Editorial: No symbolic moves

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Tuesday 14 May 2024

Despite mounting regional and international pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire and end its seven month-long war in Gaza, the current extremist Israeli government proceeded with its planned operations in the densely populated Palestinian border city of Rafah.


In a few days, nearly 350,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their miserable refugee camps in Rafah, heading practically nowhere since nearly all of Gaza has been destroyed in Israel’s indiscriminate bombing following the 7 October attack by Hamas fighters.

UN officials have warned that the area Israel designated as a safe haven for Palestinians is not prepared or equipped to receive more people. Moreover, fleeing on foot, riding donkey carts, or finding a car ride — a rare privilege — is a big risk under merciless shelling, with a greater number of civilian victims every day. It’s not easy to accept or comprehend that over 35,000 people lost their lives so far, topped with children and women.

To add to the nightmare, the opening shot in Israel’s attack on Rafah was directed at the border crossing with Egypt’s northern Sinai, practically the only connection between Gaza and the outside world. In a reckless and rather childish move, Israeli tanks rolled towards posts carrying the Palestinian flags, destroying them and raising the Israeli flag instead.

After the move to take over the Rafah Crossing, Israel not only stopped the flow of much needed humanitarian aid to Gaza, but disregarded those clauses of the Camp David Agreement between Egypt and Israel that clearly state that no Israeli troops are to be stationed along the border without an earlier agreement between the two countries. That’s why senior Egyptian officials minced no words when warning that the Israeli move in Rafah placed the peace agreement between the two countries “at high risk”.

Egypt had practised maximum self-restraint since Israel launched its war against Palestinians in Gaza, using the official peace agreement and diplomatic ties to play a positive role to bring the war to an end, and to provide protection and humanitarian aid to Palestinians.  

However, instead of appreciating Egypt’s sincere efforts to reach a permanent ceasefire by hosting delegates from Israel, Hamas, Qatar, and the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sided with the extremists in his cabinet and decided to go ahead and invade Rafah.

US President Joe Biden chose a symbolic move to express dissatisfaction with the Israeli attack against Rafah, announcing the suspension of a single shipment of arms that were to be used to kill even more innocent people. This is rather ironic considering that the same American president had only recently signed a bill passed by Congress, pledging more than $14 billion in military aid to Israel.

Egypt cannot afford symbolic moves because its own national security is at stake. In urgent, direct contacts with the United States and key European nations that have provided “ironclad” military support and diplomatic protection to Israel, Egypt protested the Israeli action, and warned of the security consequences that might arise due to Israel’s onslaught on Rafah.

Cairo also made it clear that it would not cooperate with Israel on directing the hundreds of trucks crammed on the Egyptian side of the border to the other nearby crossing of Karm Abu Salem. Instead, Israeli troops must withdraw from Rafah and restore pre-existing arrangements. The Egyptian side will never agree to clear Israel from its responsibility for the deterioration of humanitarian conditions in Gaza.

Moreover, Egypt announced on Sunday that it would formally intervene to support the lawsuit filed by South Africa against Israel before the International Court of Justice to examine Israel’s violations of its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said the decision came “in light of the exacerbated gravity and scope of Israeli atrocities against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, and the continued perpetration of systematic practices against the Palestinian people, including direct targeting of civilians, the destruction of infrastructure in the Strip, and pushing Palestinians towards fleeing and displacing them outside their territories.”

Warnings of the dire consequences of the Israeli attack on Rafah also came from sincere friends of Israel’s such as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He stated that it was easy enough to deduce from the experience of the past seven months of Israel’s war in Gaza that the attack on Rafah would not produce any of the illusionary goals of Israel’s extremist government: eliminating Hamas and freeing the remaining Israeli prisoners held by the resistance group. Indeed, while the fighting was raging in Rafah, the Israeli army this week went back to attack the same spots in northern Gaza it had declared under control months ago.

“Right now the trajectory that Israel is on is even if it goes in and takes heavy action in Rafah, there will still be thousands of armed Hamas left,” Blinken said. “We’ve seen, in areas that Israel has cleared in the north, even in Khan Younis, Hamas coming back…Israel’s on the trajectory potentially to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left or, if it leaves, a vacuum filled by chaos, filled by anarchy, and probably refilled by Hamas.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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