Egypt is the country that I have visited the most.
Being a daughter of a Gazan father and a refugee mother (originally from al-Majdal or Ashkelon as it is now known), and a holder of a Palestinian identity card and passport, I have never been allowed to reach 1948 Palestine (modern day Israel). I have been to Jerusalem only once and spent only one night in Ramallah because the permit, issued to me by the Israeli authorities, stated that I could spend no longer there than the period they had “very generously” stipulated. Of course, this is the case for the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza.
Up until 2006, the year the Palestinian legislative elections were held, Egypt remained at the heart of our summer plans. To many of us, Egypt is home. Not that we were oblivious to how Hosni Mubarak accommodated Israel, but primarily because we loved the people of Egypt and identified with them in so many different ways.
Then the siege on Gaza was imposed. Mubarak rebuffed any Palestinian attempt to ease the blockade, and constructed an iron wall to close down the newly-built tunnels at the time, effectively suffocating a mostly civilian population already suffering from high levels of unemployment and poverty. We were devastated. We cursed Mubarak, and sometimes we cursed the Egyptian people for their indifference towards the suffering of their Palestinian kinfolk (most of us were unaware of the protests Egyptians had mounted against the blockade, resulting in mass arrests).
The culmination and manifestation of our devastation came in 2008. Dozens of angry Palestinians in Gaza stormed the Rafah terminal demanding an end to the siege and an open crossing into Egypt. We were met by violence and later on we were faced by an Egyptian outcry at the “uncivilized” behavior and blatant “disrespect” to the sovereignty of Egypt.
Falling in love again
On 25 January 2011, we fell in love with Egypt again, or our love was renewed. We felt like an abandoned lover who has just discovered that she hasn’t been betrayed, that the “affair” was fabricated by a jealous third party.
Palestinians flocked to the Square of the Unknown Soldier in Gaza City to express solidarity with their Egyptian brothers and sisters. Protestors were beaten up and arrested because the internal administration here was afraid of a similar uprising in Palestine. We carried the millions in Tahrir Square in the folds of our prayers, of our conversations and hottest arguments. Seeing the spilling of blood and the murder of fearless young Egyptians stimulated contempt for the villains and forced tears out of our eyes.
Once again, we identified with them. They were fighting for what we have been struggling to achieve for more than six decades: freedom and dignity. Whether in Tahrir Square, on Mohammed Mahmoud Street, Maspero, or later in Abbasiyya, our protagonists were the people of Egypt and our antagonists were first Mubarak and his regime and second the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which remains headed by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.
In the past few days, I received countless nasty messages on my Twitter account either addressed to me personally or to anyone Palestinian. The harshest one read: “Gazans are dogs who would have become homeless without Egypt.” Another referred to us as “refugee garbage.”
Sunday’s attack in Sinai that left 16 Egyptian border guards dead was the reason behind these slights.
Following the attack, which was carried out by gunmen who have still not been identified, the SCAF was quick to accuse the people of Gaza of being behind the murder and hence Tantawi was quick in issuing his punishment. Both the Rafah crossing and underground tunnels were declared closed “indefinitely.” Amr Moussa, the former Egyptian minister of foreign affairs and presidential candidate, supported the measure and stated that the closure of the crossing must be accompanied with the closure of the underground tunnels.
Although many Egyptians were elated by the news, the young revolutionaries who made the highest sacrifices during the revolution condemned the decision and even used social networking websites to voice their opposition to Tantawi and his brutal policies toward the people of Gaza.
It is worth recalling here the official Egyptian stance on the murder of two Egyptian security guards in an Israeli raid along the Israeli-Egyptian border last year. Not one Egyptian helicopter took off in search of the assailants and not one bullet was aimed at “suspects” from the Israeli side. Not only did the SCAF bury the incident as if it had never happened, but it went as far as to quell Egyptian protestors at the Israeli embassy in Cairo almost a year ago today. Days later the SCAF erected a high wall around the embassy to “protect” it against “extremists.”
The comparison is infuriating and exposes the double standards of the SCAF and the government standing behind it.
It is also noteworthy that what the SCAF is doing now is based on speculation regarding the identity of the assailants and not on true evidence.
The 1979 Treaty of Shame (better known as the Camp David accords) which limits Egyptian presence in the Sinai is another relevant issue. Had it not been for Camp David, it would have been much easier for the Egyptian government to ensure security of the Sinai peninsula, and reduce the possibility of such bloody attacks. Furthermore, on the day of the attack Israel allowed Egyptian troops to intensify their presence across the border. Here one should ask the Egyptian government why Israel is allowed to behave as if Sinai is an Israeli possession. But of course, the government is busy pumping gas below market price to its “peace partner.” Egyptians standing in long lines at gas stations or experiencing daily power cuts, however, come in distant second place.
While Israeli tourists can still tan their bodies and enjoy vacations on the shores of Sharm al-Sheikh, Gaza residents are arriving from any country to any Egyptian airport are being sent back to the countries they came from because Rafah crossing is closed and therefore they cannot enter Gaza, Al-Masry Al-Youm reports.
Tantawi and his supporters need to be reminded once more that Palestinians have always demanded that our dignity be respected. Neither the closure of the tunnels nor any political decision in the world can break our determination and belief in our right to freedom, return and equality. Tantawi and his ilk need to contemplate the steadfastness of our hunger strikers in Israeli jails to understand that Palestinians are dying to live.
Down with military rule!
Rana Baker is a student of business administration and a member of the Gaza-based organizing committee for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Her blog is ranabaker.wordpress.com and she can be followed on Twitter: @RanaGaza.