Thursday, January 31, 2008

JAILBREAK: When Gaza Resists

Not enough can be said about the situation in Gaza. The facts speak for themselves...and loudly. The collective punishment of a civilian population of over 1.5 million people, forced to live in conditions beyond squalid, beyond poverty, beyond humanity, restricted by economic, trade, and military blockades, unable to move, sleep, eat, work, or live with the freedom and dignity that the brutal occupying force boasts about in its own cities. In simple terms: Gaza is occupied. Gaza's resident refugees are being starved and neglected by its occupying power (a direct breach of international law) while the rest of the world looks on in horror, at best doing nothing, at worst eagerly encouraging the Israeli siege.

And for what? Because a resistance party won a transparent, legitimate and democratic election? Because a resistance movement has disrupted the lives of the residents of Israeli border town Sderot with Qassam rockets - rockets that have killed a total of 18 people in the past four years, while the Israeli military engages in constant extrajudicial executions (read: murder) that has claimed the lives of more than 816 Gazans - including 379 'noncombatants' - since January 2006? This is why Israel is presiding proudly over a humanitarian crisis they have created and threaten to prolong this indefensible catastrophe? This is why raw sewage runs in the streets of Gaza and why hospitals have no electricity to keep their patients alive and their surgeons operating? This is why, as of Saturday January 26, over 80 patients - including 16 children - have died in Gazan hospitals due to lack of power and resources?

Let's all remind ourselves again of the most important facts: Gaza is occupied and Gaza is under siege.

Rockets fired over the border into Israel are acts of resistance to an occupation. True, not peaceful resistance...but this is not a peaceful occupation. No occupation is peaceful and occupations do not end due to submission and subjugation to them. Are non-military Israelis really innocent? Of course not, just in the way that your average insurance saleswoman in Nebraska is not innocent of the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They live through it, they fund it, they vote for it, they support it. Just like we do with our country's various occupations. They are responsible, we are responsible. (And by the way, there is no such thing as a non-military Israeli since service in the military is mandatory.)

Does this mean that I think people deserve to live their lives on high alert, deserve to live in constant fear of what horrible weaponry might rain down from above, deserve to die? Absolutely not. No none deserves that. But the fear felt by residents of Sderot most likely approximates about one hundredth of a percent of what Palestinians feel and live through every single day in Gaza. Should the price of resistance equal the price of occupation? Would that not simply perpetuate an unjust status quo? The cost to an occupying power must at some point become greater than the benefit of the occupation itself. Occupations should become unsustainable to the occupier.

And as history has always taught us, occupations (just like empires) do not last forever. And this one will be no different. And when the walls come down, on which side will you have been standing?


Power of the People

Nada Elia, The Electronic Intifada, 29 January 2008

Palestinians walk into Egypt over the Israeli built wall on the southern border of the Gaza Strip after it was destroyed by Hamas, 26 January 2008. (Matthew Cassel)
Today, more than any other day in my life, I am proud to be Palestinian.

Let me explain. Nation-states mean little to me. They represent artificial boundaries, legal restrictions, "No Entry" signs, and collective brainwashing into the "uniqueness" of cultures that only humans acknowledge. What fish has ever stopped swimming as it approached that most invisible "water line" separating one country from another? What migratory bird's instincts made it hesitate for even the briefest of moments as it crossed from Canada to the US to Mexico, heading south for the winter? Show me a flower, even in the most private garden, that doesn't mix its aroma with the flowers in the garden next door, with the highest "security fence."

Such boundaries are unnatural. And because they are unnatural, I have never related to them. Yes, I have long advocated Palestinian rights, but my own national identity is tangential to my passion. I advocate Palestinian rights because they are human rights that are violated for the sake of these artificial boundaries. But today, as I see the Palestinian people represent the finest in people power, I am proud to be Palestinian. I am proud to be part of a people that refuses to submit to unnatural limits on our most basic freedoms: the freedom to eat, to drink, to grow.

The International Court of Justice declared the Wall illegal, but did not have the power to bring it down. The Fourth Geneva Convention declared collective punishment illegal, but did not have the power to stop it. International law declared the occupation illegal, but did not have the power to end it. And then Palestinians, possibly the most downtrodden of all peoples today, brought the wall down.

Yet, ecstatic as I am, I am not naive. I know this is only a temporary breach, and I know national leaders will take credit for this achievement. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has already claimed that he "allowed" the Palestinians into Egypt because Gazans were starving, even as his security forces arrested 500 demonstrators in Cairo for protesting the siege. And Dov Weissglas, advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, referred to the strangulation of Gaza as if he were doing Palestinians a favor: "It's like an appointment with a dietitian. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die."

But Palestinians are dying from the "diet" imposed upon them by the illegal occupier. A World Food Program study conducted last year revealed that half the Palestinian population is "food-insecure." Indicators of malnutrition include being underweight, wasting, and stunted. Also as a result of the restrictive Israeli measures, Palestinian still-births in the West Bank rose by 52 percent in 2007. There are no such figures available for the Gaza Strip.

And even as I am writing this, news comes in that Israel has killed Mohammad Harb, the Gaza leader whose forces blew up sections of the wall, allowing Palestinians to stock up on essentials. Harb paid with his life for the temporary freedom of my people, the people who democratically elected him as their representative, despite immense pressure from Israel and the US to "elect" a peon of the occupation. So I do not want to forget. Harb was the people's choice, and it is people power that brought the wall down.

And that is one model we can all emulate, wherever we are. If disenfranchised Palestinians could bring down a wall constructed by the region's most heavily-armed nuclear power, backed by the world's uberpower, then all oppressed peoples, everywhere, can do it too.

Today, for a brief moment, it feels great to be Palestinian.

Nada Elia teaches Gender and Cultural Studies at Antioch University-Seattle.


Bush's Delusions Die in Gaza

The mass jailbreak of Gazans into Egypt revealed the bankruptcy of both Israel's policy of collective punishment and Bush's attempt to make Mideast peace.

By Gary Kamiya
Palestinians make their way to Egypt through the destroyed section of the border wall between Gaza and Egypt Jan. 26, 2008. (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafag)
Jan. 29, 2008 | It was a heart-wrenching story. Hundreds of thousands of people, trapped for endless years in an open-air jail and recently subjected to an airtight siege, blew up their prison wall and poured out to freedom.

A 24-year-old man named Fares Al-Ghoul talked to the Chicago Tribune. "It was like a dream," Al-Ghoul said. "Suddenly in the morning we found out that we could travel. Everybody started to rush to the border, and I found my way inside. We walked a few kilometers but we were not tired. I was ready to continue walking forever. I wanted to explore everything. It was a taste of freedom."

Freedom. It's the ultimate American ideal. It's what George W. Bush says he launched his "war on terror" to defend. But because this is Gaza, and the people are Palestinians, their freedom isn't worth defending. Al-Ghoul is not going to walk forever, or even for more than a few days. He and the rest of his fellow prisoners are going to go back to their jail. And we're going to forget about them.

America can't deal with the Gaza breakout, because it shows that Gaza is a jail that we own the key to. The crisis undercuts our simplistic narrative about the Middle East. If the noble "war on terrorism" turns out to include keeping a million and a half people locked up indefinitely, it's better not to think about it. The inmates should just return to their cells, behave themselves, and wait for further instructions. If it takes 40 more years for them to get out, so be it.

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." Ronald Reagan's famous injunction to Mikhail Gorbachev and Robert Frost's line speak to something deep in the American conscience. But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that conscience is asleep. Even the sight of hundreds of thousands of desperate people, one-fifth of Gaza's entire population, rushing out to buy oil and medicine and cement doesn't awaken it.

Of the mass breakout, the Associated Press wrote, "It ... reminded the world that 1.5 million Gazans, many already bitterly poor, cannot remain locked up indefinitely." It may have reminded the world of that, but it certainly didn't remind America. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blamed Hamas for the crisis and issued a call to deal "creatively" with the situation, a response the respected moderate Lebanese commentator Rami Khouri called "an ethical weapon of mass destruction." "Why 'creatively'? Is this a kindergarten finger painting class?" Khouri wrote. "Why not deal with the Gaza situation on the basis of more compelling adult criteria, such as legality, legitimacy, and humanity?" The Washington Post ran an editorial that attacked Hamas for derailing the peace process, belittled Palestinian suffering (it referred to a "humanitarian crisis" in scare quotes), scolded Gazans for "blowing up international borders," and concluded by testily demanding that they stop making trouble and wait for the "peace process" to go forward (that is, go back to jail and wait for another few decades). The Congress and the presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican, ignored the Gaza crisis, or weighed in with predictably pro-Israel statements.

Even the most progressive candidate, Barack Obama, went out of his way to take Israel's side. In a letter to U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Obama urged the United States not to allow a resolution condemning Israel's illegal collective punishment of the Palestinians to pass unless it also acknowledged Palestinian rocket attacks, which Israel's latest closure was a response to. "Israel is forced to do this," Obama wrote.

Obama's objection to the resolution as one-sided was legitimate -- up to a point. Of course the Palestinian rocket attacks that have killed 18 Israelis in four years are morally indefensible. But as usual with American pronouncements about anything involving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Obama's letter completely failed to address the context of those attacks, including the harsh Israeli military actions (including extrajudicial executions) in Gaza that have killed more than 816 Gazans, including 379 noncombatants, since January 2006. And, of course, it failed to mention the most crucial fact: Gaza has been under a brutal occupation for decades.

But even leaving those matters aside, Obama's claim that Israel was "forced" to impose a total siege on the population of Gaza to try to end rocket attacks by Palestinian militants is simply false. Israel was not "forced" to do that any more than America was "forced" to invade Iraq. Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself against the Qassam rocket attacks. But it was not forced to cut off power, medicine and food to do that. It chose to impose that siege (with Bush's obvious, if unspoken, blessing) because it hoped that by punishing the people of Gaza, they would overthrow their Hamas-led government.

One need not defend Hamas to recognize that "sending a message" by punishing the people who live under its rule is a textbook case of collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert not only confirmed that this is Israel's policy, but unabashedly revealed its purely retributive nature. "We won't allow a situation in which people in Sderot walk around in fear day and night, while Gazans lead a completely normal life," Olmert told members of his ruling Kadima party. "We won't allow for a humanitarian crisis, but have no intention of making their lives easier. And the harder their lives, excluding humanitarian damage, we will not allow them to lead a pleasant life. As far as I am concerned, all of Gaza's residents can walk and have no fuel for their cars, as they live under a murderous regime."

Forget Olmert's pious cant about "not allowing for a humanitarian crisis." The truth is that Gaza has been in such a crisis for years, as Israeli journalist Amira Hass documented in her 1999 book "Drinking the Sea at Gaza." The furor over Israel's latest blockade obscures the fact that Israel has long used collective punishment as a tactic in Gaza. As Hass shows, Israeli policies during the Oslo years had the effect of slowly strangling Gaza. Israel had complete control over the Gaza economy. Gazans couldn't work or visit sick relatives without Israeli permission. Israel could make life in Gaza better or worse with the flick of a pen. And most damningly, Hass shows that contrary to Israeli claims, Israel's stifling closures (the Strip was completely sealed 18 times between 1994 and 1996, for example) were not carried out solely because of security concerns, but for various strategic reasons.

Since Hamas took over, and the West decided to try to bludgeon it into submission, the crisis has gotten even worse. In effect, the slow strangulation simply became faster. It's like a macabre social science experiment sanctioned by the civilized West, a clinical study of whether you can get people to do what you want by depriving them of necessities. Rocket attacks? Turn the thermostat down to 48 degrees. More attacks? Let raw sewage flow in the streets. Still more? Cut power to the hospitals.

By punishing all Gazans for the indefensible actions of a few, Israel and its ally America are validating the argument used by the militant Palestinians who insist that all Israelis are fair targets because they all serve in the Israeli army, or the jihadists who insist that all Americans are fair targets because they vote and are therefore responsible for their government's actions. One of the ironies of the situation is that in Israel these policies are openly criticized, as in this Haaretz column by Bradley Burston; in America, these points are almost never raised.

If it were just a matter of morality, we could ignore the agony of Gaza. After all, we countenance immoral actions all over the world. But this isn't a matter only of morality, but of national security. For we are seen by the Arab-Muslim world as Israel's co-jailers -- and ultimately, we are. We support and pay for Israel's occupation. If we were to demand that that occupation stop, sooner or later Israel would be forced to comply. The people in the region know this, and they are deeply angry and frustrated, and as a result some of them are driven to fight us. There is no troop surge big enough to defeat the jihadis and anti-American militants our Middle East policies are breeding.

The Gaza jailbreak represents the end of Bush's delusional attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Annapolis is now dead, killed before it even started. The fatal flaw of Bush's approach was that it assumed that dividing the Palestinians would lead to peace, when just the opposite is true. Bush and Olmert planned to squeeze Gaza until Hamas collapsed, while simultaneously pumping up Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority. They reasoned that by getting rid of the extremists in Hamas, they would smooth the way to make a deal with the moderates in Fatah.

But this approach was doomed for two reasons. First, Olmert is unwilling or incapable of taking the steps required to strengthen Abbas -- certainly not fast enough to make his Fatah party a viable alternative to Hamas in Palestinian eyes. (The announcement on Jan. 24 that Israel is freezing all settlement growth was a positive development, but too little, too late.) And Bush, "the greatest friend Israel has ever had," is not about to put the pressure on Olmert that alone could force his hand. Second, Hamas is not going away. Collectively punishing the people of Gaza, far from causing them to rise up and throw out Hamas, as Bush and Olmert fantasized, only further radicalized them. American and Israeli intransigence and ineptitude have only succeeded in strengthening the hard-liners and weakening the moderates.

By destroying the wall, Hamas instantly gained enormous prestige among Palestinians -- and proved that it cannot be excluded from political discussions. And, perhaps most significantly, it also opened what could be an entirely new economic and political frontier with Egypt.

For his part, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in an extremely delicate position. He also bears responsibility for the plight of the Gazans, as a paid-off collaborator in the U.S.-Israeli policy. But Mubarak is also hostile toward and afraid of empowering the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, of which Hamas is an offshoot. He allowed the Palestinians to burst through into Egypt only when Arab and Muslim anger over his collaboration with the United States and Israel became too great to resist. But now that the precedent has been set, it will be extremely difficult for Mubarak to return to the status quo ante.

Egypt is moving to reclose the border and has closed shops to discourage Palestinians. But if Mubarak closes the wall and Israel imposes another blockade, or invades the Strip, and he refuses to open it again, he will be perceived as a traitor and collaborator -- possibly threatening his regime. Mubarak will try to work out some compromise that will absolve him of full responsibility for Gaza but will keep the border porous enough to serve as a safety valve from the Gaza pressure cooker. Of course, any such safety valve strengthens Hamas.

The Rafah breakout shows the limits of Washington's policy of trying to cajole and bully "moderate" Arab regimes into doing our bidding. Right-wing commentators are fond of disparaging the "Arab street," but people power, it turns out, can still make a decisive difference in the Middle East. When popular outrage gets too great, even bought-and-paid-for despots like Mubarak have to yield to it. The situation closely parallels what happened during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, when Israel tried to bomb the Lebanese into overthrowing Hezbollah. The moderate Sunni regimes initially condemned Hezbollah but were forced by public outrage to reverse course, just as Mubarak was.

In the end, the road to peace remains the same. The United States and Israel need to accept Hamas' offer of a cease-fire. Then they need to bite the bullet and accept that even though Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and renounce terror, it is a rational actor and can be persuaded to accept a two-state deal so long as the final goal of a viable Palestinian state, as described in the Arab League plan, is clearly on the table. And they need to bring Fatah and Hamas back together and negotiate final-status issues -- Jerusalem, security, borders, refugees -- with both at the same time. As Hussein Agha and Robert Malley argued recently in the Washington Post, so long as each of the three players in what they call the "Middle East triangle" regards a gain by either of the other two as their loss, no progress is possible. But if each of the three players can be made to understand that a gain for one is a gain for them all, then a deal could be possible.

The recent Gaza jailbreak showed that a deal is urgently necessary. The pot just boiled over. It hasn't exploded yet, but if it does, it won't just be the Palestinians and Israelis who get burned.


Another World is Necessary

Serene Assir, The Electronic Intifada, 31 January 2008
Breaking the siege: A young Palestinian boy from Rafah, Gaza enjoys a cup of tea in front of the fallen wall at the border with Egypt. (Matthew Cassel)
Under siege since 9 June 2007, the Palestinian people of Gaza moved the world by breaking out and materially reclaiming their stolen freedom of movement, rights to travel to and from their country, and right to resist the illegal status imposed on them through occupation since 1967 and economic and near-total physical blockade since the democratic election of Hamas in the legislative election of January 2006.

The present siege, which began shortly after Hamas' takeover of Gaza, led to a total collapse of the Gazan economy, as well as an escalating humanitarian crisis affecting every aspect of life for Palestinian residents of the world's most densely populated area, including business, health care and sanitation, state of mind, infrastructure and indeed survival itself. Israel's total blockade that began one week before the popular disruption of the siege led to total power blackouts, to the extent that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, whose role in providing assistance to 1948 refugees living in Gaza is central for the provision and distribution of goods including baby milk and basic foodstuffs, was rendered almost incapable of continuing its work. Where Gaza would have stood today without the act of disruption that awed the world last week cannot be gauged -- without pushing the limits of our imagination beyond the parameters of the worst plausible.

Under the 25 November 2005 agreement reached by Israel, the European Union and the Palestinian Authority (PA) -- then in charge of the Gaza Strip -- and under the surveillance of the United States, it was established that the PA would take over from Israel to control entry into and exit from Gaza of persons via the Rafah border terminal, with the EU deploying monitors at the terminal. Owing to Israeli interventionism, such as that exercised on and ever since 9 June 2007, the terminal was closed more often than it was open, in contravention to the spirit of the 2005 agreement. As of the election of Hamas in January 2006, the terminal was closed 86 percent of the time, according to information gathered by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Egypt was not a signatory to the agreement governing the Rafah border terminal. Instead it was granted observer status, which appeared to some high-ranking security officials bizarre enough given that the agreement concerned an Egyptian border. According to security sources, Egypt had expressed some interest in having its status upgraded to that of signatory when the agreement was renewed. This renewal was set to take place in 2006; however, it never did, owing to Israeli postponement.

Thus the precise details of Egypt's role in maintaining the blockade of Gaza have through much of the duration of the siege remained murky. For the most comfortable of analyses, all that was publicly known was that Israel instigated the closure of the terminals leading in and out of the Gaza Strip, and that the closure was supported by PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who criminally enough believed that Hamas would lose popularity to his advantage if the people of Gaza were progressively starved. Meanwhile Egypt's grassroots, Cairo-based human rights organizations remained conspicuously silent for months, for the most part speaking out only when Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip became total, by which time fear of reprimand from the notorious state security services was overwhelmed by the absolute rejection of the continuous suffering of fellow Arabs in Gaza. Only the Muslim Brotherhood-run Doctors' Syndicate remained active throughout the seven months of illegal collective punishment faced by the Palestinians of Gaza, and even then on a principally humanitarian level. Only in the time nearing the Palestinians' act of disruption last week did Cairo see mass action, the most notable example of which was a protest before the headquarters of the Arab League in the heart of the Arab world's most populous capital, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition parties. Hundreds of people were arrested during and prior to the protest.

On the state level, even though it had been Israel and the PA which had created the humanitarian and political crisis in Gaza, Egypt could conceivably have unilaterally ended it. Under international law, given the illegality of the siege, Egypt had an obligation to act, an obligation to which it failed to fulfill. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Egypt is a High Contracting Party, parties are obliged "to respect and ensure respect" for all the provisions contained, including the criminalization of collective punishment (Article 33). No doubt, the besiegement of Gaza as a pressure mechanism to turn the Palestinian civilian population against Hamas constitutes, at the very least, collective punishment.

However, if there remained any shred of doubt that Egypt could have done more to interrupt the siege, then recent days' events have helped establish an even more glaring understanding of the role of Cairo. "To Egypt the disruption of the siege came as a surprise, and under growing pressure from the population and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, it was impossible for the regime in Cairo to put an immediate end to the flow of Palestinians to and from Gaza," said director of the Addameer human rights group in Gaza Khalil Abu Shammala. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "tried to capitalize on the events, by issuing statements that would paint Egypt in a more humanitarian light and thus to persuade opposition that the regime was doing its part in support of the Palestinians of Gaza. It was foolish, however, on the part of the regime to think that simply allowing Palestinians exit into Egypt for a few days would rid Egypt of its responsibility towards the Palestinians under the present conditions. Much, much more needs to be done. Egypt has to actively end its participation in the siege," Abu Shammala added.

But within five days of the disruption of the siege of Gaza, the deployment of Central Security Forces to north Sinai, particularly from al-Arish to Rafah, had been massively intensified. While initial attempts to close down the border were thwarted following clashes with armed Hamas members, later attempts were rendered impossible by the sheer fury of Palestinian civilians, who threw stones in the spirit of self-defense from renewed imprisonment by the simplest means at their disposal. Meanwhile, it was reported less than a week on from the popular outbreak that up to 3,000 Palestinians were detained by the Egyptian authorities as the campaign to prohibit the entry of Gazans without visas escalated. In addition, there were daily reports of the authorities prohibiting the entry into Sinai of Egyptian human rights and political campaigners from across the political spectrum as they brought with them medicines and supplies in demonstration of solidarity with the people of Gaza.

At the time of writing, such had been the forcefulness of the Egyptian regime's effort to expel the remaining Palestinians and to prevent any new entry that very few managed to remain in Sinai one week on from the initial outbreak. Barring approximately 1,000 Palestinians who set up camp by the Security Headquarters in al-Arish in an attempt to secure visas and thus acquire legal means to remain in Egypt, or to travel to third countries where they work or study, most Gaza residents had returned home, ready to face a renewed closure up until the time that new arrangements for the border are reached.

Perhaps a total defeat of the natural and legal act of struggle against siege, poverty, occupation and death that the Palestinians of Gaza demonstrated over the past week is precisely what the Israelis and their allies in Washington and peace partners in Cairo would desire most. However, gauging from the mood in Gaza, that they would secure such a result in the long run is unlikely. First off, according to Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, "It would be absurd to suggest that Hamas would open the border only to then close it again. The destruction of the border is not intended solely to give Palestinians temporary relief, but essentially to work towards negotiations for a solution that would end the siege once and for all."

Meanwhile, on the streets the effects of the disruption of the siege extend far beyond a mere re-injection of economic life into Gaza, to the lifting of Palestinian confidence in struggle. "What has been made clear by this single action is that no matter how dark the abandonment by the entire world has been of the Palestinian people, the people can still take the initiative to secure their freedom," said Emad Abu Mohamed, one refugee resident of Gaza City. "There can be no going back from here." Insofar as the action raised the spirits of the people of Gaza, it also re-directed the focus of a people who have seen fierce factional rivalry and bloodshed to the occupation, which is the origin of the problem, said Mohammed Dahman, a Gaza-based journalist. "The whole of Gaza celebrated the outbreak in unity, and in so doing proved that the rivalries are superficial," Dahman added.

The immensity of the overwhelmingly peaceful movement of Palestinians in and out of north Sinai indicated that another reality is possible and indeed necessary in the Arab world. Occupation in Palestine cannot be successfully challenged if the Arab world does not wake up to the fact that anything but more actions of a similarly massive, popular nature are not encouraged. Acceptance of a continued oppression of Arab popular movements is tantamount to acceptance of Israel's siege of Gaza. Under international law, nothing short of full Egyptian cooperation at the state level with the people of Gaza will do. And it was precisely this sort of cooperation that Hamas called for, using last week's outbreak as a state-of-the-art pressure card to ensure it, alongside the promise of greater economic influence in the Gaza Strip. "We are looking to end Gaza's economic ties to Israel, and for Egypt to step in to take over," Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said.

Now given that Cairo has already turned down Hamas overtures to take control of the border, and that Hamas has rejected proposals for an international presence at Rafah, and granted that Cairo's relations with Washington have long been unequal to the effect that it is safe to say that the present regime survives because it is supported by the world's only superpower, it remains to be seen just where the unfolding crisis will lead. There is no doubt that the short-term economic advantage of maintaining ties with Washington over developing a longer-term strategy involving the Palestinian people, who are determined to emerge victorious over occupation, appears more beneficial to Cairo. However, what is clear is that, as is the case every minute of every day within Egyptian jurisdiction ever since the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty in 1978, there is a fundamental discord between what the vast majority of the people of Egypt really want, and what power has imposed on them. Given the reality of power distribution in the Arab world, it is not yet the time to imagine that the crisis will lead to an immediate settlement that will aptly meet the requirements of the people of Gaza. But what the surprise disruption of the siege, involving the instantaneous, physical realization of what has been the dream of millions of human beings the world over for hundreds of years -- namely the downfall of borders and the victory of the people over brutality and oppression -- indicates, is that it is necessary to think beyond the limits of the mundane. This was a lesson learned not only by the Gazans, but also no doubt by hundreds of thousands of Arabs who watched in awe at the spontaneous creativity of their brothers and sisters, the Palestinians.

Serene Assir is a Beirut and Cairo-based independent journalist and blogger.


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