A snaking metal fence that divides the Gaza Strip from Israel has become the latest focal point in a generations-long conflict between Arabs and Jews in the area.
It was along this fence that at least 60 Palestinians were killed and many hundreds wounded on Monday as thousands converged to protest what they call an arbitrarily enforced demarcation line by an occupier. As protesters rushed toward the fence, some throwing rocks or homemade fire bombs, Israeli soldiers fired live bullets, which the Israeli military said was done as a last resort.
What are the fence’s origins and purpose in separating Gaza, a 25-mile-long, five-mile-wide Mediterranean coastal enclave where nearly two million Palestinians live? Is the fence recognized as an international border? And how has Israel justified deadly force to stop mostly unarmed Palestinians from breaching it? Here are the basics:
What is the fence?
The fence is actually two parallel barriers built by the Israelis: a formidable one of barbed-wire within Gaza and a 10-foot-high metal “smart fence” packed with surveillance sensors along the Israel demarcation line. A restricted buffer zone as wide as 300 yards is between them. Israel has warned that people in the zone without authorization risk being subjected to deadly force.
What is the history?
Like other parts of the Holy Land, Gaza’s history stretches back to ancient times. It was originally a Canaanite settlement and was variously ruled later by the Israelites, Egyptians, Romans and Ottomans, among others. The British seized the territory during World War I.
Gaza’s boundaries were established in a 1949 armistice agreement between Egypt and Israel, halting the conflict after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. During the Arab-Israeli war of that period, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes or fled, many to Gaza, and they and their descendants have been classified as refugees by the United Nations.
Egypt occupied Gaza until the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, when Israel seized the territory.
The first Gaza-Israel fence went up in 1994 as a way to control Palestinian movement after the Oslo Accords — the agreement aimed at ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and establishing a Palestinian state.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, vacating all Israeli settlements and removing its soldiers. But Israel maintains control of the northern and eastern land boundaries — Egypt controls the southern crossing, known as Rafah — and Israel controls the air and sea approaches. Most Gaza-bound food,