The Egyptian government is building a wall within its borders to protect themselves from smugglers and illegal activates that have been taken place near the border with Gaza. Many Palestinians in Gaza understand the need for Egypt to secure its borders and cast away illegal activities that threaten Egypt's national security. I owe the Egyptian government a thank you for freeing me from Gaza, as they pulled me, among others, out of Gaza this November after I had been struggling to leave Gaza for more than four months. I also bear witness to the generosity of the good people of Egypt as they have always been first in providing aid to the people of Gaza. I among many Palestinians naturally support the Egyptians in building a wall on their borders to curb illegal activities. Here are few reasons however why I take issue with the way the Egyptian government handled the situation:
1. To get domestic support and Arab understanding, few voices in the Egyptian government has been busy branding the besieged Palestinians of Gaza as drug dealers and weapon smugglers. Those accusations are inaccurate and unfair to the struggling people of Gaza. There are smuggling activities near the borders; they smuggle Coke Zero, feta cheese, Snickers bars and most recently fresh seafood caught on Egyptian shores. Those who smuggle weapons are resented by a majority of the Palestinian people of Gaza because most of these weapons are in fact used to subjugate Gazans and not to fight Israel (as the story goes). Name calling and tarnishing the image of frail Gazans by casting them as monstrous smugglers is unfortunate and has to stop.
2. It's understood in Gaza that the tunnels that smuggle weapons for logistical reasons are much deeper than the ones smuggling kitchen ware, for example. If reports are true, The Egyptian wall will be 30 meters deep at some points. The only tunnels that will be stopped at this rate are the ones used to bring in necessary food supplies banned by Israel. The ones that supposedly bring in weapons will not be affected.
3. The tunnels provide many jobs on both the Egyptian and Palestinian sides; they also bring in foreign currency into Egypt, as Egyptian goods are the sole goods that can be found in the besieged Gaza markets. In other words, there is a will and wherever there is a will there is a tunnel. Egyptian industries in cities like Obor City and the entire governorate of North Sinai will lose many production and transportation jobs because of this new wall that will also further starve the Gazans. Thanks to the tunnelers, for the first time in a long time, mediocre Egyptian electronic goods have found a gold mine of a market in Gaza.
4. I respect Egyptian sovereignty and want nothing to infringe on that. What's good for Egyptian people is also good for the Palestinians. When Egypt's Foreign Ministry asked those who have criticized its wall to respect the Egyptian decision, I want to believe their sincerity. However the facts on the ground are much different. A day prior to breaking news about the Egyptian wall, a French general has paid a visit to the border to survey the area and spoke favorably of the wall. An American team of engineers and militarily experts as well as American tax-funded equipment are breaking ground and constructing the wall. I ask where the Egyptian sovereignty is. When foreign powers are telling you what to do, are you still politically independent?
5. If the purpose of the wall was to punish smugglers and only smugglers, why are the Rafah borders shut? At least 700 Palestinian students are denied access to their universities; 4,000 others wait to be reunited with their families living abroad; 400 patients wait to be granted permission to receive medical attention. Why are those denied travel into Egypt? What does Ahmad, the seven-year-old-boy who wanted to be reunited with his father in Egypt and attend his school, have to do with political deadlock between governments whose names he can hardly pronounce?
6. The timing of the Egyptian wall came to send Hamas a message not to mess with Egypt, as Hamas has on two occasions embarrassed the Egyptians government. First, Hamas preferred the German mediator to the Egyptians to break a deal about the prisoner swap. Second, Hamas told Egypt to play the broker role and cease from making demands regarding the Palestinian unity government deal in October. Many Gazans do not mind Egypt being tough on Hamas, but they do mind when their life becomes more miserable due to the siege and now the wall -- this is cruelty upon cruelty. Thanks to the wall, the prices of goods in Gaza have skyrocketed out of fear of the aftermath of the Egyptian wall. When Gaza residents pay triple what their peers in the region pay for clothes, medications, and food, you realize the inhumanity of it all as Gaza unemployment approaches 70%.
7. A rather bizarre practice I noticed at the borders of Egypt with Gaza, the Egyptian border agents generally do not really put much emphasis on what Palestinian travelers are bringing into Egypt out of Gaza. The Egyptian officers only seem to care what travelers bring into Gaza. For example, when I left Gaza coming into Egypt, the Egyptian officers only X-rayed my luggage. But at first when I was leaving Egypt and heading into Gaza, the Egyptian border officers opened my luggage and searched all items by hand. This is rather odd, as most countries do not care what you take out of their country; they only watch what you bring in to their respective countries. To me this highlights how the Egyptian government is interested in knowing what goes into Gaza. Perhaps to further reinforce the siege.
I too do not like Hamas government and resent their agenda. I have lost two dear cousins at the hands of Hamas militants who butchered them and mutilated their bodies. I too want to see them dissolve, but I doubt that building walls will drive them out. To be fair, my resentment of Hamas is not going to change the facts. You can argue all you want, but Hamas is not the party placing the people of Gaza under siege. The siege, however, has an upside to Hamas; the more brutal the siege the more favorable they and their ideology become. Groups like Hamas prosper when they can preach "Resilience" and "Defiance," and that is exactly what this wall will do.