Waiting for Fadi
Though nothing links Palestinians in Gaza to the Rafah attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, their subsequent treatment -- by Egypt in particular -- smacked of collective punishment, concludes Saleh Al-Naami
His Facebook pages are still up and you can still watch his video uploads on several websites where Fadi Al-Hatu, 25, documented many moments in his life. Although Fadi was meticulous about updating his online pages, no updates were made in the last month because Fadi -- whose family lives in Al-Daraj district in northeast Gaza City -- was killed in a horrific road accident in Malaysia, where he was attending university. His car crashed into a rock on the side of the road and was completely destroyed.
The accident happened as Fadi was heading to the airport in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to meet his parents and three brothers who travelled from Gaza to spend two weeks in Malaysia as tourists. Members of his family had visited him earlier in summer and spent three weeks with him, and since they enjoyed the visit so much they decided to go back again.
When Fadi was late meeting them at the airport, his father Akram hailed a taxi to take the family to his son's apartment. When they arrived, they found out the terrible news; one of Fadi's colleagues told them that he is lying in hospital with severe injuries. By the time the family arrived at the hospital, the medical team that was trying to save his life pronounced him dead.
The family's plans for a relaxed and enjoyable visit were shattered. Instead of visiting the stunning tourist sites of Malaysia, Fadi's parents were busy with the process of transporting his body back to the Gaza Strip. Instead of spending the $20,000 Fadi's father had saved on the trip and his son's university fees, the family spent the money transferring the body home.
Fadi's corpse was embalmed in preparation for transporting it to Cairo and from there on to Gaza. After the technicalities were taken care of, the family was delivered another blow. The Egyptian embassy in Kuala Lumpur refused to issue a visa to the family to return to Cairo because of the Rafah border attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. The Egyptian government decided to close the Rafah border crossing and prevented Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip from arriving at Egyptian airports.
The family despaired and found no other option but to bury their son in Kuala Lumpur. After the burial, the Egyptians partially reopened the border which allowed the parents and one of the brothers to return, while the other two sons remained in Malaysia out of concern their travel would be complicated. Once the family arrived at Cairo airport, Fadi's brother was detained by Egyptian authorities, but his parents were allowed to continue their journey onto Rafah.
After four days in detention in Egypt, the son was released and reached the Gaza Strip. A grief-stricken Akram Al-Hatu said that he paid around $17,000 in his attempt to return Fadi's body to Gaza, but without success. Through his tears and shaking hands, Al-Hatu swore that he would keep trying to bring back his beloved son's body to Gaza until his last breath. He added that he agreed to Fadi's proposal to study in Malaysia six years ago in the hope that after he graduates Fadi would help the family financially.
Al-Hatu denounced the manner in which Egyptian authorities deal with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, even after the revolution, stating that he is shocked at the level of disrespect. "Why don't Arab countries treat us as they do other foreigners?" he asked.
Although the Egyptian government recently decided to reopen the Rafah border after it became apparent that Gaza did not have a role in the Rafah attack, thousands of Gazans were subjected to the same callous treatment as Al-Hatu family when EgyptAir refused to allow Gazans to come to Cairo under the pretext that the Rafah border is closed.
Naji Al-Dahudi, a physics professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, was leading a Palestinian academic delegation on a work visit to the German city of Frankfurt. At the end of the trip, the group went to the airport but was surprised to find that they could not take the flight to Cairo on their way home because the Egyptian authorities had issued strict orders. "I want to scream in the face of all Palestinian officials that we cannot remain silent about these continuous insults and systematic indignity," Al-Dahudi said while still in limbo. "Collective punishment is obviously not the policy of Israeli occupation alone, but everyone -- including Arabs and Muslims -- who chose to deal with us in the same way."
Despite all this, Gazans are a little optimistic after Egypt reopened the border crossing. Maher Abu Sabha, director-general of crossing points and borders, said that the border crossing opens at 10am until 6pm and that 1,312 travellers left the Gaza Strip on Saturday, the first day the crossing opened for normal hours. Abu Sabha revealed that most of those who left are residents of other countries or have foreign passports, along with the sick and students who are pursuing higher degrees abroad. He added that the Ministry of Interior also reopened its offices to receive applications from thousands who want to travel.
Salah Al-Bardaweel, a leading Hamas figure, said that a security team from the Gaza Strip left Rafah to assist Egyptian security agencies investigating the Sinai attack, and that a joint Hamas-Egypt security committee was formed to track down the perpetrators of the Rafah incident and bring them to justice. Al-Bardaweel added that forming a joint committee does not imply that Palestinians were involved in the attack, but is part of cooperation between the two sides to guarantee security on the Egyptian-Palestinian border.
He noted that the party that benefits the most from the attack is Israel, and accused it of helping to plan the attack or knowing ahead of time that it would take place. As evidence of his theory, he cited the fact that Israel evacuated all Israeli tourists from Sinai and made a sweep of the border prior to the attack. "The Israeli enemy did not like warm relations between the Palestinians and Egyptians, and wanted to spoil them by backing this crime directly or indirectly," asserted to Al-Bardaweel.
He revealed that after the attack, contact was immediately made with the Egyptians to state Hamas's condemnation of the crime, and the Gaza government quickly closed down the border region and tunnels, and dealt with the closure of the Rafah border crossing.
Sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that security agencies in the Gaza Strip are currently briefing Egyptian security counterparts about their experience in combating jihadist Salafist groups, to assist the Egyptians in fighting extremist groups operating in Sinai. Informed Palestinian sources said that this step is part of recent growing cooperation between the respective security agencies. Other forms of cooperation include the willingness of Gaza security agencies to share with Egyptian authorities the results of three years investigating the leaders and activists of jihadist Salafist groups, some of who entered the Gaza Strip illegally.
The Gaza government's security agencies struck against jihadist Salafist groups after leader Abdel-Azim Moussa declared the establishment of an Islamic emirate three years ago in Rafah. Gaza security forces responded with a military confrontation that killed senior leaders of these groups.
A senior Egyptian security source denied that Egypt asked the Hamas government to hand over three Salafist Palestinians who are suspected in the Rafah attack. The independent Palestinian news agency SAMA and the German news agency quoted a source saying that these reports are baseless, because until now the exact identities of the attackers are unknown and Hamas was not asked to hand over any Palestinians so far. The source added that the identities of all conspirators would be revealed later, as Egyptian Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi promised during a recent visit to Sinai.
Palestinians in Gaza hope that when tragedy strikes -- as was the case with Al-Hatu family that still await the repatriation of Fadi's body -- their treatment by Arab countries, including Egypt, will not compound their misery.