Gaza: a history


New from Hurst (UK)/Oxford (US), a translation of Jean-Pierre Filiu‘s Histoire de Gaza (Fayard, 2012): Gaza: a history.

Through its millennium–long existence, Gaza has often been bitterly disputed while simultaneously and paradoxically enduring prolonged neglect. Jean-Pierre Filiu’s book is the first comprehensive history of Gaza in any language.

Squeezed between the Negev and Sinai deserts on the one hand and the Mediterranean Sea on the other, Gaza was contested by the Pharaohs, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Fatimids, the Mamluks, the Crusaders and the Ottomans. Napoleon had to secure it in 1799 to launch his failed campaign on Palestine. In 1917, the British Empire fought for months to conquer Gaza, before establishing its mandate on Palestine.

In 1948, 200,000 Palestinians sought refuge in Gaza, a marginal area neither Israel nor Egypt wanted. Palestinian nationalism grew there, and Gaza has since found itself at the heart of Palestinian history. It is in Gaza that the fedayeen movement arose from the ruins of Arab nationalism. It is in Gaza that the 1967 Israeli occupation was repeatedly challenged, until the outbreak of the 1987 intifada. And it is in Gaza, in 2007, that the dream of Palestinian statehood appeared to have been shattered by the split between Fatah and Hamas. The endurance of Gaza and the Palestinians make the publication of this history both timely and significant.

Here is the Contents list; despite the title of Part III, the book traces the story up to 2012 (the last chapter):

Part I – Gaza Before the Strip
Chapter 1 – The Crossroads of Empires
Chapter 2 – The Islamic Era
Chapter 3 – The British Mandate
Part II – 1947-1967: The Age of Mourning
Chapter 4 – The Catastrophe
Chapter 5 – Refugees and Fedayin
Chapter 6 – The First Occupation
Chapter 7 – Nasser’s Children
Part III – The Crushed Generation
Chapter 8 – The Four Years of War
Chapter 9 – The Era of the Notables
Chapter 10 – The Alien Peace
Chapter 11 – The New Wave
Part III – 1987-2007 The Generation of the Intifadas
Chapter 12 – The Revolt of the Stones
Chapter 13 – A Sharply Limited Authority
Chapter 14 – Days of Fury
Chapter 15 – One Palestine Against Another
Chapter 16 – Five Years in the Ruins

Here’s Mark Levine:

‘Anyone familiar with Jean-Pierre Filiu’s scholarship knows well his talent for taking complex historical processes and bringing their relevance for the present day to the front burner. Never have such skills been more needed than in addressing the still poorly understood history of Gaza. And Filiu succeeds admirably. Providing a wonderful synopsis of a century’s worth of history, his discussion of the more direct roots of the present violent dynamics, beginning with the “crushed generation” of the Six Day War and continuing through the travails of Gaza’s burgeoning hiphop scene, demonstrates just how historically and culturally rich remains this much abused land. A clear must-read for all those seeking to think outside the existing outdated prisms for studying history, and the future of Gaza and Palestine/Israel writ large.’ 

Gilbert Achcar writes:

‘Jean-Pierre Filiu is a scholar of international reputation and a champion of the downtrodden. This book will make you wonder how there could be such a paucity of works on Gaza, despite its centrality to Palestinian history, and help the reader better appreciate the plight of Gaza’s population.’

Filiu is Professor of Middle East Studies at Sciences-Po, but he’s more than a scholar; a former diplomat, he’s also published two graphic novels and written two popular songs.  This one is about Gaza, and it’s timely too: