, land and sea that it says is necessary to prevent Hamas from obtaining supplies that could be used for terrorism. 

But the blockade also tightly limits Palestinians' access to basic supplies and food staples, and the UN estimates that it has cost the territory's economy as much as $16.7 billion over 11 years.

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