Israel Palestine Infos
SOMETHING ODD, almost bizarre, is going on in Egypt these days.
About 1400 activists from all over the world
gathered there on their way to the Gaza Strip. On the
anniversary of the “Cast Lead” War, they intended to participate in a
non-violent demonstration against the ongoing blockade, which makes the life of
1.5 million inhabitants of the Strip intolerable.
At the same time, protest demonstrations were
to take place in many countries. In Tel-Aviv, too, a big protest was planned.
The “monitoring committee” of the Arab citizens of
Israel was to organize an event on the
When the international activists arrived in Egypt, a surprise awaited them. The
Egyptian government forbade their trip to
Gaza. Their buses were held up at the outskirts of Cairo and turned back. Individual protesters
who succeeded in reaching the Sinai in regular buses were taken off them. The
Egyptian security forces conducted a regular hunt for the activists.
The angry activists besieged their embassies
in Cairo. On the street in front of the French
embassy, a tent camp sprang up which was soon surrounded by the Egyptian police.
American protesters gathered in front of their embassy and demanded to see the
ambassador. Several protesters who are over 70 years old started a hunger
strike. Everywhere, the protesters were held up by Egyptian elite units in full
riot gear, while red water cannon trucks were lurking in the background.
Protesters who tried to assemble in
Cairo’s central Tahrir (liberation) Square were
In the end, after a meeting with the wife of
the president, a typical Egyptian solution was found: one hundred activists were
allowed to reach Gaza. The rest remained in
Cairo, bewildered and frustrated.
WHILE THE demonstrators were cooling their
heels in the Egyptian capital and trying to find ways to vent their anger,
Binyamin Netanyahu was received in the president’s palace in the heart of the
city. His hosts went to great lengths to laud and celebrate his contribution to
peace, especially the ‘freeze” of settlement activity in the West Bank, a phony
gesture that does not include East Jerusalem.
Hosni Mubarak and Netanyahu have met in the
past – but not in Cairo. The Egyptian president always insisted
that the meetings take place in Sharm-al-Sheikh, as far from the Egyptian
population centers as possible. The invitation to Cairo was, therefore, a significant token of
increasingly close relations.
As a special gift for Netanyahu, Mubarak
agreed to allow hundreds of Israelis to come to Egypt and pray at the grave of
Rabbi Yaakov Abu-Hatzeira, who died and was buried in the Egyptian town of
Damanhur 130 years ago, on his way from Morocco to the Holy Land.
There is something
symbolic about this: the blocking of the pro-Palestinian protesters on their way
to Gaza at the same time as the invitation of
Israelis to Damanhur.
ONE MAY well wonder about the Egyptian
participation in the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The blockade started long before the
War and has turned the Strip into what has been described as “the biggest prison
on earth”. The blockade applies to everything except essential medicines and the
most basic foodstuffs. US
senator John Kerry, former candidate for the presidency, was shocked to hear
that the blockade included pasta – the Israeli army in its wisdom has designated
noodles as a luxury. The blockade is all-embracing – from building materials to
school children’s copy books. Except for the most extreme humanitarian cases,
nobody can pass from the Gaza Strip to Israel or the West Bank, nor the other
controls only three sides of the Strip. The Northern and Eastern borders are
blocked by the Israeli army, the Western border by the Israeli navy. The fourth
border, the Southern one, is controlled by Egypt. Therefore, the entire
blockade would be ineffective without Egyptian participation.
Ostensibly, this does not make sense.
considers itself as the leader of the Arab world. It is the most populous Arab
country, situated at the center of the Arab world. Fifty years ago the president
Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, was the idol of all the Arabs, especially of the
Palestinians. How can Egypt
collaborate with the “Zionist enemy”, as Egyptians called Israel then, in
bringing 1.5 million brother Arabs to their knees?
Until recently, the Egyptian government had
been sticking to a solution that exemplifies the 6000-year old Egyptian
political acumen. It participated in the blockade but closed its eyes to the
hundreds of tunnels dug under the Egyptian-Gaza border, through which the daily
supplies for the population were flowing (for exorbitant prices, and with high
profits for Egyptian merchants), together with the stream of arms. People also
passed through them – from Hamas activists to brides.
This is about to change. Egypt has started
building an iron wall – literally - along the full length of the Gaza border,
consisting of steel pillars thrust deep into the ground, in order to block all
tunnels. That will finally choke the inhabitants.
When the most extreme Zionist, Vladimir Ze’ev
Jabotinsky, wrote 80 years ago about erecting an “Iron Wall” against the
Palestinians, he did not dream of Arabs doing just that.
WHY DO they do it?
There are several explanations. Cynics point
out that the Egyptian government receives a huge American subsidy every year –
almost two billion dollars – by courtesy of
Israel. It started as a reward for the
Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. The pro-Israel lobby in the
Congress can stop it any time.
Others believe that Mubarak is afraid of
Hamas. The organization started out as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim
Brotherhood, still the main opposition to his autocratic regime. The
Cairo-Riyadh-Amman-Ramallah axis is poised against the Damascus-Gaza axis that
is allied with the Tehran-Hizbullah axis. Many people believe that Mahmoud Abbas
is interested in the tightening of the Gaza blockade in order to
Mubarak is angry with Hamas, which refuses to
dance to his tune. Like his predecessors, he demands that the Palestinians obey
his orders. President Abd-al-Nasser was angry with the PLO (an organization
created by him to ensure Egyptian control of the Palestinians, but which escaped
him when Yasser Arafat took over). President Anwar Sadat was angry with the PLO
for rejecting the Camp David agreement, which promised Palestinians only
“autonomy”. How dare the Palestinians, a small, oppressed people, refuse the
”advice” of Big Brother?
All these explanations make sense, yet the
Egyptian government’s attitude is still astonishing. The Egyptian blockade of
destroys the lives of 1.5 million human beings, men and women, old people and
children, most of who are not Hamas activists. It is done publicly, before the
eyes of hundreds of millions of Arabs, a billion and a quarter Muslims. In Egypt itself,
too, millions of people are ashamed of the participation of their country in the
starving of fellow Arabs.
It is a very dangerous policy. Why does
Mubarak follow it?
THE REAL answer is, probably, that he has no
is a very proud country. Anyone who has been in
knows that even the poorest Egyptian is full of national pride and is easily
insulted when his national dignity is hurt. That was shown again a few weeks
ago, when Egypt lost a soccer
match with Algeria
and behaved as if it has lost a war.
“Consider that from the summit of these
Pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you,” Napoleon told his soldiers on the
eve of the battle for Cairo. Every Egyptian feels that 6000 - some
say 8000 – years of history look upon him all the time.
This profound feeling clashes with reality at
a time when Egypt’s situation is getting more
and more miserable. Saudi Arabia has more influence, tiny Dubai has become an
international financial center,
is becoming a far more important regional power. Contrary to Iran, where the
Ayatollahs have called upon families to limit themselves to two children, the
Egyptian birthrate is devouring everything, condemning the country to permanent
In the past,
succeeded in balancing its internal weaknesses with external successes. The
whole world considered Egypt
as the leader of the Arab world, and treated it accordingly. No more.
is in a bad situation. Therefore, Mubarak has no choice but to follow the
dictates of the US – which are, in fact, Israeli
dictates. That is the real explanation for his participation in the blockade.
WHEN I spoke today at the demonstration in
Tel-Aviv, after we had marched through the streets to protest against the
blockade, I refrained from mentioning the Egyptian part in it.
I confess that I liked the people I met during
my visits to Egypt very much.
The “man in the street” is very
welcoming. In their behavior towards each other there is an air of tranquility,
an absence of aggression, a particular Egyptian sense of humor. Even the poorest
keep their dignity in crowded and often miserable conditions. I have not heard
them grumble. In all the thousands of years of their history, Egyptians have
risen in revolt no more than three or four times.
This legendary patience has its negative side,
too. When people are resigned to their lot, this may prevent economic, social
and political progress.
It seems that the Egyptian people are ready to
accept everything. From the Pharaohs of old right down to the present Pharaoh,
their rulers have faced little opposition. But a day may come when national
pride will overcome even this patience.
As an Israeli, I protest against the Israeli
blockade. If I were an Egyptian, I would protest against the Egyptian blockade.
As a citizen of this planet, I protest against both.