The Palestinian people took their destiny in their own hands and smashed down the wall that divided Gaza from Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of people left their prison and walked into Egypt and bought up food, fuel and everything else in sight. It took great courage to do what they did. Just one day earlier desperate Palestinians trying to get to the Egyptian side of Rafah were met by club wielding Egyptian cops and water canon. It would not have been beyond the gangster Olmert-Barak regime to have massacred the people from the air. Yet when the wall came down the people came rushing out.
The Times (UK) said the Palestinian forces leading the Strip (Hamas) have secretly “been involved for months in slicing through the heavy metal wall using oxy-acetylene cutting torches.” At midnight on the 23rd, seventeen bombs dropped the wall like Joshua at the battle of Jericho. Later a Caterpillar bulldozer widened the opening to provide access for automobiles. (What irony! Five year ago the Caterpillars in Rafah were used by Israel to murder Rachel Corrie) The UN estimates 350,000 Palestinians have gone across the border to buy food or to “breathe new air”. Egyptian Rafah was emptied of goods and some Palestinians drove on to El Arish some 45 km further inland.
Conditions in the Gaza Strip were desperate. Israel which had long prevented Gazans from leaving the strip for any reason had last week stopped deliveries of vital goods. Gaza City suffered a complete blackout. The AP quotesd Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain as saying, “We have the choice to either cut electricity on babies in the maternity ward or heart surgery patients or stop operating rooms.” Israel predictably said Hamas had cut off the elecricity in Gaza City as a propaganda stunt.
Food and fuel were not the only things in short supply. There,s a terrible need for spare parts, for medical equipment and for water treatment.
“We are a one-generator-failure away from disaster,” Michael Bailey, an Oxfam spokesman, told the Middle East Times. “The situation is verging on critical. There are 35 sewage pumping stations operational in Gaza. If one of the pumps breaks there is no way to replace it, because of a lack of spare parts,” said Bailey, whose organization works with Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utilities. “This would mean sewage backing into homes and onto the streets and the resulting health problems associated with it.” In March an earth embankment around a sewage reservoir in the northern Gaza Strip collapsed spewing a river of waste and mud that killed at least five people.
Ironically, though Gaza is one of the most crowded place on earth it is not without resources. In 2000 the British firm British Gas Group (BG) discovered proven natural gas reserves of at least 1.3 trillion cubic meters beneath Gazan territorial waters worth an estimated $4 billion. A deal was being worked out with the a Palestinian investors group, but was put on hold due to the Western embargo of the Palestine Authority after the Hamas, victory. There has been some speculation that Israel has been so pitless against Gaza not because of the relatively small loss of life caused by Palestinian missiles from Gaza, but because it wants Gazan gas to fuel the Israeli economy.
The huge victory for human life becomes a political victory for Hamas and another embarrassment for the regime of Mahmood Abbas. Abbas met with great fanfare with Imperial Leader Bush at Annapolis and came away with pledges of money and promises of a settlement in 2008, but not one immediate improvement on the ground. Not a settlement was torn down nor a Jewish-only road opened up to Palestinians. Not a truckload of Gaza products left for sale. Impasse. Yet Hamas was able to break the siege without any loss of life.
Never forget that the Mubarak regime in Egypt collaborated in making Gaza a prison. After Sharon had his soldiers redeployed from Gaza, Egypt, Israel and the European Union made an agreement to keep the border shut giving Israel a total veto on who could enter or leave. Mubarak obeyed this wretched deal faithfully. Al-Jazeera reports that scores of protesters had been arrested in Cairo recently for protesting the siege. In the face of the total stoppage of deliveries last week all Mubarak did was make phone calls to Olmert and Barak and was able to just get a pitiful few truck loads worth of oil for the Gaza power plant.
Though the pressure on Gazans has eased for the moment the protest campaign against Israel,s brutal siege can,t stop for a minute. After the wall was breached Olmert once again said that Gazan civilians would not be allowed to live “normal lives” as long as there are any missle attacks on Sderot. The opening of the Gaza Egyptian border may not be permanent. Israel and the US may bully Mubarak into taking action. Anyway the the gateway to Sinai is a gateway only to a desert. Egyptian Rafah is a tiny town and there is not much else beyond it.
A number of groups have proclaimed January 26 a day of International Action Against the Siege of Gaza. Demonstrations are expected in New York, Cleveland, Boston and Philadelphia and most interestingly in Israel.
The Israeli Coalition Against the Siege intends to send a protest convoy to the Gaza border, in co-ordination with the Palestinian Coalition which is preparing parallel actions inside Gaza and in Ramallah. They are demanding a complete end to the blockade of Gaza.
The humanitarian convoy of supplies headed by peace and human rights organisations will go from Nazareth, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beer Sheva to the Gaza Strip border, decked with signs “Lift the Blockade!” Speakers will be Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avnery, Ronit Matalon, Hassan Jabareen, Nurit Peled-Elhanan and Prof. Jeff Halper. There will be a phone link between the Israeli demo and hundreds of Gazans on the Gaza side in Gaza City at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, demonstrating as part of the “Palestinian-International Campaign to End the Siege,” one of whose spokesmen is psychiatrist and human rights activist, Dr. Eyad Sarraj.
While the politicians talked and talked peaceful direct action has broken the logjam and eased the inhuman misery. May it spread all over.
STANLEY HELLER is host of “The Struggle TV and a podcaster at www.TheStruggle.org