A state of anxiety and confusion has taken over the residents of Gaza as the tunnels leading to the Egyptian border have been almost entirely closed off. Humanitarian crises are beginning to emerge as it is becomes increasingly difficult to move consumer goods both into and within the Gaza Strip. Many fear that Gaza will once again be under siege as a result of the tensions occurring in the Egyptian arena. The current situation differs greatly from the sense of relief and mobility that Gazans experienced last year when the blockade was gradually lifted.
Hamas has recently called on regional and international forces to make every possible effort to break the siege on Gaza that occurred after the majority of tunnels were destroyed and the Rafah border was closed off entirely.
Political and economic analyst Mohsen Abu Ramadan believes that the situation in the Gaza Strip is regressing back to the initial stages of the 2007 siege. Ramadan anticipates that this time, the consequences will be more severe in terms of the ability to move both goods and people, which are restricted by Israel’s continued siege of the Strip. Conditions will be worsened by the decreasing amounts of supplies brought in through the tunnels as the chaos in the Egyptian arena continues. He pointed out that the commercial crossing linking Israel to the Gaza strip provides a mere thirty per cent of the needs of the people; whereas, the remaining seventy per cent of goods come through the Egyptian tunnels.
In a conversation with Alesteqlal, Abu Ramadan explained that Egyptian procedures and restrictions related to the tunnels and the closure of the Rafah border have pushed Hamas to call on convoys to break the siege. The group has also asked for the creation of a waterway that would link the Gaza Strip to the world. Abu Ramadan pointed out that while the proposal is legitimate and while Gazans do deserve to have a channel that links it to the international community, it is more important to remedy the lack of connections between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The divisions must first be solved by forming a national government as soon as possible, so that any passage that is built would be considered part of the Palestinian Territories and not just particular to Gaza.
Abu Ramadan stressed that the return of a severe siege on Gaza would have seriously detrimental repercussions for the residents of the Strip. The humanitarian conditions will also be negatively impacted due to the various crises resulting from the Israeli blockade and the closure of the crossings. He noted that if the situation in Egypt continues in this vein, it would have a negative impact on the social and humanitarian quality of life for Gaza’s population.
Abu Ramadan pointed out that the best way to break the siege on Gaza is to achieve solidarity among the masses, in addition to working towards achieving national reconciliation and the formation of a unified national government. The new unified government would then work towards breaking the siege that has been imposed upon Gaza for years.
All tunnels found under the border of the Gaza Strip and Egypt previously provided residents with supplies, food, fuel and other daily necessities. However operations within the tunnels have been fully stopped in the wake of security threats following the coup against President Morsi.
‘Explosion’ in the South
Political analyst Hamza Abu Shanab confirmed that Gaza is currently living under extremely difficult conditions as a result of the lack of stability in the Sinai and the direct effect this is having on the Palestinian scene. In 2008, the Egyptian leadership broke the barrier that separated Egypt from the Gaza Strip. This resulted in mass migrations of Palestinians towards the city of Al-Arish in order to buy their necessities. Abu Shanab noted that the Egyptian leadership learned from this experience and realised from a humanitarian standpoint that any siege on Gaza leads to an ‘explosion’ of people moving towards the south. For that reason, although restrictions will be likely implemented, they will not reach the severity of a siege.
In regards to the situation’s effect on communication between Gaza and Egypt, Abu Shanab said: “Regardless of how much communication increases or decreases, there will always be common interests between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Egypt’s national security remains tied to Gaza regardless of what government is in power and for that reason communication will ultimately not change.”
“The political situation differs from the economic situation. This blockade might be directed towards the political leadership affiliated with Hamas and based on the lack of mobility in Egypt. However, in the end, Egypt will cooperate with whoever is running the Gaza Strip because it benefits the country’s strategic interests,” Abu Shanab added. He explained that the government in the Gaza Strip will attempt to revive the issue of breaking the siege in order to relieve some of the pressure on the Rafah border and on working conditions. However, it is currently too early to speak of solidarity efforts due in large part to the conditions in the surrounding areas.
Abu Shanab believes that the Israeli occupation will not tighten the siege on Gaza in the near future due to a truce between Hamas and Israel. He added that the Israeli occupation does not want the situation in Gaza to escalate and that Israel is avoiding the Gaza Strip altogether until the end of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Abu Shanab also noted that Hamas’ attempts to break the siege are currently limited; however, the group can take advantage of one factor, which is to use pressure from the masses to break the siege. It helps that Hamas’ allies in the region, mainly Turkey and Qatar, currently do not have a stable relationship with Egypt. Furthermore, the security situation coupled with Hamas’ ability to control movement within its territory will force Egypt to deal with the government in Gaza.
According to Jamal Khudairi, the chairman of the People’s Committee against the siege, the Israeli occupation is the first force that is responsible for the severe siege imposed on the Gaza Strip over the last few years. They are also responsible for the difficulties that resulted from closing all border crossings with the exception of one, which is used at all times and under all conditions. Israel forces all travellers to travel through the Beit Hanoun crossing and prevents all goods and necessities from entering the Strip, in addition to prohibiting exports. Khudairi also pointed out that speaking about third parties diminishes Israel’s culpability in the matter.
In his conversation with Alesteqlal, Khudairi said that the door for solidarity campaigns with Gaza is open and that efforts that result from them must be put into effect in the coming months. All solidarity projects bring about legitimate results whether they come in the form of ships breaking the siege, or journalists, human rights groups, or parliamentary groups. Khudairi emphasized that all of the efforts are effective in creating a catalyst for breaking the siege. He also stressed the need to form a Palestinian, Arab, and international force that would raise more pressure for breaking the siege that has been imposed on the Gaza Strip for many years.
Khudairi expects a wide international response to the calls for solidary based on what happened during the last siege; however, he also stressed that each group must be given the ability to determine how much they can help and what means they ought to use based on their own particular capabilities. The most important thing is that these groups call for permanently and completely removing the blockade. He stressed that the occupying forces must be collectively punished and held accountable for the siege, which is in violation of international law.
This is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared in Alestqlal Newspaper on 22 August, 2013