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January 25, 2008

Gaza Breach Provides An Illuminating Moment in the Middle East Conflict

egyptian riot police 2.bmp
Egyptian riot police square off with Palestinians

The recent breach of the Egyptian border by thousands of Gazans highlights some facts about Gaza all too frequently misrepresented or ignored. Ever since Hamas won control of the Palestinian Authority, much of the news media has held Israel solely culpable for the economic hardship in Gaza. Although much of the news coverage continues to focus on the impact of tightening Israeli economic measures, the breaching of the wall at Rafah reveals a facet of the situation that rarely receives attention, namely that Egypt also maintains a border with Gaza and has chosen to keep it sealed.

As Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers noted,

Since Hamas seized control last summer, the Egyptian government has kept its side of the border with Gaza largely sealed, with authorities resorting to deadly force on occasion to stop people from crossing.

Even the Guardian, known for hewing to the Palestinian line, commented in its news blog that Egypt's "role in the economic isolation of Gaza has received little attention until today."

Several newspapers carried comments by Israeli deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai suggesting that it was time for Egypt to assume responsibility for Gaza. James Hider emphasized this tact in his piece appearing in the London Times on January 25.

Some, however, persist with their standard refrain that only Israel is to blame for the current situation. Oxfam, the British based humanitarian organization published a report on its web site on January 25th, castigating Israel for its blockade while mentioning the breach in the Egyptian border only in the context of condemning Israel's "inhumane and illegal siege."

Recent events have raised a number of questions that warrant more discussion.
- Why is Israel responsible for supplying Gaza, officially a hostile entity, with its basic needs, when Egypt could be doing the same?
- Why is the Egyptian government so concerned with maintaining a closed border with Gaza? Is it to satisfy Israeli and American demands as some contend, or does it fear in its own right the extremist, violent elements that rule in Gaza?
- Why are the NGOs responsible for providing humanitarian relief to the Palestinians, like Oxfam, who produce volumes of reports condemning Israel for its stringent policies towards Gaza, so reticent to condemn Egyptian policy towards their fellow Arab brethren?

Posted by SS at January 25, 2008 10:27 AM


The answers to the why, why and why is very simple: Israel is the occupying power of the whole of Palestine and has sealed its borders. As occupier it has an obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide everything to the population under its occupation. Others such as Egypt are too scared to act responsibly, lose US aid and face real, not imagined, consequences: a new war with US-backed Israel.

Posted by: Sammy at January 26, 2008 12:58 AM

Israel disengaged from Gaza in August, 2005 and has no presence there. Gaza shares a border with Egypt, so your assertion that Israel seals its borders is false, as evidenced by the breaching of the wall separating Egypt and Gaza last week. Your assertion that Israel is an occupier bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention is your interpretation. Israel rejects this interpretation based on the fact that the ownership of the territories are officially disputed (UN Resolution 242) and were captured in a defensive war against states that had seized them illegally.

See Avi Bell's analysis at's_Right_to_Self-Defense

Posted by: steve at February 4, 2008 11:46 AM

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