Egyptian Chutzpah

I wonder how you spell chutzpah in Arabic? For years the Egyptian government railed against Israel for erecting a security fence in the West Bank. It protested the construction of this wall in the United Nations and in every other international body, usually employing the phrase “apartheid wall.”

But now, mirabile dictu, Egypt in building a wall of its own along the border of the Gaza Strip.  And, as one might guess, will not entertain any criticism of this project. The Israeli barrier was built to prevent suicide bombing and other terrorist activities against Israelis; by contrast, the Egyptian fence is designed to stop Palestinians living in Gaza from entering Egypt.

One might well ask why President Hosni Mubarak would want to keep his Arab brothers locked inside the poverty-stricken area of Gaza, among the most congested places on the globe. In fact, by keeping the border crossing into Egypt closed, Mubarak is sending the Palestinians to Israel for help. In the Byzantine world of Middle East politics Arab leaders want the Gaza Strip to remain an Israeli problem exclusively.

The irony, of course, is that the millions of dollars required to build the new fence could have been employed to build hospitals, schools and housing. Palestinians crossing the border generally do so in search of employment or to be reunited with families residing in Egypt. At the moment even medical and humanitarian aid cannot get through the Rafah border crossing and human rights activists are invariably stopped at the border as well.

Mubarak contends, with some legitimacy I might note, that Hamas’ presence in Gaza could be a destabilizing factor in Egypt if the border were porous, albeit Hamas poses a threat to Israel more formidable than its threat to Egypt. The stated Hamas goal is “liberate Palestine,” not occupy Egypt. Moreover, if Hamas was an existential threat to Egypt’s national security, why has Mubarak been negotiating with Hamas leaders for years and why has he been at the center of talks over reconciliation with Fatah?

Recognizing the potential embarrassment of this security fence, Egyptian leaders denied its existence, until photographs made such denials risible. The Egyptian fence is actually a ten kilometer underground metal barrier that will cost approximately $500 million. Whether it turns out to be a real barrier remains to be seen. Palestinians involved in the smuggling of contraband material are very adept at bypassing barriers. If anything, the Egyptian wall will probably escalate tensions in Gaza since it is the metaphorical cap on a boiling pot of soup.

Palestinians in this tiny strip of land suffer from Hamas terrorism, lack of jobs, lack of basic facilities, congestion, and a host of corrupt and misguided leaders. Nonetheless, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has defended Egypt’s right to build a separation wall. Here is the irony of ironies. It was the same Abbas who condemned Israel’s “Apartheid Wall” and urged the international community to tear it down.

In the Middle East wonders never cease. Lies are verbal instruments for manipulation. And as this event on the Gaza border suggests, it is not a matter of Israelis against Palestinians, but Arabs versus Palestinians.

The next time an Arab ambassador rises at the United Nations to criticize Israel, he should be reminded of the manifold ways Arabs contain, constrain and exploit fellow Arabs. If the term “apartheid” is used as a condemnation of Israel, it should be hurled back at Egyptians who sanctimoniously, engage in actions they once condemned. Hypocrisy thy name is Mubarak.