Al-Ahram Commentary: Gaza depressed about Egypt by Rana Baker

Rana Baker Al-Ahram

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are aware of and strongly affected by the hostile campaign brewing against them in neighbouring Egypt. Especially disheartening for Gaza’s Palestinians was General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s decision to close the Rafah Crossing hours after his speech that ended Mohamed Morsi’s rule on 3 July. For the residents of Gaza, this was enough of an indicator to expect a “return” to the dark days of Hosni Mubarak.

The driving force behind such accusations and outright incitement to murder is Hamas’s allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood, now deemed the enemy of the Egyptian revolution and democracy. This anti-Muslim Brotherhood fanfare has made it easier for anchors on Egyptian state and privately owned TV channels to lump the Palestinians into a single group of Hamas.

Israel’s siege on Gaza and the subsequent closure of most commercial crossing points made Egypt the lifeline and only gateway for the vast majority of the Gazan population. The besieged people of Gaza not only depend on Egypt for travel purposes, but also for most of their goods and construction materials.

Today, an atmosphere of apprehensiveness is enveloping the Strip. Instead of watching Egyptian TV drama series customary in the month of Ramadan, Gazans are glued to news channels, speculating on events as they unfold in Cairo and all over Egypt.

For now, life in the Strip seems to have come to a standstill with travel plans either cancelled or postponed and prices of basic commodities soaring due to the recent military crackdown on the tunnels that link Gaza and Egypt. The crackdown, which caused total destruction or damage to 80 per cent of the tunnels, comes in response to allegations that Hamas militants smuggle themselves into Sinai and Cairo to aid the Brotherhood. This claim, however, has never been substantiated despite numerous claims by army officials about “investigations” into the purported attacks.

To make matters worse, Palestinians in the Strip are now forced into filling their vehicles with Israeli fuel, which is twice as expensive as its Egyptian counterpart. Any rumour about Egyptian fuel at Gaza’s gas stations means kilometres-long queues of vehicles, sometimes blocking roads from the early hours of the morning. This has also led to increased profits to Israeli suppliers directly involved in the colonisation of Palestinian land.

But the economy is not the only side of Palestinian daily life affected by the unrest in Egypt. Politically, Gazans are observing Israeli reactions to the military stepping into the political scene again, weeding the Muslim Brotherhood from electoral politics, with great concern. The Israeli government seems to be satisfied with the Egyptian military’s moves, despite that the Muslim Brotherhood maintained relations with the right-wing government of Israel under Morsi’s rule.

This has caused further anxiety among Gaza’s Palestinians who deem Egypt’s relations with Israel a thermometer by which to measure and expect Egypt’s policies towards Gaza and its residents now and in the future. This feeling of anxiety is coupled with mistrust towards the Egyptian army whose long-standing security cooperation with Israel continues to suffocate the Palestinians.

Because of the military-instigated anti-Palestinian propaganda, Gazans not only fear for themselves but also for their children who are studying or working in Egypt. Today, many Palestinians in Egypt find themselves under the threat of being arrested or attacked merely because of their origin.

To further complicate the situation, students who left Egypt to spend the summer vacation with their families in Gaza are worried about the prospect of not being able to return to their universities when classes resume in September.

All this has made many Palestinians feel obliged to reiterate examples of their long history of support for the Egyptian people’s struggles against foreign invaders and more recently, the 25 January Revolution. In fact, Palestinians were quick to condemn Mohamed Morsi for his November constitutional declaration in which he gave himself sweeping powers even over the judiciary. These statements, however, go either unheard or downplayed and belied.

It is also worth noting that people in Gaza are themselves divided over the crisis in Egypt. Palestinian secular elites and VIPs who flourished under Mubarak hope to see the old regime back in power — this means that they fully support the military takeover. Hamas supporters, on the other hand, are calling for the reinstatement of “legitimacy”. Leftists and moderates find both camps equally guilty of protecting the interests of Western imperialism in the Arab world’s most influential country.

Overall, a deep feeling of disappointment in the Egyptian revolution characterises most discussions, and many lament the uncritical dismissal of Palestinians as ungrateful “terrorists”. Meanwhile, the Hamas government is calling on the interim Egyptian government to open its borders to Palestinians. The Egyptian government, so far, has only agreed to allow patients and holders of foreign passports into Egypt.

The author writes for The Electronic Intifada.

Rana Baker responds to Dawber’s article in The Independent: Misconceptions Abound On Gaza’s Women, Politics

By: Rana Baker for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse

Posted on April 25.

It has become commonplace when reading about Gaza to come across descriptions of it as an “Islamist enclave” or “Hamas-controlled territory” and so on. In case someone exists who does not know what Hamas is all about, commentators make sure their readers understand that it is the “fundamentalist” group bent on the “destruction of Israel” and nothing else.

The Palestinians of Gaza, therefore, are often categorized as either ardent Hamas supporters or suppressed dissidents, including women, who receive the severest treatment imaginable, not only from the Hamas government, but also from misogynistic and backward average male residents. Such categorizations are then followed by sweeping generalizations about each of these stereotypes. Whereas the Hamas supporters consist of “terrorists” and “bloodthirsty barbarians,” the dissents are seen as peace-loving minorities who seek neighborly relations with Israel, the occupying entity.

A recent example of such portrayals can be found in a feature story published in The Independent on April 13. In “Tales from Gaza: What Is Life Really Like in ‘the World’s Largest Outdoor Prison’?” the author alledges to provides “a small snapshot into life in Gaza.” Before he proceeds, however, he assures us that what follows are “testimonies” by people “who can rarely get their voices heard.”

At the start of six interviews, the author makes clear that all of those featured are men not because that was his intention — he is a Westerner who believes in gender equality after all — but because in his two and a half days in Gaza, he could not find a woman willing to speak to him “independently.” In fact, the only occasion when he had the chance to speak to a woman, he tells us, was in the presence of a male guardian, the woman’s husband in this particular instance. Hence, while he was able to “give voice” to men, his attempts to do the same for women were all thwarted.

Such assertions play into Orientalist notions. This usually results from foreign journalists coming to Gaza with a set of preconceptions about the place and its people and then seeking to confirm them rather than verify them. While Gaza is, indeed, no haven for women or anyone else, there are thousands of educated women who are willing to speak for themselves and do so in every field, from medicine, theater, and politics to fishing and farming.

Just a few months ago, a play written by the renowned Palestinian writer Samah Sabawi was read at one of Gaza’s cultural centers, which continue to thrive despite Israel’s ceaseless attempts at cultural de-development. Nearly all the participants who performed the play were women, as was the case with the vast majority of the audience. They were not accompanied by husbands, brothers or fathers in order to attend or to perform.

Events like this, however, hardly ever make it into the mainstream media. Moreover, any mention of a considerable number of women going out without a hijab instantly provokes expressions of surprise by those who have only heard about Gaza through mainstream and particularly Western publications. To say women in Gaza are also allowed to drive would sound like a lie to many ears.

Women are not the only part of this story. To claim that Gaza is “Islamist” automatically dismisses the existence of the leftist and secular groups there, most of which denounce religion in its totality. Homogenizing “life in Gaza” could not be more obvious than in The Independent feature.

Of the six interviews the author conducted, one was with a Hamas official, while four were with blue-collar male workers, and the remaining one was with an unemployed man. Despite being at odds with Israel, five of them belong to the category of “ready to forget the past,” has no problem inviting former Israel prime minister Ariel Sharon for coffee, and even views Yitzhak Rabin — the man behind the Iron Fist that broke hundreds of bone in the lead up to and during the first Palestinian intifada — as a man of peace.

With the exception of the Hamas official, the interviewees followed suit in reiterating the same unconditional desire to achieve peace with Israel that one might think no other viewpoint existed. At the same time, they viewed Hamas as the primary source of their distress. Israel was seen as only secondary to their everyday ordeal.

That no evidence was provided to challenge the views in question suggests that there is none — just as the author claims to have found no women able to speak to him. Thus, portraying the residents of Gaza as a homogenous people who all experience life in the same way is condescending at best and Orientalist at worst. The views expressed in the article are undeniably extant but do not reflect the reality.

Israel, which has launched two deadly assaults on Gaza in less than five years, is rarely perceived as a friendly entity. The vast majority of the politicized and non-politicized segments of Gazan society are not ready to “forget the past” that continues to shape the lives of 1.1 million local Palestinians officially registered as refugees at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Rana Baker is a student of business administration in Gaza and writes for the Electronic Intifada

This article appeared here: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/04/gaza-misconceptions-women.html#ixzz2RVnXaJdB