If Israel’s siege of Gaza after Hamas' terror attack gives way to a ground offensive and invasion, the more than 300,000 troops called into active duty will have to contend with a major obstacle in the hunt for Hamas fighters: the overcrowded Gaza Strip.
Though small in size compared to Israel and the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip is densely packed, filled with urban areas and home to millions of people, including the Hamas fighters who know the area better.
Here’s a look at the geography of one of the most densely populated places in the world.
The Gaza Strip is a narrow enclave in the Middle East surrounded by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s a mix of rural and urban areas, the largest of which is Gaza City in the northeast.
Movement into and out of the Gaza Strip is heavily controlled, as Israel and Egypt enforce a near complete land, sea and air blockade of the area since 2007. Nearly 40% of its population is under the age of 15, and the Gaza Strip has one of the highest birth rates in the world.
This means more and more children are being born into the same narrow space.
At 139 square miles, the Gaza Strip is approximately equal in size to the city of Philadelphia.
But the Gaza Strip has about one-third more people than Philadelphia, and the densest part of Gaza — the municipality that contains part of Gaza City — has roughly 10 times as many people as Philadelphia’s most populous ZIP code.
The Gaza Strip’s density is comparable to many major global cities, but whereas people in those areas have the option of leaving or expanding the suburbs, Gazans cannot.
Gaza’s density creates challenges in combat for Israel, whether aerial or on the ground. Israeli officials claim Hamas has a tendency to station military targets in the middle of civilian and commercial areas — and if the airstrikes give way to boots on the ground, that density will make finding fighters all the more difficult.
Graphics data sources:
Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (2023 estimates), OCHA occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), IPUMS National Historical GIS, University of Minnesota, U.S. Census Bureau, CIA World Factbook, Greater London Authority, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics.