Recent calls for lifting the «siege» on the Gaza Strip have ignored that Hamas’s main demand, even more than for an airport or seaport, is that Egypt reopen the Rafah border crossing, the Palestinians’ only gateway to the Arab world.
Hamas wants open borders because it wants to pursue its ultimate goal of «liberating all Palestine, from the river to the sea.» Now that it has lost most of its smuggling tunnels as a result of Egyptian military operations, Hamas is searching for other ways to bring weapons into the Gaza Strip.
Hamas’s leaders know that their chances of getting an airport or a seaport are extremely low. In the past, material brought into Gaza has included mainly weapons, cement taken to build attack-tunnels into Israel, and dual-use material.
Much of this was either brought into Gaza through smuggling tunnels, or else through Egypt’s Rafah terminal, along its Gaza border which is nearly nine miles [14 km] long.
Egypt’s Rafah terminal with Gaza, however, has been closed most of the time since Hamas seized control over the Gaza Strip in July 2007, while border crossings with Israel, such as Kerem Shalom and Erez, have remained open.
The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, January 2009. (Source: International Transport Workers’ Federation)
Even during the current Operation Protective Edge, the Egyptians rejected demands to reopen the Rafah terminal indefinitely. In the first two weeks of the war, the Egyptians did open the terminal briefly – but only to allow Egyptians citizens and some foreigners trapped in the Gaza Strip to leave.
Facing increased criticism at home and in the Arab world, the Egyptian authorities also permitted some wounded Palestinians to cross through the terminal for medical treatment in Egyptian hospitals.
Egypt has not only turned the Gaza Strip into an «open air prison.» It has also prevented many activists and countries from delivering humanitarian and medical aid to the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, both before and during the war.
Egypt does not want anyone to talk about its blockade and other restrictions against the Gaza Strip.
At the cease-fire discussions currently taking place in Cairo between Israel and Hamas through Egyptian mediators, the Palestinians have been asked not to talk about Egypt’s Rafah border crossing.
The Egyptians want the world to blame only Israel for the «siege» on the Gaza Strip. They continue to ignore the fact that Hamas’s main demand continues to be the reopening of the Rafah border crossing.
Hamas and the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip have apparently chosen to comply with the Egyptian demand to remain silent about the continued closure of the Rafah border crossing.
In fact, the Palestinians seem to have lost any hope that Egypt would ever agree to the indefinite opening of the terminal. That is why Hamas is insisting, now more than ever, on an airport and seaport in the Gaza Strip that would serve as an alternative to the Rafah border crossing.
Palestinian sources said that the Egyptians have encouraged the Palestinians to insist on their demand regarding an airport and seaport.
When the Egyptians say that they support the Palestinian demand for lifting the «siege» on the Gaza Strip, they mean that the Palestinians are entitled to any border crossing except the Rafah terminal. Egypt would like the Palestinians to have their own airport and seaport so they would never have to use an Egyptian border crossing with the Gaza Strip.
Moreover, the Egyptians would like to see the Gaza Strip turned into an Israeli, and not Egyptian, problem.
In an attempt to divert attention from Cairo’s responsibility for the blockade, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement this week calling on Israel to lift the «siege.»
«Egypt insists on the lifting of the Israeli siege,» the statement read. «We are continuing our efforts to end the inhumane siege imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip.»
Today, it is a sign of hypocrisy that Egypt is calling on Israel to lift the «siege» on the Gaza Strip.
The statement, of course, made no reference to Egypt’s role in the «siege.» Nor did the ministry mention the tough security measures taken by Egypt recently, including the destruction of more than 1600 smuggling tunnels along its shared border with the Gaza Strip over the past year.
In the last three weeks, the Egyptian army destroyed 20 tunnels. This occurred as the Israel Defense Forces were also targeting tunnels inside the Gaza Strip.
Yet this has not prevented the Egyptians from continuing with their efforts to mislead the world about the situation in the Gaza Strip.
Alarmed by growing criticism of Egypt’s measures against the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian diplomat described the allegations as «lies and fabrications.»
The Egyptian diplomat’s defense of his country came as representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Arab Red Crescent denounced Cairo’s refusal to allow humanitarian and medical aid into the Gaza Strip during the war as «unjust and incapacitating.»
It also followed a call by a Palestinian foreign ministry committee to reopen the Rafah border crossing to save the wounded. The committee also condemned the closure of the Rafah as a «breach of international law and human values.»
Last March, the Egyptian authorities deported 62 Western women who arrived in Cairo to protest against the closure of the Rafah border crossing. Egyptian Gen. Zakariya Hussein praised the authorities for deporting the French and Belgian women. «Egypt should not be used as a gate to other countries such as Libya, Palestine and Sudan,» he said.
The anti-Egyptian campaign reached its peak last year, when more than 100 Muslim scholars signed a petition warning against the «crime» of keeping the Rafah border crossing shut.
The petition accused Egypt and other Arab countries of participating in the siege on the Gaza Strip by keeping the Rafah terminal closed and preventing medical and humanitarian aid, and the destroying the smuggling tunnels.
It is no secret that Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah Sisi, sees Hamas, an offshoot of Muslim Brotherhood, as a threat to Egypt’s national security.
Last year, a retired Egyptian army general, Sami Hassan, talked about a plan by Sisi to tighten the siege on the Gaza Strip and bring down Hamas. Hassan said that Sisi’s main goal is to prompt Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to rise against Hamas. Egypt has allocated $750 million to carry out its plan and bring the Palestinian Authority back to the Gaza Strip.
According to Palestinian sources, the Egyptians have over the past few weeks expressed fierce opposition into turning the Rafah terminal into another official border crossing with the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians, the sources said, are worried that the reopening of the Rafah terminal would facilitate terrorist attacks by radical Islamist groups against Egyptian targets, especially in Sinai.
While the Egyptians continue to impose strict restrictions, hundreds of trucks of food and basic supplies are being transported into the Gaza Strip through border crossings with Israel. This is happening even as even rockets are being launched at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. A total of 2,772 trucks entered the Gaza Strip through Kerem Shalom since July 8. Meanwhile, only a few trucks were allowed to enter through Rafah.
Israel has also allowed ambulances and medical staff into the Gaza Strip over the past few weeks, while the Egyptian side of the border crossing has been closed. On August 8, there were a total of 169 ambulance transfers through the Erez border crossing with Israel. In addition, a total of 38 medical professionals from Israel and the West Bank have entered the Gaza Strip over the past two weeks. The Egyptians did not send even one physician to the Gaza Strip during the same period.
The Egyptian blockade and severe security measures against the Gaza Strip, including the closure of the Rafah border crossing, are part of the reasons why the last war erupted. But the Egyptian authorities do not want to accept any responsibility. Instead, they are doing their utmost to shift the blame toward Israel.
Whatever is ultimately decided, Hamas’s leaders will find ways to smuggle weapons into Gaza because their outspokenly main goal is to destroy Israel and the Jews.
The Real «Siege» of the Gaza Strip
by Khaled Abu Toameh
August 12, 2014 at 5:00 am