Gaza Revisited: New Readings in the Social and Political History of Gaza

By Jehad Abusalim
Submitted to Session P4946 (Articulations of Struggle in Transnational Palestinian Resistance Circuits, 2017 Annual Meeting
In the realm of studying Palestinian political and social history, Gaza has been marginalized, with clear gaps still unexamined in the history of pre and post-Nakba Gaza District and Strip. This paper suggests ways to bridge these gaps by examining a pool of new sources from the late Mandate period through the early years post-Nakba, including memoirs, diaries, newspapers, etc. that have not been fully utilized. These sources can offer new insight into the understandings of the socio-political formations that emerged in the post-Nakba period and continued to affect Palestinian politics in general, and politics within the Gaza Strip in particular, to our present day. These sources highlight the ways in which the Nakba was a point of rupture in the history of the Gaza District, in that new socio-political formations emerged as a result of the changed economic, political, social and even cultural conditions in the newly-born Strip.

This stage in Gaza’s history was influenced by external political changes (relationships with Egypt, the West Bank, and Jordan) and internal changes (influx of refugees, changes in land ownership, the presence of international bodies such as the UNRWA). However, more significantly this study highlights the ways in which the post-Nakba period was, to a large extent, a continuation of the socio-political formations that existed before 1948 (which includes a wide political spectrum including communists, Muslim Brotherhood, politics of notables, etc). This paper will offer perspective with regards new directions for historical research on Palestine/Israel by demonstrating how these various new sources can offer a unique lens through which to read the political and social history of Gaza.

Furthermore, based on aforementioned sources, this paper will pay special focus to the emergence of the border area between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Marked earlier as an armistice line, the Gaza-Israel border was to emerge and evolve as a result of bloody episodes of refugee attempts at return and acts of resistance in the years that followed the Nakba on one hand, and Israel’s constant attempt to affirm its rights of sovereignty through applying various mechanisms of discipline. These acts of discipline, this paper will argue, helped to defining the current confined space known as the Gaza Strip, and planted the seeds of Israel’s disciplinary approaches towards Palestinians in the form of retaliation, reprisals, or what some refer to as Israel’s policy of “mowing the lawn.”