Turmoil and unrest in Egypt harming Gazans who are relient on the Rafah crossing as the lone way to circumvent Israeli blockade
YOUSEF ALHELOU, TRNN CORRESPONDENT, GAZA: Israel’s ongoing seven-year siege on Gaza and the subsequent closure of most commercial crossing points made Egypt the lifeline and only gateway for the vast majority of the Gazan population. The besieged people of Gaza not only depend on Egypt for travel purposes, but also for most of their goods and construction materials.
The Rafah terminal is Gaza’s only gateway to the outside world that bypasses Israel. Closing it or keeping it partially open will only tighten the Israeli blockade.
Following the election of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, restrictions that were in place during the rule of Mubarak were eased. Nearly 1,500 Gazans were allowed to pass through it on a daily basis.
Immediately after the ouster of Morsi on July 3, the number of people allowed to leave the tiny coastal enclave dropped to less than 100 per day. Since then, the crossing has been operating at a reduced capacity for emergency cases only. Only a restricted number of visas and passport holders from foreign countries, Egyptian citizens, and Gaza patients have been allowed to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing.
Meanwhile, since Morsi’s fall the Egyptian military has cracked down on tunnels used to bring goods into Gaza from Egypt, choking the flow of commodities into the Israeli-blockaded enclave.
All of this has come in the wake of an unprecedented incitement media campaign by some Egyptian media outlets, targeting the Palestinian people of Gaza and claiming that Palestinian militants from Gaza affiliated with Hamas might be helping militants in Sinai, where Egyptian security sources say radical groups have been launching almost daily attacks on Egyptian forces, and accusing Hamas of interfering in its domestic affairs.
For its part, Hamas-ruled Gaza has rejected the accusations and has called for the re-opening of the Rafah crossing in order to spare Gaza any more suffering.
EHAB GHUSSAIN, HAMAS GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Actually, crisis still going in the Rafah border and the Rafah crossing. We have thousands of people stuck in Gaza, and they need to leave through this crossing, because it’s the only crossing we have in Gaza Strip. We don’t have airport. We don’t have seaport. So we still ask and demand to reopen this Rafah border and Rafah crossing 24 hours, seven days a week, ’cause the few hundreds going and coming through this Rafah border is not enough, and if still this going, we will have bigger crisis in Gaza, especially after the end of the vacations, starting of the schools next month.
ALHELOU: It is obvious that the relationship is tense between Hamas and the ruling Egyptian army, with some Egyptian commentators calling on the Egyptian army to launch a military attack against the Gaza Strip. It was reported that Egyptian military aircraft has entered Palestinian airspace in the southern Gaza Strip three times this month.
MUKAHIMER ABU SEDA, POLITICAL ANALYST: The ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and the accusations against Morsi of plotting with Hamas against the Egyptian national security, that basically endangered the relationship between Egypt and the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, which can be classified as a hostile relationship right now. And it would also mean that Egypt will no longer be able to play the broker in Palestinian reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah. And I think it’s going to take a long time to repair the fragile relationship between Hamas and the new regime in Egypt unless there is going to be a regime change in Egypt in the near future.
ALHELOU: The recent developments in Egypt are having a serious effect on the country’s relationship with neighboring Gaza. The enclave, controlled by Hamas and sandwiched between Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea, has relied heavily on being able to cross the border into Egypt by land and water. However, that has become more difficult in recent weeks.
Most people in Gaza are closely following the news coming from Egypt, praying for the violence to stop and for stability to prevail.
And while the ordinary Palestinians of Gaza’s 1.8 million continued to suffer for decades, are collectively punished, and pay a heavy price due to the turmoil in neighboring Egypt, they pray and wish to have their own airport or seaport, their outlet to the outside world, away from any Egyptian or Israeli control.
HANI BASSOS, ISLAMIC UNIVERSITY OF GAZA: Gaza needs a port, it needs an airport, because people in Gaza reach about 2 millions, and such a number of people in a small and dense place would need such an airport to be able to travel to the outside world, to live a decent life, because the freedom of movement is a right for every human being, and people of Gaza here are not having such a right.
ALHELOU: Gaza once had an airport, a gate to the world, located in the eastern part of Rafah in the southern Gaza strip near the Israeli-Egyptian border. Inaugurated in 1998, Gaza International Airport had a short lifespan. Once able to handle 700,000 passengers per year, most of the airport was destroyed by Israel in early 2001 during the Second Intifada and now lies in ruins.
JAMAL KHODARY, POPULAR COMMITTEE AGAINST THE SIEGE (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): The Israeli-enforced siege on Gaza is ongoing. It’s illegal under international law. This siege must be lifted. Therefore, the international community must continue to put pressure on Israelis to open all closed commercial crossings that link Gaza with occupied West Bank, allow the flow of all goods to be imported, and allow exports from Gaza to reach international markets, and to open the safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, also to construct Gaza International Airport and operate it.
SAMEER ZAQOUT, AL-MEZAN CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): As an occupying power, Israel, which controls Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters, and land crossings, is required, according to international law, to look after the welfare of people under its occupation. Even the Rafah crossing, which is controlled by Egypt, is somehow subject to Israeli control as well. So it’s clear that Israel is still in control of Gaza. The territory is still under Israeli military occupation. And Palestinians in Gaza are not allowed to build a seaport or rebuild the destroyed Gaza International Airport in order to enable Gaza residents to leave freely and avoid the suffering when leaving or entering via the Rafah crossing.
ALHELOU: Gaza is a natural extension of the Sinai Peninsula and is therefore also part of Egypt’s national security. Regardless of Gaza’s political leadership, Egypt will remain a strategic ally, a lifeline for its people and a mainstay for its peace and stability. These are the irreversible facts of the ties between Egypt and the people of Gaza who live in what is commonly known as the world’s largest open-air prison.
Yousef Alhelou in Gaza for The Real News Network.