Egypt’s military rulers help imprison Palestinians of Gaza
A Palestinian (right) in Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border talks to an Egyptian soldier.
By Rupen Savoulian
October 3, 2013 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Antipodean Athiest -- The online magazine Common Dreams carried the following incisive article about the situation on Egypt’s contribution to the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip: "Egypt joins Israel as Gaza’s jailer".
The article, co-authored by Medea Benjamin and Pam Bailey, focuses on how, in the past, Israel was the specific target of condemnation by human rights and activist groups for its blockade of Gaza. While the Israeli state still receives its fair share of criticism for its role in economically strangling Gaza and inflicting suffering on the Palestinians, the Egyptian militarist dictatorship should also by the target of stinging criticism. The Egyptian generals have not only continued to block off Gaza, the critical lifeline for the Palestinians through Rafah, previously open to humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, will also be restricted by the Egyptian military.
The article quotes from the Washington Post:
As The Washington Post reported, "with Egypt’s military-backed interim government shutting down the tunnels and largely closing its own pedestrian crossing at Rafah, Gaza is increasingly shut off from the world".
Egypt’s new military rulers are closely aligning themselves with Israel’s strategic objectives in the region. Shutting off access to the Gaza Strip and isolating the Palestinians is one such objective with which the Egyptian military is fully cooperating with Israel. Activist groups such as Gaza Ark are deliberately including Egypt in their activities to lift the ongoing siege of the Palestinians in Gaza.
The Egyptian military is militarising the border with Gaza, blowing up houses and bulldozing properties on its territory. This is aimed at creating a no-man’s land buffer zone on its side of the border. Egyptian naval forces have also opened fire on fisherpeople from the Gaza Strip, off the coastal waters of Rafah.
The situation inside Gaza is dire, with the following report that,
On September 5, the Palestinian Energy Authority warned that the Gaza Power Plant is in danger of shutting down completely due to lack of fuel. If the plant shuts down, the result would be power outages of 12 to 16 hours-a-day, up from the current 8 to 12 hours, disabling water and waste-disposal systems as well as crippling many businesses.
With the current focus on Syria, Iran and North Korea, the Egyptian military has been quietly and consistently building its alliance with the Israeli state to suppress the Palestinian population of Gaza.
Since the Egyptian military seized power in a coup back in July this year, Egypt’s President General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi has acted as a jailer of the Palestinians in Gaza. At least former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi attempted to play the role of a mediator, allowing humanitarian aid to get through Rafah, and negotiating with various Palestinian political groups in order to reach a common solution.
This did not necessarily mean that Morsi broke completely from the US-Israeli orbit – far from it. He maintained his relations with all the major imperialist powers and institutions. However, with his ousting on July 3 this year, the positive role that that Egyptian political leadership played with regard to the Palestinians has ended. General al-Sisi is marching in lock-step with Israeli strategic interests.
It is vital to highlight the increasing complicity of the Egyptian militarist rulers in the continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip, because this month marks 20 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords and the beginning of the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
Richard Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and currently the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, gave a talk in Sydney this month, the contents of which are summarised in an article in Green Left Weekly. Falk’s presentation consisted of examining the current Israel-Palestine talks, but also providing some necessary historical background to the Oslo Accords peace process. The author of the Green Left Weekly article, Jim McIlroy, recapitulates the main points of Falk’s overview. The Oslo Accords come in for a stinging rebuke from Professor Falk. To quote Falk:
The continuous expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank clearly abrogates international law. The Israeli separation wall should be immediately dismantled and reparations paid to the Palestinian people.
The most serious deficiency in the Oslo framework was the lack of acceptance of the Palestinian right to self-determination. Since then, we have seen the increasing influence of right-wing settlers in Israeli politics.
Israel has effectively succeeded in excluding international law from the current peace process. Moreover, the US, Israel’s strongest backer, is being presented as an ‘intermediary’ in the process.
So the Oslo Accords, rather than being a platform for the construction of a Palestinian state and fulfilling Palestinian self-determination, is actually a mechanism for the ongoing imprisonment of the Palestinians in Bantustan-style cantonments, cut off by increasing numbers of semi-militarised Israeli settlements. As Kim Bullimore from the Red Flag newspaper notes in her article "The farce of Oslo 20 years on";
The Oslo Accords were in part an attempt by the Israeli and US ruling classes to defuse and undermine the Palestinian popular uprising (Intifada) that erupted in 1987.
As Bullimore explains, the Oslo Accords institutionalised the abandonment of historic objectives of the Palestinian self-determination movement; the Palestinian political leadership at the time renounced claims to historical Palestine, postponed negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem, no mention of ceasing Israeli settlement activity, and the Palestinians were to remain in economically-isolated regions which are afflicted by poverty and unemployment. To quote from Bullimore’s article:
While Israel’s signing of the Oslo Accords has often been depicted as the Zionist state being committed to peace, the Accords in fact simply provided a more efficient way for Israel to achieve its long-held strategic goal of controlling the occupied West Bank and other Palestinian territories.
This accords with the evaluation of the Oslo Accords offered by Ali Abunimah, co-founder and editor of ElectronicIntifada.net and author of numerous articles on the Palestine question. In an interview entitled "How Occupation was dressed up as peace", Abunimah elaborates that the Oslo Accords were never intended as a stepping stone to a viable Palestinian state. While Israel's then prime minister recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole authentic representative of the Palestinian people, the Israeli side never gave an inch on anything else. As Abunimah explains, Rabin did not concede anything substantive:
He didn’t renounce violence. He didn’t renounce settlements. He didn’t recognize any Palestinian rights. He didn’t recognize the right of Palestinians to exist in peace and security. So from the very beginning, the dynamic where Israel gives up nothing, and in fact continues to take, while Palestinians act as the enforcers of the occupation, the glove on the Israeli hand, was built in from the start.
From the beginning, the Oslo Accords were meant as an instrument for continuing Israel's domination of Palestinian lands, albeit in a different form to direct military occupation. Instead of Israeli soldiers directly patrolling the streets of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel economically and political dominates these regions, forcing the Palestinians into a situation of exclusion and destitution, much like the tactics of the former apartheid regime in South Africa. To quote Ali Abunimah again:
I think it’s important to understand that the Oslo process was never intended to end in self-determination and liberation for the Palestinians. What it became was a structure of permanent Israeli control and domination under the fig leaf of the so-called “peace process.” But it’s very important to understand that was built into it from the start.
The direct siege of the Gaza Strip was begun by Israeli authorities back in February 2006, with the surprise election of the Islamist party Hamas to the leadership of the Palestinian government. Ousting the long-term nationalist Fatah party that dominated Palestinian politics for much of the last 50 years, the democratic election of Hamas was greeted by Israel with a form of collective punishment. The entire territory of Gaza has been sealed off, and economic life in the state has all but ground to a halt. Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, combines religious piety with Arab nationalist demands to articulate the aspirations of the Palestinian people. And yes, Hamas did actually drop its demand for the "destruction of Israel", an anti-Zionist position that demands the repeal of the apartheid-like laws that underlie the Israeli state. This demand is usually conflated and slandered by Hamas’ opponents as advocating the physical liquidation of the Israeli population.
During World War II, when the Nazi German forces occupied Poland, they corralled the Polish Jewish population of Warsaw into a ghetto, a zone of economic privation and exclusion that left the Jewish population underfunded, starving and vulnerable. This was a form of collective punishment. When the Israeli state imposed a blockade of Gaza in 2006, it imposed collective punishment, economically strangulating the Palestinian population inside the largest open-air prison in the world. The German military officers that ordered and carried out the siege of and eventual destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto were put on trial after the war ended and found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is time to consider similar proceedings against the leaders of Israel who have ordered and implemented the criminal siege of Gaza.
The online magazine Media With Conscience (MWC) published a critique of the two-state solution borne of the Oslo Accords. The author, Lawrence Davidson, elaborates that this two-state solution, rather than resulting in an equal partnership, has actually institutionalised the subordination of the Palestinian side to Israeli occupation. Davidson summarises the viewpoints of Professor Ian Lustick, a political science expert from the University of Pennsylvania, who published an article entitled "The Two-State Illusion". Lustick describes the two-state solution as a political fraud that has left the Palestinians excluded and denied any chance of building a viable, independent state. The Israeli state, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United States government all have a vested interest in maintaining the charade of the Oslo Accords. To quote Davidson:
For instance, the Palestinian Authority (PA) keeps this hope alive so that it can “get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidizes the lifestyle of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants.” The Israeli government keeps this hope alive because “it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.” Finally, the U.S. government maintains the hope of a two-state solution to “show that it is working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.”
The long-term solution resides in the worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) launched by Palestinian human rights organisations, trade unions and activist groups in 2005, to sustain a campaign of civil resistance against the apartheid Israeli state, much like the boycott campaigns against the previous apartheid regime in South Africa. Divesting from the Israeli state economically undermines the ability of that state to carry out its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. An economic and cultural boycott will send a strong signal to Israel's authorities that they cannot continue to operate as a regional gendarme for the United States.
Let us end at the point where we began; at the Egypt-Gaza border. Officials in the Egyptian military and political hierarchy have admitted that they are receiving weapons to destroy the Gaza tunnels – from the United States. The Egyptian military spokesperson conceded that the US, Egypt and Israel are working closely together to close down the tunnels that provide humanitarian access to the Palestinians locked in the Gaza strip.
By blocking the Gaza tunnels, the Egyptian militarist regime is actively assisting the Israeli state in isolating the Palestinians, aiding and abetting the expansionist designs of the Zionist rulers. It is impossible for the United States to present itself as an honest broker in the stalled "peace process" when they are actively arming the regimes that imprison and economically impoverish the Palestinian population.
The Egyptian military rulers are demonstrating to the world which side they are on. Let us unite with the Palestine solidarity activist movement to show the world that we stand on the side of the oppressed.
[Rupen Savoulian is a Socialist Alliance activist in Sydney.]