Norway, Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand have already done it. The United Kingdom, Germany, Greece and Italy are about to.
Activists all around the planet are today presenting Egyptian embassies and consulates with the demands of more than 12,000 people worldwide to permanently open the Rafah crossing, leave the tunnels alone, and allow travel and trade for Gazans trapped by the Israeli siege.
First off the mark was Norway, where Lene Oline Sedolfsen presented the petition to the Egyptian diplomats. Next was Ottowa, where Tyler Levitan and Hassan Husseini made the delivery. Then Washington DC, where Pam Bailey accompanied Medea Benjamin and Gael Murphy to the Egyptian consulate presented the demands to Dr. Yasser Elwy. In Sydney James Godfrey and Michael Coleman from Free Gaza Australia handed it over to consular official Ahmed Morsy, while in New Zealand Egyptian embassy official Mahmoud Zayed received it from Julie Webb-Pullman in Wellington.
The petition, an initiative of the #OpenRafahBorder International Campaign, a grassroots organisation of students and activists from Gaza who deceided to do something about the suffering caused by the Rafah border closures, was accepted by all of the diplomats with courtesy and respect, and promises to forward them to their superiors in Cairo.
The activists reported the diplomats also made the same points:
• While Egypt is concerned about the situation in Gaza, it is primarily an issue for Israel as the occupying power. Thus, for example, Egypt does not want to formalize or legalize the tunnels — which would let Israel off the hook, while also jeopardizing Egypt’s security.
• Egypt has a right to deal with security issues in the Sinai Peninsular. There is no policy calling for, or a desire to impose, collective punishment. Its restrictions on traffic in and out of Rafah come only when there is terrorist activity in the Sinai. Egypt must also worry about its population there, so there is an inevitable, unavoidable trade-off.
• Egypt is working to end the occupation by supporting John Kerry’s so-called “peace process.”
• Egypt feels a strong bond with the Palestinians, and always will.
While it is not surprising to hear them all singing from the same songbook, they may find themselves surprised by the increasingly loud chorus from the international community unsatisfied with their libretto.
Nothing any of the Egyptian diplomats said justifies the role of Egypt in the continued closure of Gaza, and the ongoing suffering of 1.7 million people.
“Ultimately, Rafah must be expanded to allow security without closure, as well as the movement of goods, in addition to people,” said Pam Bailey after the meeting in Washington DC.
Is this a realistic prospect?
It certainly is. Earlier this month Israel rejected a donated high-tech container scanner at the Kerem Shalom crossing that Dutch officials consider would provide a solution to Israel’s security concerns about Gazan exports.
If the Egyptians are serious about their bond with Palestinians, avoiding collective punishment, and dealing with security issues, they and the Netherlands could negotiate the scanner’s relocation to Rafah – and open the border forthwith.
by Julie Webb-Pullman
UNRWA’s response to protests in Gaza against the cutting of ‘services’ which saw a few dozen people enter the UNRWA regional headquarters has been to suspend all food deliveries to Gaza refugees.
A more clear-cut example of collective punishment would be hard to find. Punishing more than 25,000 people for the actions of a few dozen by with-holding such a basic necessity as food is a grossly disproportionate response, and completely indefensible under any circumstances.
If individuals break the law, punish the individuals – not the entire population.
Hamas security forces have guaranteed that UNRWA staff and facilities will be protected, and have assigned personnel to ensure the conditions exist for them to safely perform their functions.
This is apparently not enough for UNRWA. Following the invasion of the regional headquarters by a few dozen people during protests on Thursday, they announced the suspension of all food deliveries.
The protests were in response to an UNRWA announcement that they would be cutting the 40 shekels a month (a little over USD $10) allowance each refugee registered for assistance receives. Not every refugee in Gaza is registered for assistance, only the most needy – but even this is questionable, as many agencies report that many of the most needy are not registered because of barriers to do so.
The paltry 40 shekels is essential to buy cooking gas, clothing, school books and uniforms, and food to meet the shortfall in the meagre UNRWA rations – which now have been completely stopped.
For a United Nations agency to withdraw food from the people the UN was responsible for displacing in the first place is nothing short of scandalous – and indicative of a gross lack of respect for human rights, when supposedly the fundamental purpose of the entire UN system being to uphold both individual and collective rights.
I repeat, if individuals break the law, punish the individuals – not the entire population.
Questions should be being asked at the highest level, if this is how UNRWA, the agency with responsibility for the well-being of Palestinian refugees, is choosing to conduct its business – by starving them.
No wonder the refugees are protesting – so should every person with any compassion, or commitment to fundamental human rights.