May 1, 2005
I grew up in Gaza during the 1950s, a child of Egyptian parents at a time when Gaza was occupied by Egypt. My father headed the Egyptian military then in Gaza and the Sinai. Because I know and understand the culture of the area, I have troubling questions about Israel’s Gaza evacuation. Will it bring hope and a new beginning to the Arabs of Gaza who have not really ruled over themselves before? Will it bring peace to Israel’s southern border? Will the people of Gaza reject the status of being permanent victims in the Arab world and start the new business of living in peace? Will they demand an end to Arab meddling and the use of Gaza for shooting grounds into Israel? Will the culture of hate, terror and retaliation against Israel end? Will the people in the Jabalya refugee camp reject the title of “refugee”? Will Egypt start allowing fellow Arabs from Gaza to travel freely into the Sinai and Egypt? And most importantly, will the Gazan people end terrorism? I have mixed feelings about Israel’s evacuation and wonder if the citizens of Gaza will meet the challenges facing them, especially since the political dynamics in Arab politics and in the Arabic press are still the same as they have always been. When the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab control, citizens from those areas allowed Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia to use their land as the frontline to attack Israel and incite their people to constant calls for war against the new Jewish state. Arab countries gave themselves the right to fight Israel from that area and everything else become secondary in the Arab psyche, even the safety and security of the Arab people. Egypt and Jordan, which occupied Gaza and the West Bank respectively from 1948-1967, actively conducted guerrilla war daily against Israel, especially in Gaza in 1954, ’55 and ’56. They created a group called the fedayeen to make undercover cross-border attacks to terrorize Israelis. Gaza was simply used by Egyptian leader Gamal Abd El-Nasser as the Arab frontline with Israel. That was prior to the 1967 war. It was a time when President Nasser aspired to unify the Arab world under his command. Threatening the destruction of Israel was the badge of for anyone who wanted to lead the Arab world. I witnessed this firsthand because my own father headed the fedayeen movement ordered by Nasser. Expectations and pressure on Palestinians were extremely high back then. Surrounding Arab countries shamed, blamed, bribed, pampered and abused Palestinians to fight and never accept Israel. They became a sacrificial lamb for Arab glory. In a culture based on pride and shame, Palestinians needed to prove to the rest of the Arab world that they were worthy of respect by attacking Israel. Egypt under Nasser imprisoned Gazans who dared to cross the borders into Israel for peaceful reasons. Those who did were branded as traitors and some were actually killed on the spot. It did not matter what the purpose of their crossing the borders into Israel was, the Egyptian authority arrested them for “violating the hudna.” Hudna means “temporary ceasefire”. However, later, Egypt took 52 of these men who had violated the hudna out of prison and, ironically, started the first fedayeen unit in order to do exactly what they were imprisoned for doing in the first place. They were trained to make cross-border attacks into Israel and cause as much damage, death and destruction as possible. My father was killed as a result of these operations. He was hailed as a national hero, a shahid, meaning “martyr”. Nasser vowed that all of Egypt would take revenge for his death, and made no mention of the heavy toll of death and destruction brought upon Israel that could have precipitated such Israeli retaliation. Very few people know that the Palestinians’ first intifada was in 1955, against the Egyptian authorities in Gaza, because of the oppressive regime of Nasser, which put many of them in jail and subjected them to the continual crossfire with Israel. In the tiny strip of Gaza, Palestinians were sandwiched between Israel and the rest of the Arab world and needed a visa to even visit Egypt. The infrastructure and economy in both the West Bank and Gaza were neglected by Arabs, who only gave them weapons and rewarded them for terrorism. Palestinians have been simply exploited and sacrificed as the frontline of Arab jihad. In Gazan elementary schools, we learned the values of hate, vengeance and retaliation. Peace was never an option and never mentioned as a virtue. The “Glory of Battle” was the ultimate honor. They scared us about Jews and taught us to solve disputes through violence. I was told not to take any candy from strangers since it could be a Jew trying to poison me. Girls were in tears reciting Jihadist poetry daily and pledging to give up their lives as “martyrs”. Several generations were brought up under this severe indoctrination and things got worse by the day. The fedayeen of yesterday became the suicide bombers of today. Like robots, they pride themselves in killing Jews while killing themselves in the hope of going to heaven. The extreme living conditions in Gaza produced people who have not experienced normal life for over half a century. I do not see proof of any improvement or change in Gaza’s conditions. To the contrary, I think it has even gotten worse. Tunnels are still being dug to smuggle arms into Gaza from Egypt. I am not sure if the Gaza evacuation will bring peace to Israel and prosperity to the people of Gaza, but I sometimes wonder why Arabs cannot stand Jews living in their midst, while Jews respect and allow Arabs to live in Israel. Arabs have lots of land, but have no tolerance for non-Muslims living on it, while the Jewish state is very small and has tolerance for Muslims. Something is wrong here and Arabs just do not see the hypocrisy. I respect all the attempts Israel is making, including goodwill gestures, to actively pursue a life of peace in the area. But Arabs around Israel have not reciprocated the same message of good will through their actions. Furthermore, the political situation in Egypt at the end of Hosni Mubarak’s term is unpredictable and many Egyptians are worried about the radicals taking over. I received several e-mails from Egyptians who say, “Egypt is boiling with anger and frustration.” Stability in Gaza is very much linked to the stability of Egypt. Will the people of Gaza finally stand up for peace after Israel evacuates, or will they go back to the old days of fedayeen, jihad and terror? Did they learn a lesson from the past decades of turmoil and chaos? Do they even remember how to live in peace and maintain an orderly society? The true intentions of the Arabs of Gaza will become clear if Israel withdraws. They can take this great opportunity to stand up finally for peace and end the connections with terrorism, or they can discredit themselves by choosing to continue the terror after Israel’s evacuation. I am personally not very optimistic and feel that this is a move that Israel might later regret. Will it work? I don’t know, it is up to the Arabs of Gaza.