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This detailed map of Gaza helps explain the conflict

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Since Israel withdrew its military forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005, the relationship between the Palestinian territory and Israeli authorities has been, to say the least, fraught. This map does a great job laying out that relationship and how, from an aerial view, it looks.

The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) built this very detailed map of Gaza in 2007, so many of the specific figures and designations may be dated, but in broad strokes the map displays many of the most important and enduring features of Israel-Gaza:


Here are a few of the most important features.

There's a serious Israeli blockade of Gaza. You'll notice Israeli fences, boundaries, and supervised crossings all around Gaza. Israel heavily controls the flow of goods through these channels, including food, medicine, construction materials, and the like. The state reason it does that is to limit Hamas' ability to resupply itself militarily; for instance, Hamas and other militant groups often home-build rockets that get fired into Israeli towns and cities. These restrictions also severely affect civilians. To deal with the military and civilian effects of the blockade, Hamas built well over a thousand tunnels out of Gaza — mostly into Egypt. Israel's stated reason for the ground incursion into Gaza is shutting down tunnels into Israel built for attacks, but it also may want to shut down Hamas supply tunnels into Egypt.

There used to be a lot more border crossings into Israel. The map shows five border crossings out of Gaza, but the majority of the crossings (per the UN) are closed today. Erez, in the north, and Kerem Shalom, in the south, are the big ones today. These are the places where Israel lets through the goods and persons that are allowed to cross the blockade, and they're occasionally shut down for security reasons.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt is the only above-ground way in or out not controlled by Israel. Between the border fence, Israel's control of the water outside of Gaza, and the Israeli crossings, the Rafah crossing with Egypt in the south is the only real way to get out. That's why it's a big deal that the Egyptian military is restricting access to it and shutting down the tunnels that go under it: it's very hard for Hamas to circumvent Israeli restrictions otherwise.

The fishing limits have a huge impact on the Gaza economy. Though Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, it still sets many of the terms for the Gazan economy by virtue of its blockade. The fact that Israel controls where Gazans can fish is a big part of this. Though the map correctly displays the permitted fishing zone at six nautical miles, Israel sometimes reduces it to three. Even the six mile boundary excludes the best fishing grounds; Gaza's fishing industry has collapsed since Israel imposed it. Catches are under 50 percent of what they were about 10 years ago, and 95 percent of Gaza's fishers and their families depend on foreign food aid. It's a microcosm of how Israeli restrictions on the Gazan economy and shipping have such a massive effect on life in Gaza even without Israel.

The border fence shows how this conflict persists even when there isn't an invasion. Israel uses the border fence, as it does in the West Bank, to prevent Palestinians (including militants) from sneaking into Israel. It's quite effective at that; as we saw just before the current invasion, Hamas operatives looking to strike in Israel are forced to dig under the fence, which can be risky and unreliable for them. However, there are zones near the fences that Palestinians cannot enter, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, without risking Israeli fire — and sometimes death. Between December 2013 and March 2014, about 55 civilians were injured on the border and four were killed. Israeli authorities say they were trying to sabotage the fence.

The point here is that this invasion and war doesn't come out of nowhere: even when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't at full war levels, there's always a slow burn of violence, provocations, and counter-provocations.