Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah crossing to people raised great apprehension in Israel, as expected. The immediate concern is that the opening of the crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt will allow Hamas and other groups to bring in an unlimited supply of weapons.
Ostensibly, that’s a persuasive claim, though four years of closure haven’t prevented the passage of weapons into Gaza or the manufacture of missiles there, nor have they prevented terror attacks on Israel. Reports by defense officials that Hamas has amassed large quantities of advanced missiles are proof of that. Meanwhile, Cairo has hastened to make clear that goods will not be allowed through the crossing, and it may be assumed that Egypt is not encouraging the stockpiling of weapons in Gaza.
Along with security concerns, Israel’s fury seems to stem from the fact that the opening of the crossing scuttles its vengeful and cruel closure policy. That policy did nothing at all to free captured soldier Gilad Shalit, nor has it encouraged a Palestinian uprising against Hamas, as Israel had hoped. Rather, it has turned Gaza into the world’s biggest prison, led to terrible human tragedies and sowed deep desperation among the people.
That policy created the deep divide with Turkey and pulverized Israel’s image worldwide. Egypt’s cooperation with the closure created the false impression that Israel’s policy had Arab support. But Egyptian citizens frequently protested the closure, and the opening of the crossing reflects the new regime’s desire, if only temporarily, to draw a line between itself and the previous ruler, Hosni Mubarak, and to respond positively to the new wind blowing in Egyptian society.
The opening of the Rafah crossing is above all an important humanitarian gesture. As such, Israel should follow suit and open the crossings from the West Bank to Israel. The return of normal life to Gaza might encourage its citizens to put the brakes on terror. More importantly, the opening of the crossing will clearly show that Israel has decided to disengage from Gaza and abandon its all-but-direct occupation. But even without these strategic calculations, it’s the human aspect that should guide the Israeli government.