Living Between Egypt and Israel

Life in Gaza

“Things are very hard here, more than you can imagine.”

The civil unrest in Egypt seems to be getting worse by the day.  Hundreds of civilians have been killed on the streets of Cairo and violence has erupted in other places as well.  While our country has been careful not to call the situation a military coup, what else would you call it when the military arrests the democratically elected president and takes control of the country?  Of course, they have not exactly gotten things under control at present.

In the event known to us as the Arab Spring in 2011, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was arrested for crimes against the state.  This action in the popular uprising brought the situation to a relatively peaceful end.  The recent arrest of president Mohamed Morsi also followed demonstrations against the president, but this time the arrest of the president did not solve the problem .  Instead, it has pitted Egyptians against other Egyptians.  The military now finds itself doing battle with citizens in the streets of Cairo.  Furthermore, violence has broken out between factions of Egyptians elsewhere.  The small minority of Christians has been under attack as well as other civilian groups.  The stories are terrifying.

In conversations with an Egyptian student living in Cairo that took place prior to Morsi’s arrest, I was assured nothing like this would happen.  He told me the discontent was primarily caused by a handful of Mubarak supporters, especially in the area of Port Said and the government would not be overthrown.  He claimed that president Morsi would be given the chance to fix the country’s problems.  After all, he was really the first Egyptian president that was democratically elected.  Sadly I have not seen my Egyptian college friend online since July 3, the day of the military coup.  I pray he is alright.

As disturbing as this uprising seems, there is another consequence to this conflict that is little seen or talked about.  The quote at top did not come from an Egyptian source, although I am sure things are very hard there right now.  It came to me from someone in Gaza City.  It is no secret that life in the approximately 141 square miles know as the Gaza Strip is difficult.  In constant conflict with their neighbors, they are nonetheless dependent upon them.  Most of Gaza is surrounded by Israel, except for approximately seven and a half miles that borders Egypt at the Sinai Peninsula.  To the west Gaza borders the Mediterranean Sea, but Israel controls their territorial waters.  They also control the air space over Gaza.  To the southwest, Egypt has usually maintained a tight control at the borders to Gaza, and have been known to destroy tunnels dug from Gaza to get supplies from Egypt.

“We count on Egypt and Israel to get food, medicine, etc.,” my young friend told me.  “The situation is not good with Israel already, and getting worse in Egypt.”  This creates an almost crisis situation for the approximately 1.6 million people living in the Gaza strip, as Israel and Egypt are almost the only trading partners Gaza has.  They can not even trade with their fellow Palestinians in the West Bank as they would have to go through Israel to get there.  Access is tightly controlled.  “So the life is so hard and now getting harder.”

With one trading partner dealing with a civil uprising and the other being an adversary, the results are an untold story of the people in between.  They are not self sufficient enough to survive in a global commerce when they are allowed little trade with anyone else on the globe.  Mostly they have small family businesses.  None of the multinational companies that appear all over the world have any presence in Gaza, where 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.  Furthermore, the UN considers one million people there as refugees.  In an odd twist to a sad situation, many of these refugees are descendents of original refugees there.  I will not even try to explain the wars, conflicts and agreements that have led to this long-standing situation over a small strip of land known as Gaza, قطاع غزة‎.  (Interestingly enough, Ghazá means “He invaded.”)

There have been a number of attempts to solve the conflicts that plague Gaza and the large population that lives on a strip of land about 25 miles long.  Many of the agreements have been well reported in the news.  While some brought a temporary cessation of hostilities, obviously none have solved the problem.  The day-to-day life of a land so dependent on Egypt is not well-known outside that region.  One time my friend in Gaza asked if we get much news of what is going on there.  “No,” I confessed.  You have to watch the BBC news on PBS or read some foreign news source like France 24 to get any news.  I did tell him that we sure hear about it when Hamas fires rockets at the Israelis.  Perhaps that was not a good point to bring up.

English: Map of Gaza Strip, Stand December 200...

English: Map of Gaza Strip, Stand December 2008 (SVG version of File:Gaza Strip map.png by Lencer) Français : Carte de la bande de Gaza (décembre 2008) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So while they wait for peace in Egypt and a resolution of their disputes with Israel, the people live in poverty and try to survive.  “Things are very expensive already,” my friend wrote to me from Gaza, “especially food.”  In a land of plenty, we rarely hear about the plight of the poor here.  We give little thought to the struggles elsewhere, unless a friend or relative is involved.  “We are facing problems since the Egyptians start the fight 3 months ago.  As I said, everything is very hard here.”  He followed that with the “sad face” emoticon. 😦  Sad indeed.

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2 thoughts on “Living Between Egypt and Israel

  1. After ten years of living in Israel, I concluded that if you took the rhetoriic hate, big money and power politics out of the equation, the people in the middle east would make peace in a New York minute. Because they have nothing to gain by a permanent state of war. Whenever you look at situations like this, like Northern Ireland, follow the money. Always, follow the money. And of course, the power.

    Since you’ll never get rid of those who have a lot of gain by making others fight and die, it will never be over. Never,

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    • There is a strong desire for peace, but right now it is just about survival. One of the things my friend has mentioned is the lack of culture. Who is going to establish a museum, art gallery or anything cultural if you have no guarantee it will last long? Listening to young men in Egypt and Gaza has been a very enlightening experience.

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