Egypt’s role in Gaza blockade

June 5, 2010

After Israel’s May 31 raid on a civilian vessel trying to deliver goods to Gaza, Egypt announced on June 1 that it would temporarily open its border with Rafah to allow humanitarian and medical aid into the Gaza Strip.

On May 31, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak responded swiftly to the Israeli navy's assault on the Freedom Flotilla, affirming Egypt's support for the people of Gaza.

Israel’s ambassador to Egypt was quickly summoned by Egypt’s foreign ministry, and told Egypt condemns the violence against international activists and rejects the continued Gaza blockade.

As international pressure mounts on Israel, Mubarak's government is posturing on the international stage, trying to show the world and its own citizens that it's on the right side of this tragedy.

Its statements give the false impression of an enduring commitment to the collective welfare of Palestinians living in Gaza. However, a brief review of Egypt's track record over the past three years tells a different story.

Under pressure from the US and Israel, Egypt has actively taken part in the Gaza siege since June 2007, blocking the movement of people and goods over its official border crossing.

This has tightened Gaza’s economic strangulation, causing acute shortages in basic supplies, a near-complete halt in industrial production, and a sharp rise in health and sanitary problems.

Egypt has been actively suppressing the underground tunnel trade, one of the main lifelines for the Gazan economy that provides most of the daily needs for 1.5 million people, including fuel, clothing and building materials.

Egyptian security forces have targeted the tunnels for destruction. In a recent case, Egypt was accused of pumping poisonous gas into a tunnel, resulting in the deaths of four Palestinians.

Egypt began building an underground steel wall in December, which has so far covered almost half the border area.

Egypt has prevented similar humanitarian convoys in the past, leaving international activists no recourse but the sea to deliver supplies to the besieged strip.

In December, the Egyptian government blocked most of the 1400 participants in the Gaza Freedom March from entering Gaza via Rafah to deliver vital humanitarian supplies.

Days later, after a confrontation between members of the Viva Palestina convoy and Egyptian riot police in the port of el-Arish, the Egyptian foreign minister announced a ban on all future aid convoys destined for Gaza.

This is all in the context of a cordial Egyptian-Israeli bilateral relationship. It involves various levels of political and economic cooperation, including preferential trade agreements and the long-term provision of natural gas to Israel.

Keeping in line with US and Israeli policy, Egypt has also worked to undermine the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip while bolstering support for the discredited West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

The decision to open the Rafah crossing comes after two consecutive days of popular protests across most big Egyptian cities, as well as heightened international concern over the plight of Gaza's imprisoned population.

The move is designed to serve Egypt’s vested interest in appearing as an honest regional broker and supporter of the Palestinian cause.

The Egyptian government desperately wants to deflect any negative attention away from its own complicity in the blockade. But nothing changes the fact that Gazans have been victims of a coordinated Israeli-Egyptian siege, for which Mubarak's government bears its share of responsibility.

[Slightly abridged from]

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