For years, the Egyptians have been strongly condemning Israel for erecting the security fence in the West Bank. But now Egypt is quietly building its own wall along its border with the Gaza Strip and does not want to hear any complaints.
The Israeli barrier was built with the chief goal of halting suicide bombings and other terror activities against Israelis. The Egyptian fence, on the other hand, is being constructed to stop Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip from entering Egypt.
Many Palestinians can still understand why Israel does not want to open its border with the Gaza Strip. But the majority cannot understand why Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the rest of the Arab leaders are keeping them locked inside the tiny, overcrowded and poverty-stricken area known as the Gaza Strip.
Israel does not want to reopen its borders with the Gaza Strip and that is regrettable and painful, but also understandable. But what one cannot understand is the negative attitude of the Egyptians and the rest of the Arab regimes toward the misery of their Palestinian brothers. Mubarak and the rest of the Arab dictators should be helping the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and not choking them.
By keeping the border crossings shut and now building the metal wall along the border with the Gaza Strip, Mubarak is in fact sending the Palestinians to knock on Israel’s door for help. By now it should be clear that the Arab rulers want the Gaza Strip to remain Israel’s problem alone.
The millions of dollars that are being invested in the construction of the new wall could have built hospitals and schools and created job opportunities for the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. Half a billion dollars could even have solved the severe housing crisis in that area.
The Palestinians are not asking Mubarak to open the border so that they could move to live in Cairo. Most of them are seeking to leave the Gaza Strip to search for jobs or be reunited with their families in other countries. They want Mubarak to open the Rafah border crossing because now that’s the only way to leave the Gaza Strip.
Even worse, the Egyptians often prevent medical and humanitarian aid from entering the Gaza Strip through this border crossing. And in many instances they have also banned human rights activists and missions of solidarity from entering the Gaza Strip to support the Palestinians.
Mubarak is using Hamas’s presence in government as an excuse to build the metal wall. But the truth is that Hamas poses a threat to Israel more than to Egypt, if at all. Hamas’s goal, as clearly stated by its leaders, is to “liberate Palestine,” not occupy Egypt.
If Hamas really were such a big threat to Egypt’s national security, why has Mubarak been negotiating with Hamas leaders over the past three years about different issues, such as a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel and reconciliation with Fatah? And how come Hamas leaders are free to visit Cairo and stay in its finest hotels at the expense of the Egyptian government?
The Egyptians initially denied reports about the construction of their wall, but were forced to backtrack in light of pictures showing the bulldozers and laborers on the Egyptian side.
The new Egyptian fence is actually a 10-kilometer underground metal wall that cost at least $500 million. Experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of the project. They note that Palestinians involved in the smuggling industry along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt are so professional and experienced that they will quickly find ways to bypass the wall.
If anything, the Egyptian wall is likely to escalate tensions in the Gaza Strip, where many Palestinians already feel that they are living in a big prison.
After Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, the Egyptians and Arabs have done little to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians there.
The ironic part is that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is now defending Egypt’s right to build a separation wall. This is the same Abbas who, for years, has been condemning Israel’s “Apartheid Wall” and urging the world to force Israel to tear it down.