By Monica Hill
Spirits lifted last January when most of an 8.5-mile wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt came tumbling down and Palestinian women led the way across the border — to food, medicine and a taste of freedom.
Their breakout erupted after six days of lock-down in the most densely populated place on earth. The Gaza Strip, 4 to 7.5 miles wide and 25 miles long, has been a prison for 1.4 million Palestinians since 2000.
It is often compared to the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland, where Nazis locked in a half-million Jews. There they were starved, murdered and pitted against each other to survive where it was impossible to survive. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943 was the first urban mass rebellion against the Nazi occupation of Europe.
Today, Palestinians need the worldwide help that was denied Europe’s Jews more than 60 years ago.
Before the Storm
In the January 2006 parliamentary elections Palestinians replaced the corrupt Fatah regime with the Islamist Hamas Party, which intransigently opposes Israel’s occupation. The hopes of the U.S. and Israel that a victory for Fatah would enable them to subdue the more militant Hamas were dashed. After the vote, the U.S. and Europe launched a diplomatic and economic boycott of the new government.
By December 2006, Israel had provoked civil war between Hamas and Fatah. In Gaza, Hamas defeated Fatah, which retreated to its stronghold on the West Bank. Shortly thereafter Israel accelerated its siege, and instituted a harsher blockade against Gaza. Goods being imported were drastically reduced from 9,000 to 20 commodities!
These attempts to undo the democratic election of Hamas created vast human misery. Israel penned in Gazans along their longest border, and Egypt sealed the only other border. By January 2007, after eight months of siege, Gaza was under constant bombardment. On Jan. 17, Israel turned it into a total blockade.
Women Lead a Breakout
On Jan. 22, hundreds of angry women took to the streets in the border town of Rafah. It is the largest city on the Gaza Strip with an estimated 130,000 people there. Two thirds of Rafah’s residents live in refugee camps.
The women were protesting Israel’s horrific blockade and Egypt’s collaboration. Food, medicine, basic supplies, and fuel for electricity and water were cut off. No aid could get in, and no one could leave. Raw sewage spilled into the streets of Rafah and the Mediterranean Sea. This deprivation was accompanied by Israeli air bombardments and artillery fire from surrounding tanks.
The women broke through Egypt’s metal door at the Rafah border, and were driven back by Egyptian police with clubs, tear gas and water canons. Ten cops and at least 25 demonstrators were injured.
Before dawn the next day, Palestinians militants set off several explosions and the despised wall collapsed. From 200,000 to 700,000 desperate Palestinians poured into Egypt, by car, donkey cart and on foot, to buy supplies.
There’s Oil in Gaza!
Israel usually justifies killing and destruction by claiming national security is at stake. But the timing of the Jan. 17 siege reveals another motive.
The Electronic Intifada reports that in 2000 the British Gas Group (BG) discovered natural gas reserves beneath Gazan waters that are worth about $4 billion. A deal for $1 billion was in the pipeline for Palestinian investors tied to Mahmoud Abbas’ regime in the West Bank.
But Hamas’ win in 2006 upset the plans. Rather than risk Israel’s wrath for trading with Hamas, BG announced it was closing its Tel Aviv office. Soon after Israel attacked Gaza.
World governments have unctuously denounced Israel’s behavior for years. The United Nations Human Rights Council has condemned Israel 15 times in the last two years for its illegal collective punishment of civilians in the Gaza Strip.
As for professed U.S.concern about human rights, an Associated Press story is revealing: “In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe expressed regret for loss of civilian life on both sides but put most of the blame on the Palestinians.”
Egypt’s cooperation rests on military aid. Next to Israel, it is the largest regular recipient of conventional U.S. military and economic aid. But Egypt’s pro-capitalist regime is worried and wary, because the country’s labor movement is militantly organizing strikes and sit-ins against austerity conditions.
On Jan. 28, the Egyptians, aided by Hamas security, repaired the wall with barbed wire. By February, the border was re-sealed.
Talks continue, with Hamas, Fatah, Israel and Egypt competing to manage the border. But what Palestinians need is open borders, not more guards!
Despite considerable international outrage and mounting protests, Israel has resumed murderous air attacks on Gaza. A March 1st assault killed at least 24 Palestinian civilians and 25 fighters. Since then, the U.N. has closed schools that it runs for 40,000 students. A three-day strike was called in Gaza, and public schools and universities shut down.
Gazan militants also continue their rocket attacks. The difference of course, is that Palestinian rockets are homemade weapons with a maximum range of 10 km, and do not threaten Israel’s “national security.” They have killed around 10 Israelis since 2005, while over 700 Palestinians died in Israeli raids during the same period.
The rockets are, however, a debated tactic. They land on civilian homes in the nearby Israeli city of Sderot. Most of the residents in this city are poor Jewish immigrants from Northern Africa and the Middle East. They need jobs and would have good reason to side with Palestinians against their own Israeli ruling class. But terrifying Sderot’s residents with rockets serves to block solidarity between them and Palestinians.
Israel and Egypt: Open the Borders Now!
“The old will die and the young will forget.” That is what Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, arrogantly predicted 60 years ago of Palestinians who were forced from their land. Instead, as Gazans show, elders and youth die in genocidal numbers. And survivors don’t forget.
A lasting solution to this misery-torn region won’t be forged so long as imperialist bullies and their regional clients run things.
To breathe free, Arabs and Jews, along with new immigrants in the Middle East, need a society based on socialist economics and democratic methods. One state, run by and for the benefit of all working people could bring peace and carry out the liberation tasks of the region. It’s in the interest of U.S. labor to help: Block armament deliveries to Israel and Egypt and demand the U.S. stop all aid to both countries!
(This article was originally published in Freedom Socialist Newspaper – www.socialism.com – Vol. 29 No. 2, April-May 2008; it’s republished by PalestineChronicle.com with permission.)