One of the commonest of the many plaintive cries from those who want an excuse to delegitimise Israel is that she is still “occupying” Gaza (even though there isn’t a single Israeli soldier or civilian there). The other emotive complaint is that Israel is still carrying out an “illegal blockade” on Gaza and that she is collectively punishing the inhabitants through this blockade. Even though international law permits a sea blockade such as Israel’s, the complaints go on; but that’s for another day, another post!
Apparently, Israel is also responsible for food shortages, power cuts and a lack of construction materials, even though the markets in Gaza are brimming with produce, hotels and expensive houses have proliferated and many of the trucks entering through crossing points from Israel are carrying luxury goods or non-subsistence items (jacuzzis, dish-washers etc). And of course, that is without the multi-million dollar trade through illegal tunnels from Egypt; a trade heavily taxed by Hamas but which has so far been a huge bolster to the Gazan economy. On the human side, Israel allows many Gazan Arabs into Israel for medical treatment, including the family of one of the leaders of Hamas.
In the last few weeks, however, a real blockade has taken shape; one that has brought a complete halt to the lucrative tunnel industry and now a halt to the movement of people in and out the enclave. Unfortunately for her detractors, it is not Israel that has done this heinous thing but Egypt, the supposed friend of Hamas.
Hamas, of course, had hoped for great things from President Morsi. After all, he was of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas itself was birthed from that movement back in the 1980s. Gazans were some of the very first to celebrate in the streets when Morsi was elected President of Egypt just over a year ago. So what has brought about this reversal in Hamas’ fortunes and such strong action from their “parent” in Cairo?
Even before Morsi’s election, a major issue for Egypt was the lawlessness and terrorism taking place in the Northern Sinai. The scope of activities here was wide and included:
- Smuggling refugees from Africa through to Israel
- Drug and weapon smuggling across the Israeli border by Bedouin tribesmen
- The growth of terrorist bases, peopled by jihadis crossing from Gaza into Sinai
- Attacks carried out into Israel from Egyptian territory
- Attacks on Egyptian police and soldiers
- Rampant goods and people smuggling through tunnels between Egypt and Gaza
- The importing into Gaza of huge numbers of weapons and missiles through the same tunnels
and so on – you get the picture!
Egypt has effectively lost control of huge swathes of her territory and actually needs Israel’s co-operation to regain that control. It is, of course, in Israel’s interest to help by permitting larger than normal numbers of Egyptian troops into the north Sinai, to ensure her own border is not threatened.
In the wake of Morsi’s removal the Egyptian army has closed off her border with Gaza completely; crippling the tunnel trade, halting most construction and trapping many travellers on both sides of the border. Of course they are also stopping the flow of weapons and terrorists into Sinai, which is the point of the exercise. Doubtless the border will remain sealed until Egypt is confident that no more threats to her own security will come from the Hamas-controlled area.
As Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh points out so clearly, it is now Egypt who is collectively punishing the Palestinians and blockading Gaza, but I guess we won’t hear that from the Israel-delegitimisers.