x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Egypt's role in the Gaza blockade

Activists who had hoped to enter Gaza to protest against the enduring blockade under which its population suffers may be prevented from entry, while Egypt may cut off the impoverished enclave's main lifelines. Even so, Egypt's foreign minister defending his country's long-standing support, says: 'No one should compare himself with what Egypt did and is still doing for the Palestinians.'

While Egypt is reported to be receiving technical assistance from the United States in constructing an underground steel barrier along Gaza's southern border, Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, told The National: "The Egyptian state and people paid a very high price and paid with their blood for more than 50 years in support of the Palestinians. No one should compare himself with what Egypt did and is still doing for the Palestinians." In Beirut, Hizbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah urged Egypt to stop building the barrier which could cut off the tunnels that currently provide a lifeline for the Palestinian territory which remains under an Israeli-imposed siege. The Daily Star reported: "Nasrallah told a crowd of tens of thousands of Lebanese Shiite Muslims marking the Ashura religious ceremony that Egypt should be condemned if it does not halt the wall building. "Tensions between Egypt, a predominantly Sunni country, and Hizbollah, a Shiite group backed by Iran, have been running high since last year when Nasrallah accused Cairo of complicity with Israel in its siege of the Gaza strip. " 'In addition to the siege there has been news about [building] a steel wall - to terminate the thin veins which are giving some life and some hope to Gaza,' he said. " 'We call on the government in Egypt and the leadership to stop the wall and flooding the tunnels and to end the siege, otherwise it should be condemned by all Arabs and the Muslims,' he said." Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reported: "Egyptian security forces have attempted to prevent dozens of US activists from reaching their embassy in Cairo. "Hoping to ask the American ambassador for help in reaching the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, some 41 American citizens instead found themselves surrounded by riot police. "All those rounded up were members of the Gaza Freedom Marchers organisation, a group planning to travel to Gaza to protest an Egyptian and Israeli blockade of the besieged territory. "However, one activist, Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada website, told Al Jazeera that the US embassy did eventually allow US citizens to enter their embassy in groups of ten. " 'We met with a political rep in the embassy, Greg Legrefo, and talked about the dire situation in Gaza and international complicity for more than hour .... but the bottom line is the US supports the siege of Gaza." The embassy representative confirmed that the US Army Corps of Engineers is providing technical assistance to build the underground wall, Mr Abunimah said. Sayed Dhansay, from the Gaza Freedom March, wrote: "Despite five months of intensive negotiations with Egyptian authorities by organisers, the Egyptian government notified them just days before the march that they would not be allowed to proceed. "Busses transporting the marchers were scheduled to depart from Cairo for the border town of Al Arish on Monday morning. They failed to arrive however after the Egyptian government threatened to revoke the permits of any companies transporting marchers to Gaza. Several participants who travelled to Al Arish independently on Sunday evening were detained or arrested, with some being placed under house arrest in their hotels. "Egyptian police also broke up a peaceful vigil on Sunday night which saw activists attempting to float 1,400 candles on the River Nile in commemoration of those killed in Gaza." The National spoke to Christer Nordahl, deputy director of operations at the United Nations Relief Works Agency in Gaza "Gaza's humanitarian crisis, he contends, is a 'man-made disaster'. " 'If I'm a donor government issuing funds for the Gaza Strip, and I'm under enormous, pro-Israeli domestic pressure, it's a lot easier for me to just say: "there's an emergency humanitarian situation in Gaza, let's give them water and medicine, and not even go there politically",' [the Israel-Palestine country director for Care International, Martha] Myer said. " 'And that's where we are, one year after the war,' she continued, 'where governments are too timid to fund development activities that would allow Palestinians to stand up on their own two feet and keep them on their land.' "If the situation continues like this any longer, the international community will be looking at a Gaza more impoverished and therefore far more extreme than before, aid workers warn. Gaza's youthful population is growing increasingly frustrated, with no hope for the future. " 'By keeping things the way they are, we are creating an extremist society in Gaza,' Mr Nordahl said." Sami Abdel-Shafi, a co-founder and senior partner at Emerge Consulting Group, a management consultancy in Gaza City, wrote in The Guardian: "Almost nothing has been more deceitful than casting Gaza as a humanitarian case. This is becoming exponentially more problematic a year after the war. Gaza urgently needs far more than merely those items judged by the Israeli military as adequate to satisfy Gaza's humanitarian needs. This list of allowable items is tiny compared to people's needs for a minimally respectable civil life. "Gaza is not treated humanely; the immediate concerns about the situation have clearly given way to long-term complacency, while failed politics has now become stagnant. The humanitarian classification conceals the urgent need to address this. Moreover, many in the international community have conveniently resorted to blaming Palestinians for their political divisions, as though they were unrelated to Israel's policies - most notably Gaza's closure after Israeli disengagement in 2005. "It seems evident that most officials in the US, UK and other powerful nations in Europe and the Middle East do not - or perhaps cannot - pressure Israel to reverse its policy of forcing Palestinians into eternal statelessness. How Palestinians are forced into degrading living standards in Gaza, and how they have no means to repel the ongoing demolition and confiscation of property and land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is abhorrent. How Palestinians are still divided despite the increased suffering of their people is no less abhorrent. However, no one should fool themselves into believing that their reconciliation would alter Israel's policy." Finally, The National reported: "Few Israelis today have qualms about the high death toll inflicted by their country's assault on the Gaza Strip last year. "But even though many Israelis still believe the 22-day onslaught, which ended on January 18, was justified in a bid to curb Hamas rocket fire on their country's southern communities, some have begun to question whether the attack achieved its goals. They say the military campaign ended too early and warn that another offensive may be necessary to complete the job."

pwoodward@thenational.ae