The Egyptian army and Palestinian Authority join forces to punish Gaza

Israel/Palestine
on 24 Comments
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Palestinians wait outside the departure lounge at Rafah crossing point with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on July 10, 2013. (Photo: Xinhua/Khaled Omar)

Now that the Egyptian army and security services have seized power from the elected Muslim Brotherhood government, the punishment of Palestinians has begun in earnest. While Palestinians are detained or deported en masse at Cairo International Airport, hundreds have been stranded at the Rafah Crossing, which was recently closed by the Egyptian army, compounding a deepening fuel and food crisis.

Incitement against Palestinians peaked after the election of the Freedom and Justice Party’s Mohamed Morsi as President, with liberal politicians and media figures from the opposition exploiting the Morsi-led government’s perceived alliance with Hamas to hold him responsible for acts of terror committed in the Sinai Peninsula.

Since being installed into power through a military coup, anti-Morsi elements have stepped up their campaign of scapegoating, baselessly accusing Palestinians of serving as armed mercenaries for the Muslim Brotherhood. The propaganda campaign has received a boost from the Palestinian Authority, eager to reverse its sagging fortunes against Hamas, and by the Israeli media, which appears to relish rifts in the Palestinian national movement.

Sameh Seif Elyazal, a former Egyptian general who recently appeared on CNN to cheer on the army’s ouster of those he described as practitioners of “Islamic fascism,” is among those propagating the anti-Palestinian campaign in the Egyptian media. On the Al-Tahrir channel, Elyazal reportedly claimed that “Egyptian law will punish with sentences that could reach 25 years in jail the Palestinians and Syrians and Iraqis who have made calls for incitement to violence at the demonstrations at Rabaa Al-Adawiya in return for money.”

Rabaa Al-Adawiya happens to be the site of the army’s recent massacre of as many as 51 pro-Morsi demonstrators. The army and its supporters, including prominent Egyptian liberals like the comedian Bassem Youssef, have sought to justify the killings as a defensive measure against “terrorists,” though little to no evidence has been produced to prove that the demonstrators initiated the violence, or that the victims were armed. Elzayal’s remarks appear calculated to tar the protesters as a Trojan Horse for elements sent over the border by the Brotherhood-allied government in Gaza and jihadists in Syria, casting the army as the defenders of Egypt from foreign subversion.

The general’s allegations echoed a government prosecutor’s assertion that “elements from the Muslim Brotherhood” were recruiting Palestinians and Syrians to attack pro-army demonstrators. The prosecutor accused a Palestinian communal leader of handing out shotguns and cash payments to Palestinians in Cairo, dispatching them to pro-Morsi demonstrations to attack opponents. The conspiratorial claim does not appear to be supported by any credible reporting or evidence, and is not independently verifiable.

Ginning up support for an Egyptian-Israeli operation in the Sinai

While the protests in Cairo continue, the Egyptian army is preparing a major operation in the North Sinai, where militant gunmen have reportedly carried out a wave of attacks on army checkpoints over the past week, killing at least six security officers. An army official told Ma’an News Service, “coordination is ongoing between the Egyptians and the Israelis to bring military vehicles, troops and jets into Sinai to fight terror.” (A previous army foray into the Sinai was planned through direct talks between Egyptian Army Supreme Commander Gen. Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi and then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak).

In an apparent attempt to generate political momentum for the coming Sinai operation, Egyptian army officials have planted stories in Arabic media about Hamas sending droves of fighters into the area to exact vengeance for Morsi’s overthrow. The London-based pro-Saudi newspaper, Al Hayat, recently quoted an unnamed “senior Egyptian military official” claiming that authorities observed 150 Izz al-Din al-Qassam operatives pouring into the Sinai through tunnels. The army official went on to blame Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad for deliberately inflaming the situation.

The Palestinian Authority and Israeli media join the scapegoating

Allegations like these, which mirror discredited claims made in the past by Israeli army officials seeking to legitimize military campaigns against Gaza, have been eagerly amplified by Israeli media sources, from Ynet to Arutz Sheva. Another curiously sourced report that appeared in the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat claiming Sinai-based terrorists planned to attack “Arab Israelis” as revenge for Morsi’s ouster prompted Israel’s National Anti-Terror Unit issued a formal travel advisory warning Palestinian citizens of Israel against traveling to Egypt.

The Palestinian Authority has done its best to exploit the situation, with PLO Secretary General and top Abbas advisor Yasser Abd Rabbo accusing Hamas of “helping terrorists and jihadist gangs in Sinai against the Egyptian army.” Abed Rabbo went on to demand that Hamas “draw the conclusions [from Egypt] and agree to real democratic elections for the sake of Palestinians,” an ironic proposition given that Egypt’s new government was installed by force, and that Abed Rabbo’s boss maintains power through emergency rule. Not to be outdone, Jamal Nazzal, a senior figure in Fatah, called on Palestinians to capitalize on the events in Egypt by overthrowing Hamas. 

While none of the Egyptian military’s claims about Palestinian meddling can be verified, their aim seems fairly obvious: pin the blame on pro-Morsi forces and the government of Gaza for the instability in the Sinai, thus justifying any and all actions taken against them.

Collateral damage

The ongoing propaganda campaign has already deepened the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and Egypt. They are the collateral damage of Egypt’s coup, bearing the consequences of scapegoating and demonization.

Since the army ousted Morsi, almost all Palestinians who have arrived at Cairo International Airport have been deported or detained. Among those sent home simply for possessing a Palestinian ID was Yousef Aljamal, a writer and activist who has contributed to Mondoweiss and The Electronic Intifada. According to Ali Abunimah, who first publicized Aljamal’s deportation, Aljamal was on his way home to Gaza from New Zealand, where he had participated in the Conference on Palestine in Auckland. When Aljamal arrived in Cairo with a visa he received from the Egyptian embassy in Kuala Lumpur, he was immediately sent back to Malaysia.

On July 7 Aljamal took to Twitter to describe his deportation: “All Palestinians who arrived [in Cairo] yesterday were sent back to the countries they came from…” he wrote. “Some were sent back to Algeria, Jordan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Canada, and Malaysia. The reason is because the Rafah Crossing is shut down, we had to pay for airfare too.”

Last weekend, the army ordered the closure of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza’s border, citing “security concerns” to tighten the screws of the Israeli-imposed siege. Over 900 Palestinian pilgrims who visited Mecca have reportedly been stranded at the border, unable to return home since the closure, while fuel and basic good shortages in Gaza continue to rise.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that since the Egyptian coup, “hundreds of Palestinians, including dozens of patients, Palestinian families living in other countries and university students who study abroad, have been stuck in Egypt waiting to be allowed to travel back to the Gaza Strip.”

In recent days, Egyptian forces have destroyed at least 40 tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza, intensifying operations that began under the watch of Morsi, whose government worked closely with US and Israeli military officials. With Gaza unable to import basic goods and gas from Egypt, its only alternative is to turn to Israel, whose suppliers rake in profits by charging exorbitant rates to a literally captive market.

Israeli officials have reacted to the scenario with undisguised glee, with Tzachi Hanegbi, a close Netanyahu ally, declaring, “the return to prominence of the [Egyptian] army and a secular authority capable of ensuring the stability of the country is good news for Israel.”

Back in Cairo, the new government has just issued a decree restricting anyone holding a Palestinian Authority or Jordanian passport without a national number from entering Egypt. As Ali Abunimah noted, “This means that Egypt remains effectively closed to Palestinians who fit those categories.”

The scapegoating of Palestinians in Egypt and Gaza may be nothing new, but with the army and its liberal allies firmly in control, their vulnerable condition lies exposed. 

24 Responses

  1. Citizen
    July 10, 2013, 10:38 am

    Boiling it down, the US paid Egyptian Army and PA are partnering to scapecoat and hurt the Gaza Palestinians in behalf Israel. Could you get a smaller, weaker David for this joint Goliath? Always good to know my American tax dollars are supporting Israel on every front.

  2. yrn
    July 10, 2013, 1:58 pm

    If those are your brothers….
    who needs enemy’s

    • eljay
      July 10, 2013, 6:45 pm

      If those are your brothers….
      who needs enem[ies]

      Indeed. It is disappointing to see Egyptians and Palestinians behaving like hateful and immoral “Jewish State” Zio-supremacists.

    • justicewillprevail
      July 10, 2013, 7:08 pm

      Who do you mean? Israel, the US and the Egyptian military dictatorship – close friends, and enemies of the indigenous people.

  3. seafoid
    July 10, 2013, 4:07 pm

    “Secular authority capable of ensuring the stability of the country is good news for israel”
    Israel can’t do anything. The problem of Egypt’s population explosion is not good for the Israel project and there is no way to gild either turd.

  4. ritzl
    July 10, 2013, 4:30 pm

    And thus the collective starvation of Gaza begins in earnest.

    The current p/c GDP of Gaza is about the same as Haiti. That’s WITH the tunnels.

    Without them, who knows how low it can go (with all that entails in the human suffering realm).

    I guess it’s worth experimenting on 1.6M people to find out, eh World? Papers no doubt will be written by noted Israeli scholars. Hell, we haven’t had an opportunity to really understand this phenomenon since Biafra. Perhaps a Nobel for Intentional Starvation Studies will be forthcoming. Or double hell, just give it to Obama in advance.

    Evil. Knowingly so.

  5. ToivoS
    July 10, 2013, 5:52 pm

    Israel, the PA, the Egyptian army and the US do seem to be positioned to really punish the people of Gaza for voting for Hamas. Such political naifs on the streets of Cairo, demanding that the army overthrow the Morsi and this is what they get. Maybe Palestine is not that important to the Egyptian people. Or, more hopefully, they will gain some understanding that their enemy is inside the army and next time they will attack the real source of their problem.

    One of Gaza’s major problem is fresh water and adequate sanitation and sewerage treatment. It has seemed to me for about 6 years that they live in a situation ripe for a cholera outbreak. Lowering their standard of living is not going to help. Probably the only thing preventing such an outbreak is the physical absence of the responsible bacillus. It is quite intolerable that international public health agencies allow this to fester.

    • ritzl
      July 10, 2013, 6:55 pm

      I agree, ToivoS. Gaza is ripe for some sort of epidemic. I posed the cholera nightmare a few years ago as well (at another blog). When seafoid linked an article about a new strain of MRSA (there are other strains present in Gaza, not unique to the enclave), unique to Gaza, that flipped my switch on the salvageability of Israel. In my own private followup with a person at the WHO who tracks these things, it turns out that Israel also restricts the import of broad-spectrum antibiotics into Gaza. Drugs critical, no substitute, for controlling MRSA of any strain. Vancomycin in particular.

      Gaza is a pandemic waiting to happen. Meticulously crafted to be so. To me intent draws heavily on the meticulous. So maybe intentional as well.

      Problem is, some bacterial or viral pandemic strikes without warning. So it’s too late (for the dead) to correct the problem, even if the correct drugs are imported, in quantity.

      And you’re right about the Arab world, even the Arab street, tending to look past (though not ignoring) the Palestinians when it comes right down to it. There’s always more pressing needs at home. Real needs. But needs purposefully fomented and/or aggravated by outside actors… But I digress.

      Peace. Great comment.

    • seafoid
      July 11, 2013, 12:31 am

      Israel made Gaza. And it’s Israel’s legal responsibility as occupying power. Gaza is a Zionist system issue. Opening the rafah crossing and even voting Hamas are irrelevant. Gaza is not capable of feeding itself and is not sustainable long term even though it has made israel possible for the last 60 years.

      Gaza is currently decades into a long term pauperisation process. The israelis want egypt to take responsibility for gaza and the egyptians tell israel it’s their problem. Taking Egypt to task concerning Gaza is like blaming Austria for the in

      vasion of czechoslovakia in 1968.

      Zionism can only function if there is Gaza. The 2 are mutually dependent.

      • asherpat
        July 11, 2013, 5:27 am

        @seafood – apply the logic of Israel “occupying” Gaza because it controls Gaza borders” – isn’t it that now Egypt “occupies” Gaza? Or is it a double-occupation? My head spins.

        • Hostage
          July 13, 2013, 3:17 pm

          @seafood – apply the logic of Israel “occupying” Gaza because it controls Gaza borders” – isn’t it that now Egypt “occupies” Gaza? Or is it a double-occupation? My head spins.

          Egypt is not stopping ships from reaching Gaza, it is only controlling entry into Egypt and taking action against tunnels used for smuggling. It made headlines in Israel the other day when an Egyptian helicopter briefly entered Gaza’s airspace. That’s obviously not comparable to Israel tanks and bulldozers making routine incursions; the constant use of drones, helicopters, and fighter aircraft; the establishment of kill zones or buffer zones inside Gaza; and naval patrols inside Palestinian territorial waters.

    • seafoid
      July 11, 2013, 12:50 am

      Toivo

      The UN has been screaming about what’s being done to Gaza for some time, since it pays for the consequences.

      link to aljazeera.com

      “Gaza will no longer be “liveable” by 2020 unless urgent action is taken to improve water supply, power, health, and schooling, the United Nations’ most comprehensive report on the Palestinian enclave said on Monday.”

      Israel turns it into one of those Fox style ‘opinion” issues, like climate change. Some people think Gaza has a public health explosion coming down the line while others think this is an antisemitic trope . That sort of thing.

      Ultimately this is about power. The people who run Israel and DC aren’t interested in doing anything.

      And so Israel journeys on towards the denouement.

  6. biorabbi
    July 10, 2013, 6:06 pm

    I thought the closure of the Egyptian entrance(s)into Gaza was closed under President Morsi. The demolition of tunnels from Egypt into Gaza also were closed under Morsi. Morsi also did not abrogate the Israeli peace treaty. He kept his mouth shut and worked and took the money, working quite closely with US Amb. Patterson.

    Do I have my facts wrong here? Or was Morsi just a head of state in name only?

  7. Hostage
    July 10, 2013, 6:32 pm

    Reuters and Jpost have “Egypt opens border to allow stranded Gazans to cross” link to jpost.com

  8. just
    July 10, 2013, 6:34 pm

    There will be justice one day. In the meantime, Gazans/Palestinians continue to suffer at the hands of the Imperialists and practitioners of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

  9. giladg
    July 10, 2013, 11:09 pm

    Gaza chose Hamas therefor Hamas equals Gaza. Enough with the semantics Max.

    • Hostage
      July 13, 2013, 3:27 pm

      Gaza chose Hamas therefor Hamas equals Gaza. Enough with the semantics Max.

      Israel was already building a fence and other forms of collective punishment long before Hamas staged a pre-emptive coup. FYI, Hamas legislators only garnered 46 percent of the popular vote, so the majority of Palestinians voted for other parties.

      See the cable on that subject: Yadlin said Israel would be “happy” if Hamas took over Gaza because the IDF could then deal with Gaza as a hostile state. link to web.archive.org

  10. bilal a
    July 11, 2013, 1:02 am

    The coup leader running Egypt, General Sisy, was the Egyptian military intelligence liason to Israel. There was never any Arab Spring , smoke and mirrors. The liberal secualrists will soon join the MB in the Soros gulags:

    link to tariqramadan.com.

    • asherpat
      July 11, 2013, 8:07 am

      @bilal – is there anything happening in the world without “liason to Israel”?

  11. JustJessetr
    July 11, 2013, 6:00 am

    ” Maybe Palestine is not that important to the Egyptian people. Or, more hopefully, they will gain some understanding that their enemy is inside the army and next time they will attack the real source of their problem.”

    Amen.

  12. yonah fredman
    July 12, 2013, 6:54 am

    My knowledge regarding the situation in Sinai is superficial, so correct me if I’m wrong. Sinai has become a no man’s land, meaning that nobody, not the Muslim Brotherhood, not Hamas and not the Egyptian army truly control it. Any attempt to make it a lawful place will be done through exerting force. Part of the blame for the lack of law in Sinai is Hamas’s fault and exerting force against the tunnels and against Hamas are natural attempts to restore the rule of law. (Consideration for the residents of Gaza is not a high priority, which it should be, even if reinforcing the rule of law in Sinai is understandably the highest priority from the point of view of the Egyptian government/armies.)

    • Hostage
      July 13, 2013, 3:37 pm

      My knowledge regarding the situation in Sinai is superficial, so correct me if I’m wrong. Sinai has become a no man’s land, meaning that nobody, not the Muslim Brotherhood, not Hamas and not the Egyptian army truly control it.

      Although Israel launched the first strikes in the 1967 War, it demanded that Egypt turn the Sinai into a demilitarized zone. The Egyptian Army could easily deploy enough units to control its territory in the Sinai, but Israel is not willing to tolerate the employment of a force that size.

  13. yonah fredman
    July 13, 2013, 3:48 am

    Max Blumenthal should define what legitimate goals regarding law and order (sorry for the Nixonian or NBC Dick Wolf intonations) can be applied in Sinai and on the Gaza Sinai border. Certainly the parties involved are treating the civilians of Gaza with disregard, but a realistic assessment of the situation would involve some analysis of the legitimate needs for strictness in Sinai, in a region that has become a no man’s land.

    • Hostage
      July 13, 2013, 3:42 pm

      Certainly the parties involved are treating the civilians of Gaza with disregard, but a realistic assessment of the situation would involve some analysis of the legitimate needs for strictness in Sinai, in a region that has become a no man’s land.

      For starters the UN should demand that Israel stop interfering in matters that fall within the exclusive domestic jurisdiction of other UN member states, such as a) where they can deploy their own armed forces on their own territory, and b) how they conduct their foreign relations with the State of Palestine.

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