Egyptians on Gaza Strip Border Uneasy

Folks, once Israel pulls out of Israel, um, I mean Gaza, palestininians will have to contend with lawlessness and smugglers in and out of Egypt, and Egypt will have to contend with palestinian islamic extremists in Israel. Um, I mean Gaza.

What a shame.

Smooth Stone gratefully acknowledges Radio Rote for this article:


An Israeli armored convoy, on the hunt for tunnels dug by drugs and weapons smugglers, kicks up clouds of dust that waft across the border into Mohammed Soliman’s grocery shop. But such scenes may soon disappear.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he wants to get out of the Gaza Strip, and Soliman, like many of the 40,000 people living near the border, says he can’t wait for it to happen.

Yet at the same time, they worry about the smugglers and the threat of a resurgence of lawlessness that has been held back by Israel’s tight security measures.

The 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt left the town of Rafah divided between the two, and the border that runs through it has become ever harder to penetrate as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza Strip has worsened over the past three years.

If the Israelis leave, “at least people will be able to move in and out easily,” said Basheer Salem, who owns a stationery store.

But, he added, it’s not that simple.

“What is holding this town together is that the Jews are at the border,” Salem said. “If the Israelis abandon border control, theft, weapons and drugs smuggling and all the corruption will come.”

For years, drugs, weapons and migrant laborers have been trafficked through or under the border of walls and fences.

A few months ago, Rafah people say, Israeli border guards stopped a young Egyptian man trying to sneak in wearing an explosives belt.

Egyptian press reports say at least 65 Egyptians and Palestinians have been held in Egyptian prisons for trying to cross into the Gaza Strip in the past four years.

“We don’t see these things happening any more,” said Soliman, the grocer. For one thing, Israel has heightened the border wall to 25 feet, and the hunt for tunnels never lets up.

When the border is open, Soliman sells cigarettes and olive oil to the Palestinians, and Israeli coffee and shampoo to the Egyptians.

Everything is carefully checked. Soliman said the Israelis once barred his olive oil mistakenly suspecting it might be an ingredient for explosives.

On the Egyptian side, patrols are scantier and children play near the fence.

Sharon’s avowed intent to withdraw has forced Egypt’s government – and the people of Rafah – to think hard about how it will change daily life and impact the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

At Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s meeting Monday with President Bush, both said they would welcome a withdrawal, though Mubarak warned it would have to be part of an overall peace or Arab public opinion would reject it.

Egypt has said it would reinforce its guard along the seven miles of border if Israel pulls out, and both countries have expressed willingness to amend their peace treaty accordingly.

They have talked about joint Egyptian-Palestinian border policing, and closer cooperation to prevent a power vacuum being filled by Islamic extremists, said Emad Gad, editor of Israeli Digest, a Cairo magazine about Arab-Israeli affairs.

Fear of Islamic fervor means Egyptian security watches Rafah closely for signs of fund-raising or other support for the Islamic Hamas movement. Salem, the stationer, has a short beard – the most overt gesture of Islam that is permitted, he said.

When Israel assassinated Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, provoking international outrage, Rafah people had to keep their feelings to themselves. They could mourn for Yassin only “in the heart,” said Taleb Abdullah, a teacher.

Sheik Diab Ahmed, in his 60s, sits near Soliman’s grocery and points to Salah al-Din Gate, the crossing point, now closed, where Rafah’s divided families used to meet.

“This door will be reopened again,” he says confidently. He expects the Israelis to pull out of Gaza, but adds that they “are no fools. They will not give up border control.”

Soliman, 22, is getting ready for his mandatory military service and wonders if the Egyptian army may end up stationing him at the border he sees every day from his family’s store.

He doesn’t know if the Israelis will keep policing the border, and expects a heavy burden to fall on Egypt.

“I am sure they will need many people,” he said.

(Miami Herald/AP/Sarah El Deeb)

Rote Note: We were under the impression that the Egyptians welcomed a Gaza run Palestinian enclave. The Egyptians certainly spoke loudly about it often enough and went so far as to allow the smuggling of arms to occur into Gaza from, as one of our RadioRote ME contacts tells us — tunnels found within the Egyptian military bases near the Gaza border. We must have misinterpreted the entire matter relating to the warmth felt between the Egyptians and Palestinains.

In fact, Egypt was blowing hot air all the while about ‘freeing’ their ‘bretheren’ — and never expected to be in a position where their worries over security issues against the Palestinians would emerge so soon on their door-step. Now faced with a maisma of Gaza PLO and HAMAS renegades on their border, their true feelings emerge.

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