Egypt’s Blockade on Gaza

In the wake of Israel’s raid three days ago on a civilian vessel attempting to deliver material goods to the residents of Gaza, Egypt announced on Tuesday the temporary opening of its border with Rafah to allow humanitarian and medical aid into the Gaza Strip, with restrictions on what kinds of supplies can enter. On Monday, President Mubarak responded swiftly to the Israeli navy’s assault on the Freedom Flotilla, affirming Egypt’s support for the people of Gaza. Israel’s ambassador to Egypt was quickly summoned by the Egyptian foreign ministry, and told that Egypt condemns the violence deployed against international activists and rejects the continued blockade of the strip.

As international pressure mounts on Israel to justify its savage attack on unarmed civilians attempting to provide material support to a besieged population, Hosni Mubarak’s government is posturing on the international stage, trying to show the world and its own citizens that it’s on the right side of this tragedy. Its statements give the false impression of an enduring commitment to the collective welfare of Palestinians living in Gaza.

However, a brief review of Egypt’s track record over the past three years tells a different story that undermines these duplicitous claims.

Under pressure from the US and Israel, Egypt has actively participated in the Gaza siege since Hamas took control of the strip in June 2007, blocking the movement of people and goods over its official border crossing. This has effectively tightened Gaza’s economic strangulation, causing acute shortages in basic supplies, a near-complete halt in industrial production, and a sharp rise in health and sanitary problems. It has contributed to what several human rights organizations have described as the worst humanitarian crisis in Gaza since its military occupation by Israel in 1967.

Egypt has been actively suppressing the underground tunnel trade, one of the main lifelines for the Gazan economy which provides most of the daily needs for 1.5 million people, including fuel, clothing and construction materials. Egyptian security forces have targeted tunnels for destruction and, in one recent case, were accused of pumping poisonous gas into a tunnel that resulted in the deaths of four Palestinians.

Egypt began construction of an underground steel wall last December — dubbed a security barrier by the government — which has so far covered almost half of the border area.

Egypt has prevented similar humanitarian convoys in the past, leaving international activists no recourse but the sea to deliver supplies to the besieged strip. Last December, the Egyptian government blocked most of the 1,400 participants in the Gaza Freedom March — organized by a coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations — from entering Gaza via the Rafah crossing to deliver vital humanitarian supplies. Days later, following a confrontation between members of the Viva Palestina convoy and Egyptian riot police in the port of el-Arish, the Egyptian foreign minister announced a ban on all future aid convoys destined for Gaza.

All these actions have taken place in the context of a very cordial Egyptian-Israeli bilateral relationship that involves various levels of political and economic cooperation, including preferential trade agreements and the long-term provision of natural gas to Israel. Keeping in line with US and Israeli policy, Egypt has also worked to undermine the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip while bolstering support for the discredited Palestinian Authority.

The decision to open the Rafah crossing comes after two consecutive days of popular protests across most major Egyptian cities, as well as heightened international concern over the plight of Gaza’s imprisoned population. The move is designed to serve Egypt’s vested interest in appearing as an honest regional broker and supporter of the Palestinian cause.

The Egyptian government desperately wants to deflect any negative attention away from its own complicity in the blockade. But empty rhetorical gestures and mendacious displays of solidarity with Palestinian suffering do not change the basic fact that Gazans have been victims of a coordinated Israeli-Egyptian siege, for which Mubarak’s government bears its fair share of responsibility.

Ahmad Shokr is a journalist based in Cairo, Egypt. Read other articles by Ahmad.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rehmat said on June 3rd, 2010 at 9:49am #

    Rafah border crossing is the only point on the besieged Gazzah which is not petrolled by the Israeli forces directly. It’s controlled by Egyptian border police as part of the US$1.5 billion annual USAID Cairo receives since it recognized the Zionist entity in 1979. Hosni Musbarak’s hatred toward Islamist government of Hamas, Egptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Republic which supports Hamas, is welknown. Therefore, it would be naive to expect that the Rafah border crossing will remain open permanently.

    Pharaoh opens Rafah border crossing and Israelis celebrate massacre at Sea

  2. mary said on June 3rd, 2010 at 10:49am #

    Egypt are quislings in Gaza’s imprisonment,.

    Ann Wright, retired US diplomat and Army colonel, writes of the physical and financial involvement of the US government in the construction of the iron wall.

    A group of us protested at the Egyptian Embassy in London earlier this year against the construction of this wall. It is quite shameful action by bullies in support of the Zionist state.

  3. hayate said on June 3rd, 2010 at 8:15pm #

    I think mubarak’s recent….ah….generousity to the Gaza prisoners may be influenced by El Bardei’s (spelling – sorry) intend to dethrown him in the next election. Mubarak has no real support not bought by the usa (for israel, of course), El Bardei has quite a bit of domestic support. Short of committing election related crimes or murdering El Bardei, mubarak’s kingship is pretty much a done deal. He probably hopes to gain some domestic support with his opening of the crossing and slapping the israeli ambassador’s hand. Let’s hope mubarak’s desire for re-election is strong enough, that he keeps that crossing open. ;D

    I just read the zionists are “considering” ending the blockade, but I trust those creatures as far as I can drop kick them.

  4. hayate said on June 3rd, 2010 at 8:17pm #

    “Short of committing election related crimes or murdering El Bardei, mubarak’s kingship is pretty much a done deal.”

    That came out wrong, should be mubarak’s dethronement is pretty much a done deal.

  5. mary said on June 3rd, 2010 at 11:38pm #

    The presence of natural gas offshore plays a large part in the naval blockade of Gaza apart from the withholding of free passage of the Gazan people, the import and export of goods and the freedom to fish. The harbour and the airport have been bombed to smithereens by the Israelis of course.

    We have speculated a long time about Israel drilling laterally into the Gazan waters. Two days ago energy shares on the Tel Aviv stock exchange rocketed.

    Stuart Littlewood writes today of the background to this – the PA quislings (I like that word) selling out in 1995. (second half)

    This from a well informed commenter at Medialens about the finds, the extraction and the exploitation by Israel


    It is worth mentioning that the BBC (ZBC) have a map on their website that does NOT denote Gazan territorial waters.

  6. mary said on June 3rd, 2010 at 11:58pm #

    @Hayate That came out wrong, should be mubarak’s dethronement is pretty much a done deal.

    Won’t he kick the bucket very soon anyway? He looks pretty sick to me and has recently been in Germany for surgery. If he dies before the intended date for the so called ‘election’ next year, what happens then? Some sort of military coup?

    El Baradei’s condition on standing looks rather unobtainable to me. He should just pull all the stops out and go for it.

  7. hayate said on June 4th, 2010 at 12:14am #


  8. hayate said on June 4th, 2010 at 12:23am #

    I mean’t the gas articles in that post above, Mary. I didn’t realise there was that much there.

    If El Baradei runs, and wins, the Egyptian presidency, that’s going to be interesting too, though. 😀

  9. GLebowski said on June 4th, 2010 at 2:54am #

    THe USA is a mafia. There can’t be much doubt that Israel are the godfathers of that mafia. Too many coincidences and too many connections. Mafias pay off their minions; blackmail them, set them up, anything it takes to get them in the pocket. The USA knows all about mafia.