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West Bank and Gaza Strip

The territory now known as the West Bank formed the heart of ancient Israel and was the site of many significant events in Jewish history. Since ancient times, the area has been known as Judea and Samaria and was identified as such through the British Mandate period.   In the 9th Century BCE, Samaria (in the northern West Bank) was the capital of the Israelite Kingdom. Much of the Old Testament takes place in Judea and Samaria. While Gaza has less of a presence in the Bible, it does appear in the books of Joshua and Judges. From that time until 1948, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied by the Romans, the Ottomans and the British. The Gaza Strip, and particularly the West Bank, are rich in archeological remains of centuries of Jewish communal life.

The 1947 U.N. Partition Plan proposing an independent Arab state in Palestine alongside a Jewish state was rejected by the Arab states, who then proceeded to invade the State of Israel hours after its establishment. In the ensuing war, Jordan occupied the West Bank (which it annexed in 1950) and Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip. For the next 19 years neither Egypt nor Jordan made any attempt to establish an independent Palestinian state in these territories. Indeed, these areas were relatively neglected in terms of economic and agricultural development.

In 1967 Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (and its population of at least one million Arabs) in the Six Day War. Israel immediately made clear that it would be ready to redeploy from territories in return for a peace agreement with its Arab neighbors. Israel’s offer was rebuffed.

In 1993, as part of the Oslo Accords, Israel agreed to redeploy from Palestinian population centers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Beginning with the West Bank city of Jericho and a large portion of the Gaza Strip in May 1994, there were a series of Israeli redeployments totaling 40 percent of the West Bank and over 85 percent of the Gaza Strip, leaving 99 percent of the Palestinian population living under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. At Camp David in July 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak reportedly offered an Israeli withdrawal from as much as 95 percent of the West Bank, 100 percent of the Gaza Strip, and parts of Jerusalem. Chairman Arafat rejected this offer, arguing that only a full withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines would be acceptable, but made no serious counter-offer.

In 2003, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a plan for Israel to unilaterally disengage from the Gaza Strip and some small settlements in the northern West Bank in order to further Israel’s political, security and demographic interests. The disengagement was approved by the Cabinet and Knesset and began on August 15, 2005. By September 15 all Israeli civilians had left the Gaza settlements, and on October 1 the last Israeli soldier left the strip, completing the disengagement.

While there are obvious social, political, religious and family ties between the Palestinian communities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, there have long been differences between the two populations. The Palestinians of the West Bank are considered more cosmopolitan and educated. The Palestinians of Gaza are more economically disadvantaged, tend to be more religious and more supportive of extremist ideology.  Since 2007, Hamas has governed Gaza and Gaza is the primary center for terrorist and militant activity – including the launching of rockets at Israeli population centers, raids on Israeli military installations, and the smuggling of weapons from Egypt or by sea.  In December 2008, Israel launched a three-week military operation in Gaza aimed at ending Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel and stopping Hamas from smuggling weapons and materiel from tunnels burrowed under the border with Egypt.  In November 2012, again responding to increased rocket attacks, Israel launched an eight day aerial operation which targeted Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist leadership and rocket launching and storage sites.

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