Arabs Root for Gazans, Fear Repercussions of Attacks

From streets to palaces, Arabs worry about Gaza's impact on the Middle East.

December 30, 2008, 1:39 PM

JERUSALEM, Dec. 30, 2008 — -- The Israeli assault on Gaza, which has so far resulted in the death of at least 350 Palestinians, is a "massacre" that has "the Arab world boiling," according to Arab journalists, who say the eventual cost to Israel could be great.

The reverberations of the assault, seen not only in the Arab streets and media, were today also felt in Arab royal palaces as well.

In a rare display of emotion, Jordan's Queen Rania, who is of Palestinian origin, wrote in the Alrai daily Jordanian newspaper: "There is nothing to be said ... and words cannot help any of us here. This is how I felt in the recent days. We are human beings. Today stones and trees are crying and the silence. How can we all not cry! After the silence comes the anger. Anger against oneself for its defeat, because we all can do more in unleashing our voice and opinions and hands to help the infants, the mothers and the elderly, the nation [the Palestinians] whose will is a source of inspiration for all of us. A nation struggling for its right to live its life."

She continued: "To limit oneself to expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza is a disgrace, because they do not need our sympathy. We have to prove to Gaza and its people that we are their brethren and that we are with them."

The Israeli offensive in Gaza and its disastrous aftermath have provoked harsh reactions in the media throughout the Arab world.

Ghassan Chirbel, a veteran Lebanese journalist wrote in Al Hayat newspaper: "As this year of sad collapses nears its end, Israel has offered the world a massacre in Gaza. An unusual one of the type that opens the doors of hell and portends further spates of violence. A crime that stirs up the feelings of anger, hatred, and revenge stemming from the legitimate right of self-defense. A massacre that pumps unusual tension into the veins of the Arab and Islamic world."

The Jordan Times' main editorial today tackled the effects the Israeli assaults on Gaza could have on the future of the peace talks between the Arabs and Israel.

"Having inflamed the spirits in the Arab and Muslim worlds, especially of Palestinians in the West Bank, the latter's opinion, which is crucial for the development of peace talks, is pushed to shift toward Hamas, which, therefore, is bound to emerge as the principal beneficiary of the recent escalation," the paper's editorial said.

"Israeli strategic planners should have calculated better the consequences of their state's actions against Gaza. The cost of the Israeli attacks is great for all parties, but it will not spare Israel," the editorial said. "Through its aggression on the impoverished strip, Israel is going to reap much more than it bargained for."

Abdel Bari Atwan of Al Quds Al Arabi wrote about the massive Arab street demonstrations against Israel.

"[Israeli Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni promised to change the situation on the ground in Gaza in a dramatic way, but four days after these massacres the change that will happen will not be in Gaza but in the whole Arab region," he wrote. "The Arab region is boiling and the awakening has been spreading from Mauritania to the Arab Gulf. The steadfastness of Gaza has unified all Arabs and Muslims. The Arab people forgot their domestic concerns and daily suffering under corrupt regimes. They have taken to the streets to express their anger. Neither Livni nor her Arab allies have planned for this."

The assault on Gaza has not only revealed strong feelings in the Arab street but also strong divisions among the Arab governments.

Many in the Arab world believe that the situation in Gaza is being used by some Arab regimes for their private agendas against other Arab countries in the region. Since the beginning of the Israeli offensive, there has been an escalation in tone against the Egyptian regime, both by Hamas and by the Lebanese group Hizbollah, as well as by some Arab media outlets.

This criticism, which many observers see as unfair and harsh, has moved very quickly to the Arab streets, with protestors condemning the Egyptian government for what they say is a complicity in the Israeli assaults. Furious demonstrators called on the Egyptian government to open the Rafah border and to expel the Israeli ambassador to Cairo and to cut all diplomatic ties with Israel.

For the fourth day in a row, Egypt has come under fierce criticism from Hamas, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and other Arab countries for not opening its border with Gaza to allow medicine and medical equipment to pass through.

The Rafah crossing is the only remaining gate between the Gaza Strip and the outer world, as the Israeli army has closed all the other crossings. Under this growing pressure, Egypt opened the border with Gaza Monday, allowing trucks carrying tents and blankets to get through to help those who had lost their homes in the fighting.

While there is great sympathy for the Gazans, with many in the Arab media condemning the Israeli assaults in the harshest possible terms, they remain divided regarding Hamas' responsibility for the current situation in the Gaza Strip.

Jihad El Khazen, a veteran Arab journalist, described Hamas politics in Gaza as "suicidal."

"The result is what we have been seeing. The Palestinian president was right when he said that the rockets [fired against Israel from Gaza] are random ones, fireworks in comparison with Israel's arsenal. These rockets are used randomly, something that gives Israel the excuse it wants to use when it wants. Ismail Haniyeh [Hamas leader in Gaza] says no retreat, even if Israel wipes Gaza off. If Gaza is to be wiped off, he [Haniyeh] will not be able to back off because he will be in a hole under the ground. This is not politics but a suicide. Those in Hamas who want to commit a suicide are free to do so, but the Palestinians didn't elect someone who will bring them to a collective suicide."

In another article in the Saudi-owned, London-based Asharq Al Awsat, Ghasan Al Imam also criticized Hamas.

"Khaled Mashaal [a Hamas leader based in Damascus] holds direct responsibility for the disaster in Gaza," he wrote. "A few days ago he ordered his Hamas men in Gaza to stop the cease-fire with Israel."

Pointing out the Iranian influence on Hamas and its role in the region, Al Imam wrote, "Iran's instructions, which Khaled Mashaal executes, are orders," adding, "it is not bizarre that Iran, Syria and Hizbollah are leading an anti-Egypt campaign."

The ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza has not only been provoking strong reactions in the Arab world against Israel but also an unprecedented outrage against Arab regimes, which many Arabs today see as impotent and even complicit in the assaults on Gaza. Today many believe that the military assault on Gaza and its disastrous aftermath will soon have enormous repercussions on the stability of the whole region.

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