Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured into the Egyptian side of Rafah as the wall on the Egypt-Gaza border was brought down by Hamas over a week ago. Egyptian attempts to revert the situation to its previous state where they hold little or no responsibilities, have failed. Many bloggers have been writing about this new reality in the Middle East, having immense implications on both Egyptian politics and Israeli security.
A recent post in the daily capitalist portrays the events in Rafah as a milestone in creating a reality of hope in Gaza:
Breaching of the wall in Rafah represents a new period in the Gaza strip and its relationship with Israel. Not a giant jail anymore, but a land with an open border, with residents that have something to lose. For many months Gaza residents have gotten used to a reality where they have nothing to lose. Life in the Gaza strip under Hamas rule has become intolerable, resulting from their ongoing Qassam missile policy, and non-recognition of Israel, whom in return forced economic and political isolation onto the Gaza Strip. Residents have stopped hoping and concentrated on surviving.
In his book, The True Believer, Eric Hoffer describes revolutions and the spread of mass movements. Hoffer recognizes the beginning of the end of every dictator. “Every government's enemy” claims Hoffer, “is the belief that things could be different. That there is an alternative reality; a better one”. When the Hamas engineers took down the wall for the benefit of their people, they sent Gaza's residents on a trip to a different reality. A trip from which they all return with a belief that things could be different.
A day after the wall came down, the Gaza strip is the most optimistic place in the world. The residents talk, compare, show-off and tell tales. About their new television, a relative they met, the food in El-Arish restaurants and their future plans to visit Egypt.
Our generals and politicians complain against the Egyptians, who left the border wide open. About the weapons flowing into Gaza, the terrorists who escaped, ammunition and guns. They do not consider the sudden positive change. They are mistaken…
The day after, Hamas will try to continue its usual policies. In the name of its blind fundamentalist belief, continue to send Qassam missiles to Sderot and destroy any chance for its residents to live a peaceful, normal life. However, Hamas will find out that Gaza is changed, as the hunched heads of its residents were replaced by optimism; people wanting to live their lives, people full of hope.
The picture above shows the torn down wall that used to separate between Palestinian and Egyptian Rafah (taken by Haitham Gabr).
However, little positive change is seen from the Israeli side of the border. In the past day a woman was killed and 40 others wounded when a suicide bomber detonated himself in Dimona. A second suicide bomber, stunned by the first blast, was killed by an alert police officer before he could explode himself, saving many lives. In addition, two Qassam rockets were fired into Sderot.
In a recent blog post, Yoav Karny describes how mainstream media compares the breaching of the wall in Rafah to that of Berlin in 1989. He strongly opposes Israel's decision to tighten the closure on Gaza, and portrays a picture of the Palestinian people as having two guns pointed at their temples – one from the Hamas and the other from Israel:
…How awful Israel looked at this day. How ugly and distorted. Malicious, evil and unjust.
How unfair. And how can one ignore the context? Who can forget the Fascist nature of the Hamas – a totalitarian organization which is inherently against any idea of peace with its neighbor.
After several days of open border policy, Mubarak declared that “this will never happen again”. In an attempt to shut down the border crossing in Rafah, an armed battle emerged between Egyptian security forces and Palestinians. As 38 Egyptians and 6 Palestinians were wounded, this prompted the border to remain open. Zvi Mazel describes the Egyptian policy and its implications on Israel's security:
Although the Egyptian economy received a boost with Hamas's planned breach into Sinai, reacting to Israeli blockade, it placed Egypt in an embarrassing position. Mubarak announced his blessing with the arrival of the “Palestinian brothers” and allowed them to buy all products they need. However, soon enough, this warm welcome turned into worry. Not only did the Palestinians undermine Egyptian sovereignty by infiltrating into Sinai with neither permission nor proper registration, but many thousands of them continued past the canal and into Egypt proper. Egypt currently holds 3000 Palestinians who made their way to Cairo and other cities in detention. In addition, Hamas terrorists were not deterred from opening fire on Egyptian policemen who tried to supervise over the crowds, making their way into the Egyptian side of Rafah, wounding over 30…
By taking down the wall and allowing the passage of Palestinian crowds, Hamas creates a cover story, hiding its pre-existing plan to use Sinai as a logistic base for infiltrating terrorists into Israel.
Mubarak can only blame himself for the grave situation which formed. He did not act against the smuggling of weapons, explosives and terrorists trained in Iran who returned to Gaza, as was signed in agreement between Egypt and Israel. As a result, Hamas and other organizations in Gaza gained strength, and continue shooting Qassam rockets into Sderot, while trying to place lethal bombs on its border.
However, Mubarak has alleviating circumstances. In order to prevent weapon smuggling through tunnels, his forces would have fought and killed Palestinians over a sustained period of time. As a consequence of this action, other Arab states would have condemned Egypt. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood would have taken advantage of such an event and acted to weaken the government's rule.
During the 12 days that Gaza-Egypt border was wide open, Hamas brought in significant numbers of long-range rockets and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. This flow of weaponry into Gaza was already constant, through smuggling tunnels and other means. The destroyed border only added to the seriousness of the problem, claims the Jerusalem Post.
Meanwhile, Bondy writes:
Egypt's declaration that the situation at the border with Gaza will return to its previous state does not seem possible. Israel's recent indications that the responsibility over the Gaza strip should be handed over to Egypt truly alarms the Egyptians. Every day we hear their declarations stating that the current situation is extraordinary and temporary. In addition to an open border, Israel needs to deal with the threat along the Israeli-Egyptian border, where security measures and general alertness have been raised in concern of terrorists passing from Gaza through Egypt and into Israel, hoping to detonate bombs.
The full implications of this new reality with an open border between Gaza and Egypt are still unknown. Israel might be relieved to hand over some of the responsibility to neighboring Egypt, but both countries realize the dangerous cost in security and political stability. From worries to hopes, we will try our best to keep posting the different perspectives here.