Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
People's History of Gaza and Egypt:
The Bond Cannot Be Broken
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, October 7, 2013
Egypt’s new ruler, General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, may not realize
that the bond between Egypt, Palestine and especially Gaza is beyond
historic, and simply cannot be severed with border restrictions, albeit they
have caused immense suffering for many Palestinians.
Gaza is being
‘collectively punished’, and is now facing economic hardship and a severe
fuel shortage as a result of the Egyptian army’s destroying of underground
tunnels. This is nothing particularly new. In fact, such ‘collective
punishment’ has defined Gaza’s relationship to Israel for the last 65 years.
Successive sieges and wars have left Gaza with deep scars, but left its
people extremely strong, resilient and resourceful.
But what makes
the tightening of the Israeli siege – imposed in earnest since 2007 –
particularly painful is that it comes through Egypt, a country that
Palestinians have always seen as the ‘mother’ of all Arab nations, and that
served before the signing of the Camp David agreement in 1978-79 as the
champion of just causes, especially to that of Palestine. To see Gaza
mothers pleading at the Rafah border for the sake of their dying children,
and thousands crammed into tiny spaces with the hope of being allowed into
their universities, work places and hospitals is a sight that older
generations could have never imagined. For Israel’s security to become a
paramount concern for the Egyptian Arab Army, and besieged Palestinians
targeted as the enemy under drummed up media and official accusations, is
most disheartening, and bewildering.
This ahistorical anomaly cannot
last. The bond is simply too strong to break. Moreover, to expect
Palestinians to bow down to whomever rules over Egypt and to be punished if
they fail to do so is a gross injustice, equal to that of Israel’s many
injustices in the occupied territories.
I was born and raised in
Gaza where my entire generation grew up on stories of heroic Egyptians who
fought alongside Palestinians while many Arab states turned their backs or
conspired with the British and Israel. When fighters of my village of Beit
Daras fought valiantly to prevent the progress of well-armed legions of
Haganah fighters, later making up the Israeli army, it was Egyptian fighters
who first came to the rescue. The Egyptian force was ill-equipped and
without a clear mandate – back then Egypt was still under the rule of a King
that was directed by the British – Egyptian men fought alongside my
grandfather and other villagers.
‘Egyptians fought like lions’, my
grandfather used to say. They reached the outskirts of Beit Daras in late
May and again in early July 1948. By then the village was lost to advancing
Zionist militias with the help of the British. However, Egyptian and
Palestinian blood mixed in an eternal union of camaraderie and solidarity.
In fact, the Egyptian narrative on the fall of Beit Daras was made by
no other than Gamal Abdel-Nasser who was then an officer in the Egyptian
army, and later the president of Egypt. Nasser had crossed Sinai to Gaza by
train to take part in defending Palestine, or what remained of it. He was
stationed in Fallujah, a village located in the north of Gaza. On more than
one occasion his unit tried to recapture the hills near Beit Daras. They
failed. Then there was the discovery that many Egyptian army units had been
supplied with purposely-flawed weapons. The news sent shock-waves throughout
the army, but was not enough to demoralize Nasser and a few Egyptian
soldiers that held out in the Fallujah pocket for weeks. Their resistance
became a legend.
Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, saw Nasser
as a liberator, a hero, someone who was genuinely interested in delivering
them from misery and destitution. And why wouldn’t they? He was the same man
they turned out to wave to, along with his fellow officers and soldiers, as
they passed by Gaza, back to Egypt following the Fallujah battle. When the
officers crossed with their weapons, it was a rare moment of pride and hope,
and huge crowds of refugees flooded the streets to meet them, crying the
chants of freedom. My father, then a young boy, chased after the army
trucks. He claimed he had seen Nasser on that day, or perhaps that’s what he
wanted to believe. But the boy would later receive a personal letter from
Nasser in the years that followed, when the latter’s 1952 revolution
triumphed, and he became the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Nasser, for better or worse, was kinder to the Palestinians compared to
other Arab rulers. The refugees adored him. They placed framed photos of him
wearing his military uniform in their tents and mud houses. They pinned
their hopes on the man, who although had failed to set them free, worked
hard to improve their living conditions.
But that was just the start
of what was to become a bond for life. The joint battle against Israel,
followed by political integration – as Egypt administered the Gaza Strip
from 1948-1967, interrupted by a brief Israeli occupation and failed war in
1956 – Gaza and Egypt shared more than just a border, but history. Not a
single Palestinian in Gaza doesn’t have a personal frame of reference
regarding Egypt, and often time a positive one.
When I was nine
years old, I joined my dad in a futile hunt for an old army buddy of his
that lived in one of Alexandria’s poorest neighborhoods. Both had fought
alongside each other in defense of Palestine and Egypt in the 1967 war, also
known as Naksa - the setback. The friend had died shortly before my father
came to the rescue. He was penniless and left behind a large family. My
father wept at the sidewalk as he held my hand. There was a large heap of
rubble as one of the neighborhood’s tallest residential buildings had simply
collapsed along with all of its inhabitants. The air smelled of salt and
mist, just as the Gaza air does every summer.
Despite all that the
Hosni Mubarak regime did to sustain its ties with Washington, and please
Israel at the expense of the Palestinians; and despite what General al-Sisi
is doing to regain Washington’s trust, there can be no breaking away from
history – people’s history, cemented through blood and tears. Media clowns
may spread rumors, and army generals may use many methods to humiliate and
isolate Gaza, but Gaza will not kneel, nor will Palestinians ever cease
perceiving Egyptians as their brethren.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is a media consultant, an internationally-syndicated columnist and the
editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father was A Freedom
Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press).