Some 6,000 Palestinians have been stranded for the past month on the Egyptian side of the border with the Gaza Strip because of the closure of the Rafah border crossing. The terminal was closed after the European monitors who had operated there for the past two years left their jobs following Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in mid-June. At least 20 of these Palestinian travelers have died either of illness or other causes while waiting on the Egyptian side. Most of them are complaining that the Egyptian authorities are not doing anything to alleviate their suffering. Attempts by Israel to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis have been foiled by both Fatah and Hamas, who turned down an Israeli offer to help the Palestinians return home through the Israeli-controlled border crossing at Kerem Shalom.
Meanwhile, not a single Arab country has come forth to help the marooned Palestinians. Egyptian and Palestinian families living along the border have been hosting some of them, but the majority, including women and children, are forced to sleep in mosques and on sidewalks.
“The Arabs don’t care about us,” Muhammed Haj Jamil, a university student who was on his way home from the Gulf, told me in a phone interview. “The Arabs hate the Palestinians. The Egyptians are treating us as if we were terrorists. Even the Jews treat us better than most Arabs.”
And he’s absolutely right. Most of the Arab countries stopped providing the Palestinians with financial aid when Yasser Arafat and the PLO openly supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Since then, the Palestinians are almost entirely dependent on handouts from the U.S. and Europe. Many Palestinians who travel to Arab countries complain of maltreatment and harassment at by intelligence officers at the airports and border crossings.
Today, most of the Arab countries don’t want to help the Palestinians because of the Fatah-Hamas fighting and the Palestinian leadership’s failure to establish good governance and end financial corruption and anarchy. The Arabs are simply fed up with the Palestinians’ failure to get their act together. In the absence of Arab support, Israel is the only country that has been sending tons of food and medicine to the Gaza Strip on a daily basis over the past month.
The Egyptians, who have a joint border with the Gaza Strip, don’t allow Palestinians to enter Egypt in search of work. The Jordanians, for their part, “divorced” the West Bank in 1988; since then they haven’t wanted anything to do with the Palestinians living there. The dream of many Palestinian laborers today is to work in Israel—as they used to do in the days before the “peace process” began. Or as one Palestinian in Gaza told me recently: “We wish the [Israeli] occupation would return and improve our conditions.”