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Introducing West Bank

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip, predominantly Palestinian territories captured by Israel in 1967 during the Six Day War, have been neither annexed by Israel (as were East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights), nor granted outright autonomy. Security around both territories is extraordinarily tight, with hundreds of checkpoints, fences, walls and road blocks built around them to monitor the movement of Palestinians.

IDF control over Palestinian cities, and their surrounding roads, has waxed and waned with the political tide. The 1993 Oslo Accords brought Palestinians limited self rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but the IDF took back most urban areas during the second intifada. Under the 2005 ceasefire agreement, Israel promised to pull back from five West Bank towns - Ramallah, Qalqiyla, Bethlehem, Jericho and Tulkarem. At the time of writing it had only pulled back from the latter two.

The biggest disengagement plan yet occurred in August 2005 when some 9000 Israeli settlers were pulled out of their homes in Gush Katif and forced to relocate in Israel proper. They left behind a US$200 million a year hothouse industry and 1500 homes, which were demolished to make way for low-cost housing.

The IDF pullout includes Rafah, the scene of some of the most appalling atrocities committed by the IDF against ordinary Palestinians. In May 2004, a six-day siege on Rafah left 42 dead, 180 homes destroyed and a swathe of urban destruction that prompted international outrage and a strong rebuke from inside Sharon's own cabinet. Rafah is a hotbed of violence largely because of the secret tunnels that connect to Egypt, allowing the trafficking of weapons, drugs and people.