When Palestinians in Ghazzah broke down the fence dividing the city of Rafah into Egyptian and Ghazzan sections, and crossed into Egypt to obtain vital supplies that they have been starved of by Israel’s blockade of Ghazzah, it was a clear demonstration of both their plight and their determination to survive, despite the hardships and suffering. Perhaps most significant of all was a point noted by many journalists and other observers: that despite their situation in Ghazzah, few Palestinians were trying to remain in Egypt. Having crossed the border, mainly by foot, they were taking what they could find and carry, and returning to their homes in Ghazzah -- one of the most overcrowded and economically deprived areas of the world -- where they have little to look forward to but greater hardships. Seeing that, the Israelis must have realised that, despite their best efforts to date, they have failed to break the spirit of the people of Ghazzah.
Although Egyptian authorities were still trying to seal Rafah off from the rest of Egypt as Crescent went to press, under pressure from the US and Israel to prevent aid from reaching the Palestinians, the episode is likely to have lasting effects. Earlier attempts to reseal the border had failed because of the Palestinians’ determination, and Egypt’s reluctance to act too firmly against them because of public support for the Palestinians in Egypt, the wider Arab world and internationally. On the Palestinian side, the breach has been managed by Hamas security forces, although they had no role in initially creating it. Anxious to prevent anything like this from happening again, Israel has tried to reassert its control over Ghazzah’s borders, while its Palestinian allies in the West Bank, the administration of Mahmoud Abbas, has also said that it will take over the management of the border in order to reassure the West that only vital humanitarian supplies cross it. This, however, is unlikely to be successful, considering Hamas’s total control over Ghazzah. In the long run, the US and Israel may well have to permit Egypt to deal directly with Hamas over the management of the border, at least partly breaking the control Israel exerts by its administration of the official Rafah crossing, previously the only way of crossing the Egypt-Ghazzah border. The breach will not be allowed to remain totally open, but even the passage of limited humanitarian supplies under Egyptian control will make a significant difference to the lives of people in Palestinian Rafah.
Until attention transferred to the Rafah breach, Israel had been trying to ratchet up the pressure on Ghazzah by cutting off its fuel supplies. This caught the attention of the international media on January 20, when the only power station in the Strip was shut down because of lack of fuel, plunging Ghazzah city into darkness. However, this was in fact only the latest stage of an intensifying Israeli campaign to increase the suffering of the people of Ghazzah, which local and international activists had been trying to bring to the world’s attention for several months, with little success until the dramatic scenes created by the power shut-down. The Israelis claimed that they were acting to try to force the Palestinians to stop firing rockets into southern Israel; although Israel claims to be under a constant barrage of such rocket fire, in fact only two Israelis have been killed by such rockets since the beginning of 2007.
The blackout in Ghazzah city was not unexpected. Israel has been manipulating and gradually reducing its fuel supplies to the besieged region since last September, when it declared Ghazzah a “hostile territory”. Local aid agencies, such as the World Health Organisation, have been monitoring the gradual reduction of fuel supplies to Ghazzah ever since, and warning of impending disaster; for all the pious concern voiced by European and other states, they cannot have been unaware of the problems in Ghazzah for all this time.
As has long been clear, but few seem willing to accept, Ghazzah is being punished for its people’s support for Hamas. With Israel controlling its borders and all access to it, for goods and people (which situation is likely to be little effected by events in Ghazzah), it has almost total control over every aspect of economic life in Ghazzah, while disclaiming all responsibility for the suffering of its people, on the grounds that it withdrew its occupying forces in 2005. Only ten categories of essential supplies are now permitted into Ghazzah: cooking oil, rice, wheat, salt, sugar, dairy products, frozen vegetables, frozen meat, medicine and medical equipment. The supplies of these are highly irregular, with 80 percent of Ghazzah’s people unemployed and dependent on international aid for survival.
And yet these tactics are failing to have the effect Israel desires. They are failing to break the spirit of the people of Ghazzah, or to turn them against the Hamas Islamic movement which governs the Ghazzah Strip. Hamas may have only limited power over certain aspects of life in the Strip, but despite being blamed by the Israelis and the international community for the plight of Ghazzah’s people, it remains widely supported. Most in Ghazzah, and many in the West Bank, continue to respect iT for all the reasons that they elected it to power in January 2006, and because of its performance since then, which stands in sharp contrast to that of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian “president”.
The barbarity and callousness of the Israelis and their allies indicate their desperation when faced with the faith and commitment of a people whom they cannot understand and, more significantly, cannot defeat.