Saturday, January 26

The Gaza Closure has Cracked

This week we all witnessed the unofficial end of the “air tight” closure of the Gaza Strip. The wall that Israel’s Security Forces had built on the border between Egypt and Gaza was breached. The situation in Gaza reached a peak like steam that is trapped in a pressure cooker left on the stove unattended. Something had to give way. This last week it did. The more Israel increased the pressure and the siege on Gaza, the greater the frequency of the Qassam rockets fired into Sderot and its environment in southern Israel. The situation has now changed and this could result in worsening relations between Egypt and Israel as both sides accuse the other of taking responsibility for the breaching of the wall.

The situation in Gaza is becoming more complex as Hamas becomes more adamant and determined not to recognize Israel. Israel closed the borders and did not allow any passage of essential goods into Gaza. Many members of the EU viewed this as collective punishment of Gaza’s citizens – echoing the cries of Hamas, who have a habit of squealing to the world community portraying the suffering of Gaza’s residents. Hamas is also indulging in collective punishment in the south by firing Qassam missiles into Sderot making the lives of the people living there unbearable. The people of Sderot are poor and many are unemployed. Israel has ignored these people. They only made headlines because of the intolerable Qassam rocket attacks. Many of the residents there are impoverished immigrants of Russian, Ethiopian and North African background that have lived there for a long time.

Hamas is to be blamed for the suffering of Gaza’s citizens. However the build up to this intolerable situation must also be blamed on Israel. This situation began since the June War of 1967. When Israel occupied Gaza, the West Bank, Golan Heights and Eastern Jerusalem, it became responsible for the well being of the people in the territory that it had occupied. Israel became the “foster parent” of the Palestinians under occupation. Social services including health, economic development as well as improving infra structure was Israel’s responsibility. The Israeli claim that the surrounding Arab states were responsible for the well being of the occupied Palestinians was ludicrous. How could surrounding Arab countries be responsible for Palestinian welfare when they were at war with Israel and Israel occupied these territories? Israel adopted a policy of expansion and settlement of the occupied territories with Jewish settlers, many of whom were fanatic in their belief of occupying the “holy land” as specified in the Torah according to their interpretation.

The squalor and poverty in the “occupied territories” was not alleviated by Israel. The refugee camps remained neglected for many years until today. Israel poured money into the occupied territories and encouraged Jewish settlement there. Settlers received much state help for moving there and their homes were subsidized. Most Palestinians, who remembered the times before the Six Day War as not being so great, accepted the occupation and there was a long period of relative calm until the first Intifada that began in 1987 and was the forerunner to the ill-fated Oslo Accords of 1993 which ended the intifada temporarily. The situation in Gaza remained a tinder box because of the intense overcrowding and poverty in the refugee camps. A new generation was born. A generation of young Palestinians grew up in intense human misery. They had no hope for the future while Israel was building roads and settlements on occupied lands. Palestinians at best remained a source of cheap labour for the Israeli building trade including the building of palatial homes in the occupied territories. These people worked under intolerable conditions, were paid poorly compared to their Israeli counterparts.

The situation for Palestinians became hopeless and intolerable. The younger generation born many years after the Six Day War of June 1967, became extreme in their outlook and viewed Israel as their enemy. Their hopeless situation became an ideal breeding ground for Hamas and their allied terrorist organizations to take root. Hamas endeared itself to many Palestinian people because of the social services and charity work that it did amongst the Palestinian community. The corruption of the Fatah controlled Palestinian Authority is also one of the root causes for Hamas taking over power.

According to the semi-official Hamas biography "Truth and existence," Hamas evolved through four main stages:

1. 1967-1976: Construction of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip in the face of "oppressive Israeli rule";

2. 1976-1981: Geographical expansion through participation in professional associations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and institution building, notably al-Mujamma` al-islami, al-Jam`iyya al-islamiyya, and the Islamic University in Gaza;

3. 1981-1987: Political influence through establishment of the mechanisms of action and preparation for armed struggle;

4. 1987: Founding of Hamas as the combatant arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine and the launching of a continuing Jihad.

While this reflects the activities of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the organization in the West Bank developed differently, with less emphasis at the beginning on the creation or control of public institutions. The Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank constituted an integral part of the Jordanian Islamic movement, which for many years had been aligned with the Hashemite regime. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank represented a higher socio-economic profile, consisting of merchants, landowners, and middle-class officials and professionals. By the mid-1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood held a significant portion of the positions in West Bank religious institutions.

Today the situation in Gaza has become hopeless. The tactics of Hamas of carrying out terror and not recognizing Israel’s right to exist has created an intolerable situation for the Palestinians. Somehow the bubble burst in southern Gaza and the wall separating Gaza from Egypt was breached. Many Gazans seized this opportunity to escape from Gaza and make their way to Egypt. This escape will snowball and will create endless problems for Egypt. How Egypt will handle this situation remains to be seen. It is estimated that about 20% of Gaza’s population have left Gaza for Egypt. This number will probably increase.

Egypt will attempt to stop this human flow and it is uncertain as to whether they will succeed. It looks as if a new refugee problem will be created but this time it will be even worse than before. It is doubtful if Palestinians who have escaped from Gaza will return of their own free will. The misery will become worse and the scenario of Egypt shooting escaping Palestinians cannot be ruled out as the situation runs out of control.

The situation is desperate and tragic. The blame for this situation must be laid at the door of Hamas, Israel and the corrupt Fatah organization that ruled Gaza prior to the Hamas take over. The situation will remain volatile and at present there are no signs of a solution. While Gaza burns under Hamas control and the West Bank is under Fatah there will never be peace. The Annapolis agreements will soon be a forgotten diplomatic exercise.

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