[News] Open Rafah Now: Siege on Gaza is a Cruel and Political Failure

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Dec 10 11:13:58 EST 2015

December 10, 2015

  Open Rafah Now: Siege on Gaza is a Cruel and Political Failure

by Ramzy Baroud <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/ramzy-baroud/>


When Egypt decided to open the Rafah border crossing which separates it 
from Gaza for two days, December 3 and 4, a sense of guarded relief was 
felt in the impoverished Strip. True, 48 hours were hardly enough for 
the tens of thousands of patients, students and other travelers to leave 
or return to Gaza, but the idea that a respite was on its way helped to 
break, albeit slightly, the sense of collective captivity felt by 
entrapped Palestinians.

Of course, the Rafah border crisis will hardly be resolved by a single 
transitory decision, mainly because Gaza is blockaded for political 
reasons, and only a sensible political strategy can end the suffering 
there or, at least, lessen its horrendous impact.

Palestinians speak angrily of an Israel siege on Gaza, a reality that 
cannot be countered by all the official Israeli hasbara and media 
distortions. In fact, not only is it far worse than a blockade as an 
economic restriction but it is a constant violent process aimed at 
brutalizing, and punishing a community of 1.9 million people. However, 
the Egyptian closure of the Rafah border crossing, which has contributed 
to the ‘success’ of the Israeli siege is rarely discussed within the 
same context: as a political decision first and foremost.

In a border-related agreement that was reportedly signed mid-November 
between Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt’s Abdul 
Fatah al-Sisi, both sides seemed genial and unperturbed about the 
tragedy bubbling up north of the Egyptian border.

The ‘activities’ near Rafah were intended to “secure the border,” Sisi 
told Abbas, according to a statement issued by the Egyptian President’s 
office. These activities “could never be meant to harm the Palestinian 
brothers in the Gaza Strip.”

The term ‘activities’ here is, of course, a reference to the demolishing 
of thousands of homes alongside the 12-kilometer border between Rafah in 
Gaza and Egypt, in addition to the destruction and flooding of hundreds 
of tunnels, which have served as Gaza’s main lifeline that sustained the 
Strip throughout the Israeli siege during most of the last decade.

Abbas, of course, has no qualms about the Egyptian action, the result of 
which has been the closure of the Rafah crossing for 300 days in 2015 
alone, according to a new study originating in Gaza.

Last year, in an interview with Egypt’s ‘Al-Akbar’ newspaper, Abbas said 
that the destruction of the tunnels was the best solution to prevent 
Gazans from using the smuggling business for their own benefits. He then 
spoke about 1,800 Gazans becoming millionaires as a result of the tunnel 
trade, although no corroboration for this specific number was ever divulged.

Of course, Abbas has rarely been concerned about the rising fortunes of 
the alleged ‘millionaires’, because his Authority, which subsists on 
international handouts, is rife with them. His grievance is with Hamas, 
which has been regulating tunnel trade and taxing merchants for the 
goods they import into the Strip. Not only were the tunnels a lifeline 
for Gaza’s economy, the underground business helped fill a void in 
Hamas’ own budget, a fact that has irked Abbas for years.

Following Hamas’ election victory in January 2006 and the bloody clash 
between the new Government and Abbas’s Fatah faction, Hamas has 
experienced immense pressure: Israel launched three massive and deadly 
wars, while maintaining a strict siege; Egypt ensured the near permanent 
closure of its border; and Abbas continued to pay the salaries for tens 
of thousands of his supporters in Gaza, on the condition that they did 
not join the Hamas Government.

Moreover, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, the turmoil in Egypt and the war 
in Syria, in particular, lessened Hamas’ chances of escaping the 
financial stranglehold that made governing Gaza, broken by war and 
fatigued by the siege, nearly unviable.

While Israel, from the outset, explained that its siege was based on 
security requirements, Egypt eventually did the same, alleging that 
destroying the tunnels, demolishing homes and enlarging the buffer zone 
were necessary steps to stave off the flow of weapons from Gaza to 
Sinai’s militants who are responsible for deadly attacks on the Egyptian 

Oddly, the Egyptian logic is the exact opposite of the Israeli logic, 
upon which the siege was justified in the first place. Israel claims 
that Gaza’s factions use the tunnels to smuggle weapons and explosives 
from Sinai, not the other way around.

Indeed, allegedly smuggling weapons from Gaza to Sinai has little to do 
with the closure of Rafah or even the destruction of the tunnels.

With American expertise and aid, Egypt began erecting a steel wall along 
the Gaza border as early as December 2009. This preceded the Egyptian 
revolution and the political chasm in that society which was followed by 
the militant chaos. Indeed, there was little violence in Sinai then, at 
least, not one blamed partly on Palestinians. The construction of the 
wall took place during the rule of Hosni Mubarak in order to accommodate 
Israeli-American pressure to contain Hamas and other fighting groups. 
Abbas, eager to see the demise of his rivals, was in agreement, as he 
remains until today, ever ready to entertain any ideas that would once 
more give rise to his Fatah party in the Strip.

The militant violence in Sinai did not usher in the siege on Gaza, but 
only hastened the demolishing of homes, destruction of tunnels and 
provided further justification for the permanent closure of the border.

Life in Gaza became impossible, to the extent that the UN Conference on 
Trade and Development released a report last September warning that Gaza 
could become ‘uninhabitable’ in less than five years, if current 
economic trends continue.

But these economic trends are the result of intentional policies, mostly 
centered at achieving political ends. Moreover, none of these ends have 
been achieved after nearly a decade of experimentation. True, many have 
died as they waited to receive proper medical care and thousands 
perished in war; many of the maimed cannot even acquire wheelchairs, let 
alone prosthetics, but neither has Israel managed to stop the 
Resistance, Egypt quell the rebellion in Sinai nor has Abbas regained 
his lost factional stronghold.

Yet, things are getting much worse for Gaza. The World Bank issued a 
report earlier this year stating that 43% of Gaza’s population are 
unemployed, and that unemployment among the youth has reached 60%. 
According to the report, these unemployment figures are the highest in 
the world.

Since the establishment of the border between Palestine and Egypt 
following an agreement in 1906 between the Ottoman Empire – which 
controlled Palestine then – and Britain, which controlled Egypt, never 
was the border subject to such deadly political calculations. In fact, 
between 1948 and 1967, when Gaza was under Egyptian control, the border 
was virtually non-existent as the Strip was administered as if a part of 

Although Gazans are still being referred to as ‘brothers’, there is 
nothing brotherly in the way they are being treated. 25,000 humanitarian 
cases are languishing in Gaza, waiting to be allowed access to treatment 
in Egypt or in other Arab and European countries. These ill Palestinians 
should not be used as political fodder in a turf war which is not of 
their making.

Moreover, while countries have the right to protect their sovereignty 
and security, they are obligated by international law not to 
collectively punish other nations, no matter the logic or the political 

An agreement must be reached between the Government in Gaza and Egypt, 
with the help of regional powers and under the monitoring of the United 
Nations, to end Gaza’s perpetual suffering and open the border, once and 
for all.

/*Dr. Ramzy Baroud* has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 
years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media 
consultant, an author of several books and the founder of 
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom 
Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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