19 January, 2009

"This is Sharon's country"

Just returned from Egyptian Rafah after spending a little more than a day and a night there. We met some fantastic people, and I hope I'll have time some day to write a longer post about this wretched town, scarred by colonialism, occupation and wars. Right now I just want to point to the absurdity of the whole situation: Yesterday was the first day of ceasefire after three weeks of intense fighting and bombing, which left over 1300 Palestinians dead, thousands wounded, and over 50.000 homeless. Normally you would expect caravans of humanitarian aid going into the area. But not this time.

Why? UN aid agencies and NGO:s working in conflict zones often have to cope with security threats and violence, making it hard to reach the victims of wars and internal conflicts. But in this case the only thing separating the aid from the victims is a fence, a few soldiers, and political decisions taken by a government that claims to be the best friend of the Palestinians. While Israel said it would allow 143 trucks of humanitarian aid into Gaza - still far from the 500 that the UN previously said it need every day for its operations - almost nothing was entering from the Egyptian side. On Sunday and Monday only a few trucks carrying medical supplies were allowed to enter through the Rafah crossing, and several trucks carrying food and blankets was turned back during the short time we where there.

Perhaps the best comment on the whole situation was uttered by a fellow passenger of the car that took us to el-Arish. As we were approaching our destination, a man dressed in a grey gallabeyya turned to us (three foreigners) and said: "Are you here to help the Palestinians? We are very grateful for what you are doing. People like you [referring of course to volunteer doctors and aid workers rather than journalists...] are doing more than our own worthless rulers!"

After this he looked around him and asked the other passengers: "We can speak freely here, right?" To which the driver responded seriously: "No, be careful. This is Sharon's country!"

(While I wait for someone to give me a good explanation of exactly what the driver meant by this, I have a side-note here that is probably old news for Egyptian readers but others may find interesting: While Israels former prime-minister Ariel Sharon is best known for his invasion of Lebanon and the following Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982, he also has a history in Sinai. He led an Israeli armored division there during the six-day way of 1967, and was later appointed head of the IDF:s southern command. He returned to fight in the '73 October War, achieving a war hero status that helped pave the way for his political career. As defense minister in the early 80's, he was in charge of dismantling Israeli settlements in the Sinai before it was returned to Egypt after the Camp David agreement. Totally against the understandings of the agreement, he decided to destroy most of the evacuated settlements completely, including the town of Yamit on the Mediterranean coast for which Egypt had agreed to pay $80 million.)


  1. I don't think there was a hidden deep meaning in his statement. We Egyptians are pretty straightforward when we speak. I think he just meant that this regime works for Israel, and is there to serve its best interests. 'Sharon' here is a substitution for Israel. This is Sharon's land=this country's regime is under Israeli control.

  2. Yeah, that's how I interpreted it as well, but I figured there could also be some hidden meaning that I was missing... there probably wasn't though.