George S. Hishmeh
Gulf News (Opinion)
January 31, 2008 - 6:08pm

It was very uplifting to see Palestinian men, women and children, hundreds of thousands of them, climb up the corrugated iron wall that separated their Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip from Egypt and watch them on Al Jazeera run freely to shop for much-needed supplies, visit with relatives and friends they have not seen for years, and play joyfully.

The scenes of cows, camels and bicycles carried by cranes across the border will not be easily erased from anyone's fondest memories.

If nothing else, it was a testament to people's power and a slap in the face of Israel, which like other world powers, believes that by its military might alone it can subdue its adversary.

It was also a memorable coincidence that Dr George Habash, the admired founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who had long struggled against Palestinian dispossession and for Arab unity, should pass away in Jordan as some Palestinians were celebrating their new-found freedom.

It was a scene reminiscent of the downfall of the Berlin Wall except for a major difference.

In Germany, the whole world, particularly the Western world, was supporting the East Germans, while in the case of the Gazans few had raised a finger to condemn Israel's shameful and illegal treatment of the impoverished Palestinians, one and a half million of them who have endured Israeli military occupation for over 40 years.

Had it not been for the exposure provided by the various humanitarian groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as other UN agencies and even a few Israeli peace groups, the miserable situation in Gaza brought about by the merciless Israeli siege may have escaped international attention.

A case in point has been the failure of the 15-member UN Security Council to issue a unanimous statement critical of the blockade which has been attributed to the refusal of the US to go along with the 14 other members.

"Gaza's power plant depends on imported fuel, the supply of which has been disrupted by Israel's blockade," wrote a spokesman of Amnesty International in a published letter in

The Washington Post protesting its despicable editorial of January 24. "The shortages have resulted in insufficient supplies of clean water as well as inadequate sewage treatment, adversely affecting the health and well-being of the population."

Zahir Janmohamed of Amnesty International USA added: "UN agencies have repeatedly complained that the blockade hinders passage of the humanitarian assistance upon which more than 80 per cent of Gaza's people depend.

"Compounding the crisis is that those in need of urgent medical treatment not available in Gaza are often prevented from leaving the territory by Israeli authorities."


Israel justified its blockade as a consequence of rocket attacks by armed Palestinian groups from Gaza, but the Amnesty International official stressed that "cutting off essential supplies" to the Gazans "in retaliation for the actions of a few is also a violation of international law and should be condemned with equal vigour".

But will the Gazans, now that they have experienced the taste of freedom, accept to go back to the harsh conditions of yesteryears? Obviously not. but what can the two main powers in the region - Egypt and Israel - and the two main Palestinian factions - Fatah and Hamas - do about it?

A half-step is in the making, an agreement between Egypt, Israel, and the European Union to allow the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas to man the frontier post with Egypt.

This is unlikely to be accepted by Hamas, which must feel triumphant after helping in opening the flood-gates to Egypt, an action which is undoubtedly appreciated by the Gazans.

The Arab countries ought to step up their efforts in finding a workable solution to the internecine fighting among the Palestinians.

The immediate step should include an agreement on policing the border posts with Egypt which would be unlike the previous arrangement that had EU inspectors supervising Palestinian personnel who, in turn, were linked by video to Israeli officers sitting behind a screened window.

Even if this were to work, there is no guarantee that the Israeli side can come clean since the ruling coalition there may splinter should the Winograd commission report, due Wednesday evening, may discredit Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his lacklustre war on Lebanon in 2006.

If so, the defence minister, Ehud Barak, who concocted the Gaza blockade, may see in the findings of the Winograd report an opportunity to withdraw his Labour Party from the government and hopefully replace Olmert as prime minister.

No wonder Uri Avnery, the Israeli peace activist, finds Barak as "now perhaps, the most dangerous person in Israel ... dangerous to the very existence of Israel in the long run." No wonder the Gaza tsunami has turned some tables upside down!


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017