Feb 4, 2008
The blockade of the Palestinian territory of Gaza imposed by the Israeli government since January 17 was destroyed ten days later. Soldiers of Hamas, the party that has been in power since June of 2007, used explosives to open breeches in the wall that separates Gaza from Egypt near the area of Rafah.
Over 700,000 Palestinians – half of the population – immediately passed into Egypt in order to buy basic food products, fuel and medicine.
Their situation was becoming ever more desperate. Four days before the breach, the only electric power plant stopped functioning, plunging Gaza City into darkness. Only a few cars were still on the road as gas ran out. Fishermen couldn’t go out and shops closed down. The power outages affected water pumping and distribution, which had been rationed in “normal” times. Hospitals were also hit. They could only handle emergencies and only had a few days of fuel left for their generators. The blockade affected food aid distributed by different international organizations, which 80% of Palestinians live on. It was about to be cut off all together due to the lack of gas for trucks and the absence of plastic bags used for deliveries.
The Egyptian government let the Palestinians flow across for two days. Then on January 25, it tried to close the opening in the wall. Hamas responded by opening other passages nearby with a bulldozer. And since then, the population has been continuously going and coming from that part of the Sinai.
By opening these breeches, Hamas gave Israel the response it deserved for imposing the economic blockade of Gaza. At the same time, it undoubtedly reinforced its popularity with the Palestinians. This is the exact opposite of what the Israeli government sought.
The Israeli government is now trying to get out of the embarrassing situation by saying that the Egyptian government has the responsibility to control the situation: “The Egyptians are fully aware of their obligations and they will fulfill them according to the agreements concluded with Israel,” declared Minister of Defense Ehud Barak.
Effectively, the Egyptian government is also under pressure from several sides. On the one side, it made an agreement with Israel to keep the border closed between Egypt and Gaza, thus collaborating on the blockade of the Palestinian territory. On the other hand, it cannot brutally oppose those who live inside Gaza without provoking an angry response from much of the Egyptian population that is in solidarity with the Palestinians. By leaving the border open, in the absence of being able to do anything else, the Egyptian government is obliged to demonstrate the sort of solidarity with the Palestinians that up to now it has reserved only for speeches.
Apart from what one thinks of the politics of Hamas, the breech in the wall of Rafah also opens a breech in the international conspiracy to starve out the Palestinians. All the better for the Palestinians, and too bad for the Israeli government of Olmert and all his accomplices.