Gaza: A history
Written by historian Jean Pierre Filiu, a professor of Middle East Studies at Paris School of International Affairs, this book gives an in-depth account of Gaza’s ancient history and shows that many people have sought to occupy it over millennia. Professor Filiu puts the history of Gaza into the context of its geographic significance, which gave it the potential to secure the economies and armies of its occupiers, but also constantly put the people of Gaza at humanitarian disadvantage. His book has summarised thousands of years of complex history in a manner that makes it suitable for people of all academic abilities; it is a vital text if we want to understand Gaza in its wider context.
The narrative goes back to around 1500 BC, when Gaza was under occupation by Egypt’s Pharaohs. It is structured chronologically and gives independent accounts of the many occupations Gaza has fallen under, with a clarity that allows the reader to construct patterns about who has had historic and modern vested interests in the territory.
With five sections and 16 chapters, the first section provides a briefing about Gaza’s ancient history, from the Pharaohs to the coming of Islam, to when Palestine was under the British Mandate.
The second section looks at the period between 1947 and 1967. The Nakba of 1948 is viewed through the perspective of all of Palestine, with particular regard to how it affected Gaza, as it became a host for refugees from other parts of the country after the establishment of the state of Israel. Much emphasis is placed on the way that Arabism shaped the politics of the Palestinian struggle and how Gaza was affected because one of the founders of modern Arabism, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was the President of Egypt, which occupied Gaza from 1948-1967; he was able to control the whole Palestinian struggle. It also looks at the way that regional politics has shaped the identity of the struggle and taken it away from its Islamic roots, as set out by Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna in 1945.
The third and fourth sections cover the ideological transition of the Palestinian struggle and its relevance to Gaza from 1967to 1987, and also shed light on the way in which Gaza was of political and strategic significance during the 1967 Arab-Israeli (“Six-Day”) War. Filiu explains the internal Palestinian disagreements during that period, which are often confusing to many observers. The rise of Shaikh Ahmed Yassin and the founding of Hamas leading to the first intifada and then the peace process are both discussed. The concluding section sums up the main recurring themes throughout Gaza’s history.
This book provides some fascinating minutiae from Gaza’s history. The author uses the territory’s own story to explain its historic, economic, domestic, regional, global and military significance. At a time when Gaza is increasingly being disengaged from the rest of Palestinian society and disconnected from the rest of the world due to corrupt politics and a blockade by Israel — creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the process — this book not only shows that Gaza has always been relevant in history and will continue to be so, but also that it has been destroyed many times but has rebuilt itself and survived. There is an extended bibliography and chronology at the end of the book, outlining key personalities and events.