Gaza Children: Egypt’s Responsibility

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Egyptian government spokesmen claim "Israel as an occupation power is responsible for Gaza"! This is no excuse for sealing the border if the occupation power is carrying out massacres against the occupied people. It is the responsibility of everyone to intervene on behalf of the victims!

In 1982, Palestinians were massacred in Sabra, Shatila, Tel al-Za’atar and Dbayyeh on the hands of the Lebanese Phalangists while the Israeli military sealed the gates to the camps. The February 8, 1983 the Israeli Kahan Commission had determined that the 1982 massacre at the refugee camps was carried out by a Phalangist unit, acting on its own but the last page of the official Israeli report held General Ariel Sharon "personally responsible" for the massacre. Almost two thousand Palestinian civilians including women and children were slaughtered in the massacre.

Today, the 1982 massacres against the same Palestinians are being replayed in different location and with the participation of the government of Egypt. The Palestinians are being massacred in Gaza by the Israelis while the Egyptian government seals it borders with the Strip, preventing food and medical relief to reach the victims. Medical supplies, medical personnel and food contributed by foreign organizations are not allowed by Egypt to cross the borders to Gaza, the most crowded slum in the world. Egypt is using the same excuse used by Sharon to defend his action while the Phalangists were executing the Palestinians. Egypt cannot run away from its responsibility toward the Palestinians especially the Gazans. It has been heavily involved in Palestinian affairs, as the largest and strongest Arab nation and the leader of the Arab League.

In March of 1943, the Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Nahhas proposed the creation of a league for the Arab sovereign states; and on March 22, 1945, Six Arab countries, Egypt, Iraq, Tans-Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia formed the Arab League in Cairo. The announced goal was to “draw closer the relations between member states and co-ordinate collaboration among them to safeguard their independence and sovereignty and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries”. Egypt used the League to pursue its ambitions of leading the Arab states and dominate the region.

Egypt was partially responsible for the 1948 war defeat that led to the “nakba” and Egypt ruled Gaza Strip until the 1967 war. In his 1959 book “the Philosophy of Revolution”, President Jamal Abdel-Nasser states that the collapse of the Arab armies that led to the nakba was caused by the corruption of the existing Arab order, the monarchies, the regimes of the beys and pashas, the large landlords and the feudalists.

Egypt had to participate in 1948 war and fight in1956 and 1973 wars not only to defend the Palestinians but because the Zionists had territorial ambitions in Sinai. When the Israeli military captured Sinai in the 1956 war, Ben-Gurion congratulation message to the unit that captured the area was: “Yotvata, or Tiran, which until fourteen hundred years ago was part of an independent Jewish state, will revert to being part of the third kingdom of Israel”. Yotvata was the Hebrew name of the Egyptian Tiran Island at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba. During the planning for the Suez War, Ben-Gurion told his French counterpart that he would like to “tear this peninsula [Sinai]” from Egypt and annex it to Israel because the British had been the ones who stole it from the Turks and gave it to Egypt, and Israel was looking forward to extract the oil that had been discovered in the south of Sinai and transport it in pipelines to Haifa.

Five Arab states military contingents invaded Palestine on May 15, 1948 after the termination of the British mandate. With the exception of Jordan, they committed only expeditionary forces and kept the bulk of their military at home. Egypt dispatched 10,000 men, Syria 3,000, Lebanon 1,000, Iraq 3,000, and Trans-Jordan provided 4,500 soldiers. Militarily, they were ill-prepared and battle-shy; but their real problem was the conflicting interests and the distrust of each other intentions in Palestine. Personal animosity among the leaders of the Arab governments was reflected on the policies toward the Palestinians. They never agreed on a plan or a strategy on the Palestinian issue. Egypt, Iraq and Jordan continued to have different plans regarding the Palestinian entity biased by their leaders’ personal ambitions and hatred to each other. The severity of the split was especially obvious in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Trans-Jordanian Arab Legion, led by British officers was relatively the most effective force for its success in the battle for Old Jerusalem City despite its failure to defend other major cities and Arab population centers.

The Arab-Israeli 1947-48 war that led to the birth of Israel and the flight and expulsion of much of the Arab population caught the Arabs including the Palestinians disunited and unprepared. The Arab League decided in 1948 to establish “All Palestine” government in Gaza under Egyptian protection. “All-Palestine” was only a government on paper because it had no jurisdiction over any part of the area under Jordan control and not even over Gaza strip where its prime-minister resided. It was established to foil Jordan’s intentions to annex the West Bank. All-Palestine was dissolved by the Arab League in 1952 and Arab governments became the official guardians of the Palestinian cause and active Palestinian nationalism receded significantly till the emergence of the PLO.

At Nasser’s invitation, an Arab League summit meeting was held in Cairo in January 1964 to discuss the problem of Israel’s plan to divert water from the Sea of Galilee to the Negev desert. The summit endorsed Nasser’s proposal to create an official organization with both political and military wings to represent the Palestinians and share in liberating their homeland. Later on in the same year, a group of leading Palestinians from throughout the Middle East and Europe convened a conference in the Arab sector of Jerusalem. The conference established the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under the chairmanship of Ahmad Shuqayri, a former lawyer from the Palestinian city of Acre. The conference created the Palestine National Congress (PNC) and drafted two documents, al-Mithaq al-Watani al-Filastini and al-Mithaq al-Qawmi al-Filastini. These documents functioned as the constitution of the PLO and declaration of independence, known as the “National Covenant”. They defined Palestinian political goals and Palestinian rights as envisioned by a new generation of Palestinian nationalists. The covenant stated that after liberating all of historic Palestine, it would be part of a united Arab nation.

Soon after that, the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) was established as the military arm of the PLO. To insure his control over the organization, President Nasser allowed the PLA to have their military bases under Egyptian oversight in Sinai and Gaza Strip and supplied them with light arms. Egypt’s tight control over the PLA was accredited for the absence of serious violent incidents across Gaza-Israel armistice lines between the creation of the PLO in 1964 and the 1967 war. Nasser did not want the Palestinians to carry on raids in Israel, wreck the 1957 armistice agreement, and draw Egypt into another war with Israel. He thought war with Israel was unavoidable, but he did not want others to decide its timing. Then in May 1967, Egypt ordered the withdrawal of the UN observers from the demilitarized zone in Sinai. That led to the 1967 war and the occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, Sinai and the Golan Heights by Israel.

And after the 1973 war, Sadat negotiated the 1979 peace treaty with Israel for the return of Sinai which is not a Palestinian territory. But the treaty mentioned possible negotiations about Palestinian autonomy in the 1967 war occupied territory as an interim solution for up to five years. After that the Israelis and the Palestinians were to decide on the final status of the autonomy. In his March of 1975 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Sadat stated that “Jerusalem, Nablus, and Gaza [Palestinian cities] are no less dear to [him] than Egypt and Kantara”.

Despite the turbulance of the last forty-two years after the 1967 war defeat, none of the Arab regimes of consequence has changed except for switching allegience to the US and giving Israel a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians. The Egyptian news media that was announcing propaganda of Arab victories in the 1967 war has been replaced with even more fraudulent praise for helping the Palestinians by allowing a handfull of injured Palestinians to be treated in Egyptian hospitals while enforcing the Israeli complete siege on the tiny strip and the Palestinian children are being massacred by Israel. Something fundamentally and morally flawed about Egypt’s conduct. Does Egypt’s government action against the people of Gaza suggest that because it hates Hamas as much as Ariel Sharon hated the Palestinians, it is telling the Israelis “We are closing the border. Go for it!”? I wish the answer is “no”! 

-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. He contributed this article to

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