Gaza is usually used to refer to the Gaza Strip region of the Palestinian Territories. It may also be used to refer to Gaza City, the largest city in the region. It is unusual in that it is not a part of any recognized sovereign nation, but is not claimed by other sovereign nations, and is instead a part of an emerging state.
The Gaza Strip runs along the Mediterranean coast, and is border by Israel to the north and east, and by Egypt to the south. It is roughly 25 miles (41km) long, and ranges from 4 to 7 miles (6 to 12km) in width, with a total area of just under 140 square miles (360 sq. km). It is home to nearly 1.5 million people, making it the sixth most densely populated independent territory on earth.
The region has been prosperous and important since ancient times, and was a pivotal trade route along the Mediterranean, connecting Syria and Mesopotamia with Egypt far into antiquity. The Arabs conquered Gaza during the 7th century, and it later experienced a brief period of Crusader control during the 12th century. The Ottoman Turks took it at the beginning of the 16th century, and it remained a part of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I. The British administered the region following the war as part of the Palestinian Territories.
In 1929, following a riot by Zionist mobs, a number of anti-Jewish riots broke out throughout Gaza, resulting in the deaths of many, and the eventual expulsion of large segments of the Jewish population. The British enforced a ban on Jews from settling in the area following this, although it became less strictly enforced in the late-1940s.
After World War II, the territory was taken by Egypt during the Arab-Israeli War in 1948. The Egyptians controlled it for most of the next two decades, except for a brief period in the mid-1950s, when Israel occupied the region. Even during the time of Egyptian rule, however, Gazans were never treated as actual citizens. Egypt ruled Gaza as a territory, under a military leader, and the inhabitants enjoyed few of the benefits of actual Egyptians.
In 1967 Israel took control of the area. It administered it directly until 1994, when Gaza came under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority as laid out in the Oslo Accords. In 2005 Israel further pulled out, dismantling all of its settlements in the region, as well as a number in the related West Bank region, and removing all Israeli settlers.
The withdrawal of Israel from the region created a strange situation, as the Palestinian Authority is not currently recognized as an actual sovereign state. This leaves the territory in the unusual position of being a large tract of settled, contiguous land, unowned or claimed by any actual state.
In 2007 a civil war broke out within the Palestinian Territories, between the Palestinian Liberation Movement, or Fatah, and the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas. Hamas won an election held, and drove Fatah out of power. The situation in the Gaza Strip has since become quite tense, with Hamas claiming a legitimate right to rule, and many nations, including Israel, refusing to cooperate or recognize what they consider to be a terrorist organization.