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High-Profile Gaza Visitors Leave Hollow Mark

Leaders from the Islamic world have begun making their way to Gaza, but their visits do little to advance the Palestinian cause.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh drives a car as the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani sits next to him after a visit at the Islamic University in Gaza City October 23, 2012. The Emir of Qatar embraced the Hamas leadership of Gaza on Tuesday with an official visit that broke the isolation of the Palestinian Islamist movement, to the dismay of Israel and rival, Western-backed Palestinian leaders. REUTERS/Wissam Nassar/Pool (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR39HDC

It is easy to tell when a high-profile delegation is visiting Gaza. Flags of the delegation's home country are suddenly fluttering on the lampposts of Gaza's main roads, and billboards offer words and images of gratitude to the "honorable" guests coming to stand with their kinfolk in their struggle for liberation.

The past few months have witnessed a string of such visits, all of which marked the first of their kind since Hamas took power in June 2007. The Hamas government often brands these visits as "courageous" actions aimed at breaking the siege and isolation imposed on Gaza by Israel. Critics, however, see things differently.

Politicians traveling to Gaza do not experience the difficulties and endless bureaucracy like the people of Gaza and the solidarity activists and other foreigners when they try to enter or leave the coastal enclave. Politicians do not have to make the tedious six-hour trip from Cairo through the Sinai to the Rafah crossing. Instead, they simply board a plane that takes them from Cairo to the airport at al-Arish. In addition, they do not wait for hours on the Egyptian side of the crossing, hoping to get their passports stamped by Egyptian border officials, or face questioning and extraordinary treatment on their way out of the territory. For them, there is no siege to break, thus the "symbolism" of their doing so could not be more ridiculous.

While politically motivated visits are welcomed by the Hamas government in Gaza and facilitated by the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, delegations of intellectuals never receive such facilitation or reverence. Palestinians with foreign passports are also rarely allowed into Gaza. To do so, they must apply for permits from Egyptian authorities that take at least a month to be issued. Even Palestinians in the West Bank have to go through a similar procedure. They cannot cross into Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing despite Gaza being one hour from Ramallah.

High-profile visits to Gaza attract the attention of the international media, which appear to believe that the Rafah crossing is the only way "out" for the Palestinians trapped in Gaza. That Erez continues to be overlooked ignores the forced separation of Gaza and the West Bank by Israel and hides the real face of Israel's six-year siege. For example, students officially accepted at West Bank universities are typically denied permits to travel to the other part of the so-called Palestinian state to pursue a degree, and Christians wishing to fulfill religious duties in Jerusalem and Bethlehem continue to have their access to the holy places there restricted or denied.

The politicians who visit Gaza — typically politicians, monarchs, and religious leaders from majority-Muslim nations — do so more for themselves than for the Palestinians with whom they claim to stand in solidarity. These trips boost support for them back home — as happened with Egypt, Qatar, and Malaysia — and tamp down criticism of them by their people. It is safe to assume that the visit by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil during Israel's military assault in November 2012 was most likely the result of public pressure and criticism from the Egyptian people than Israel's actions, which claimed the lives of more than 170 people, the majority of whom were noncombatants.

The Palestinian people have watched politicians and government officials denounce and condemn for 65 years. It is obvious at this point that the liberation of Palestine cannot and will not be accomplished through the words of political figures in nice clothes and shiny shoes speaking from a podium.  

The money they provide Gaza is aimed at short-term "development," at best, and is politically motivated, at worst. Qatar, for instance, after years of deafening silence, suddenly awakened to its obligations toward its Palestinian brethren in Gaza. This surge of support, trumpeted by the arrival of Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in October 2012, is a bit odd given Qatar's unequivocal links with the United States, which refuses to deal with Hamas.

The truth is that the Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank clap for political money and ignore, if not denounce, the value of the intellect. While the bulk of the money they receive goes toward nongovernmental organizations and so-called development projects, the territories' libraries and bookstores remain in miserable shape as do their education systems.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which welcomed a visit by US President Barack Obama in March 2013, screams with outrage when a prominent political figure steps foot in Gaza. Such moves, it is said, only deepen the Palestinians' internal rift. PA officials, still clinging to the paradigm of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people — argue that these visits threaten its "legitimacy."

The increasing numbers of Arab governments recognizing Hamas have, nonetheless, never voiced opposition to the clinically dead peace process. In the latest example, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit Gaza in late May, and he claims to still see prospects for peace in a process that thus far has produced nothing but Israeli land grabs and spilled Palestinian blood. Erdogan will continue the never-ending practice of expressing support for Gaza while at the same time maintaining diplomatic and military relations with Israel.

Rana Baker is a student of business administration in Gaza. She writes for the Electronic Intifada. On Twitter: @RanaGaza

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