Late one evening in a crowded apartment in Dokki (pronounced Do-ee), a group of us plotted our entrance into Gaza. "Is there going to be an adequate supply of drinking water or do we need to bring bottles?" Questions and concerns like this were uttered around the small, smoky room for over an hour. In the end, our plan went roughly like this. We would all meet in a discrete neighborhood at 11pm and travel through the night by bus from Cairo to Rafah, a town on the Egyptian-Israeli border. Under the guise of security, undercover police would trail us all the way there. (I think they wanted to make sure that we didn't try to smuggle any people or weapons in with us). All the logistics had been taken care of and all the right people (Embassies) had been contacted concerning our trip. All we had to do now was pack light, because the medical supplies were going to take up most of the bus luggage space.
As I left the meeting that night, I felt good. I felt that this trip would accomplish a higher purpose or attempt to show Gazans that some Americans do care about their injustice. I was also excited, because I had been taking a course on Palestinian refugees and another on Islamic political movements (i.e. Hamas). During our stay would be talking to actual members of Hamas and refugees so I thought my education was gaining "on the ground" experience.
Let me pause to explain a few things. Hamas had taken control on the Gaza Strip in June 2007. After winning the political elections in 2006, they entered into a brief clash with Fatah, a political faction that now governs the West Bank, and ended up gaining control of the Gaza Strip. In response, Muburak closed the Egyptian border which drastically cut the movement of people and goods into Egypt. This move left the people of Gaza trapped between the closed borders of Israel and Egypt in an open air prison. More than a year later, a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas expired that resulted in Israel raiding the Gaza Strip in Janunary 2010. Israel's superior military left the city of Gaza in rubble and around 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. An equal fight, I think not. An abuse of military might, I think so.
This is where my group enters. In November 2009, our group was set to embark to deliver medical supplies when we received word that the Egyptian government had denied our access into Gaza. For some reason they changed their mind a few days before. Our trip didn't happen. My education didn't gain "on the ground" experience.
Why does any of this matter? Today, after four years of closure, Egypt permanently opened their border to Gaza. This incentive is what got Hamas to meet with Fatah in Cairo earlier this week to discuss Palestine's political future. This courageous and humanitarian action is a departure from the Muburak regime's alignment with Israel, and seen among many others as a starting point for Arab unity and solidarity and a calling for Palestine to participate in the Arab Spring.
I attended a discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace yesterday entitled Palestine and the Arab Spring. The speaker Dr. Hanan Ashrawi talked about redefining Arab nationalism in the context of of all the democratic changes happening around the region. Regarding Palestine, she said that the young are ready for change. She described the Arab Spring as sparking a feeling of determination and confidence among the Palestinians. Yet, she warned that if the Palestinians are going to emerge as a sovereign state they must do so quickly or else they will lose momentum.
Palestinian leaders are going before the UN to ask for recognition as State, because Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, has already called the 1967 borders "indefensible." The US, however, is vowing to veto their nomination.
I hope for the sake of the Palestinians that the opening of the Egyptian border crossing will at least alleviate some their frustrations and facilitate their participation in the Arab Spring. Thank Egypt for sharing the love.