Gaza in Google-Supported Geographic Comparisons

Gaza on Google Earth
The Gaza Strip has been called the largest internment camp in the world, even a concentration camp. It is a slice of urbanity containing well over a million and a half people, many of them classified as refugees, a few of them lucky enough to have employment, and all of them experiencing something far from what could be called a decent life with guaranteed human rights. It is essentially a walled city - but not walled to keep intruders out, as was the original intent when cities were first built in the region many thousands of years ago. Rather, it is walled to keep the people in, and now (yet again) they are trapped within an enclosed, impoverished, and inescapable urban hell as bombardment rains down upon them.

But let's step back now, and just examine geography for a moment. How small is the Gaza Strip, really, and how can we - without actually going there - compare our own living spaces to Gaza?

Trying to answer that question, I made two maps using the cartographic resources of Google:

Te image on the right superimposes a very rough outline of the Gaza strip on top of a map of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. (In the end, I think I made the Gaza outline too wide.) I used Google Earth to measure out the lengths of Gaza's borders on the DC area, and then followed up by drawing lines in my Paint application. As you can see, the area of Gaza is actually about twice that of the District, but Gaza has over 1.6 million residents, while the District has a population of around 600,000 within its angular and riverine borders. It is difficult to imagine how DC could function if its borders were shut; on average I cross the Potomac once or twice a day, and that 600,000 population more than doubles every morning as commuters come to work in the city. Gaza, meanwhile, is almost entirely sealed off from the outside world with walls, strict security checkpoints, and a complete denial of sea or air access by the Israeli military.

I made this second image using Google Maps, and I zoomed in to the same scale on two very different parts of the world: Gaza and Ketchikan, Alaska. In fact, they're almost longitudinal antipodes of each other, since Ketchikan is at the 131st parallel west, the opposite of which would be the 49th east, while Gaza is at the 34th east. Just for reference, Gaza's border with Egypt (in the lower left-hand corner) is 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) long, which is similar to the length of Ketchikan's waterfront.

One feeling that I always loved while growing up in Ketchikan was constant awareness of spatial freedom - a knowledge that you are surrounded in all directions by wilderness, hemmed in by nothing but beautiful forest. In Gaza, however, I imagine that anywhere you go you are surrounded by buildings, by walls, by people, and you are filled with the knowledge that to the south, Egyptians enjoy greater freedom, and that to the east, Israelis enjoy even greater freedom and wealth (as long as they are protected from you). The freest view available to Gazans, I imagine, is a view out across the sea, but even there, the distance that fishing boats can travel from shore is heavily restricted by the Israeli military.

How many times in the course of my short life so far have I seen the Israeli military launch major assaults and bombardments on neighboring polities? Too many, I think. It really doesn't matter what your opinion is on "fault" or causation in this situation: The Gaza Strip is an enclosure of grief and tragedy, and its inhabitants deserve something better.

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