Open Rafah Now: Siege on Gaza is a Cruel and
By Ramzy Baroud
December 11, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - 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
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 studyoriginating 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
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 army.
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
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
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 Egypt.
Although Gazans are still being referred to as
‘brothers’, there is nothing brotherly in the way they are being
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 context.
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
PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’,
‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a
Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: