Ever since the toppling of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, Palestinians in Gaza have hoped that they would see an end to the punishing restrictions on their movement through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, their only gateway to the outside world.
I know first-hand about the hardships these restrictions cause, not only because as a reporter I have covered them for years, but because my family has borne them personally as we have had to go back and forth from our home in Gaza to Egypt for my wife’s medical treatment.
But though there was a loosening of the restrictions since the fall of Egypt’s Mubarak regime, 1.6 million residents in Gaza now face the return of the tight closure imposed on their movement since 2007, as Israel, the occupying power, works with Egypt to impose a tight siege on the area.
Punishing Palestinians for electing Hamas
Israel claimed that the siege was necessary because Hamas, in power in Gaza, represented a threat; meanwhile Egypt bowed to international pressure by shutting down Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world. The goal was in fact the same — to tighten the siege on Gaza to make Hamas’ rule unviable, even though it had won an election in 2006.
Egypt then contended that the Rafah crossing terminal should operate according to the terms of the 2005 “Agreement on Movement and Access” brokered by the United States. This agreement required the presence of European Union “observers” who acted as Israel’s eyes, ears and hands, and the forces of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
However, Hamas’ election victory has changed the rules of the political game, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who need to be able to move in and out of Gaza have been the victims.
Instead of welcoming one of the rare democratic exercises in in the Arab world, years before the Arab uprisings that have, so far, led to the fall of long-time rulers in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt itself, the so-called international community imposed a boycott on the Palestinians to punish them for the result.
A year and a half after Hamas won legislative elections in both Gaza and the West Bank — declared free and fair by international monitors — Hamas and the western-backed Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, architect of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, engaged in a brief civil war.
Abbas’ forces aimed to prevent Hamas from gaining hegemony despite their election victory, while Hamas wanted to consolidate its control and prevent what it saw as a coup against its legitimate authority.
In June 2007, the conflict reached a climax, and Hamas ousted the forces loyal to Abbas and established sole control in the interior of Gaza. This only led Israel and its international allies to tighten the siege and closure.
In 2008, Israel declared Gaza — of which it is still legally the occupying power — a “hostile entity” that is dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel.