Gaza(, Ancient Greek Γάζα), also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, with a population of 515,556, making it the largest city in the State of Palestine. Inhabited since at least the 15th century BC, Gaza has been dominated by several different peoples and empires throughout its history. The Philistines made it a part of their pentapolis after the Ancient Egyptians had ruled it for nearly 350 years.
Under the Romans and later the Byzantines, Gaza experienced relative peace and its port flourished. In 635 AD, it became the first city in Palestine to be conquered by the Rashidun army and quickly developed into a centre of Islamic law. However, by the time the Crusaders invaded the city in the late 11th century, it was in ruins. In later centuries, Gaza experienced several hardships—from Mongol raids to floods and locusts, reducing it to a village by the 16th century, when it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. During the first half of Ottoman rule, the Ridwan dynasty controlled Gaza and under them the city went through an age of great commerce and peace. The municipality of Gaza was established in 1893.
Gaza fell to British forces during World War I, becoming a part of the British Mandate of Palestine. As a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Egypt administered the newly formed Gaza Strip territory and several improvements were undertaken in the city. Gaza was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, but in 1993, the city was transferred to the Palestinian National Authority. Months following the 2006 election, an armed conflict broke out between the Palestinian political factions of Fatah and Hamas, resulting in the latter taking power in Gaza. Egypt and Israel consequently imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip. Israel eased the blockade allowing consumer goods in June 2010, and Egypt reopened the Rafah border crossing in 2011 to pedestrians.
The primary economic activities of Gaza are small-scale industries and agriculture. However, the blockade and recurring conflicts has put the economy under severe pressure. The majority of Gaza's inhabitants are Muslim, although there is also a significant Christian minority. Gaza has a very young population with roughly 75% under the age of 25. The city is currently administered by a 14-member municipal council.</onlyinclude>
Gaza's history of habitation dates back 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Located on the Mediterranean coastal route between North Africa and the Levant, for most of its history it served as a key entrepôt of the southern Levant and an important stopover on the spice trade route traversing the Red Sea.
Settlement in the region of Gaza dates back to Tell es-Sakan, an Ancient Egyptian fortress built in Canaanite territory to the south of present-day Gaza. The site went into decline throughout the Early Bronze Age II as its trade with Egypt sharply decreased. Another urban centre known as Tell al-Ajjul began to grow along the Wadi Ghazza riverbed. During the Middle Bronze Age, a revived Tell es-Sakan became the southernmost locality in Canaan, serving as a fort. In 1650 BCE, when the Canaanite Hyksos occupied Egypt, a second city developed on the ruins of the first Tell as-Sakan. However, it was abandoned by the 14th century BCE, at the end of the Bronze Age.
Gaza later served as Egypt’s administrative capital in Canaan. During the reign of Tuthmosis III, the city became a stop on the Syrian-Egyptian caravan route and was mentioned in the Amarna letters as "Azzati". Gaza remained under Egyptian control for 350 years until it was conquered by the Philistines in the 12th century BC, becoming a part of their "pentapolis". According to the Book of Judges, Gaza was the place where Samson was imprisoned by the Philistines and met his death.
After being ruled by the Israelites, Assyrians, and then the Egyptians, Gaza achieved relative independence and prosperity under the Persian Empire. Alexander the Great besieged Gaza, the last city to resist his conquest on his path to Egypt, for five months before finally capturing it 332 BCE; the inhabitants were either killed or taken captive. Alexander brought in local Bedouins to populate Gaza and organized the city into a polis (or "city-state"). Greek culture consequently took root and Gaza earned a reputation as a flourishing center of Hellenic learning and philosophy.
Gaza experienced another siege in 96 BCE by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus who "utterly overthrew" the city, killing 500 senators who had fled into the temple of Apollo for safety. Josephus notes that Gaza was resettled under the rule of Herod Antipas, who cultivated friendly relations with Gazans, Ascalonites and neighboring Arabs after being appointed governor of Idumea by Jannaeus. Rebuilt after it was incorporated into the Roman Empire in 63 BCE under the command of Pompey Magnus, Gaza then became a part of the Roman province of Judaea. It was targeted by the Jews during their rebellion against Roman rule in 66 and was partially destroyed. It nevertheless remained an important city, even more so after the destruction of Jerusalem.
Throughout the Roman period, Gaza was a prosperous city and received grants and attention from several emperors. A 500-member senate governed Gaza, and a diverse variety of Philistines, Greeks, Romans, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Jews, Egyptians, Persians, and Bedouin populated the city. Gaza's mint issued coins adorned with the busts of gods and emperors. During his visit in 130 CE, Emperor Hadrian personally inaugurated wrestling, boxing, and oratorical competitions in Gaza's new stadium, which became known from Alexandria to Damascus. The city was adorned with many pagan temples; the main cult being that of Marnas. Other temples were dedicated to Zeus, Helios, Aphrodite, Apollo, Athene and the local Tyche. Christianity began to spread throughout Gaza in 250 CE, including in the port of Maiuma. A large synagogue existed in Gaza in the 6th century, according to excavations. Conversion to Christianity in Gaza was accelerated under Saint Porphyrius between 396 and 420. In 402, Theodosius II ordered all eight of the city's pagan temples destroyed, and four years later Empress Aelia Eudocia commissioned the construction of a church atop the ruins of the Temple of Marnas. It was during this era that the Christian philosopher Aeneas of Gaza called Gaza, his hometown, "the Athens of Asia." Following the division of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century CE, Gaza remained under control of the Eastern Roman Empire that in turn became the Byzantine Empire. The city prospered and was an important centre for the Levant.
In 635 CE Gaza was quickly besieged and captured by the Rashidun army under general 'Amr ibn al-'As following the Battle of Ajnadayn between the Byzantine Empire and the Rashidun Caliphate in central Palestine. Believed to be the site where Muhammad's great grandfather Hashim ibn Abd Manaf was buried, the city was not destroyed by the victorious Rashidun army despite the stiff and lengthy resistance. The arrival of the Muslim Arabs brought drastic changes to Gaza; at first some of her churches were transformed into mosques, including the present Great Mosque of Gaza (the oldest in the city), a large segment of the population swiftly adopted Islam, Arabic became the official language. In 767 Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi'i was born in Gaza and lived his early childhood there; al-Shafi'i founded a prominent Sunni Muslim legal philosophy (or fiqh) called Shafi'i, in his honor. Security was the key to Gaza's prosperity which had been maintained in the early rule of the Muslims. Although alcohol was banned in Islam, the Jewish and Christian communities were allowed to maintain wine production and grapes, a major cash crop in the city, were exported mainly to Egypt. Because it bordered the desert, Gaza was vulnerable to warring nomadic groups. In 796 Gaza was destroyed during a civil war between the Arab tribes of the area. However, by the 10th century CE the city had been rebuilt by a third Arab caliphate ruled by the Abbasids; Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi described Gaza as "a large town lying on the highroad to Egypt on the border of the desert." In 977 a fourth Arab caliphate ruled by the Fatimids established an agreement with the competing Seljuk Turks, whereby the Fatimids would control Gaza and the land south of it, including Egypt.
European Crusaders conquered the city from the Fatimids in 1100 and King Baldwin III built a castle used by the Knights Templar in Gaza in 1149. He also had the Great Mosque converted into the Cathedral of Saint John. In 1154, Arab traveller al-Idrisi wrote Gaza "is today very populous and in the hands of the Crusaders." In 1187 the Ayyubid forces, led by Saladin, captured Gaza and later destroyed the city's fortifications in 1191. Richard the Lionheart apparently refortified the city in 1192, but the walls were dismantled again as a result of the Treaty of Ramla agreed upon months later in 1193. The Ayyubid period of rule ended in 1260, after the Mongols under Hulagu Khan completely destroyed Gaza, which became his southernmost conquest.
Following Gaza's destruction by the Mongols, Muslim slave-soldiers based in Egypt known as the Mamluks began to administer the area in 1277. The Mamluks made Gaza the capital of the province that bore its name, Mamlakat Ghazzah ("the Governorship of Gaza"). This district extended along the coastal plain from Rafah in the south to just north of Caesarea, and to the east as far as the Samarian highlands and the Hebron Hills. Other major towns in the province included Qaqun, Ludd, and Ramla. Gaza, which entered a period of tranquility under the Mamluks, was used by them as an outpost in their offensives against the Crusaders which ended in 1290. In 1294 an earthquake devastated Gaza, and five years later the Mongols again destroyed all that had been restored by the Mamluks. Syrian geographer al-Dimashqi described Gaza in 1300 as a "city so rich in trees it looks like a cloth of brocade spread out upon the land." Under the governorship of Sanjar al-Jawli, Gaza was transformed into a major and flourishing city and much of the Mamluk era architecture is traced back to his reign between 1311-1320 and again in 1342. In 1348 the Bubonic Plague infested the city, killing the majority of its inhabitants and in 1352, Gaza suffered from a destructive flood, which was rare in that arid part of the Southern Levant. However, when Arab traveler and writer Ibn Batutta visited the city in 1355, he noted that it was "large and populous, and has many mosques."The Mamluks contributed to Gazan architecture by building mosques, Islamic schools, hospitals, caravansaries, and public baths. They also allowed the Jews to return to the city, and the Mamluk period saw a flourishing Jewish community in the city. Towards the end of the Mamluk period, the Jewish community in Gaza was the third largest in Palestine, after the communities in Safad and Jerusalem. In 1481, an Italian Jewish traveller Meshulam of Volterra wrote:
Gazza is called by the Moslems Gaza. It is a fine and renowned place, and its fruits are very renowned and good. Bread and good wine is to be found there, but only Jews make wine. Gaza has a circumference of four miles and no walls. It is about six miles from the sea and situated in a valley and on a hill. It has a population as numerous as the sands of the sea, and there are about fifty (sixty) Jewish householders, artisans. They have a small but pretty Synagogue, and vineyards and fields and houses. They had already begun to make the new wine. ... The Jews live at the top of the hill. May God exalt them. There are also four Samaritan householders who live on the hillside.
In 1516 Gaza—at the time, a small town with an inactive port, ruined buildings and reduced trade—was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman army quickly and efficiently crushed a small-scale uprising, and the local population generally welcomed as fellow Sunni Muslims. The city was then made the capital of Sanjak Gaza, part of the larger Province of Damascus. The Ridwan family, named after governor Ridwan Pasha, was the first dynasty to govern Gaza and would continue to rule the city for over a century. Under Ahmad ibn Ridwan, the city became a cultural and religious center as a result of the partnership between the governor and prominent Islamic jurist Khayr al-Din al-Ramli, who was based in the nearby town of al-Ramla.
During the rule of Husayn Pasha, strife between the settled population and the nearby Bedouin tribes was dramatically reduced, allowing Gaza to peacefully prosper. The Ridwan period is described as a golden age for Gaza, a time when it served as the virtual "capital of Palestine." The Great Mosque was restored, and six other mosques constructed, while Turkish baths and market stalls proliferated. After the death of Musa Pasha, Husayn's successor, Ottoman officials were appointed to govern in place of the Ridwans. The Ridwan period was Gaza's last golden age during Ottoman rule. After the family was removed from office, the city gradually declined.
Starting in the early 19th century, Gaza was culturally dominated by neighboring Egypt; Muhammad Ali of Egypt conquered Gaza in 1832. American scholar Edward Robinson visited the city in 1838, describing it as a "thickly populated" town larger than Jerusalem, with its Old City lying upon a hilltop, while its suburbs laid on the nearby plain. The city benefited from trade and commerce because of its strategic position on the caravan route between Egypt and northern Syria as well as from producing soap and cotton for trade with the government, local Arab tribes, and the Bedouin of Wadi Arabah and Ma'an. The bazaars of Gaza were well-supplied and were noted by Robinson as "far better" than those of Jerusalem. Robinson noted that virtually all of Gaza's vestiges of ancient history and antiquity had disappeared due to constant conflict and occupation. By the mid-19th century, Gaza's port was eclipsed by the ports of Jaffa and Haifa, but it retained its fishing fleet.
The Bubonic Plague struck Gaza again in 1839 and the city, lacking political and economic stability, went into a state of stagnation. In 1840 Egyptian and Ottoman troops battled outside of Gaza. The Ottomans won control of the territory, effectively ending Egyptian rule over southern Syria. However, the battles brought about more death and destruction in Gaza whilst the city was still recovering from the effects of the plague.
While leading the Allied Forces during World War I, the British won control of the city during the Third Battle of Gaza in 1917. After the war, Gaza was included in the British Mandate of Palestine. In the 1930s and 1940s, Gaza underwent major expansion. New neighborhoods were built along the coast and the southern and eastern plains. International organizations and missionary groups funded most of this construction. In the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, Gaza was assigned to be part of an Arab state in western Palestine but was occupied by Egypt following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Gaza's growing population was augmented by an influx of refugees fleeing nearby cities, towns and villages that were captured by Israel. In 1957, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser made a number of reforms in Gaza, which included expanding educational opportunities and the civil services, providing housing, and establishing local security forces.
Gaza was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War following the defeat of the Egyptian Army. Frequent conflicts have erupted between Palestinians and the Israeli authorities in the city since the 1970s. The tensions led to the First Intifada in 1987. Gaza was a center of confrontation during this uprising, and economic conditions in the city worsened.
In September 1993, leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords. The agreement called for Palestinian administration of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, which was implemented in May 1994. Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza, leaving a new Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to administer and police the city. The PNA, led by Yasser Arafat, chose Gaza as its first provincial headquarters. The newly established Palestinian National Council held its inaugural session in Gaza in March 1996.
In 2005, Israel withdrew its troops from the Gaza Strip and removed the thousands of Israelis who had settled in the territory. See Israel's unilateral disengagement plan of 2004. Since the Israeli withdrawal, Hamas has been engaged in a sometimes violent power struggle with its rival Palestinian organization Fatah. On January 25, 2006, Hamas won a surprise victory in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, the legislature of the Palestinian National Authority. In 2007, Hamas overthrew Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip and Hamas members were dismissed from the PNA government in the West Bank in response. Currently, Hamas, recognized as a terror organization by most western countries, has de facto control of the city and Strip.
In March 2008, a coalition of human rights groups charged that the Israeli blockade of the city had caused the humanitarian situation in Gaza to have reached its worst point since Israel occupied the territory in the 1967 Six-Day War, and that Israeli air strikes targeting militants in the densely populated areas have often killed bystanders as well. In 2008, Israel commenced an assault against Gaza. Israel stated the strikes were in response to repetitive rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel since 2005, while the Palestinians stated that they were responding to Israel's military incursions and blockade of the Gaza Strip. In January 2009, at least 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the conflict.
In November 2012, after a week of conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, a ceasefire brokered by Egypt was announced on November 21.