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Islam and Politics ( 2 May 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Palestinians: The Real Gaza Blockade


By Khaled Abu Toameh

May 2, 2018

The weekly demonstrations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which are scheduled to enter their sixth week this Friday, will undoubtedly continue to attract the attention of the international community and media.

Meanwhile, no one will pay attention to what is happening on the Gaza Strip's other border with Egypt, which has been closed for most of the past 10 years.

The demonstrations near the border with Israel are being organized by Hamas and other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip as part of the "March of Return" -- a six-week campaign of protests that is expected to reach its peak on "Nakba Day" ("The Day of Catastrophe"), the term used by Palestinians to describe the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

The Arab countries at the time opposed the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people and sent their armies to attack Israel, but lost -- a result that should probably be taken into consideration before one attacks. Since then, the Palestinians and Arabs have been commemorating their loss by holding anti-Israel protests and voicing their refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist.

There are, of course, no demonstrations planned along Gaza's border with Egypt to protest the continued closure of Gaza's better-known border crossing, Rafah -- its crossing to Egypt.

The Palestinians do not feel comfortable talking about Egypt's blockade of the Gaza Strip. They prefer to turn a blind eye to the severe travel restrictions imposed by Egypt on the residents of Gaza and instead put all the blame on Israel. Currently, Hamas leaders cannot leave the Gaza Strip without Egypt's permission. They are afraid to embarrass the Egyptians lest they be banned from leaving the Gaza Strip completely.

The organizers of the "March of Return," including several Hamas leaders, have repeatedly made it clear in the past few weeks that the real goal of the campaign is to "achieve the right of return" for Palestinian refugees and their several generations of descendants to their former homes and villages inside Israel.

For the Palestinians, the "right of return" means that Israel should allow millions of Palestinians to move to Israel -- a demand no Israeli government could ever accept as it would means turning the Jews into a minority in their own state.

Thus, the "March of Return" is hardly about a "humanitarian crisis" in the Gaza Strip. Instead, it is a campaign designed to put the issue of the Palestinian refugees at center stage and let the world know that the Palestinians will not give up what they call their "right of return."

The "March of Return," as Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said a few days ago, marks the beginning of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel. As Haniyeh and other organizers of the campaign have clearly stated in recent weeks, the Palestinian protests are aimed at thwarting US President Donald Trump's yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East. The Palestinians claim that the plan is primarily aimed at "liquidating" the Palestinian cause and national rights.

Some Palestinians have argued that the "March of Return" is also aimed at ending the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip since Hamas's violent takeover of the coastal enclave in the summer of 2007.

Despite the blockade, however, Israel has kept its border crossing with the Gaza Strip open, except for times when Hamas and other armed groups carry out terror attacks against Israelis. Even then, Israel closes the border crossings only for a few hours or days.

The civilian and commercial border crossings have also been open to some Palestinians and foreign nationals who enter and leave the Gaza Strip on an almost daily basis.

All eyes, then, are set on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel -- but what about Gaza's other border crossing, the one with Egypt?

The Rafah border crossing is the Gaza Strip's single opening to Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. That border crossing is where the real suffering of the Palestinians has been taking place. It has been mostly closed for the past decade, further aggravating the misery of the two million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians often cite "security reasons" as the main cause for the closure. According to Egyptian security sources, in the past few years there have been increased signs of cooperation between Hamas and some jihadist terror groups in Sinai.

The Gaza Strip could be a liveable environment if the Egyptians opened the Rafah terminal to allow the world to come and help the Palestinians living there.

Israel's concern is that weapons could be smuggled into Gaza from the sea. This is the reason that Israel maintains a naval blockade along the Gaza Strip. In the past, Iran and Hezbollah have tried to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip along its seacoast.

Many of the problems in Gaza could be solved if the Egyptian authorities permitted Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip to pursue their studies or to seek medical treatment and work.

No one is asking the Egyptians to absorb the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip and turn them into Egyptian citizens. No one is asking the Egyptians to provide the Palestinians with work and humanitarian and medical aid. No one is asking the Egyptians to compromise their security by opening the Rafah terminal.

Most of the Palestinians anyway do not want to stay in Egypt. For them, the Rafah terminal is just a passage to other countries.

True, the Egyptians have their own security concerns, especially in light of the increased presence of various Islamist terror groups in Sinai. These security concerns, of course, are not unjustified: jihadist groups continue to wage a campaign of terror attacks against Egyptian soldiers and civilians in Sinai.

Egypt's blockade of the Gaza Strip, however, began long before the emergence of the Islamist terror groups in Sinai.

Since 2009, the Egyptian authorities, with few exceptions, have kept the Rafah border crossing with Gaza closed. That year, the terminal was open for a total of only 35 days. 2014 was a bit better, with the terminal open for 125 days. In 2015, it was open for only 32 days, while in 2016, it was open for only 41 days. Last year, 2017, was the worst: the Egyptians opened the terminal for a total of just 29 days.

The Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip is not, however, motivated mainly by security considerations. The Egyptians simply do not want to be responsible for the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Cairo sees the Palestinians as "troublemakers" and "ungrateful" people, and simply do not want to help them.

In this regard, the Egyptians are not different from most of the Arab countries. The Arabs have had bad experiences with the Palestinians.

In the early 1970s, Jordan drove the PLO out of the kingdom in a bloody offensive known by the Palestinians as "Black September."

Thousands of Palestinians were killed or injured when the Jordanian army launched a massive military operation to stop the PLO from creating a state-within-a-state in Jordan.

The Lebanese had a similar experience with the PLO when the organization was based in Beirut during the 1970s and early 1980s. There, too, the PLO tried to create a state-within-a-state and posed a serious threat to Lebanon's sovereignty.

No Arab country wants to undergo the same experiences as Jordan and Lebanon. That is why most Arab countries impose strict travel restrictions on the Palestinians and even subject them to discriminatory and apartheid laws.

The Arab countries consider the Palestinians a major headache. The Arabs also consider the Palestinians "ungrateful," especially after the PLO supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Kuwait was one of several Arab countries that used to give the Palestinians millions of dollars in financial aid. However, when Kuwait fell into the hands of Saddam, the Palestinians were the first to take to the streets to celebrate the invasion and voice support for the Iraqi dictator.

It would make sense if the Palestinians in Gaza were to stage demonstrations near the border with Egypt to demand an end to Egypt's blockade of Gaza. There are good reasons, however, why Palestinians in the Gaza Strip do not do this. They know very well that any attempt to infiltrate the border with Egypt would be met with the full force of the Egyptian army.

It is one thing to endanger the life of an Israeli soldier by lobbing rocks or petrol bombs at him. It is a completely different thing however, when we are talking about attacking Egyptian soldiers. The Egyptians would raze the entire Gaza Strip and probably bring down the Hamas regime.

Repeated appeals by Palestinians to Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing to Gaza have fallen on deaf ears in Cairo.

Recently, the ?Islamic and National Forces, a group of Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, called on Egyptian President Abed Al-Fattah Sissi to open the border crossing to allow wounded Palestinians from Gaza to receive medical treatment in Egyptian and Arab hospitals. Again, ostensibly for "security reasons," their appeal was completely ignored. Emad Al-Agha, a member of the ?Islamic and National Forces group, said there are intensive contacts with the Egyptian authorities to pressure Cairo to open the border crossing for "humanitarian" reasons.

Reports about the suffering of Palestinian travellers at the Gaza-Egyptian border crossing fill Palestinian media outlets, but these reports are almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media in the West. Western journalists are well aware of the Egyptian border closure, but as Israel is not involved, the reporters and their editors do not really care.

Thousands of Palestinians converge on the terminal between Gaza and Egypt whenever there is a rumour that it might be opened. Some wait there for days with their luggage and are forced to sleep out in the open. Some Palestinians are required to pay bribes to Hamas and Egyptian officials to obtain permits to leave the Gaza Strip through the terminal. A Facebook page entitled "The Rafah Border Crossing - Endless Suffering" shows dozens of examples of the humiliation the passengers experience there.

Like most Arab countries, Egypt cares nothing about the Palestinians, especially those living in the Gaza Strip. From the point of view of the Arab states, the Palestinians are Israel's problem alone. Yet Egypt is sending Palestinians to knock on Israel's door and blame Israel for the "humanitarian" crisis in the Gaza Strip, while it is really Egypt that is responsible for the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Arab and Egyptian hypocrisy achieves new heights as journalists from these "countries create "fake news" echo chamber reporting on the "'March of Return" and use it to condemn Israel for sealing its border with the Gaza Strip. When will the real blockade of the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian one, be called out and condemned in the mainstream media?

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.