[News] Egypt Joins Israel as Gaza’s Jailer

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 19 12:01:14 EDT 2013


September 19, 2013
http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/09/19/egypt-joins-israel-as-gazas-jailer/


*A Militarized Border*


  Egypt Joins Israel as Gaza’s Jailer

by PAM BAILEY and MEDEA BENJAMIN

There was a time when activist groups that focused on helping the 
Palestinians in Gaza reserved their harshest language and protests for 
Israel, which long has prohibited both air and sea traffic in and out of 
Gaza; tightly limited exchanges through its Erez terminal; and banned 
exports altogether.

While movement in and out of Gaza via the Egyptian terminal at Rafah was 
restricted as well, it nonetheless was a critical lifeline for 
Palestinians needing to travel, and for humanitarian aid. Likewise, 
members of the Egyptian government often played a constructive role in 
facilitating negotiations between the various Palestinian factions, as 
well as with international parties.

However, in the two months since the Egyptian military took control, it 
has made clear it will no longer serve as that “bridge”. In fact, as the 
military and other opponents of ousted President Mohamed Morsi 
increasingly blame Palestinian “elements” for growing unrest and 
violence, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula, the interim government of 
Egypt has increasingly allied itself with Israel in strategy and actions 
– becoming just as much Gazans’ jailer as its neighbor to the east. As 
/The Washington Post /reported 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypt-squeezing-economic-pipeline-to-gaza-strip/2013/09/08/82abda7a-18a2-11e3-8685-5021e0c41964_story.html>, 
“with Egypt’s military-backed interim government shutting down the 
tunnels and largely closing its own pedestrian crossing at Rafah, Gaza 
is increasingly shut off from the world”.

In response, organizations ranging from the European Campaign to End the 
Siege of Gaza to Gaza’s Ark <http://www.gazaark.org/> (an international 
coalition focused on ending the Israeli ban on exports) are directly 
including Egypt in their messaging. And a petition launched by a 
grassroots coalition calling itself the International Campaign to 
#OpenRafahBorder 
<http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Egypt_Open_Gazas_Rafah_Crossing_1/?copy> 
  attracted more than 1,000 signatures from around the world in just the 
first 24 hours. The coalition’s goal is to collect 25,000 signatures and 
deliver them to Egyptian ambassadors, the United Nations and human 
rights organizations.

*Stranded students and patients*

Before Egypt’s military ousted Morsi on July 3, an estimated 1,200 
people-a-day used to cross through Rafah, which was Gaza’s main window 
to the world. Since then, the average number of permitted travelers has 
only been 250 each day 
<http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/12/us-palestinians-egypt-gaza-idUSBRE98B0IY20130912>, 
/if /Rafah is open at all. At this article’s writing, Rafah had been 
closed for six consecutive days. The EuroMid Observer for Human Rights 
<http://www.euromid.org/marsad/index.php?action=main/readcontent&lang=en&cat=2&id=454> 
estimates that at least 10,000 Palestinians are currently on the waiting 
list to cross on the Gaza side alone.

Many of the individuals left stranded are students trying to get to 
universities after months of effort to apply for scarce scholarships. 
Malaka Mohammed, a 23-year-old refugee, is set to begin studying global 
politics and law at the UK’s Sheffield University on Sept. 30, after 
working hard to obtain a partial scholarship and fundraising through an 
online campaign <http://www.justgiving.com/Malaka>. With about half of 
the needed donations already in, Mohammed took a risk and made 
arrangements to travel to the UK on September 18. Now she is wondering 
if all that work was for naught.

“Gaza really is the world’s biggest prison and it’s become more so every 
day. We thought the Rafah crossing was our exit to freedom and 
happiness. But it has become a place where people lose their hopes,” she 
posted on Facebook.

Other stranded travelers include persons needing medical care. Ashraf 
al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, told Reuters 
<http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/12/us-palestinians-egypt-gaza-idUSBRE98B0IY20130912> 
that 1,000 individuals a month require medical care in Egypt or other 
countries due to the shortages and other difficulties in the Strip. 
While foreign physicians often travel to Gaza to bring vital supplies 
and provide care, these days they aren’t being allowed in. “Until June, 
we had received 60 delegations of doctors who performed surgery on 1,000 
patients. No delegation has arrived since then,” Qidra told Reuters.

*Gaza Faces Fuel Shortages*

Although word came on September 16, that Palestinian Authority President 
Mahmoud Abbas had interceded 
<http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=630344> with the 
Egyptian interim government to open up a few hours for students and sick 
people, Gazans were unimpressed. Shahd Abusalama, who is trying to leave 
to study in Istanbul, posted this comment: “Thanks a lot, Abbas, for 
finding some time to think about us and deciding to take action. We, the 
Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, appreciate that you finally have 
some sympathy for us. The crisis cannot be solved by opening up for just 
two days, four working hours each. This is not a solution. If they 
manage to let 500 people cross, what will happen to the rest? F**k him!”

*No more pipeline of supplies*

Currently, the only way for goods and supplies to enter Gaza is Israel’s 
Kerem Shalom crossing (Rafah was not constructed to handle freight 
traffic). However, the volume allowed is far below the population’s 
needs (179 trucks a day, compared to nearly 600 before Israel imposed 
the siege in 2007). Thus, underground smuggling tunnels from Egypt to 
Gaza have played the role of a crucial “safety valve”. According to the 
EuroMid Observer for Human Rights, Gaza’s businesses have relied on the 
tunnels for more than 45 percent of their raw materials – including 
about 7,500 tons of construction materials per day.

However, the Egyptian military now has launched a massive campaign to 
destroy the tunnels, without a plan for allowing goods in via another 
route. The operation seems to be part of an effort to cripple Hamas – an 
offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood – which governs the coastal enclave.

Local sources say 90 percent of the tunnels have been forced out of 
operation; fewer than 10 are still open, compared to an estimated 300 
before the crackdown. As a result of the tunnel destruction and other 
restrictions, says the Euro-Mid Observer, 60 percent of industrial 
businesses are closed and the rest are operating at partial capacity, 
putting more than 19,500 people out of work.

A related challenge is that Gazans have come to rely on the cheap, 
state-subsidised fuel and gas smuggled from Egypt (Israeli gas is twice 
as expensive and thus not affordable). Long lines at gas stations, as 
well as a dramatic reduction in cars available for transportation, are 
now increasingly the reality in Gaza.

Yousef Aljamal, a young Gazan employee of a local NGO, posted on 
Facebook, “the transportation crisis in Gaza is deepening. I waited 
half-an-hour this morning to get a ride to my office, to no avail. I had 
to change the route I take every day, increasing the fees I have to pay. 
It also took me half-an-hour to get a ride to get home. Exhausted!”

With the irrepressible Gazan “graveyard” humor, another friend 
commented, “I heard that our electricity company is gonna run their 
generators on donkeys –  sounds like good news: green energy!”

On September 5, the Palestinian Energy Authority warned that the Gaza 
Power Plant is in danger of shutting down completely due to lack of 
fuel. If the plant shuts down, the result would be power outages of 12 
to 16 hours-a-day, up from the current 8 to 12 hours, disabling water 
and waste-disposal systems as well as crippling many businesses.

Even more alarming, warns the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian 
Assistance to the Occupied Palestinian Territory 
<http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/features/economy-of-the-occupation/7001-gaza-power-plant-shutdown-tomorrow-likely>, 
is the fact that Gaza’s 14 hospitals and 60 health centres have long 
relied on 250,000 litres of the less-expensive Egyptian fuel each month 
(likewise, 30 percent of their medicines and other supplies had come 
through Rafah).

*Militarization of the Gaza-Egypt border*

Indicative of just how much – and how permanently – the situation on the 
ground is changing is the news 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypt-squeezing-economic-pipeline-to-gaza-strip/2013/09/08/82abda7a-18a2-11e3-8685-5021e0c41964_story.html> 
that the Egyptian army has begun bulldozing and blowing up houses on its 
side of the border near Rafah. The action is step one towards clearing 
the way for a “buffer zone” hundreds of yards wide between the two 
sides, replicating the barren no-man’s-land that Israel enforces inside 
Gaza to keep Palestinians from approaching the Israeli border.  Hamas 
officials told /The Washington Post/ that the Egyptian military plans to 
dig a moat along the border and fill it with water.

Meanwhile, this month two Egyptian army tanks crossed into the Gaza side 
<http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/09/12/egypt-tanks-cross-fence-leading-to-gaza/#ixzz2esUPljnK> 
of the border for the first time; although they didn’t go far, it 
created a precedent.

Gaza fishermen are being attacked as well. On September 14, news reports 
<http://www.france24.com/en/20130914-egypt-arrests-two-gaza-fishermen-hamas> 
confirmed that Egyptian naval forces had opened fire at and arrested two 
fishermen in waters off Rafah. That was the second time in recent weeks 
that Egyptian forces opened fire at Gaza fishermen.

As if taking their cue from the new bellicosity of Egypt, the Israeli 
military has begun to abrogate the concessions brokered by Morsi’s 
government in November 2012, as part of a ceasefire that ended eight 
days of Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip and retaliatory fire from 
groups in the territory.

As part of the agreement, Israel had reduced the “buffer zone” along its 
border with Gaza, from 300 metres to 100. However, after Morsi was 
ousted by the Egyptian military, farmers reported 
<http://electronicintifada.net/content/israel-exploits-egypt-turmoil-increase-attacks-gaza-farmers/12765> 
being shot at as far as 500 metres out. The Palestinian Center for Human 
Rights documented during July and August that Israel was responsible for 
one shelling, 12 shootings and seven incursions in the buffer zone – 
resulting in one death and seven injuries, including two children.

It seems clear that as the world remains focused on Syria and Iran, 
Israel and Egypt are working in concert to “re-write” the facts on the 
ground for Gaza. It’s time for the international activist community to 
mobilize.

/*Pam Bailey* is a freelance journalist and activist who has lived and 
worked in Gaza. /

/*Medea Benjamin* is co-founder of Global Exchange and Codepink: Women 
for Peace <http://codepink.org/>./

-- 
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