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Gaza ( ; also referred to as Gaza City) is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Stripmarker, with a population of about 410,000, making it the largest city under the control of the Palestinian National Authority.

Inhabited since at least the 15th century BCE, Gaza has been dominated by several different peoples and empires throughout its history. The Philistines made it a part of their pentapolis after the Ancient Egyptians had ruled it for nearly 350 years. Under the Romans and later the Byzantines, Gaza experienced relative peace and its port flourished. In 635, it became the first city in Palestine to be conquered by the Rashidun army and quickly developed into a center of Islamic law. However, by the time the Crusader invaded the city, it was in ruins. In later centuries, Gaza experienced several hardships from Mongol raids to floods and locusts, reducing it to a village by the 16th century when it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. During the first half of Ottoman rule, the Ridwan dynasty controlled Gaza and under them the city went through an age of great commerce and peace.

Gaza fell to British forces during World War I, becoming a part of the British Mandate of Palestine. As a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Egyptmarker administered the newly-formed Gaza Strip territory and several improvements were undertaken in the city. Gaza was captured by Israelmarker in the Six-Day War in 1967, but in 1993, the city was transferred to the Palestinian National Authority. Hamas took over the city in 2007 after months of clashes with its rival Fatah, and since then Gaza has been under a blockade by Egypt and Israel.

The primary economic activities of Gaza are small-scale industries, agriculture and labor. However, the economy has been devastated by the blockade and recurring conflicts. Most of Gaza's inhabitants adhere to Islam, although there exists a Christian minority. Gaza has a very young population with roughly 75% being under the age of 25, and today the city has one of the highest population densities in the world—refugees make up over half of the residents.

Etymology

According to Zev Vilnay, the name "Gaza," from the Arabic "Ġazza", originally derives from the Canaanite/Hebrew root for "strong" (ʕZZ), and was introduced to Arabic by way of the Hebrew, "ʕazzā", i.e. "the strong one (f.)"; cpr. English stronghold. According to Mariam Shahin, the Canaanites gave Gaza its name, the Ancient Egyptians called it "Ghazzat" ("prized city"), and the Arabs often refer to it as "Ghazzat Hashim", in honor of Hashim, the great-grandfather of Muhammad, who is buried in the city, according to Islamic lore.

History

Gaza's history of habitation dates back 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Located on the Mediterranean coastal route between North Africa and the Levant, for most of its history it served as a key entrepot of southern Palestine and an important stopover on the spice trade route traversing the Red Seamarker.

Ancient period

Statue of Zeus unearthed in Gaza


Settlement in the region of Gaza dates back to Tell as-Sakan, an Ancient Egyptian fortress built in Canaanite territory to the south of present-day Gaza. The site went into decline throughout the Early Bronze Age II as its trade with Egypt sharply decreased. Another urban center known as Tell al-Ajjulmarker began to grow along the Wadi Ghazza riverbed. During the Middle Bronze Age, a revived Tell es-Sakan became the southernmost locality in Palestine, serving as a fort. In 1650 BCE, when the Canaanite Hyksos occupied Egypt, a second city developed on the ruins of the first Tell as-Sakan. However, it was abandoned by the 14th century BCE, at the end of the Bronze Age. Gaza later served as Egypt’s administrative capital in Canaan. During the reign of Tuthmosis III, the city became a stop on the Syrian-Egyptian caravan route and was mentioned in the Amarna letters as "Azzati". Gaza remained under Egyptian control for 350 years until it was conquered by the Philistines in the 12th century BCE, becoming a part of their "pentapolis".

In Judeo-Christian religions, Gaza was the place where, according to the Book of Judges, Samson was imprisoned and met his death. After being ruled by the Israelites, Assyrians, and then the Egyptians, Gaza achieved relative independence and prosperity under the Persian Empire. Alexander the Great besieged Gaza, the last city to resist his conquest on his path to Egypt, for five months before finally capturing it 332 BCE; the inhabitants were either killed or taken captive. Alexander brought in local Bedouins to populate Gaza and organized the city into a polis (or "city-state"). Greek culture consequently took root and Gaza earned a reputation as a flourishing center of Hellenic learning and philosophy. Gaza experienced another siege in 96 BCE by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus who "utterly overthrew" the city, killing 500 senators who had fled into the temple of Apollo for safety. Josephus notes that Gaza was resettled under the rule of Antipas, who cultivated friendly relations with Gazans, Ascalonites and neighboring Arabs after being appointed governor of Idumea by Jannaeus. Rebuilt after it was incorporated into the Roman Empire in 63 BCE under the command of Pompey Magnus, Gaza was temporarily ruled by Herod the Great before becoming a part of the Roman province of Syria. It was targeted by the Jews during their rebellion against Roman rule in 66 and was partially destroyed. It nevertheless remained an important city, even more so after the destruction of Jerusalemmarker.

Throughout the Roman period, Gaza was a prosperous city and received grants and attention from several emperors. A 500-member senate governed Gaza, and a diverse variety of Philistines, Greeks, Romans, Canaanites, Phoeniciansmarker, Jews, Egyptians, Persians, and Bedouin populated the city. Gaza's mint issued coins adorned with the busts of gods and emperors. During his visit in 130 CE, Emperor Hadrian personally inaugurated wrestling, boxing, and oratorical competitions in Gaza's new stadium, which became known from Alexandriamarker to Damascusmarker. The city was adorned with many pagan temples; the main cult being that of Marnas. Other temples were dedicated to Zeus, Helios, Aphrodite, Apollo, Athene and the local Tyche. Christianity began to spread throughout Gaza in 250 CE, last in the port of Maiuma. Conversion to Christianity in Gaza was accelerated under Saint Porphyrius between 396 and 420. In 402, he ordered all eight of the city's pagan temples destroyed, and four years later Empress Aelia Eudocia commissioned the construction of a church atop the ruins of the Temple of Marnas.

Islamic era

Following the division of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century BCE, Gaza remained under control of the Byzantine Empire. In 635 CE, Gaza was quickly besieged and captured by the Arab Rashidun Caliphate under general 'Amr ibn al-'As following the Battle of Ajnadaynmarker in central Palestine. Believed to be the site where Muhammad's great grandfather Hashim ibn Abd Manaf was buried, the city was not destroyed by the victorious Rashidun army. The arrival of the Muslim Arabs brought drastic changes to Gaza; its churches were transformed into mosques, including the present Great Mosque of Gazamarker (the oldest in the city), the population swiftly adopted Islam, and Arabic became the official language. In 767, Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi'i was born in Gaza and lived his early childhood there; al-Shafi'i founded a prominent Sunni Muslim legal philosophy (or fiqh) called Shafi'i, in his honor. In 796, Gaza was destroyed during a civil war between the Arab tribes of the area. However, by the 10th century CE the city had been rebuilt by a third Arab caliphate ruled by the Abbasids; Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi described Gaza as "a large town lying on the highroad to Egypt on the border of the desert." In 977 CE, a fourth Arab caliphate ruled by the Fatimids established an agreement with the competing Seljuk Turks, whereby the Fatimids would control Gaza and the land south of it, including Egypt.

European Crusaders conquered Gaza from the Fatimids in 1100 and King Baldwin III built a castle there in 1149. After the castle's construction, Baldwin granted it and the surrounding region to the Knights Templar. He also had the Great Mosque converted into the Cathedral of Saint John. In 1154, Arab traveler al-Idrisi wrote Gaza "is today very populous and in the hands of the Crusaders." In 1170, King Amalric I of Jerusalem withdrew Gaza's Templars to assist him against an Islamic Ayyubid force led by Saladin at the nearby city of Deir al-Balahmarker; however, Saladin evaded the Crusader force and assaulted Gaza instead, destroying the town built outside the castle. Seven years later, the Templars prepared for another defense of Gaza against Saladin, but this time the Islamic forces attacked Ascalon. In 1187, Saladin captured Gaza and ordered the destruction of the city's fortifications in 1191. Richard the Lionheart apparently refortified the city in 1192, but the walls were dismantled again as a result of the Treaty of Ramla agreed upon months later in 1193. The Ayyubid period of rule ended in 1260, after the Mongols under Hulagu Khan completely destroyed Gaza, which became his southernmost conquest.

Following Gaza's destruction by the Mongols, Muslim slave-soldiers based in Egypt known as the Mamluks began to administer the area in 1277. The Mamluks made Gaza the capital of the province that bore its name, Mamlakat Ghazzah ("the Governorship of Gaza"). This district extended along the coastal plain from Rafahmarker in the south to just north of Caesareamarker, and to the east as far as the Samariamarker highlands and the Hebron Hills. Other major towns in the province included Qaqunmarker, Luddmarker, and Ramlamarker. In 1294, an earthquake devastated Gaza, and five years later the Mongols again destroyed all that had been restored by the Mamluks. However, circa 1300, Syrianmarker geographer al-Dimashqi described Gaza as a "city so rich in trees it looks like a cloth of brocade spread out upon the land." In 1348, the Bubonic Plague infested the city, killing the majority of its inhabitants and in 1352, Gaza suffered from a destructive flood, which was rare in that arid part of Palestine. However, when Arab traveler and writer Ibn Batutta visited the city in 1355, he noted that it was "large and populous, and has many mosques." The Mamluks contributed to Gazan architecture by building mosques, Islamic schools, hospitals, caravansaries, and public baths.

Ottoman rule





In 1516, Gaza—by now a small town with an inactive port, ruined buildings and reduced trade—was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman army quickly and efficiently crushed a small-scale uprising, and the local population generally welcomed them as fellow Sunni Muslims. The city was then made the capital of Sanjak Gaza, part of the larger Province of Damascus. The Ridwan family, named after governor Ridwan Pasha, was the first dynasty to govern Gaza and would continue to rule the city for over a century.Ze'evi, 1996, p.40.

Although no explanation is provided in the biographies of the Ridwan family, they chose Gaza as their home and the location of their castle, Qasr al-Bashamarker. Husayn Pasha, a member of the Ridwan family, inherited the impoverished governorship of Gaza in the 17th century. His period in office was peaceful and prosperous for Gaza and he gained a good reputation for considerably reducing the strife between the nearby Bedouins and the settled population. In 1660, Gaza was designated the capital of Palestine, indicating the city's rapid recovery. The Great Mosque was restored, and six other mosques constructed, while Turkish baths and market stalls proliferated. Anonymous petitions sent to Istanbul complaining about Husayn's failure to protect the Hajj caravan, however, served as an excuse for the Ottoman government to depose him. After the death of Husayn's successor, Ottomans officials were appointed to govern in place of the Ridwans. The Ridwan period was Gaza's last golden age during Ottoman rule. After the family was removed from office, the city itself went into gradual decline.Ze'evi, 1996, p.41.

Gaza was briefly occupied by the French Army under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799, but they abandoned the city after the failed siege of Acre that same year. Starting in the early 1800s, Gaza was culturally dominated by neighboring Egypt; Muhammad Ali of Egypt conquered Gaza and most of Palestine in 1832. American scholar Edward Robinson visited Gaza in 1838, describing it as a "thickly populated" town larger than Jerusalem, with its Old City lying upon a hilltop, while its suburbs laid on the nearby plain. Gaza's port was inactive in the mid-19th century, however, the city benefited from trade and commerce because of its position on the caravan route between Egypt and Syria as well as from producing soap and cotton for trade with the Bedouin. Robinson noted that virtually all of Gaza's vestiges of ancient history and antiquity had disappeared due to constant conflict and occupation. The Bubonic Plague struck again in 1839 and the city, lacking political and economic stability, went into a state of stagnation. In 1840, Egyptian and Ottoman troops battled outside of Gaza. The Ottomans won control of the territory, effectively ending Egyptian rule over Palestine. However, the battles brought about more death and destruction in Gaza whilst the city was still recovering from the effects of the plague.

Modern era

Gaza after surrender to British forces, 1918


While leading the Allied Forces during World War I, the British won control of the city during the Third Battle of Gaza in 1917. After the war, Gaza was included in the British Mandate of Palestine. In the 1930s and 1940s, Gaza underwent major expansion. New neighborhoods were built along the coast and the southern and eastern plains. International organizations and missionary groups funded most of this construction. In the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, Gaza was assigned to an Arab state but was later administered by Egypt following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Gaza's growing population was augmented by an influx of refugees fleeing nearby cities, towns and villages that were captured by Israel. In 1957, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser made a number of reforms in Gaza, which included expanding educational opportunities and the civil services, providing housing, and establishing local security forces.

Gaza was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War following the defeat of the Egyptian Army. Frequent conflicts have erupted between Palestinians and the Israeli authorities in the city since the 1970s. The tensions lead to the First Intifada in 1987. Gaza was a center of confrontation during this uprising, and economic conditions in the city worsened. In September 1993, leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords. The agreement called for Palestinian administration of the Gaza Strip and the West Bankmarker town of Jerichomarker, which was implemented in May 1994. Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza, leaving a new Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to administer and police the city. The PNA, led by Yasser Arafat, chose Gaza as its first provincial headquarters. The newly-established Palestinian National Council held its inaugural session in Gaza in March 1996.



Since the Palestinian organization Hamas won a surprise victory in the Palestinian elections of 2006, it has been engaged in a violent power struggle with its rival Palestinian organization Fatah. In 2007, Hamas overthrew Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip and Hamas members were dismissed from the PNA government in the West Bank in response. Currently, Hamas has de facto control of the city and Strip.

In March 2008, a coalition of human rights groups charged that the Israeli blockade of the city had caused the humanitarian situation in Gaza to have reached its worst point since Israel occupied the territory in the 1967 Six-Day War, and that Israeli air strikes targeting militants in the densely populated areas have often killed bystanders as well. In 2008, Israel commenced an assault against Gaza. Israel stated the strikes were in response to repetitive rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel since 2005, while the Palestinians stated that they were responding to Israel's military excursions and blockade of the Gaza Strip. In January 2009, the BBC reported that a total of more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed and a further 5,500 had been injured in the conflict. In addition, 4,000 buildings have been destroyed and 20,000 damaged throughout the Gaza Strip.

Geography

Beach in Gaza City


Central Gaza is situated on a low-lying and round hill with an elevation of above sea level. Much of the modern city is built along the plain below the hill, especially to the north and east, forming Gaza's suburbs. The beach and the port of Gaza are located west of the city's nucleus and the space in between is entirely built up on low-lying hills.

Gaza is southwest of Jerusalemmarker, south of Tel Avivmarker, and north of Rafahmarker. Surrounding localities include Beit Lahiyamarker, Beit Hanounmarker, and Jabaliamarker to the north, and the village of Abu Middeinmarker, the refugee camp of Bureijmarker, and the city of Deir al-Balahmarker to the south.

The municipal jurisdiction of the city today constitutes about . In the British Mandate era, Gaza's urban or "built-up" area consisted of , while its rural area was . Irrigated land made up and lands planted with cereals made up .

The population of Gaza depends on groundwater as the only source for drinking, agricultural use, and domestic supply. The nearest stream is Wadi Ghazza to the south, sourced from Abu Middein along the coastline. It bears a small amount of water during the winter and virtually no water during the summer. Most of its water supply is diverted into Israel. The Gaza Aquifer along the coast is the main aquifer in the Gaza Strip and it consists mostly of Pleistocene and sandstone. Like most of the Gaza Strip, Gaza is covered by quaternary soil; clay minerals in the soil absorb many organic and inorganic chemicals which has partially alleviated the extent of groundwater contamination.

A well-known hill southeast of Gaza, known as Tell al-Muntar, has an elevation of above sea level. For centuries it has been claimed as the place to which Samson brought the city gates of the Philistines. The hill is crowned by a Muslim shrine (maqam) dedicated to Ali al-Muntar ("Ali of the Watchtower"). There are old Muslim graves around the surrounding trees, and the lintel of the doorway of the maqam has two medieval Arabic scriptures.

Old City and districts

The Old City forms the main part of Gaza's nucleus. It is roughly divided into two quarters; the northern Daraj Quarter (also known as the Muslim Quarter) and the southern Zaytoun Quarter (also known as the Christian Quarter). Most of the structures date from the Mamluk or Ottoman era ans some are built atop earlier structures. The ancient part of the Old City is about .

There are seven historic gates to the Old City: Bab Asqalan (Gate of Ashkelon), Bab al-Darum (Gate of Deir al-Balah), Bab al-Bahr (Gate of the Sea), Bab Marnas (Gate of Marnas), Bab al-Baladiyah (Gate of the Town), Bab al-Khalil (Gate of Hebron), and Bab al-Muntar (Gate of Tell al-Muntar). Some of the older buildings use the ablaq style of decoration which features red and white masonry, prevalent in the Mamluk era. A few of Gaza's main markets, such as the Gold Market as well as its oldest mosque, the Great Mosque of Gazamarker, are located here. In the Zaytoun Quarter is the Church of Saint Porphyriusmarker, the Welayat Mosquemarker, and Hamam as-Sammara ("the Samaritan's Bathhouse").

Gaza is composed of eleven districts (hai) outside of the Old City. The first extension of Gaza beyond the city center was the district of Shuja'iyyamarker, built on an eastern hill during the Ayyubid period of rule. In the 1930s and 1940s, a new spacial residential district, Rimalmarker, was constructed on the sand dunes west of the city center, and the district of Zeitounmarker was built along Gaza's southern and southwestern borders, while Shuja'iyya expanded into the east to form the al-Judeide ("the New") and al-Turukman districts.

The areas between Rimal and the Old City became the districts of al-Sabra and al-Daraj. To the northwest is the district of al-Nasser, built in the early 1950s and named in honor of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. To the northeast is the district of Tuffahmarker, which is roughly divided into eastern and western halves. The district of Sheikh Radwanmarker is to the north of the Old City and is named after Sheikh Radwan—the tomb of whom is located within the district. Gaza has absorbed the village of al-Qubbah near the the border with Israelmarker, as well as the Palestinian refugee camp of al-Shatimarker along the coast, although the latter is not under the city's municipal jurisdiction. In the late 1990s, the PNA founded the more affluent neighborhood of Tel al-Hawamarker along the southern edge of Rimal. Along the southern coast of the city is the neighborhood of Sheikh Ijlin.

Climate

Gaza has a relatively temperate Mediterranean climate with mild winters and dry, warm to hot summers. Spring arrives around March-April and the hottest months are July and August, with the average high being . The coldest month is January with temperatures usually at . Rain is scarce and generally falls between November and March, with annual precipitation rates approximately at .

Demographics

Population

Year Population
1596 6,000
1838 15,000-16,000
1882 16,000
1897 36,000
1906 40,000
1914 42,000
1922 17,426
1945 34,250
1982 118,272
1997 353,113
2004 (Projected) 381,247
2006 (Projected) 409,680


According to Ottoman tax records in 1557, Gaza had 2,477 male tax payers. The statistics from 1596 show that from the Muslims there 456 household heads, 115 bachelors, 59 religious persons, and 19 disabled persons. In addition to the Muslim figure were 141 Jundiyan or soldiers in the Ottoman army. Of the Christians there 294 household heads and 7 bachelors and there were 73 Jewish household heads 8 Samaritan household heads. In total, an estimated 6,000 people lived in Gaza, making the third largest city in Palestine after Jerusalem and Safadmarker.

In 1838, there were roughly 4,000 Muslim tax payers and 100 Christian ones, implying a population of about 15,000 or 16,000—making it larger than Jerusalem at the time. The total number of Christian families was 57. Before the outbreak of World War I, the population of Gaza had reached 42,000; however, the fierce battles between Allied Forces and those of the Ottomans and the Germans in 1917 in Gaza resulted in a massive population decrease.

According to a 1997 census by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), Gaza and the adjacent al-Shati campmarker had a population of 353,115 inhabitants, of which 50.9% were males and 49.1% females. Gaza has an overwhelmingly young population with more than half being between the ages of infancy to 19 (60.8%). About 28.8% were between the ages of 20 to 44, 7.7% between 45 and 64, and 3.9% were over the age of 64.

A significant number of Gaza's pre-1948 residents were Egyptians or their descendants who had fled political turmoil in Muhammad Ali's Egypt. A massive influx of Palestinian refugees swelled Gaza's population after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. By 1967, the population had grown to about six times its 1948 size. In 1997, 51.8% of Gaza's inhabitants were refugees or their descendants. The city's population has continued to increase since that time to 409,680 in 2006, making it the largest city in the Palestinian territoriesmarker. Gaza has one of the highest overall growth rates and population densities in the world, with about 5,261 people per square mile. Poverty, unemployment and poor living conditions are widespread and many residents rely on United Nations food aid to survive.

Natives of Gaza


Religion

The population of Gaza is overwhelmingly composed of Arabic-speaking Muslims, who entirely adhere to Sunni Islam. While held by the Fatimids, Shia Islam was dominant in Gaza, but after Saladin conquered the city, he promoted a strictly Sunni religious and educational policy, which at the time was instrumental in uniting his Arab, Kurdish, and Turkish soldiers.

There exists a small minority of about 3,500 Arab Christians in the city. The majority of Gaza's Christians live in the Zaytoun Quarter of the Old City and belong to the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Baptist denominations. In 1906, there were only 750 Christians, of which 700 were Greek Orthodox and 50 were Roman Catholic.

Gaza's Jewish community was roughly 2,000 years old, and in 1481 there were sixty Jewish households. Most of them left Gaza after the 1929 Palestine riots, when they consisted of fifty families. In Sami Hadawi's land and population survey, Gaza had a population of 34,250, including 80 Jews in 1945. Most of them left the city after the 1948 War, due to mutual distrust between them and the Arab majority.

Economy

Nineteenth century

Gaza was among six soap-producing cities in Palestine, overshadowed by Nablus. Gaza's factories purchased qilw from merchants from Nablus and Salt, Jordanmarker. Gaza's port was eclipsed by the ports of Jaffa and Haifamarker, however, it retained its fishing fleet. Although its port was inactive, commerce thrived because of its strategic location. Most caravans and travelers coming from Egypt stopped in Gaza for supplies, likewise Bedouins from Ma'anmarker, east of the Wadi Arabamarker, bought up all sorts of provisions from the city to sell to Muslim pilgrims coming from Meccamarker. The bazaars of Gaza were well-supplied and were noted by Edward Robinson as "far better" than those of Jerusalem. Its principal commercial crop was cotton which was sold to the government and local Arab tribes.

Modern era

Backyard industry
Since occupying Gaza in the Six-Day War, Israel has controlled Gaza's borders and restricted the flow of goods and people into and out of Gaza. Israel greatly intensified its blockade of Gaza in June 2007, when Hamas took over. Since then, according to the BBC, "there are high levels of poverty, deprivation and unemployment in Gaza City ... Only basic humanitarian items have been allowed in [the Gaza Strip], and virtually no exports permitted, paralyzing the economy."

Following the Six-Day War, Israel closed down Gaza's port and consequently, the city lost its fishing income. There were previous Palestinian and international attempts to construct a major port in Gaza for the benefit of the planned State of Palestine, but objections from Israel prevented such attempts. The major agricultural products are strawberries, citrus, dates, olives, flowers, and various vegetables. Pollution and massive population pressure on water have reduced the productive capacity of the surrounding farms, however.

Small-scale industries in the city include the production of plastics, construction materials, textiles, furniture, pottery, tiles, copperware, and carpets. Following the Oslo Accords, thousands of residents were employed in the various government ministries and security services, while others were employed by the UNRWA and other international organizations that support development of the city. Gaza contains some minor industries, including textiles and food processing. A variety of wares are sold in Gaza's street bazaars, including carpets, pottery, wicker furniture, and cotton clothing; commercial development in the city is minimal.

There are six hotels in Gaza: Palestine, Adam, al-Amal, al-Quds, Cliff, and Marna House. All, except the Palestine Hotel, are located along the coast. The United Nations (UN) has a beach club on the same street. Gaza is not a frequent destination for tourists, and most foreigners who stay in hotels are journalists, aid workers, UN and Red Crossmarker personnel. Al-Quds Hotel is regarded as the most up-market hotel in the city, and is the most recently built.

Many Gazans worked in the Israeli service industry when the border was open, but part of Israel's 2005 disengagement stipulated that Gazans will no longer be able to work in Israel and few Gazans are presently allowed to enter Israel. Gaza has serious deficiencies in housing, educational facilities, health facilities, infrastructure, and an inadequate sewage system, all of which have contributed to serious hygiene and public health problems.

According to a recent report by OXFAM, unemployment in Gaza is close to 40% and is set to rise to 50%. The private sector which generates 53% of all jobs in Gaza has been devastated, businesses have been bankrupted and 75,000 out of 110,000 workers are now without a jobs. In 2008, 95% of Gaza's industrial operations were suspended due to lack of access inputs for production and the inability to export what is produced. In June 2005, there were 3,900 factories in Gaza employing 35,000 people, but by December 2007, there were just 195 remaining, employing only 1,700 people. The construction industry was paralyzed with tens of thousands of laborers out of work. The agriculture sector has also been damaged severely and nearly 40,000 workers who depend on cash crops now have no income.

Gaza's economic conditions have been stagnant in the long-term and most development indicators are in decline. Food prices have risen during the blockade, with wheat flour going up 34%, rice up 21%, and baby powder up 30%. The number of Gazans who live in absolute poverty has increased sharply, with 80% relying on humanitarian aid in 2008 compared to 63% in 2006. In 2007, households spent an average of 62% of their total income on food, compared to 37% in 2004. In less than a decade, the number of families depending on UNRWA food aid has increased ten-fold.

Culture

Skyline of Gaza

Cultural centers and museums

The Rashad Shawa Cultural Center, located in Rimal, was completed in 1988 and named after its founder, former mayor Rashad al-Shawa. A two-story building with a triangular plan, the cultural centers performs three main functions: a meeting place for large gatherings during annual festivals, a place to stage exhibitions, and a library. The French Cultural Center is a symbol of Frenchmarker partnership and cooperation in Gaza. It holds art exhibits, concerts, film screenings, and other activities. Whenever possible, French artists are invited to display their artwork, and more frequently, Palestinian artists from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are invited to participate in art competitions.

Established in 1998, the Arts and Crafts Village is a children's cultural center with the objectives of promoting comprehensive, regular and periodic documentation of creative art in all of its forms. It interacted on a large scale with a class of artists from different nationalities and organized around 100 exhibitions for creative art, ceramics, graphics, carvings and others. Nearly 10,000 children from throughout the Gaza Strip have benefited from the Arts and Crafts Village.

Gaza has one film theater, the Gaza Theater, which opened in 2004 using donated equipment and movies from Norwaymarker. The theater is not properly equipped and does not receive much funding from the PNA, depending mostly on donations from foreign aid agencies. The Qattan Foundation, a Palestinian arts charity, runs several workshops throughout Gaza that helps the local youth find artistic skills and give teachers basic drama skills. In 2005, the Gaza Theater Festival was held, playing in makeshift venues, although no foreign theater companies attended, as well as any company from the West Bank or Israel's Arab community.

The Gaza Museum of Archaeology, founded by Jawdat N. Khoudary, was opened in the summer of 2008. The exhibition is in a hall made partly of stones from old houses, discarded wood ties of a former railroad, and bronze lamps and marble columns uncovered by Gazan fishermen and construction workers. The museum collection features thousands of items, but some will not go on display, including a statue of a full-breasted Aphrodite in a diaphanous gown, images of other ancient deities and oil lamps featuring menorahs.

Cuisine

Gaza's cuisine is characterized by its generous use of spices and chillies. Other major flavors and ingredients include dill, chard, garlic, cumin, lentils, chickpeas, pomegranates, sour plums and tamarind. Many of the traditional dishes rely on clay-pot cooking, which preserves the flavor and texture of the vegetables and results in fork-tender meat. Traditionally, most Gazan dishes are seasonal and rely on ingredients indigenous to the area and its surrounding villages. Poverty has also played an important role in determining many of the city's simple meatless dishes and stews, such as saliq wa adas ("chard and lentils") and bisara (skinless fava beans mashed with dried mulukhiya leaves and chilies).

Seafood is a key aspect of Gaza life and a local staple, but in recent years, due to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian fishing zones off Gaza’s coast, the industry has been in decline, and seafood prices have skyrocketed. Some well-known seafood dishes include zibdiyit gambari, literally, "shrimps in a clay pot", and shatta which are crabs stuffed with red hot chili pepper dip, then baked in the oven. Fish is either fried or grilled after being stuffed with cilantro, garlic, chillies and cumin, and marinated with various spices. It is also a key ingredient in sayyadiya, rice cooked with caramelized onions, a generous amount of whole garlic cloves, large chunks of well-marinated fried fish, and spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, and cumin.

Many of the 1948-era refugees were fellahin ("peasants") who would rely on eating seasonally, based on what they grew and these refugees highly influenced the basic cuisine of Gaza. Due to its geographic isolation from the rest of Palestine, as a result of decades of occupation, many of its dishes have not been heard of outside of Gaza. One of the most popular dishes is called sumaghiyyeh.

Gaza has several restaurants, most of the well-known located in the Rimal district. Al-Andalus, which specializes in fish and seafood, is particularly popular with tourists, as is al-Sammak. Throughout the Old City there are street stalls that sell cooked beans, hummus, roasted sweet potatoes, falafel, and kebabs. Coffeehouses (qahwa) regularly accommodate locals with hookah (sheesha), Arabic coffee, and tea. Gaza's well-known sweet shops, Saqqala and Arafat, sell common Arab sweet products and are located off Wehda Street. Alcohol is a rarity, found only in the United Nations Beach Club.

Costumes and embroidery

Gauze is reputed to have originated in Gaza. Cloth for the Gaza thob was often woven at nearby Majdal (Ascalonmarker). Black or blue cottons or striped pink and green fabric that had been made in Majdal continued to be woven throughout the Gaza Stripmarker by refugees from the coastal plain villages until the 1960s. Thobs here had narrow, tight, straight sleeves. Embroidery was much less dense than that applied in Hebron. The most popular motifs included: scissors (muqass), combs (mushut) and triangles (hijab) often arranged in clusters of fives, sevens and threes, as the use of odd numbers is considered in Arab folklore to be effective against the evil eye.

In recent decades, Hamas and other Islamic movements sought to increase the use of the hijab ("headscarf") among Gazan women, especially urban and educated women, and the hijab styles since introduced have varied according to class and group identity.

Sports

Palestine Stadiummarker, the Palestinian national stadium, is located in Gaza and has a capacity for 10,000 people. It serves as the home of the Palestine national football team, but after an Israeli air strike that severely damaged the stadium's field, home games have been played in Dohamarker, Qatarmarker. Gaza has several local football teams that participate in the Gaza Strip League. They include Khidmat al-Shatia (al-Shati Camp), Ittihad al-Shuja'iyya (Shuja'iyya neighborhood), Gaza Sports Club, and al-Zeitoun (Zeitoun neighborhood).

Government

Today, Gaza serves as the administrative capital of the Gaza Governoratemarker. It contains the Palestinian Legislative Council building, as well as the headquarters of most of the Palestinian Authority ministries.

The first municipal council of Gaza was formed in 1893 under the chairmanship of Ali Khalil Shawa. Modern mayorship, however, began in 1906 with his son Said al-Shawa, who was appointed mayor by the Ottoman Authorities. Al-Shawa oversaw the construction of Gaza's first hospital, several new mosques and schools, the restoration of the Great Mosque, and the introduction of the modern plow to the city.

On July 24, 1994, the PNA proclaimed Gaza the first city council in the Palestinian territoriesmarker. The 2005 Palestinian municipal elections were not held in Gaza, nor in Khan Yunismarker or Rafah. Instead, Fatah party officials selected the smaller cities, towns, and villages to hold elections, assuming they would do better in less urban areas. The rival Hamas party, however, won the majority of seats in seven of the ten municipalities selected for the first round with voter turnout being around 80%. 2007 saw violent clashes between the two parties, ultimately resulting in Hamas taking over the city. Normally, Palestinian municipalities with populations over 20,000 and that serve as administrative centers have municipal councils consisting of fifteen members, including the mayor. The current municipal council of Gaza, however, consists of fourteen members, including the mayor, Rafiq al-Makki.

Mayors





Education

According to the PCBS, in 1997, approximately over 90% of Gaza's population over the age of 10 was literate. Of the city's population, 140,848 were enrolled in schools (39.8% in elementary school, 33.8% in secondary school, and 26.4% in high school). About 11,134 people received bachelor diplomas or higher diplomas.

In 2006, there were 210 schools in Gaza; 151 were run by the Education Ministry of the Palestinian National Authority, 46 were run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and 13 were private schools. A total of 154,251 students were enrolled and 5,877 teachers were employed. The currently downtrodden economy has affected education in the Gaza Strip severely. In September 2007, a UNRWA survey in the Gaza Strip revealed that there was a nearly 80% failure rate in schools grades four to nine, with up to 90% failure rates in mathematics. In January 2008, the United Nations Children's Fund reported that schools in Gaza had been canceling classes that were high on energy consumption, such as information technology, science labs and extra curricular activities.

Gaza has four universities: al-Azhar University - Gaza, al-Quds Open University, al-Aqsa Universitymarker and the Islamic University of Gazamarker. The Islamic University, consisting of ten facilities, was founded by Ahmed Yassin and a group of businessmen in 1978, making it the first institution of higher education in Gaza. In 2006-07, it had an enrollment of 20,021 students. Al-Azhar is generally secular and was founded in 1992. Al-Aqsa University was established in 1991. Al-Quds Open University established its Gaza Educational Region campus in 1992 in a rented building in the center of the city originally with 730 students. Because of the rapid increase of the number of students, it constructed the first university owned building in the Nasser District. In 2006-07, it had an enrollment of 3,778 students.

The Public Library of Gaza is located off al-Wahda Street and has a collection of nearly 10,000 books in Arabic, English and French. A total area of about , the building consists of two floors and a basement. The library was opened in 1999 after cooperation dating from 1996 by Gaza under mayor Aoun Shawa, the municipality of Dunkerquemarker, and the World Bank. The library's primary objectives are to provide sources of information that meets the needs of beneficiaries, provide necessary facilities for access to available information sources, and organizing various cultural programs such as, cultural events, seminars, lectures, film presentations, videos, art and book exhibitions.

Local infrastructure

Landmarks

Landmarks in Gaza include the Great Mosquemarker in the Old City. Originally a pagan temple, it was consecrated a Greek Orthodox church by the Byzantines, then a mosque in the 8th century by the Arabs. The Crusaders transformed it into a church, but it was reestablished as a mosque soon after Gaza's reconquest by the Muslims. It is the oldest and largest in the Gaza Stripmarker and was identified as the "only structure of historical importance" in the city by some 19th century Western travelers.

Other mosques in the Old City include the Mamluk-era Sayed Hashem Mosquemarker that believed to house the tomb of Hashem ibn Abd al-Manaf in its dome. There is also the nearby Welayat Mosquemarker that dates back to 1334. In Shuja'iyyamarker, the Ibn Uthman Mosque was built by Nablus native Ahmad ibn Uthman in 1402 and the Ibn Marwan Mosque, housing the tomb of a holy man, was built in 1324.

Gaza War Cemetery
The Soldier's Squaremarker, located in Rimalmarker, is a monument dedicated to an unknown Palestinian fighter who died in the 1948 War. In 1967, the monument was torn down by Israeli forces and remained a patch of sand, until a public garden was built there with funding from Norwaymarker. Qasr al-Bashamarker, originally a Mamluk-era villa that was used by Napoleon during his brief sojourn in Gaza, is located in the Old City and is today a girl's school. The Commonwealth Gaza War Cemetery, often referred to as the British War Cemetery, that contains the graves of fallen Allied soldiers in World War I is in the Tuffah neighborhood.

Utilities

According to the 1997 census by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 98.1% of Gaza's residents were connected to the public water supply while the remainder used a private system. About 87.6% were connected to a public sewage system and 11.8% used a cesspit.

The blockade on Gaza has severely restricted the water supply to the city and its sewage system. The six main wells for drinking water for no longer function, and roughly 50% of the population is without access to water on a regular basis. The municipality claims it is forced to pump water to the citizens though "salty wells" because of the unavailability of electricity in some of the wells fails to meet the needs of the citizens. Most sewage plants struggle to work, and more than 75% of the untended sewage in the city, has periodically led to a rash of waste water to the homes of residents. About 20 million liters of raw sewage and 40 million liters of partially treated water per day leak to the Mediterranean Sea due to the lack of electricity, fuel and spare parts at Gaza's treatment plants. The municipality claims that accumulation of garbage in the streets, roads, wells, and sewage overflow cause the risk of disease outbreaks and insect epidemics, as well as mice and in residential areas.

Health care

One of the first hospitals in Gaza was al-Shifamarker ("the Cure") founded in the Rimal District by the British Mandate government in the 1940s. Housed in an army barracks, it originally provided quarantine and treatment for febrile diseases. When Egypt administered Gaza, this original department was relocated and al-Shifa became the city's central hospital. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip after occupying it in the 1956 Suez Crisis, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had al-Shifa hospital expanded and improved. He also ordered the establishment of a second hospital in the Nasser District with the same name. In 1957, the quarantine and febrile disease hospital was rebuilt and named Nasser Hospital. Today, al-Shifa remains Gaza's largest medical complex.

Throughout the late 1950s, a new health administration, Bandar Gaza ("Gaza Region"), was established and headed by Haidar Abdel-Shafi. Bandar Gaza rented several rooms throughout the city to set up government clinics, but they were fairly basic, just providing essential curative care.

The Ahli Arab Hospital, originally founded in 1907 by the Christian Missionary Society, was destroyed in World War I. It was rebuilt as the Southern Baptist Hospital in the 1950s. In 1982, the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem took leadership and the original name was restored. Al-Quds Hospital, located in the Tel al-Hawamarker neighborhood and managed by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, is the second largest hospital in Gaza.

As a result of fuel and electricity restrictions, hospitals currently experience power cuts lasting for 8–12 hours daily. There is currently a 60-70 percent shortage reported in the diesel required for power generators. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the proportion of patients given permits to exit Gaza for medical care decreased from 89.3% in January 2007 to 64.3% in December 2007, an unprecedented low.

Transportation

The Rasheed Coastal Road runs along Gaza's coastline and connects it with the rest of Gaza Strip's coastline north and south. The main road of the Gaza Strip, Salah ad-Din Street (the modern Via Maris) runs through the middle of Gaza City, connecting it with Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunismarker, and Rafah in the south and Jabaliamarker and Beit Hanounmarker in the north. The northern crossing of Salah ad-Din Street into Israel is the Erez Crossingmarker and the crossing into Egypt is the Rafah Crossingmarker. The crossings have been closed by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

Omar Mukhtar Street is the main road in the city of Gaza running north-south, branching off Salah ad-Din Street, stretching from the Rimal coastline and the Old City where it ends at the Gold Market. Prior to the Blockade of the Gaza Strip, there existed regular lines of collective taxis to Ramallahmarker and Hebronmarker in the West Bankmarker.

The Yasser Arafat International Airportmarker near Rafahmarker opened in 1998 and is south of Gaza. Its runways and facilities became significantly damaged during the Second Intifada. The Ben Gurion International Airportmarker in Israel is located roughly northeast of the city.

International relations

Twin towns — Sister cities

Gaza is twinned with:





See also



References

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Bibliography



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