By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Arab people, especially the Palestinians, do not believe the Arab League promises in conferences and other public forums because many pledges were made over the years and none was fulfilled. Kuwait meeting is no different. The theme of the summit was set as “Unity for a better Future” but the concept of their regimes unity is just a meaningless slogan. Last year’s promises to provide $500 million for Arab East Jerusalem projects to counter Israel’s actions to the Judaisation of the City, never materialized; and funds to supplement the PA budget have been significantly scaled down, leaving the Palestinians at the mercy of the US and some European donors. Arab regimes actions never matched their rhetoric and their declaration to support the Palestinians was nothing more than lip service.
In its latest annual summit meeting, the Arab League, which has lost the initiative on dealing with any Arab issue, agreed unanimously on its support for the Palestinians. But for the Palestinians in Gaza who need to face Israel’s daily aggression, for the malnourished and sick who have no food or medicine to survive, for the students studying abroad trying to return to their families or going back to their schools, or for the foreign supporters of the Palestinians who have been denied entrance to Gaza and physically abused by Egypt’s security, the Arab League declaration of support to the Palestinians is an empty promise and a theatrical charade. Like their kinsmen in Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, but at large scale, the Palestinians in Gaza are deliberately starved and dying as a result of the crippling blockade while the Arab States are either participant in this crime directly or indirectly and the rest are just don’t care complacent.
The Palestinians are victims of Western colonialism aggression, injustice, oppression, and continued humiliation. Israel was established on 78 percent of their country in 1948 and majority of its Palestinian population of 1.2 million at the time were expelled or had to seek safe refuge outside their homes. The vast majority were driven from their homes as part of coordinated plan by leaders of the Zionist movement. All the Zionist leaders since 1987 wanted to rid Palestine from its indigenous Arab population to keep alive the slogan of “land without people.” The idea of transfer before and after the creation of Israel has been the main Zionist’s solution to the demography problem. In the process of forcibly ejecting the Palestinians, the Jewish fighters committed numerous massacres. The vast majority of the Israelis are living today on confiscated Palestinians’ land. There are more than 120,000 refugees who remained in Israel but are not allowed to return to their homes.
According to the historian Benny Morris, 213 villages and towns were cleansed before the 1948 war while the area was still under the British Mandate, and 264 localities during the war. A total of 54 villages were ethnically cleansed after the signing of the armistice agreements with the Arab states. The cleansed Palestinians became homeless living in camps in neighboring Arab States. One third of the refugees settled in Gaza Strip. The victorious Israelis of the 1948 war allowed Egypt to retain only the overpopulated poverty stricken Strip because it was not in the interest of Israel to have the refugee camps within its borders. The 1948 war was followed by the UN supervised armistice agreements.
When Egypt negotiated the armistice agreement in Rhodes, it failed to reach an agreement with Israel on the refugees’ issue. The 1948 war and the armistice agreements did not prevent more wars in 1956, 1967 and 1973. Gaza Strip was never formally annexed to Egypt and the Egyptians never fostered alternative nationality to its citizens like what the Jordanians did to the West Bank residents. Gaza refugees lived in limbo under Egyptian military rule in severely overcrowded camps depending on the UN handouts.
Between 1949 and 1956, Palestinian refugees in Gaza tried to cross the armistice lines to retrieve family belongings from their homes in Israel and others were armed guerrillas on military missions against Israel. Israel responded with a devastating retaliatory raid on Gaza in 1955 where paratroopers led by Ariel Sharon destroyed the Egyptian headquarters in Gaza, killed and wounded scores of Egyptian soldiers, and hundreds of Palestinians were executed in cold blood. In the 1956 war, Gaza was under full control by the Israeli “Home Guard” military; Palestinians were rounded up from prepared lists and shot on the spot according to the historian Howard Sachar.
Today, Gaza Strip is home for a population of more than 1.5 million including 1.2 million refugees; majority of them are living in eight overcrowded refugee camps. The Strip has become more like internment camp for condemned inmates under daily attacks by Israel and tight blockade and restrictions on imports, exports and people movement imposed by Israel and Egypt. These conditions have resulted in the impoverishment and de-development of the Palestinian population in the Strip. Sixty-one percent of the Gazans are below the UN defined poverty line and more than 10 percent of Gazan children are physically stunted due to malnutrition.
UN envoy Desmond Tutu, UN human rights Council, and the Red Cross consider the destructive tightly controlled blockade on the already impoverished Strip a criminal act. The continuation of the siege, the daily Israeli attacks and the Gaza wars have destroyed the infrastructures needed to sustain minimum level of normal life in Gaza. It is an act of genocide. The Gazans have been betrayed and unprotected for so long but they have not given in to hoplessmess.
Gaza has been destroyed by Israel more than once; its residents are abused by fellow Arabs and abandoned by their own leaders. In his speech to the Arab League conference in Kuwait, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President and the self-appointed chief spokesman of the Palestinian people had no reference to the plight of the 1.5 million of his constituents on the hands of the Egyptian regime. He rightfully asked Israel to lift the siege off Gaza, but he did not look at his Egyptian counterpart and ask him to reduce the pain and suffering of its people by not cooperating with Israel and opening Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only gate to the world.
If Egypt opens Rafah Gate, there would be no need for the Palestinians in Gaza to dig tunnels and smuggle their material needs to survive. But Egypt keeps the gate closed. Thanks to Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar who offered to pledge funds for rebuilding the Strip and to provide the necessary support for its people. Because no other leader spoke so loudly on their behalf, it was not surprising that he excited and impressed the Palestinians, but his pledge was not adopted by the conferees. The Arab leaders did not even pretend to care for the Palestinians in Gaza.
The Gazans have suffered so much, but they have not given in to hopelessness. They were the first to start two Intifadas (uprisings), the first to make the Israeli occupation and colonization too costly to maintain, the first to prove that settlers can be evicted, and the first to force Israel to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. The suffering and pain makes the Gazans more persistent and they have kept alive the Palestinian cause.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.