Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Gaza-Egypt border

A screen grab of the Rafah crossing from Google Earth. The Philipdelphi corridor is visible as the obvious straight line (click for a bigger version).

Of all the dimensions to the Gaza war of last month, I've always thought that one that was worst reported was the Egyptian - Gaza border, and hence the Egyptian Palestinian relationship. I became interested in how the 14 kms of the border between Gaza and Egypt worked a couple of years ago when looking into how the blockade worked. I couldn't figure out how the Israelis could blockade Gaza when only controlling three of the four sides of the territories. Whilst Israel occupied Gaza, the IDF maintained a few hundred metres wide strip along the Gazan side of the border, the Philadelphi corridor, meaning that in effect they control all sides of Gaza, but it was handed to the Egyptians in 2005 during the settlement evacuation. I'm not certain, but I don't think the Egyptians ever patrolled on the Gaza side, instead letting the PA take control until the Hamas coup kicked them out. The EU had a mission - EUBAM (I can't help think of Bam Bam of Flintstones fame...) - which was meant to neutrally run the Rafah crossing, but they had to get there from Israel into Gaza and the Israelis would block them getting into Gaza at one of the other crossing points when they wanted Rafah closed. EUBAM were still twiddling their thumbs in Askelon, waiting for someone to tell them to go back to Rafah last time I looked.

So they Egyptians have just built a bloody great wall along the border with Gaza, hence all the tunnels underneath it. Anyway, File on Four on BBC Radio 4 have done a pretty good programme looking at Egypt's role in the Gaza crisis (download the podcast whilst you can). It doesn't cover everything, like political instability in the Sinai, but it's a very good primer. It also shows the hypocrisy of many of the Arab regimes - they allow at times strident, ugly anti-Israel rhetoric as a pressure valve on their oppressed domestic constituency who have no real democratic say, whilst actually do very little to help the Palestinians.


KGS said...

Hi Toby,

While it's true that the closing of the Kerem Shalom crossing lead to the side-lining of the EUBAM observors, it's uncertain as to whether EUBAM would have continued to place its people there due to security reasons, which is why EUBAM personnel were based in Ashkelon in the first place.

Due to Hamas' takeover of the Strip, EUBAM itself suspended its operations:

So Hamas' activities inside the Strip directly effected the Rafah crossing, as well as the twiddling of the thumbs of EUBAM observors, who have their own safety concernce to think about.

Why the media (local and abroad)refuses to mention that Egypt controls the southern border is a very good point, and it's not due to any ignorance.

Quizbo said...

"Why the media (local and abroad)refuses to mention that Egypt controls the southern border is a very good point..."

What? Maybe I'm not reading the right sources, but this doesn't seem to be any kind of tightly kept secret in the mainstream media:

KGS said...

There are very scattered reportings of it, most mention Israel only, especially the Finnish media.