THE SPINE JANUARY 23, 2008
The corrugated iron fence that separates Gaza from Egypt has always been porous. And not just the fence. There are the tunnels through which the Palestinians ferry arms and arms materiel. There are the guards who do not guard and the check points that do not check. Egypt is not exactly an eager partner to the policing of Gaza, except -- of course -- when it controlled Gaza from 1948 through the Six Day War when it lost Gaza. In those 19 years, it was nothing less than a prison, an Arab prison incarcerating Arabs.
At first, the news services said that 350,000 Palestinians had crossed the unprotected barrier. By now, the number has been marked down to 200,000. Still a lot of people, and testimony to the straightened circumstances of the Strip. But not desperate, as the U.N. and the Hamas extremists tried to panic world opinion into thinking. Here's how the Times article (by Steven Erlanger and Graham Bowley) characterized the happening on the "other" side of the Gaza barrier, that is, in Egypt: "The scene at the border was one of a great bazaar, with Palestinians piling donkeys, carts and motorcycles high with goats, mattresses, chickens, televisions, cement and other goods they had been unable to buy in Gaza." And here's how the fest was described by Ha'aretz (using news agencies): people "walked unhindered over the toppled metal plates that once made up the border wall, carrying goats, chickens and crates of Coke. Some brought back televisions and car tires, and one man bought a motorcycle. Vendors sold soft drinks and baked goods to the crowds." It was like many another Arab market from Sidon to Cairo, a bit disorderly but certainly not in panic. Israel had already allowed food, medicine and fuel into Gaza yesterday.
"I told Gazans to come and eat," said the ever generous Hosni Mubarak, according to the Associated Press and Jerusalem Post. But they had to return. It would be quite appropriate for there to be an accessible border between Egypt and Gaza, providing that Egypt guaranteed that it wouldn't become an open sesame for weapons.