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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 30th, 2008 - 01:18:29

Gaza's people cry out for freedom
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 30, 2008, 01:16

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On a human level, scenes of hungry families breaking free from their besieged open-air prison elicit an emotional response. My own was one of relief mixed with gratitude towards members of the Egyptian security services, who refrained from a shoot-to-kill policy even when faced with intense provocation.

But on an intellectual level, I realise my gratitude is misplaced. The hundreds of thousands who rushed joyously across that border weren't criminals or terrorists. They weren't out to harm anyone. All they wanted was meat, flour, biscuits, petrol, generators and medicines. Their gunning down would have been a crime against humanity.

The fact is everyone on this Earth has -- or should have -- an absolute right to safety, food, medicines, fuel and freedom of movement. Most of us take these rights for granted. We expect to find our favourite brand of toothpaste in our supermarkets.

We know that when we flick a switch the lights come on. When we fall sick we are confident that our hospitals have every facility at hand to treat us. And when we feel like a break, we head to the airport.

Being human all too human, we still moan and groan about inefficiencies in the system, traffic jams and weather, but imagine being trapped in a place where there are shortages of such staples as bread; where the nights are pitch black and cold; where pharmacy shelves stand empty and where premature babies die because lifeless incubators have become graves. Then we'd really have something to gripe about.

Imagine having to listen to your children cry from hunger or fear as they hear the sound of foreign fighter jets or missiles overhead and wonder whether this night they will become their target. Even worse, imagine there is nowhere to hide; nowhere to run; no escape.

The people of Gaza are being treated worse than animals in most zoos; they at least get fed, watered and treated for ailments. And what exactly is their crime?

Ah, yes! A few among them make homemade rockets, which they lob in the direction of Israel where most splutter on sand. And for that, some one million men, women, children and babies are deliberately punished day upon day, year upon year.

They've done nothing wrong. So is it any wonder these desperate people chose to face unknown dangers by knocking down the walls of their prison? They faced down the tanks, the guns of the riot police and the water cannon and for a few brief moments, they took back their inalienable rights as members of the human race.

US President George W. Bush and his pal, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, love to lecture this part of the world on democracy and freedom, as though they own freedom's exclusive patent.

Yet, they, more than anyone else are responsible for the Palestinian plight. Even as I write, they are exerting maximum pressure on the Egyptian government to brick up these people; to bury them alive. They love to laud freedom but their actions are freedom's antithesis.

But Bush and Olmert aren't the only ones to blame. Where are the voices of Arab leaders? Where is the outrage from the Muslim world? Where is the condemnation from the international community?

Sure, there's been a few mealy-mouthed expressions of sympathy carefully designed not to offend Israel, even though its war of attrition is contrary to international laws and conventions?

Some pundits are saying the exercise has signified a win for Hamas, which is threatening a future repeat performance; this time into Israel proper.

Others are suggesting the flight into Egypt has played into Israel's hands. They say Israel would like nothing more than to be able to fob Gaza off onto Egypt, which it can then hold responsible the next time it is attacked.

In the meantime, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to forge a deal with Egypt to allow Fatah joint control of the crossing, while studiously ignoring olive branches from Hamas.

No real winners

It seems to me that every side is vying to use this incident to their own political advantage, when, in fact, there are no real winners here. Egypt is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't seal the border.

Israel's cruel scheme to undermine Hamas has backfired, while Hamas and Fatah are still squabbling over power when they should be united against a common enemy.

What happened last week should be taken as a wake-up call for all. Enough procrastinating! Gaza is a human pressure cooker and the more pressure is applied, the more likely it will explode. This time a blood bath was averted. Next time we may not be so lucky.

Unless the Arab world is willing to stand back while the streets of Rafah run with Palestinian and Egyptian blood in the name of Israel's security, its leaders must use all the political clout at their disposal to set their people free once and for all.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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