- Created: Tuesday, 16 February 2010 17:19
- Written by Bob Shepherd
A year on after Israel launched its barbaric onslaught on Gaza on 27 December 2008, murdering over 1,400 people, conditions of life for Gazans remain desperate. Interviewed by Al Jazeera, Raafat Hijazi, a market trader in Gaza City, described their situation: ‘Before the war we thought it couldn’t get any worse, but despite the siege things weren’t as bleak as they are now. You really can go downhill from rock bottom.’
Despite this, Hamas still retains its popular support. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Gaza on 14 December 2009 to mark the 22nd anniversary of the organisation’s foundation. Addressing the rally, Ismail Hanniya reiterated Hamas’s basic position with regard to Israeli occupation:
‘Negotiations have failed, and the negotiators said after 18 years that the result is zero ... We say today in the name of the Palestinian people ... Hamas will not go back on its line of resistance and struggle until it achieves for our people their freedom and independence.’
It is this refusal by Hamas to capitulate and follow the pro-imperialist path of Abbas and his allies in Fatah that imperialism cannot tolerate.
The determination of imperialism to crush the Palestinian resistance means that it will not lift the siege on Gaza, despite the mass destruction of life, homes, buildings and infrastructure. The border crossings between Israel and Gaza have remained closed except to allow a trickle of food supplies to keep the population from starving. Figures from the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and other agencies show that:
• 80% of the Gazan population of 1.5m is dependent on food aid, with half of Gaza’s population being under 18 years of age.
• The numbers of what are known as the ‘abject poor’, those who have no means whatsoever of supporting themselves, have tripled from 100,000 to 300,000 since the onslaught.
• The Israeli blitzkrieg damaged around 50,000 buildings in Gaza leaving tens of thousands of people living in tents and damaged buildings.
• ‘The population lives under constant threat of a collapse of water, sanitation and electricity services’ (Red Cross).
Because of the lack of medical care, Gaza is now home to the highest percentage of disabled people in the world: 4% or 70,000 residents have some form of disability.
Egypt – imperialism’s willing accomplice
Given this context of continuing siege and of no reconstruction, the tunnels under the Egypt/Gaza border have become vitally important. It is estimated that between 15% and 20% of Gaza’s food supplies now enter Gaza through these tunnels and that up to 30,000 people are employed in the smuggling business.
The imperialists now want to shut down this food supply line, and in Egypt they have a willing accomplice as the US is the paymaster for the Egyptian ruling class and its military forces. Thus Egypt is second only to Israel in the amount of aid it receives from the US: since 1975 it has received about $50 billion, the majority designated as military aid.
As part of an agreement with the Egyptians to intensify military operations along the border with Gaza, in March 2008 Condoleezza Rice allowed $100m military aid which had been withheld by the US Congress, to go to Egypt. The US Army Corps of Engineers then began work with the Egyptian military to devise ways to stop the digging of tunnels under the border. The outcome of this cooperation is the planned construction of an underground wall and ‘security’ fence along the border with Gaza. Egypt’s Foreign Minister said that the work along the border involves ‘construction, engineering work and ultrasound equipment’. In the last few months of 2009 Egypt reportedly destroyed large numbers of tunnels using detection equipment provided by the US.
A Hamas spokesman, pointing out the hypocrisy of Egypt, declared ‘There are Arab League resolutions that call for breaking the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip. Now, instead of taking practical steps to break the siege we get surprised by this steel wall.’ He then pointed to the devastating effect the closing of the tunnels would have for the people of Gaza: ‘Tunnels represent a real lifeline for Gaza’s Palestinians under the closure of Gaza’s crossings, and that is why this wall will truly smother the Gaza Strip.’
A further aspect to Egypt’s role in isolating Gaza is its intention to prevent international solidarity activists from entering Gaza. On 27 December 2009, Egyptian forces stopped the Gaza Freedom March, which had participants from across the world, from crossing the border on the anniversary of Israel’s attack. The third Viva Palestina! aid convoy was also obstructed, harassed and attacked by the Egyptian government before the majority of its vehicles were allowed to travel into Gaza. The leader of the convoy, George Galloway, was deported from Egypt as soon as he returned from Gaza and the Egyptian government has announced that it will not allow any more aid convoys to cross the border from Egyptian territory.
As imperialism, through its willing pawn Egypt, tightens the blockade and the isolation of Gaza we need to step up the campaign in Britain to boycott and isolate Israel.
Boycott Israeli goods!
Isolate the racist Zionist state!
Egypt’s ‘national security’
The justification the Egyptian government has used to defend the building of the underground wall along its border with Gaza is that it will defend Egypt ‘against threats to national security’. What ‘national security’? might well be asked, as Egypt hasn’t had any real control over its national territory in the Sinai Peninsula since before 1967.
Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula along with the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights after the 1967 war. In 1979 Egypt betrayed the Palestinian struggle and signed a peace treaty with Israel in which Egypt recognised the state of Israel and accepted the demilitarisation of the Sinai Peninsula, in return for an Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. This took place in 1982.
The conditions imposed on Egypt prevented them from stationing troops or military airplanes in Sinai. When Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, it wanted a military force on the Egyptian border that would do its bidding and confront the Palestinian resistance. It therefore signed an agreement with Egypt allowing Egypt to station a military force of 750 border guards in Sinai and permitting weaponry that included assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.
So much for Egypt’s ‘national security’.
FRFI 213 February / March 2010