Middle East Studies

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The Gaza Strip

Its History and Politics – From the Pharaohs to the Israeli Invasion of 2009

Nathan Shachar is the Jerusalem correspondent of the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. His previous books include The Mysterious Passion, a widely acclaimed interpretation of Spanish History, and prize-winning collections of essays on the Middle East and Latin America.


Few areas on earth have more history, ancient and present, per inch of its territory than the Gaza Strip. In antiquity Gaza was a horn of plenty, the hub of fabulous networks of desert and maritime trade. Egyptian, Persian and Assyrian emperors fought over it, and so did Alexander the Great, Richard the Lionheart, Saladdin and Napoleon.

More recently Gaza’s fame has been of quite a different kind – a place of crisis, anguish and misery. Since 170,000 Palestinian refugees arrived there in 1948, and the Strip became one more piece in the intractable Middle Eastern puzzle, it has gone through a succession of bloody upheavals: passing from Egyptian to Israeli to PLO to Hamas’ rule, all the while remaining a volatile geopolitical flashpoint. Apart from separating between Israel and the refugees in the southwestern corner of Palestine, the Strip’s borders coincide with other momentous fault-lines: between Islamism and secularism, tradition and modernity, East and West – and between the comfortable first and the wretched third world.

Nathan Shachar is a veteran correspondent who has covered Gazan affairs for more than three decades. He has personally witnessed much of the turmoil which has made the Gaza Strip a permanent item of news bulletins for sixty years. This book relates the Gaza Strip’s rich and tumultuous history in a highly readable text, which includes time-lines for all major events and personalities (from the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III to Hamas’ leader Ismai’l Haniye). It brings perspective to the recent Israeli invasion of the Strip and its political and social aftermath.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-344-7
Hardback Price: £42.50 / $59.50
Release Date: January 2010
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-345-4
Paperback Price: £22.95 / $34.95
Release Date: revised and corrected edition released July 2010
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Highly illustrated


The Cover Illustrations in Political Context
List of Illustrations
Map of the Gaza Strip

Introduction: Trauma and Violence

1 The Setting: Geography, Climate, Wildlife and Ecology
2 Egyptians, Hebrew and Philistines
3 Persians, Greeks and Romans
4 Freedom of Religion and the Rise of Christianity
5 Arabs and Crusaders, 634–1193
6 Tartars, Mongols and Mamluks
7 Ottoman Conquest and Rule, 1517–1918
8 The British Conquest and Mandate, 1917–1948
9 The Nakba and the First Arab–Israeli War: The All-Palestine Government of Gaza, 1947–1950
10 Egyptian Military Rule, 1948–1967
11 Israeli Conquest and Occupation, 1967–1971
12 Ariel Sharon’s “Dirty War”: The Beginning of Jewish Settlement, 1971–1972
13 The Quiet Years, 1972–1986
14 The Outbreak of the First Palestinian Uprising, December 1987
15 Economic Warfare and the Rise of Islamism, 1987–1991
16 Hardship, Delusion and Desperation: The First Gulf War, 1990–1991
17 Failure at Madrid and Success at Oslo, 1991–1993
18 High Hopes and New Dangers, 1994–1995
19 Exit Rabin, Enter Likud, 1995–1999
20 Barak’s Gamble and the Second Palestinian Uprising, 1999–2001
21 The Return of Sharon: The Destruction of 1
22 The Death of Yasser Arafat: The Evacuation of the Strip, 2003–2005
23 Sharon’s Departure: The Hamas Election Triumph, 2005–2006
24 Civil War and the Hamas Takeover, 2007
25 Operation “Cast Lead”, 2008–2009

Epilogue: An Ideological War of Nerves and Prestige

Gaza History Timeline

In The History of the Gaza Strip great and terrible histories are crushed into one small strip of land. With an unflinching critical eye, in which the follies of neither side are excused, this shrewd and seasoned reporter unravels the story of Gaza in its true role – as the crucible of the Israeli–Palestinian tragedy.
Alexander Linklater, Prospect Magazine

Once I started reading The History of the Gaza Strip, I could not stop. It is a fascinating book, which takes no sides but makes good use of all kinds of sources: from personal experiences to official data to street gossip. Some of the protagonists occasionally behave decently, but mostly, they behave appallingly. Few stand for liberty or democracy. But the book makes me understand the reasoning of both sides, hostages as they are to ideologies and beliefs. I recommend it strongly to any reader who feels the need for an analysis of the Gazan tangle and of the spiral of senseless violence that defines the lot of men in this region. Gaza is shown here as a part of Palestine and the Middle East, in all its dependency on big power politics and on the good or ill will of its powerful neighbours, the Israelis and the Egyptians.
Jan Szeminsky, Professor of History, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Nathan Shachar conveys his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Gaza Strip by means of a moving and entertaining narrative which escorts the reader through the turbulent annals of the Middle East’s most cursed flashpoint. The History of the Gaza Strip puts Shachar right up there with masters like Orlando Figes, author of A People`s Tragedy, The Russian Revolution 1891–1924 – and sets him apart from those historians who pile on dates and names without ever stirring the soul of the reader.
Ramy Wurgaft, El Mundo, Madrid (Middle East Correspondent 1991–2002)

This is a balanced account of the history and politics of the Gaza Strip, which is now considered to be little more than a besieged prison camp by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, but has long been a ‘highway of armies.” The focus is largely on the politics of the Israeli–Palestinian dispute, with the main sources for post-1975 events being the author’s own reportorial notes, memories, and contacts dating from when he was a correspondent in the area, but the narrative also covers events from the times of ancient Egypt through the British mandate. The narrative is current through to ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ the 2008–9 Israeli military assault on Gaza, which the author correctly sees as having deliberately blurred the distinction between civilians and combatants and utilized an ‘overkill volume of fire.’
Reference & Research Book News

This brief historical account of the Gaza Strip will provide more than enough background for readers, especially those not particularly familiar with Middle East Politics, to understand the current conflict. The author, a Buenos Aires-based journalist for a Swedish newspaper, begins his narrative with the period of the Egyptians, ancient Hebrews, and Philistines, progressing through the Greeks, Persians and Romans. The early Christians, the Arabs and the Crusaders are followed by succeeding invasions by the Tartars, Mongols, and the Mamluks. Modern history of the area is dated from the period of the Ottoman Turks, who were removed by the British after World War I. All this leads up to the contemporary period and the establishment of Israel and its continued difficulties with the Palestinians and the Egyptians, both of whom will share leadership of the Strip. Several chapters deal with Israeli–Palestinian relations, primarily the Palestinian attacks on Israeli citizens. This is an exemplary source on the Gaza Strip that can be read in a single sitting to get up to speed in understanding its current control by Hamas and its terrorist implications.

The Egyptian period saw the creation of what would become a recurring story in the Strip – the interdiction of its people's ability to travel outside the area. While the UN peacekeepers relaxed in villas (barefoot Palestinian caddies carried their clubs for golf games near the old British airfield) and Egyptians made the long trip to visit the brothels of Gaza, the Gazans themselves had their travelling abilities curtailed (pp. 67–69).
... Shachar sheds light on many important details in his study. For instance, few know that the Egyptian army's Palestinian units performed well during the 1967 war. He also sheds light on Israel's attempts to improve life in the Strip after 1967, such as fighting polio and TB. His economic history of the Strip between 1967 and 1987, with discussions on the 40,000 or so Gazan workers who went to Israel daily to find work is excellent. His examination of the class dynamics dividing the "Muwatinin" (local aristocracy) from the refuges and the Bedouin is fascinating. Another positive aspect of Shachar's tale is that while he clearly sympathizes with the Gazans: "[their] persistence, indignation and a refusal to submit to an unjust fate" (p. i); he is also eminently fair to the Israelis. Other writing on Gaza has tended to usually reflect a very one-sided picture of the conflict and fails to present a full picture of what is happening. This account does not suffer from this problem. This may partly be a result of the author's own stated bias on the side of one Palestinian woman named Samira, whom he witnessed suffer through the imposition of Hamas-style Islamic law, and it may also stem from his own memories of a time when the Strip was more open-minded and liberal. However, today the author today sees only misery, one he hopes that Gazans will one day recall as their low point.
Digest of Middle East Studies

In this self-consciously slim volume, Shachar reveals a compressed journey along the entire known time-axis of the Gaza Strip, providing ‘signposts to a history that is disproportionate in its scale to the diminutive scope of its borders.’ Shachar takes into account Gaza's special place between Egypt and the Fertile Crescent and contextualizes it with respect to its history and its culture, which draws from the Bedouin of the Negev and Sinai, the coastal fishermen who crowd its banks, and the myriad of religions which have shaped it and its surroundings. He describes the continual rewriting of the rules of control in Gazan society and the eruptions and calamities Gaza has faced for years with an optimism that describes his decades-old relationship with the territory.
Middle East Journal

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