750000 Gazan Arabs have vented their spleen - not against Israel - but against the policies of the Arab League which once again left them high and dry this week - as it has done for the last 60 years - after describing Israel’s refusal to supply oil to Gaza as a “humanitarian crisis.”
Israel’s action may have been drastic and ultimately proved to be temporary - for the moment at least.
It had come as the final response by a country that was no longer prepared to supply fuel to Gaza whilst Israel’s civilian population centers were subjected to a continuous barrage of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza and whilst Gaza was controlled by Hamas - an organisation whose declared goal is the destruction of Israel.
The Arab League’s pathetic response to Israel’s action resulted in the Gazan breakout into Egypt by half of its total population .
Instead of despatching oil and food supplies to Gaza through Egypt to meet the population’s demands, the Arab League preferred to run off to the United Nations Security Council seeking the political condemnation of Israel for having the temerity to defend its citizens.
In scenes reminiscent of the demolition of the Berlin Wall, Gazan Arabs rebuffed the Arab League’s weak-kneed and inhumane policy and blew holes in the border fence separating Gaza from Egypt. Gazan Arabs were reunited with their Egyptian Arab brethren as they bought food and fuel in Egypt, which could easily have been transported into Gaza thus avoiding the chaotic scenes that followed the border’s demolition.
The Arab League in claiming Israel was solely responsible for the Gazan breakout still fails to recognise its own responsibility for what has occurred in Gaza during the last 60 years.
Gaza would not be the basket case it is today if the Arab League had pulled down the refugee camps and resettled and rehabilitated Gaza’s residents between 1948-1967 when the League’s most powerful and influential member - Egypt - exercised full control in Gaza with Arab League approval.
Those refugee camps still exist today. They were deliberately maintained as a festering sore breeding hatred and enmity and ruining the lives of countless generations of Gazan Arabs since.
Israel’s attempts to build housing and progressively close down the camps after assuming control in 1967 were met with fierce resistance by the Arab League.
The Arab attitude to such proposals is summed up by Norma Masriyeh in her article “Refugee resettlement: the Gaza Strip Experience” (Palestine-Israel Journal Volume 2 No. 4 1995) where she states:
“Israeli measures to resettle Gaza Strip refugees, which started in the early 1970s, do not conform with their humanitarian claims to improve the living conditions of refugees. Israeli measures can instead be seen as an integral part of modern counter-insurgency doctrines promoted by security considerations in response to revolutionary guerrilla warfare or Insurgency.”
Even where Israel is not involved - as in Lebanon - the refugees are housed in refugee camps as mendicants relying on UNWRA handouts, denied citizenship or any equality of human rights with the Lebanese Arabs in whose midst they reside - again with the intention of breeding hatred towards Jews and dreaming of revenge against Israel.
“Let the refugees rot in order that revolutionary guerilla warfare continue” has become the catchcry of Arab League policy and so it was employed again in Gaza during the past week - but the Gazans for the first time indicated they would not continue to be willing accomplices to this inhumane policy.
The Gaza breakout has given some indication that the residents of Gaza are sick and tired of being used as pawns and have sent a strong message to the Arab League that playing politics with their lives is no longer acceptable.
With this warning ringing firmly in its ears, the Arab League needs to review its 2002 Peace Initiative which professes to seek peace with Israel whilst imposing conditions that are impossible to accept and which have already been said to be unrealistic by President Bush - such as the right of return and the withdrawal by Israel to the 1967 armistice lines.
The Gazan Arabs have shown in the past week that political posturing and attempted points scoring is no substitute for giving them and future generations of Gazans real hope that their despair and suffering needs to be ended.
The Arab League needs to act with urgency to embrace policies of resettlement and rehabilitation - whether it be in Gaza, any host country in which Palestinian Arabs currently live or any other member State of the Arab League.
It is time for these refugees - trapped in a 60 year time warp - to direct their anger away from Israel and face their captors - the Arab League - and demand it undertake such programs within and with the support of the 22 member Arab States who purportedly have their interests at heart - but who in reality could not care if they remain in their state of misery and suffering forever.
The Arab League rejection of the United Nations Partition Resolution in 1947 and the subsequent invasion of Palestine in 1948 were the principal factors in creating the refugee situation that still continues in the Arab world today.
It is time the League started to make practical - not political - amends for those disastrous decisions.
The Arab League cannot continue acting as some disinterested bystander and turn its back on those who need its help and practical support in being given the opportunity to lead normal lives no different to other Arabs.
The time for political grandstanding by the Arab League is over.