Of course it caused all kinds of problems, logistical and political, but didn’t your heart soar as the people of Gaza teemed through the hole in that border fence with Egypt?
As Adel Darwish indicates in his story on page 16, conspiracy theories are rife as to who was behind the blasting of a hole in the border security fence and why they did it. But looking at the television footage of Palestinian men, women and children tumbling through to freedom, however transitory, with expressions of pure delight, it hardly mattered. For a few hours at least they were liberated. Cages are not for human beings and that it is what Gaza has become: a giant cage stuffed full of human life.
It is not difficult to understand the concern in Cairo. The Palestinians present a problem nobody wants to deal with and, as Darwish points out, the Egyptian government became anxious when young Gazans were photographed hoisting the Palestinian flag aloft in Egyptian territory.
Israel feared the opportunity would allow gun runners – who normally stick to the subterranean passages beneath the borderlands to ply their trade – much freer access to arms and ammunition. While there may well have been some of that, it was clear that washing powder, livestock and kitchen utensils took priority on the shopping lists of most Gazans living so long under the yoke of sanctions and Israeli oppression. For the vast majority of them it was an opportunity to stock up on flour, sugar and blankets to see them through the harsh winter months, not barter with Egyptian arms dealers.
But if some did choose to do just that, we should not be surprised. It is not to condone violence to understand why it happens. Like any thinking human being, I deplore the attacks that murder and mutilate members of both the Palestinian and the Israeli communities, but I also understand the fears and frustrations felt by both.
It seems to me that both sides are looking with mounting dissatisfaction towards an increasingly lame leadership. Last year Ehud Olmert survived three parliamentary “no confidence” votes over his handling of the Lebanon debacle and promised to do better. The Israeli electorate is still waiting for the pledged turnaround.
Fatah head and Palestinian National Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas is gradually slipping out of the global picture, his status as a senior statesman severely compromised by the split with Hamas.
From inside Gaza, reports of the brutal treatment of civilians by the Hamas-appointed authorities are being given increasing credence. No wonder the Palestinians leaping through that broken down wall for a little retail therapy were laughing, and no wonder the authorities in Cairo were worried they might not want to go back, who would?
The situation in Gaza is a shambles. Politicians have come and gone over the last 60 years, there have been deals, talks of deals, plans, schemes, programmes and initiatives, none of which have brought us much closer to a lasting solution. The latest proposed deal in this long line may have no more success but it is essential it is given the benefit of the doubt.
Speaking in Davos, Middle East envoy Tony Blair, warned that the continuing Qassam rocket attacks into Israel, which Hamas takes no responsibility for, but refuses to condemn, are the actions of a tiny minority that threaten to derail the entire peace process. For Hamas, keen to assure the international community it is able and ready to rule, dissuading these militant minorities should present no problem, yet still the attacks continue. “The situation is causing misery for ordinary people in Gaza and for once, I think we have to look at isolating the extremists and helping the Gazan people, rather than the other way around,” said Blair.
I don’t believe I have ever had cause to say this before: but this time, I agree with Blair and I hope that others out there are listening too.