August 11, 2012
Terror Activity in Sinai Shifts Alliances
Unidentified terrorists attacked military barracks near Rafah, Egypt in the Sinai killing at least 16 Egyptian police officers on Sunday, August 5. The gunmen then seized two military vehicles and attempted to storm the Israeli border. One vehicle exploded after hitting an evacuated Israeli border post and Israeli aircraft fired on the other. Some of the perpetrators evaded arrest and remain at large.
The attack spurred tension in the region as Egyptian and Israeli authorities work to uncover who is responsible and how to avoid these attacks in the future. So far, both countries believe the militants came from Gaza through one of hundreds of smuggling tunnels between the enclave and Egypt. This allegation comes at an unfortunate time for Hamas leaders in control of the strip as they try to forge a closer partnership with Egypt, which recently elected Muhammad Morsi, a president from the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas officials deny that a Palestinian faction had a part in the attack and they shut down the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt to stop infiltrators.
There are jihadis in Gaza, possibly inspired by Al-Qaeda, who want to destabilize Hamas rule and take power. Since Hamas is officially in charge of Gaza, any attack emanating from there is a black eye for the group and will surely hurt the economy since food, fuel and construction materials were smuggled in through the now shut-down tunnels.
Some caution against placing sole blame on Hamas. Dan Murphy from the Christian Science Monitor writes, “Judging by the history of attacks, Egyptians will almost certainly have been involved as well.” The Sinai has long been a launching ground for terrorist activity. The tunnels have increased the flow of weapons between Egypt and Gaza as the Egyptian government largely turned a blind eye. Officially, Egypt enforces a restriction of people and materials from the Rafah border crossing.
Israel is now allowing Egypt to increase security on the Sinai Peninsula. The area was largely demilitarized after the 1979 peace treaty between the countries.
+972 Magazine writer Roi Maor connected the attacks to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. He writes, “The distress created by these restrictions has led to the rise of an immense smuggling industry, mainly with the Sinai Peninsula, heavily reliant on its Bedouin population…Sinai, increasingly flooded by criminal activity and weapons… has become a magnet for terrorist organizations, both Palestinian and those affiliated with global jihad.” He concludes, “This latest attack is also another reminder of the dangerous regional spillover effects from policies on the Palestinian issue in general, and Gaza in particular.”
After Mitt Romney made a comment in Jerusalem about culture being a factor in the economic success in Israel compared to the Palestinians, several Palestinians are pushing back. Most notably is Zahi Khouri, a Palestinian-American businessman who wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post that begins, “I am a proud American. I am a hardworking businessman and job creator. I am a faithful Christian. And I am Palestinian.”
He continues, “Palestinian culture, with its premium on education and hard work, has been a force for hope, development and prosperity… Palestinian development of all kinds is severely hindered by the Israeli occupation. Yet Palestinians have not given up. Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the Arab world. Our youth continue to graduate from our universities, opening businesses and gaining skills… If Romney had any historical perspective, he would dispose of his racist judgments about Palestinian culture and instead imagine our potential without Israel’s imposed hindrances.”
The Israeli army is planning to evict 12 shepherd communities south of Hebron in the West Bank in order to designate the area as a closed military zone. The Israeli Attorney General submitted a document to the Supreme Court that justifies the evictions which says that Palestinian residents that remain in the area could, “collect intelligence [of] IDF training methods or gather weapons that the forces leave behind for purposes of terrorist activity.”
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad met with some of the villagers who will be affected by the evictions on Wednesday, August 8 and said, “This measure is aimed at evacuating the Palestinians from their land…As a matter of principle, this is not Israeli land. If they want to practice military training, they should go elsewhere." The Israeli army asked the Supreme Court to approve the evictions, allowing the residents to be transferred to the nearby village of Yatta.
Earlier this month, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory released a report detailing the impact of the “firing zones” declared by the Israeli military. The organization estimates that 18 percent of the West Bank has been designated as a closed military zone. Since 2010, 820 Palestinian civilians have been displaced due to the firing zones.
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.