Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, says it wants Israel and Egypt to keep the border crossings with its coastal territory open on a permanent basis. The message that Hamas has been relaying to Israel and Egypt has been along the lines of: If you seek a cease-fire, you must reopen, on a permanent basis, the Kerem Shalom commercial border crossing (with Israel) and the Rafah terminal along the border with Egypt.
It is worth noting that the Kerem Shalom border crossing has been open for most of the time in the past few years, with Israel allowing the entry of goods and medical supplies into the Gaza Strip. Recently, Israel shut down the border crossing temporarily, but only after Palestinian rioters had set the terminal on fire at least twice in the previous weeks. Israel's decision temporarily to shut down the Kerem Shalom also came in response to hundreds of kite and balloon arson attacks launched from the Gaza Strip against Israel, and which have set fire to more than 30,000 dunams (more than 7,400 acres) of land in southern Israel.
The Rafah border crossing with Egypt is a different story altogether. For the past few years, the Egyptian authorities have kept the terminal almost completely shut. Why? Because the Egyptians do not like Hamas in particular and the Palestinians in general. They see Hamas as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and suspect that the Gaza-based group has been involved with Islamist terror groups waging war on the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula.
Like many Arab countries, the Egyptians consider the Palestinians to be an ungrateful people who have never appreciated the sacrifices their Arab bothers made for them. In recent years, a growing number of Egyptians, such as the prominent Egyptian writer Lamis Jaber, have been expressing their views against the Palestinians in public.
This is the reason most Arab countries impose severe restrictions on the Palestinians and even subject them to discriminatory and apartheid laws, such as denying them citizenship and the right to purchase real estate, as well as preventing them from working in various professions, as is the situation in Lebanon.
What, then, is really prompting Hamas's demand that Israel and Egypt reopen the border crossings on a permanent basis? Is Hamas suddenly showing genuine concern for the well-being of the two million Palestinians living under its control in the Gaza Strip? Is Hamas suddenly sincere about ending the humanitarian and economic crisis there? Or has Hamas perhaps finally turned into non-violent peaceful movement that seeks to turn the Gaza Strip into the "Singapore of the Middle East?"
Alas, it seems that none of the above is so. Hamas apparently has something on its mind, but it is not a torrent of tears for its people. Not, at least, while Hamas leaders continue to live in the lap of five-star-hotel luxury from Turkey to Egypt to Lebanon and beyond.
What Hamas has on its mind is Hamas. Hamas's strategy is to remain in power forever; to achieve that goal, it is prepared to do anything. Hamas has always acted out of its own narrow interests while holding the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip hostage to its extremist ideology and repressive regime.
So, when Hamas says it wants the border crossings to be open all the time, that is because Hamas is thinking of what is good for Hamas. According to reports in various Palestinian media platforms, Hamas has been using the border crossings to enrich its coffers and add more cash to the bank accounts of its corrupt officials. This vocation consists not only of asking for bribes, but also nepotism. If you have good connections with someone high up in Hamas, you will be able to pass through the Rafah border crossing more easily and faster than others.
The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Palestinians have always known about Hamas's corrupt practices at the border crossings, but only a few dare to speak out about them. Palestinians are understandably afraid to talk about the bribes that Hamas officials collect or demand from Palestinians wishing to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah terminal (during the rare times it is opened by the Egyptians). Reports also say we are talking about big money that is being collected from desperate Palestinians who want to travel abroad for their studies or to receive medical treatment.
One Palestinian not afraid to speak out about Hamas's corrupt practices at the border crossings is Hassan Asfour, a former Palestinian Authority minister, human rights activist and political columnist.
In a daring move, Asfour published an published an article on August 2, in which he called on the Hamas leadership to stop blackmailing Palestinian would-be passengers at the Rafah terminal. Asfour denounced the practice as "cheap exploitation," and pointed out that Hamas was requesting from $1500 to $3000 per traveler.
"The political factions in the Gaza Strip know about this, but chose to ignore it," Asfour wrote. "This has destructive repercussions on the daily lives of the people." In an implicit reference to Hamas, Asfour wrote:
"Those who claim to be confronting Israel are nothing but corrupt, extortionist bribe-takers. Today, every politician in the Gaza Strip is well aware of the fact that the corruption at the border crossings has become the norm of the official statement, and not actions by individuals or a certain apparatus."
The corruption, he added, is "part of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip and these practices are being done with Hamas's knowledge and under its supervision."
Addressing Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yayha Al-Sinwar, Asfour said, referring to the bribes and corrupt practices at the border crossings: "Stop this national and human disgrace. Enough of this unprecedented corruption. Do not underestimate the anger of the people [over the Hamas corruption]."
Asfour's revelations about Hamas's corrupt manipulation of Palestinians come as no surprise to many Palestinians, especially those who live in the Gaza Strip and those who are familiar with Hamas's repressive practices. However, here one always needs to ask: where is the role of the international media in exposing Hamas's corruption and the exploitation of its own people? Why is it that the mainstream media in the West does not want to pay any attention to what Asfour and other Palestinians are saying? The answer is always simple: As far as foreign journalists are concerned, if Israel is not the one asking for bribes or blackmailing the Palestinians, there is no story there.
Most sad of all, is that because of the refusal of the international media to highlight human rights violations by Hamas, the Palestinians will suffer even more while the UN and Egypt talk about a cease-fire deal between Hamas and Israel, which would have the borders crossings reopened on a permanent basis. This means that Hamas leaders will again be able to laugh all the way to the bank, while their people hunt for the means to pay extortionate bribes of up to $3000 to get themselves healed or educated.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.