An urgent open letter to Sisi, you can save Palestinian lives!
by Abdallah Schleifer
Egypt can and must open the border crossing point with Gaza to provide temporary refugee relief while guaranteeing Egypt’s own security from Gaza and Sinai based terrorists.
The Palestinians in Gaza are in a dire situation. Hamas refused your ceasefire proposal and with the discovery of special “reserve” tunnels from Gaza directly into Israel, that are now being activated so that Hamas units can infiltrate directly and stage surprise attacks on Israeli settlements or soldiers. For its part, Israel is much less likely to accept a revived ceasefire offer until it has finished house-to-house searches in certain Gaza neighborhoods. This phase could take days.
It is also possible ground fighting could move even deeper into the center of Gaza as it did in 2008-09, as sentiment grows in Israel that the only way to avert the eventual reconstruction of tunnels and rebuilding of rocket-storage and launching facilities is to clear out any resistance in the Gaza Strip. An alternative, or even complementary goal, to seriously seek a two-state solution peace settlement with the recently created Palestinian unity government is obviously not on this Israeli government’s agenda, in my view.
What Egypt can do
United Nations facilities within Gaza are already swamped with Palestinians fleeing battle zones - often upon last-minute Israeli advance warning and despite reported Hamas efforts to keep the unarmed civilian population in place to defy the Israelis.
It is impossible for Palestinian civilians to flee directly into the advancing lines of Israeli troops, who in the 2008-09 conflict were so trigger-happy they killed Palestinian civilians moving towards them under a white flag try to flee the combat zone.
But here is what Egypt can do, taking full note of security problems in the Sinai:
First of all, the Egyptian Army could undertake the crash construction and manning of a vast temporary refugee camp in the Sinai, adjacent to the Rafa Crossing Point from Gaza similar to those quickly thrown up emergency refugee camps world over. It should include a large number of latrines quickly dug, drinking water tanks with spigots and shower areas, field kitchens and huge field tents that can sleep hundreds.
At the crossing, a very large number of security teams should quickly check refugees and their luggage (one suitcase or bag per person) to ensure that armed elements conceivably with ties to the Sinai Islamist militants are not allowed in.
To prevent Hamas units from setting up rocket launchers on the Gazan side, close to the crossing point, Egyptians troops could temporarily move across the border for a few hundred yards to ensure a neutral zone on the Gaza side. Both Israel and Hamas might object but such a modest intrusion that is not seeking combat and on a humanitarian mission would be obvious to both Israeli and Palestinian publics, as well as to the rest of the world.
It is to be understood that as soon as a ceasefire is finalized and implemented the camp will be closed down and the tens of thousands who will no doubt have taken refuge will be escorted back into Gaza.
Aside from the most basic humanitarian gesture of saving Palestinian civilians fleeing the combat zones, setting up this camp will demonstrate that while both Israel and Hamas are indifferent to the fate of the non-combatant Palestinian civilians trapped and dying in the widening combat zone, Egypt is not.
Cross published on Al Arabiya News and TAM with permission of the author.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.