We should not forget that the Blockade of Gaza could not continue but for Egypt’s Collaboration with Israel
40 years ago Alexander Haig, Reagan’s Secretary of State described Israel as “the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk”. Given that central to US military doctrine has been the creation of unsinkable island aircraft carriers, from Pacific atolls to Iceland and even Britain, this explains more than anything why the United States funds Israel’s military to the tune of $4 Billion a year.
Of course there are a handful of anti-Semites like Michael Rabb, Jeff Blankfort and Gilad Atzmon, who will insist that it’s all because of Jewish Power and a Jewish stranglehold over the US government. Quite how a community of 6 million has come to overwhelm the US Congress and Presidency is one of the miracles of our time.
But for those of us who live in the real world of imperialist realpolitik, United States support for Israel is dictated by material interests not an affection for Jews.
There was a time when the United States was not that close to Israel and that was when the Jewish community in the USA was itself lukewarm about Zionism. It was only when, after the 6 Day war in 1967, the US concluded that Israel was a reliable partner in an unstable oil rich region of the world, that US Jews became enthusiastic about being seen to support Zionism. They had been given permission to become supporters of the United States’s rotweiller in the Middle East.
That was then, Today the American Jewish community is far from happy at events in Israel and in particular the election of a nakedly far-right, neo-fascist government. One quarter believe that Israel is an apartheid state. 38% of American Jewish youth believe this and 20% of Jews under 40 believe Israel has no right to exist.
Under the influence of the Ultra Orthodox and Religious Zionism parties, a proposal is being made to remove non-Jewish grandchildren of Jews from an entitlement to ‘return’ to Israel under the Law of Return as amended in 1970. This can only widen the chasm between Israel and American Jews. 43% of young Jews see in Israel a replication of the United States’s own racism against Black people
Most Americans are either from Conservative or Reform synagogues and to the Orthodox they are not really Jews. My own rabbi father had more contempt for them than for Christians! When the murder of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh, at the hands of a far-right Trump supporter took place, the Chief Rabbi in Israel David Lau refused to acknowledge that those who had died were Jewish. He merely said that they had a ‘profound Jewish flavour’!!
Today, it is Evangelicals who form the backbone of political support in the US for Israel. Israel though should not be complacent because the evidence from 3 surveys – in 2015, 2018 and 2021 is of a dramatic switch in allegiances among young Evangelicals to the point where they are almost equally divided between support for Israel and Palestinians.
The notion that the United States supports Israel out of some kind of affection for Jews is not only infantile but assumes that foreign policy is dictated by sentiment. As Alexander Haig explained, US military support for Israel is due to its stability as a settler colonial state with an extremely right-wing Israeli Jewish population, virtually the only Trump loving population in the world.
What then is Israel’s mission? In a nutshell watching over the Arab regimes, the United States’s junior clients, almost all of whom are in hock to the Americans. In 1970 Israel intervened in Black September to threaten the Syrian regime if it invaded Jordan. In 2011 Israel champed at the bit when Mubarak was overthrown.
Israeli leaders were in shock at what they saw as Obama’s abandonment of Mubarak at the height of the Arab spring. Reuters reported:
Political commentators expressed shock at how the United States as well as its major European allies appeared to be ready to dump a staunch strategic ally of three decades, simply to conform to the current ideology of political correctness….
According to Shimon Peres of the Israeli Labor Party
“We always have had and still have great respect for President Mubarak,” he said on Monday. He then switched to the past tense. “I don’t say everything that he did was right, but he did one thing which all of us are thankful to him for: he kept the peace in the Middle East.”
As DW explained in 2011
With Egypt’s opposition movement gaining momentum and President Hosni Mubarak under increasing pressure, Israel is watching developments with concern as one its few Arab allies in the Middle East teeters on the brink.
Israel has been in de facto alliance with the Saudi, Jordanian and Egyptian regimes for decades. Today with the Abraham Accords Israel has established formal diplomatic ties with most Arab regimes, particularly those in the Gulf. It is Israel’s role above all else to guard and protect the Arab regimes and to ensure that radical nationalist or socialist movements are quashed.
We can be certain that there is close military and intelligence coordination with the Arab states and furthermore that this relationship is not of recent origin. This should give a clue as to how Zionism can be brought to an end and with it a state I once described as Hitler’s bastard offspring.
The major political mistake of the PLO, apart from accepting the idea of a two state solution was its belief that it could triumph with the support of and in alliance with the Arab regimes. The PLO turned its face away from the brutal, repressive nature of these regimes. Regimes that were otherwise in alliance with the United States, the main supporter of the Zionist state.
For the sake of money to fund its activities, including its diplomatic missions, the PLO gave legitimacy to regimes which were illegitimate in the eyes of their people. Today it is, or should be, clear to all that these regimes are not only enemies of their own people but the Palestinians too.
The Egyptian regime is a particularly brutal regime with torture and executions common. Al Sisi seized power in 2013 and overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood, which had refrained from even supporting the movement to overthrow Mubarak until late in the day, then destroyed the movement that had overthrown Mubarak by proposing an authoritarian constitution, attacking peaceful demonstrators and prosecuting journalists. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Gazan wing, has a history of betrayal and support for imperialism.
Without the support of the Egyptian regime Israel could not maintain a 15 year old siege and blockade of Gaza. Unfortunately people forget this all too often. The articles below describe the extreme humiliation and indignities that Palestinians face when they travel to and from Gaza. This deliberate cruelty is carried out on behalf of the Israeli state and demonstrates the contempt that this illegitimate regime has for the Palestinians.
Below are some articles and extracts detailing the repressive, corrupt nature of the Egyptian regime which ranks among the most barbaric in the world.
Since the beginning of el-Sisi’s presidency in 2014, the number of prisoners in Egypt has surged. The authorities refuse to disclose the exact number, but the UN puts it at 114,000, which is double the capacity of 55,000. Human Rights defenders say that at least 60,000 of these are imprisoned for political reasons, helping Egypt to earn the 161st place on the Human Freedom Index.
Mona Seif vocalized the general feeling of skepticism among Egyptian Human Rights Defenders regarding the promises of the Egyptian Authorities in front of a European Parliament panel on Human Rights in October 2021:
‘The new strategy for human rights of Egypt doesn’t change anything in Egypt … It’s only made for you. Stop using it as a positive example of change.’
February 1 2021 marks the date of Santawy’s forced disappearance. This term is used to describe the period in which a person is held at a police station without being officially arrested yet, leaving the family ignorant of their location. During this time, Santawy was subjected to torture, Amnesty later reported. Officers beat him and kept him blindfolded.
Officers interrogated him about his academic research on women’s reproductive rights in Egypt. He reappeared five days later before the Supreme State Security Prosecution, the legal institution charged with investigating crimes related to national security.
‘Ahmed hardly was an activist. He was just really unlucky to be picked out by the regime.’
Five months later, Santawy received a four-year-sentence, for ‘publishing false news to undermine the state, its national interests and public order and spread panic among the people’.
Prison food is very problematic and medical care is almost non-existent, Baoumi describes the situation.
‘So Prisoners, or rather: their families, are expected to provide for their basic needs. The prisoners thus form a financial burden which many families can’t afford, especially not if their most important breadwinner is behind the bars.’
Medical negligence has led to severe health complications and in some instances even death. The fate of deposed president Mohamed Morsi speaks volumes. After six years of imprisonment, he finally succumbed at the age of 67 from a heart attack in court.
When I drive past an empty branch of the El-Tawhid & El-Nour Department Stores, a friend remarks that the chain — as many others — had to close down: its owner, Sayed el-Sewerky, was arrested for allegedly financing a terrorist group (read: the Muslim Brotherhood).
According to Human Rights Watch, the detention of businessmen like him ‘exposes how the government is using Egypt’s flawed terrorism law to punish successful businessmen who refuse to surrender their property to the state’, thereby further tightening the Army’s grip on the Egyptian economy
There is a red line connecting most of the cases. The same three accusations keep popping up: ‘joining a terrorist group’, ‘spreading false news that harms the security of the State’ and ‘misusing social media’. Furthermore, many gaolings are preceded by forced disappearances which lasts weeks to months.
The duration of the pre-detention is often lengthened by tadweer, the rotating of the detainee through existing legal cases. Once a case is handled, the detainee is kept in custody by trying him or her for a new case. Most detainees are subject to torture or other forms of inhumane or degrading treatment and there is a consistent policy of medical negligence. Many prisoners are punished by denying them the right to family visits or other ways of communicating with the outside world.
Over the years, the circumstances have gradually deteriorated for associations like the ECRF. In 2019, the parliament passed a new NGO law, requiring all organizations to register with the government by January 2023 and have their activities monitored by the State, a concession many organizations are not willing to make.
‘The first massive wave of arrests came in 2013,’ Mohamed Lotfi tells me, ‘when Sisi cracked down upon supporters of the ousted president and members of the Muslim Brotherhood.’ Over time, the scope was broadened to liberals, socialists, pan-Arabists and other non-Islamist political members.
‘The international community only noticed this big elephant in the room with the death of Giulio Regeni in January 2016,’ Lotfi states. Regeni was an Italian PhD-student conducting research on Egyptian independent trade unions, a sensitive subject in the country. He was abducted, tortured and eventually killed. In October 2021, a court in Rome opened the trial against four Egyptian police officers in their absence, accused of being responsible for the murder.
‘There are thousands and thousands of prisoners. That means thousands and thousands of families, friends, colleagues and acquaintances of prisoners who know about the plight and who think this is unfair. So the authorities are giving a signal to society in general that if they open their mouth, they could end up in the same situation.’
Hundreds of Palestinians spend long hours waiting inside a huge hall packed with people. Everyone waits for the Egyptian officers to call their names, at which point they will undergo another security check, before being put on buses to head to the Cairo International Airport.
When we arrive at the airport in Cairo at 3 a.m., we are forced into another line and made to stand again despite the hundreds of empty chairs surrounding us.
During this time, we are not allowed to leave the room or enjoy the airport’s facilities and amenities like the other travelers.
Cairo Airport, expatriation room, 6 a.m. (Photo: Tareq Hajjaj/Mondoweiss)
We are not allowed to sit, a rule made specially for Gaza residents. We’re then sent to another waiting hall — again, made specially for Gazans — where our passports are taken from us as we wait for our flights.
Yet I, like any Palestinian who wants to travel to Gaza with a hawiyya, had to forgo any expectation of having my basic human rights respected. Instead, I experienced consistent humiliation, utter exhaustion, and total confusion. What should have taken hours took days, slowed down by uninterested and scornful Egyptian border agents, purposefully mismanaged crowds, and a sweeping attitude of dehumanization toward the Palestinians trying to reach their homeland.
The relief, however, lasted about 500 meters, after which we were confronted with yet another meaningless attempt to humiliate Palestinians: a further checkpoint mere minutes away from the last one. My mother in law, who suffers from severe asthma, had almost collapsed from the previous wait. Knowing this, our driver decided to cut the line to ask if we could go through, since we also had my five-month-old son. Unwilling to hear his plea, the soldier raised his gun and threatened to take his driver’s license if he said another word.
‘We are apparently not human’
I counted over 15 checkpoints from El Ferdan to the Arish, which sits on the Egypt-Gaza border and is the largest city in the Sinai Peninsula. At one point all the checkpoints seemed to blend together — there was no distinction between any of them except that they added to the suffering of Palestinian travelers with no regard for women, children, or the elderly.
The Al-Midan checkpoint outside Arish, however, was an exception. We arrived, hungry and tired, very late at night, and were forced to wait over six hours at an arbitrary barrier. We once again left the car and sat on the dirt roads as we waited. Every time we tried to seek comfort or entertain ourselves with fellow Palestinians waiting alongside us, a soldier ordered us back into our cars, with one telling us: “It looks like you like the situation you’re in, don’t you!”.
The Egyptian soldiers who were supposed to inspect the cars were on their phones. One was scrolling through TikTok and another was messaging on WhatsApp, while hundreds of Palestinians were waiting in the middle of the night with nowhere to seek shelter or even a bathroom to relieve themselves. I recall one woman begging a soldier to let her car through, as she had an infant who had soiled herself and developed an intense rash, because the mother had no more diapers left. He brushed her off. Egyptian soldiers looked on, wordlessly. They allowed chaos to ensue. In fact, chaos seemed to be the policy that the Egyptian military had adopted, leading Palestinians to their breaking points. We hated the situation we were in. In these moments, some even hated the fact they were Palestinian. One woman swore she would never repeat this journey ever again.
Trapped like cattle
The hell we were in was not over, however. Inside the Rafah crossing hall, absolute chaos unfolded. Hundreds of Palestinians were lining up to hand over their hawiyyas and passports that Egyptian officials simply needed to stamp. Except this act was far from simple.
The border hall looked like a snapshot from the past, with filthy floors, no trash can in sight, ancient computers, and electricity that cut off every few minutes. In the prayer room there was actual shit on the floor, while the ceiling looked like it was about to collapse on you.
Yet for a select few, the travel to and from Gaza can be easier, maybe even luxurious. While sitting on broken metal chairs, a room adjacent to the border hall was left ajar. Inside I could see leather couches in a nice air conditioned room and people serving drinks to those seated. These very few Palestinians traveled with a VIP travel service called Ya Hala and were sitting in its refurbished lounge away from the chaos and humiliation.
Ya Hala has links with the Egyptian government and security establishment and profits off of the siege by charging anywhere from $700 to $5,000 dollars per person to travel with the company which skips the checkpoints, the inspections, and the days-long waits. Palestinians without that kind of money, like the hundreds on the journey with my family, have to wait months or even years on waitlists in order to travel.
Abdel al Fattah after father’s funeral
November 10, 2022
An example of al-Sisi’s brutality is the imprisonment of 40-year-old writer and organizer Alaa Abd El-Fattah. Alaa, who holds joint Egyptian/British citizenship, has been imprisoned for most of the last ten years, targeted for eloquently advocating for democracy and liberation. Alaa was key during the Arab Spring, inspiring people with his words and creating free speech tools on the internet. In the violent Egyptian police state with pervasive surveillance and omnipresent secret police, though, advocating for freedom is a crime. Desperate after a decade of arbitrary and abusive detention, Alaa Abd El-Fattah began a hunger strike over 220 days ago. On November 6th, as COP27 opened and world leaders descended on Sharm el-Sheikh, Alaa escalated his fast, refusing water as well. Without immediate international intervention, Alaa will likely die before the final gavel drops on COP27.
Alaa’s mother, Laila Soueif, has been waiting every day outside the prison where her son is locked up, demanding proof he is still alive. A mathematics professor, she is a renowned human rights activist herself. On Thursday, she was told that her son had received an unexplained “medical intervention.” Human Rights Watch has warned Egypt against “imposing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” and that “hunger striking is a political act.”
Alaa’s lawyer was informed that he could visit Alaa, but, upon arriving at the prison gate, was denied entry.
Alaa’s two sisters, Mona and Sanaa, staged a sit-in at the British Foreign Office in London, calling on the government of newly-installed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to intervene on Alaa’s behalf, and to bring him to the UK. Sunak, who is attending COP27, wrote to the family, “I will continue to stress to President Sisi the importance that we attach to the swift resolution of Alaa’s case, and an end to his unacceptable treatment.” Sanaa, 28, is now at COP27, and has helped bring human rights front and center onto the climate justice agenda. Sanaa, who has spent three years in prison herself, has been threatened with arrest.
President Biden has enormous leverage over the Egyptian government, and is attending COP27. Fifty-six Congressmembers have urged him to demand Alaa’s release. While campaigning in 2020, Biden actually tweeted in support of other imprisoned Egyptian dissidents, writing, “Arresting, torturing, and exiling activists…or threatening their families is unacceptable. No more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favorite dictator.’”
Instead of fist-bumping the US-backed dictator al-Sisi, the way he did with the autocratic head of Saudi Arabia, Mohamed bin Salman, Biden should demand the immediate release of Alaa and all other political prisoners. Laila Soueif wrote to Biden and other world leaders attending COP27, “If Alaa dies you too will have blood on your hands.”
In 2019, Mada Masr, one of Egypt’s last remaining independent news organizations, published a piece by Alaa, addressing the climate. It also appears in Alaa’s book, “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated”:
“The crisis, for certain, is not a crisis of awareness, but of surrendering to the inevitability of inequality. If the only thing that unites us is the threat, then every person or group will move to defend their interests. But if we meet around a hope in a better future, a future where we put an end to all forms of inequality, this global awareness will be transformed into positive energy. Hope here is a necessary action. Our rosy dreams will probably not come to pass. But if we leave ourselves to our nightmares we’ll be killed by fear before the Floods arrive.”
Alaa Abd El-Fattah should be attending COP27, addressing world leaders – not on the edge of death in an Egyptian prison.