Breaking out is preferable to breaking down, which is what was happening before Hamas toppled the iron wall that Israel erected to separate the Gaza Strip from Egypt.
It’s fascinating that work to weaken the structure with blow-torches was going on for weeks before the bulldozers moved in this week…
What’s going to happen next is anybody’s guess — and there are a lot of guesses, mostly focussing on a narrow range of options.
I’m not going to go there, as Barak said in Davos to a journalist who asked him if he were one of those who is pleased that the break-out happened, as it will make it easy for Israel to get rid of Gaza now by handing it over to Egypt.
The break-out itself is very interesting. Some organized Gaza businessmen were on the phone by 7 am, after the wall went down at 6:30, ordering supplies from Cairo that were later delivered to Rafah. This was a good idea, as Rafah and El-Arish were soon out of stock.
Here are some more interesting tidbits:
Haaretz reported today that “Cranes were positioned next to the border, lifting crates of supplies over into Gaza”. This comment was in this Haaretz article here.
Another Haaretz story said that “Egyptian merchants arrived at Rafah with a particularly large and varied supply of items Palestinians were keen to buy. Since the breach in the wall, the Egyptian security forces have been busy trying to contain the traffic, mainly by setting up roadblocks preventing Gaza Palestinians and journalists from traveling westward. They have also been trying to identify those responsible for bringing down the wall, and interviewed some of their contacts in the Palestinians’ Popular Resistance Committees, a source affiliated with the local Gaza-based militias told Haaretz. Hundreds of Palestinian students who are registered in universities abroad tried to persuade the Egyptian authorities to allow them to continue to Cairo so they could travel further afield. Despite a meeting with the governor of El Arish, any travel to the Egyptian capital was denied them. Heading into the Gaza Strip, some 600 Palestinians who had been stuck on the Egyptian side for nearly eight months crossed through the breach during the past two days … Palestinians said the police did not prevent them from traveling to El Arish, some 50 kilometers from Rafah on the Gaza-Sinai border. Many had made their way there at great expense, assisted by locals eager to make a profit“. This Haaretz article is here.
Locals eager to make a profit must have been very pleased indeed: The AP reported from Rafah that “When militants blew down the wall along the seven-mile border early Wednesday, tens of thousands — some say hundreds of thousands — streamed into Egypt to replenish supplies and briefly escape the cloistered atmosphere … Rami Abdou, an economic analyst, estimated that Gazans spent $130 million in less than two days, a princely sum for the poverty-stricken territory. ‘Gazans are withdrawing their savings and are borrowing from each other’ to spend in Egypt, he said. Most of the cash flowed into Egypt, but resourceful Gazans found ways to tap into the frenzy. One hot item on the Gaza side of the border was an Egyptian telephone card, better for placing orders with merchants and talking to relatives than relying on the overloaded Gaza phone network”. This AP report is posted here.
Helena Cobban got this interesting information from Mahmoud Zahar in an interview in Gaza in March 2006: “If we push ahead with regard to opening our border with Egypt, we can certainly make it work to the benefit of both sides. You know, in September, right after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza,when our border with Egypt was unsecured– we learned that our people spent $8 million in El-Arish in just ten days, because the prices of everything in Egypt are so much lower than the prices the Israelis impose on us here“. Helena gives a link to her interview with Zahar in today’s post on her blog here.
And, the Economist correspondent in Israel posted these interesting reflctions on his blog: “A few weeks ago left-wing protestors went around Tel Aviv putting up these mock leaflets from the Israeli electric company, which announce power stoppages ‘because the headquarters of an army that harms citizens in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and carries out war crimes is operating in your city’, and inform the residents that ‘for humanitarian reasons the stoppages will not be total, leaving you the decision on whether to distribute the allocated supplies to hospitals, heating systems, sewage or private homes’. It hit home a little harder this week, when large parts of Gaza were plunged into darkness after Israel suspended fuel supplies for the power station. And as I lay in bed this morning summoning up the strength to dash across the frozen floor and switch on the heating, I reflected on the story I wrote yesterday about the outages and realised how extraordinarily little electricity Gaza actually uses. Assuming 1.4m people live in Gaza (some say 1.5m), and that its peak wintertime electricity consumption — ie, when Israel isn’t cutting off the fuel — is 250MW (UN figures, though 240MW has also been reported), then that’s 180W per person, or a couple of light bulbs. If they used all their electricity on standard 2kW electric heaters, there would be one heater per 11 people. Israel’s peak demand, which it has been hitting (Hebrew) thanks to the cold snap in recent days, is around 10,000MW, or 1.5kW per person, over eight times as much as Gaza’s. Remarkably, that’s a higher rate than Britain, which uses something over 62,000MW in winter, or only a little over 1kW per capita (maybe the Brits use more natural gas). In the US, needless to say, the peak rate is well over 2kW per capita”. This post is on the Fugitive Peace blog here.