Egypt’s great daily paper Al-Masry Al-Yawm has an important article today describing the intensive efforts Egyptian officials have been making to secure both a (degree of) Hamas-Fateh reconciliation and an agreement with the relevant Palestinian parties– preferably, both of them– regarding the orderly operation of the Rafah crossing point. (Hat-tip Bill. By the way, readers should also note that, in addition to being a great paper, AMAY’s website has an excellently edited English-language version. Kudos to them!)
The authors of the article are Sherif Ibrahim, Fathia al-Dakhakhni and Mahasen el-Senousi.
- An Egyptian diplomatic source revealed that Egypt is making continuous efforts with Fatah and Hamas about crossing points between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It also said that the talks recently held in Cairo over this issue were not a failure but just a first step.
The source affirmed that over the next few days, Cairo would host two delegations from Fatah and Hamas to reach a solution over crossing points and start a dialogue between the two movements…
And then this important information from Hamas spokesperson Taher al-Nounou:
- He affirmed that Hamas accepted European observers at the gate provided that they do not decide when to open and close it, that they live in Arish or Rafah and not go to Israel as they used to. He also stressed on the fact that the Europeans would be back by virtue of a new comprehensive agreement not related to the 2005 one.
Nounou said that the most important issue of the talks – focused on by Egyptian officials – was Egyptian security in Sinai, pointing out that Egypt opened the Rafah transit border as it refused to let the Palestinian people die of hunger.
“We told Egyptian officials that the government in Gaza was eager to guarantee Egypt’s security,” he said “and that this security would not be undermined.
The close-to-Hamas Palestinian Information Center (PIC) website carried this report from a press conference that Hamas’s former foreign minister Mahmoud Zahhar held yesterday in Rafah.
It said this:
- The Hamas leader announced that the Palestinian-Egyptian borders will be closed Sunday morning in cooperation between security men of both sides until the procedures aimed at rearranging the movement of entry and exit have been completed, pointing out that the caretaker government headed by premier Ismail Haneyya will do its utmost to control the crossing.
He explained that the coming days will witness a series of positive developments, describing his visit and the delegation accompanying him to Cairo as highly successful.
And this morning AP is reporting from Rafah that,
- Egyptian troops closed the last breach in Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip Sunday, ending 11 days of free movement for Palestinian residents of the blockaded territory, witnesses and Hamas security officials said.
Hamas police aided with the closure, drawing pistols and arresting Palestinians who were throwing stones at Egyptian troops along the frontier. It was a dramatic turnabout for Hamas, whose militants had used explosives to bring down the border wall.
The Egyptian troops were allowing Gazans and Egyptians to cross the border to return to their homes on the other side but prevented any new cross-border movement, according to witnesses and Hamas security officials in the border town of Rafah. The Hamas officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
It is certainly significant that the Hamas people are working with the Egyptian security forces to establish a stable regime along the Gaza-Egypt border— and doing so even though that involves, right now, working with Egypt to reseal the border, even if this complete resealing is only temporary.
Both sides have reason to fear a continuation of the recent chaotic situation there. The Egyptians have been searching for four Palestinians, suspected of planning suicide attacks against some of Egypt’s economically important tourist resorts, who reportedly crossed from Gaza into Sinai on Friday. AP apparently reported that 12 of the 15 heavily armed Palestinians arrested in the north Sinai town of Arish in recent days were members of Hamas. Very evidently, if the Hamas leadership wants to work out a stable agreement with Egypt regarding the border, it will also have to be able to exert its own control effectively over the situation inside Gaza— including, perhaps especially, over the actions of its own members.
It cannot do that easily if the Rafah border remains open to all-comers, including very possibly provocateurs infiltrated by Israel, or Abu Mazen, or who knows who else.
Also, of key importance: For Gaza’s economic opening to and through Egypt to work, as Zahhar and his colleagues want it to, both the Palestinians and the Egyptians need to be able to control– and keep calm– their respective borders with Israel.
Might the next step the Egyptians take, after finding a way to reconcile Abu Mazen and Hamas and a workable formula for opening one or more crossing points on the border, therefore be to help broker a meaningful ceasefire between Gaza and Israel? Why not?
Meanwhile, though Hamas has indeed today been taking actions– including against its own people– in its decision to work with the Egyptians in resealing the border, it is also showing that it retains and will probably continue to develop its capabilities of mounting nonviolent mass actions around the Gaza issue. That same PIC report that told us about Zahhar’s press conference told us this:
- Simultaneously with the return of the Hamas delegation from Cairo, thousands of Palestinian women participated Saturday afternoon in a massive march organized by Hamas’s female supporters at the Rafah crossing, where they chanted slogans calling for lifting the siege and opening the Rafah crossing under Palestinian-Egyptian sovereignty.
Umm Mohammed Al-Rantisi, one of Hamas’s female leaders, stated that the march aims to send a letter to the PA leadership in Ramallah who are trying to restore the previous conditions at the crossing and bring back the Israeli occupation.
This is one of the many things I love about nonviolent mass action: It involves all members of society, not just the guys! Indeed, to be effective, it really needs to do so.
Back in 2006, I wrote quite a bit about the increasingly important political role being played by Hamas’s well-organized networks of women supporters. That became evident both in the very successful parliamentary election campaign that Hamas mounted in January of that year, and also in some of the new style of nonviolent mass public actions that we saw from the Hamas-organized women later in the year. See, e.g., these two JWN posts from November 2006: 1 and 2.
Too many people in the west– and certainly, nearly the whole of the western MSM– have taken at face value the accusations from Israel and the Bush administration about Hamas (and Hizbullah) being only terrorist organizations. But that view completely misunderstands, or wilfully ignores, the deep roots both organizations have struck among their respective constituencies– roots have been nurtured and sustained through many long years of actions in various fields of nonviolent activity, including a lot of social work and electoral/political organizing. But then, something new happened, it seems to me, when people involved in those kinds of fairly private nonviolent activities take their nonviolent organizing into the mass, open, public sphere and these actions demonstrated that they can have a huge, transformatory effect on the political scene.
One example from Lebanon was the partly organized, partly “spontaneous” mass return of south Lebanese villagers to their villages in the border zone in May 2000. The puppet-run “security zone” that the Israelis had previously maintained there just crumbled overnight.
Another example from Lebanon was the very similar– partly organized, partly “spontaneous”– mass return of south Lebanon’s people to their homes, villages, and towns, on August 14, 2006, the very day the ceasefire went into effect. That human wave of people completely swept away any hopes the Israelis may have had that they and the UN could somehow “prevent” Hizbullah’s people from re-establishing themselves in southern Lebanon– because at that point, nearly all the people who returned were Hizbullah. And, as Ze’ev Schiff (RIP) noted at the time, possession of the battlefield at the time the shooting stops is the very definition of victory. (The IDF had sent in a ground force in those last 60 hours of the war– after the completion of the negotiations for the ceasefire, indeed– precisely with the aim of trying to control as much of the South Lebanon battlefield as possible by the time the ceasefire went into effect. At the purely military level, however, their plans went sorely awry; and on August 13 and 14 the surviving soldiers from their badly mauled invasion force slunk back south across the border in considerable disarray, holding onto no land at all.)
Hizbullah’s women have also, certainly, been seen in quite a number of the party’s public demonstrations and marches, some of them organized into disciplined and slightly militaristic-looking cohorts, and some not.
Hamas women, however, seem to have been developing an even more distinctive and potentially effective role for themselves. They have run in– and in six cases, won– parliamentary elections. And on numerous occasions over the years they have organized all-women demonstrations with a very pointed political intent. Most recently, on January 22, more than 1,000 Hamas-organized women from Gaza swarmed across the Rafah crossing into Egypt in an action designed to publicize the plight of their families as Israel tightened the screws of its siege of the Strip– and also, perhaps, to test the reactions of the Egyptian security forces prior to the big bust-out across the border that was being planned for the following night. (Also worth watching: the second half of this Jazeera/YouTube report on that demo. I would say maybe they need work a bit more on group discipline?)
On that occasion, the Egyptian security forces responded with baton charges and water cannon. But the women’s demonstration, which was widely publicized throughout the Middle East, probably helped many of Gaza’s people to break through any fear they might have had, the next day, regarding the possibility of joining the throngs engaged in the bust-out. So the bust-out itself, when it happened, turned out to be a massive and truly transformative venture.
And now, by mounting another demonstration at the border crossing, it has been the organized women of Hamas, acting nonviolently, who have put the Egyptian authorities on notice that they need to find an agreement that allows the re-opening of the border fence, and soon.
Interesting times. Let’s see what Egyptian diplomacy is able to achieve.