Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
8 January 2010

Egypt’s oppression of the Palestinians

The Galloway eviction and the "Israeli/Egyptian" blockade of Gaza

By Mehdi Hasan

Reports of George Galloway’s eviction from Egypt — from where he “was reportedly trying to return to Gaza to help members of a humanitarian convoy who had been arrested” — remind me of a text I received from a politically active Muslim friend earlier this week:

Dear all. Egypt has systematically been doing Israel’s dirty work by besieging the Palestinians. And it has employed every dirty trick and used shameless force on humantiaran aid convoys and peace activists trying to enter Gaza. We should start a “boycott Egypt” campaign now.

I’m not keen on boycotts myself, but I am delighted to see British Muslims — finally! — taking a public stand against Muslim (in particular, Arab) regimes that employ “shameless force” against civilians, and that “talk tough” on Israel but do so little to help the Palestinians. (Did you know that Jordan, for example, killed more Palestinians in the ten days of “Black September” than Israel killed in the three weeks of “Operation Cast Lead”?)

In recent months, there has been much talk of a “boycott” of Israeli goods but — as defenders of Israel often point out — advocates of such a strategy have to be consistent. If you’re going to boycott Israel because of its morally reprehensible and near-criminal economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, why not boycott its accomplice Egypt as well?

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Egypt, like so many despotic Arab nations, has long been complicit in either the abandonment, or the outright oppression and suppression, of the Palestinians and their historic cause. I’m glad Muslims, as well as western commentators, have cottoned on to this (and thereby, perhaps, neutralised a constant refrain of the pro-Israeli brigade).

Seumas Milne, writing in yesterday’s Guardian, pointed out:

For the last fortnight, two groups of hundreds of activists have been battling with Egyptian police and officials to cross into the Gaza Strip to show solidarity with the blockaded population on the first anniversary of Israel’s devastating onslaught.

. . . while the Egyptian government claims it is simply upholding its national sovereignty, the saga has instead starkly exposed its complicity in the US- and European-backed blockade of Gaza and the collective punishment of its one and a half million people.

The main protagonist of the siege, Israel, controls only three sides of the Strip. Without Egypt, which polices the fourth, it would be ineffective. But, having tolerated the tunnels that have saved Gazans from utter beggary, the Cairo regime is now building a deep underground steel wall — known as the “wall of shame” to many Egyptians — under close US supervision, to make the blockade complete.

And, as my former colleague Tim Marshall, the Sky News foreign affairs editor, wrote on his blog over Christmas:

For years now, almost all media, when writing about the “siege” of Gaza, have referred to it as the Israeli blockade. This term is misleading, not because there is no Israeli blockade, but because it gives the impression that it is only Israel which prevents the free flow of goods in and out of the territory. Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas took control of Gaza, and tightened it when thousands more rockets were fired into Israel leading to the war of Dec 08 — Jan 09.

However, there are no Israelis inside Gaza, nor along the border with Egypt, nor at the Rafah crossing into Egypt which is controlled by the Egyptians. Cairo does not allow goods to pass into Gaza through Rafah because it does not want to recognise the authority of Hamas.

Now the Egyptians, with US assistance, are building a formidable underground steel barrier along the eight-mile border to prevent the rampant smuggling through tunnels. All manner of goods pass this way, as well as weapons and extremists. It is Gaza’s lifeline to the outside world.

. . . So much for pan-Arab values. Statecraft trumps it every time, and yet again the ordinary Palestinians suffer. The blockade needs to be described in terms which inform us what is going on. Calling it an Israeli blockade serves to let the Arab countries, which have always used the Palestinians as pawns, keep getting away with it.

Marshall concludes: “The blockade of Gaza needs to be called what it is — the Israeli/Egyptian blockade.” He is absolutely right. How can anyone, on the pro-Palestinian side or anywhere else, disagree with him?