has been around for a while: the earliest known
reference is an inscription in the Temple of Amun
dated 1500 BC
, which states that the town of Gaza is 'flourishing'.
And for a long time it did: a staging post on trade routes
even the name means "treasure
" in Arabic
. Alexander the Great
laid siege to the town in 332 BC
, executing 10,000 defenders after
being held off for two months. Up next, the town was held by the
, the Crusaders
, the Mamluks
, the Ottoman
s and briefly
even by the French
, when Napoleon Bonaparte
set up camp
on his way to defeat in Egypt
. The Turks took it back, then
lost it to the British
in World War I
. The Egyptian army grabbed
it during the 1948
war that led to Israel
's independence, opening camps for Palestinian refugee
and the current situation began when Israel
the Strip in 1967
A bit of terminology disentanglement: "Gaza Strip" refers to the
entire 40-by-6 kilometer patch of territory, much of which has been
swallowed up by Jewish settlements. "Gaza City" refers to
the town itself, in the northern part of the strip, but due to
huge population growth the City now sprawls into many of the
surrounding villages and it's a tough task to say what is a part of
the City and what isn't. Both city and strip are pretty much
interchangably referred to as "Gaza", so I will follow suit.
Finally, while the name "Gaza" is pretty much standardized in the
international media, the alternate transcriptions Ghazzah
(or variants thereof), from
the Arabic غزة, and (more rarely) 'Azza,
from the Hebrew עזה, are
occasionally used in the area itself.
Gaza isn't quite the pure hellhole you might expect given
TV coverage, although needless to say the birthplace of the Intifada
and one of the most overpopulated bits on the entire planet isn't
exactly paradise on earth either. A UN report in 1952 stated
that the Strip is too small to support its population of 300,000;
there are now well over one million inhabitants and the
latest figures from the Palestinian Authority
put unemployment at a whopping 79%. Most inhabitants are Palestinian refugees who fled the 1948 war but were denied entry into Egypt proper.
The Gaza Strip is a narrow slice of land between the Mediterranean to
the west and the Negev desert to the east. Egypt lies to the south,
the north and east border Israel. The urbal sprawl of Gaza City,
mostly stretching along and around the 3-km long Omar al-Mukhtar
Street, covers much of the north. The other main towns of Khan Yunis
and Rafah are near the southern border. The Jewish settlements of
Gush Erez in the northernmost tip, kibbutz Netzarim in the middle and
Gush Katif on the southern coast have the best agricultural land,
but most of the land outside the cities is still farmed and
Gazan produce like melons and papayas are exported worldwide.
The export stuff tends to come from the settlements though, as you can't
grow melons in a desert without government subsidies, and getting
around EU bans on importing from the Occupied Territories
requires a bit of governmental collusion.
Gaza is not exactly a top tourist destination and most of its
attractions have taken quite a beating during the past 50 years.
The following are all in Gaza City.
The obligatory Great Mosque (Jamaa al-Akbar) makes up for
its lackluster appearance
with an interesting history: it's a converted Crusader church
built on the site of a Hellenic temple with pillars from a 3rd-century
Jewish synagogue. More educational might be a UNRWA-arranged
visit to one of the refugee camps that dot the strip. The UNRWA
office is on al-Azhar St, near the Islamic University, call ahead
to see if they can arrange a little tour. Your most probable
destination is the optimistically named Beach Camp, a warren of
concrete huts and open sewers housing 63,000 people, built next to a
sandy beach -- and you can walk there on your own, 15 minutes to the
north from the intersection of Omar al-Mukhtar St. with the seafront
road. UNRWA wisely recommends avoiding military clothing.
The Jabaliya refugree camp is also a nearby option.
Undoubtedly the most fun thing to do in Gaza is to visit the PLO Flag Shop,
a bit tough to find (ask around) but unmistakable once you spot it.
It's the place to buy Palestinian flags, stickers,
badges, pennants and above all the legendary inflatable Yasser Arafat,
a truly bizarre blow-up tennis racket thingy emblazoned with a map
of Palestine on one side and a familiar fuzzy visage on the other.
Don't leave Gaza without it!
If the chaos starts to get to you, head to the coast and the suburb
of Rimal, the posh bit of Gaza where the rich Palestinians,
UN workers and reporters live. There are a surprising number of
high-class restaurants and hotels in the vicinity, one of the best of
which is the quixotic Windmill Hotel. Sip on a locally bottled
7-Up in the bar and ponder the fact that while for you a day in Gaza is
probably more than enough, most of the people who actually live here
can never leave.
At time of writing, getting into Gaza is both
difficult and unwise. Even in happier days, the only entry
point into the Strip is at Erez in the north. Getting to Erez is a bit kinky,
as you'll need to find your way to Ashkelon and take a taxi (the
distance can be shortened by taking a bus to Yad Mordechai Junction
Once through passport control, you'll find plenty of drivers fighting
for the privilege of driving you to Gaza City. By the way,
at the border be sure to take the VIP line, which
you are entitled to through virtue of not being Palestinian.
Those you see in the other line have been there since 4:30 AM and will have to
return by 5 PM, as Israel only issues one-day work permits.
The Rafah border crossing with Israel is physically in the
Gaza Strip, but you can only enter Israel proper through it.
Gaza International Airport at Dahaniya is out of action as it has
recently been flattened by the IDF, and it had been
closed for over a year anyway. The Port of Gaza, under construction,
shared the airport's fate.
There is no public transport in Gaza, but most any vehicle will
gladly turn into a taxi if you point at the roadside with an
index finger. (Travel up and down Omar al-Mukhtar St. will set
you back one shekel; trips elsewhere are negotiable.) Note that only
main roads are paved, and that it
is advisable to watch your step if walking, since traffic is chaotic
and sidewalks are largely nonexistent.
Lonely Planet Israel (4th ed), 1999