The areas now known as the West Bank and Gaza, despite geographic differences, were once similar in social, cultural and economic terms. But through a long process of one occupation after another, they were set apart and differentiated.
Israel’s recent incursion in Gaza follows a pattern of harsher policies of suppression, compared to its counterpart to the East, after the two territories were created in 1948.
Since their establishment, Gaza has often been more underdeveloped, and its residents less educated, more impoverished and more reliant on foreign donations, compared to those in the West Bank. How has this different reality and treatment come to be? To understand the military action earlier this year, we need to understand the historical background that has defined the status of Gaza, the divisions between the two Palestinian regions, and Israeli policies towards them.
Similar yet different: Early occupation
During almost 30 years of a British mandate, between WWI and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, along with degrees of capitalist development, the two regions remained similar. After the first Arab-Israeli war (1947-1949), and with the establishment of the state of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were created, and each fell under the occupation of a different neighbouring Arab state (Jordan and Egypt, respectively) for about 20 years. This had different consequences for each of them.
Gaza lost much of its territory including agricultural lands and pastures to Israel, and was faced with a massive influx of refugees, nearly three-times the size of its native population. Hostile Egyptian policy towards Gaza, including closing off access to Egypt, further deteriorated the socio-economic situation of the tiny strip, halting the evolution of traditional economic, social and cultural structures.
The situation in the West Bank, first under the control of and later annexed by Jordan, was somewhat different. As part of King Abdullah’s ambitions, Palestinian refugees were offered Jordanian citizenship, and while many of them lived in camps, their situation was better than their fellow Palestinians in Gaza.