Gaza residents appeal to Cairo with 'love Egypt' rally
Crowds of Palestinians filled the Saraya public square in Gaza City on Saturday 5 August, with groups representing grassroots organisations, nationalist and Islamist political factions, non-governmental organizations, tribal associations and others - all gathered "in love" for neighbouring Egypt.
Speakers delivered enthusiastic speeches, declaring support and appreciation for Egypt and its army amid frequent attacks on the Egyptian Sinai peninsula - attacks that Cairo has blamed on smuggled weapons and explosives from Gaza and its Muslim Brotherhood-allied Hamas rulers.
Egyptian and Palestinian flags fluttered together in Gaza's dark sky. Street lighting here is rare, with continuing power outages across the embattled coastal territory. Crowds chanted slogans including "We sacrifice our souls and blood for Egypt", "Long live Egypt, long live the Egyptian army."
The Egyptian army has built a huge trench along the Sinai border with Gaza to prevent smuggling through tunnels ostensibly from, but also into, the blockaded strip. With Israel controlling land border crossings, patrolling the coastline and dominating the airspace, Gaza's economy had previously relied on goods - including smuggled food and medicines - brought in through the infamous tunnels.
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Organisers, "The Initiative by Palestinians loving Egypt", and the wider Egyptian community in Gaza, told The New Arab that this, their first festival, was established to send a message to the Egyptian public that the Palestinian people in Gaza were not themselves terrorists, and totally supported Egypt in its fight against militant groups in Sinai who have declared their allegiance to the Islamic State group.
"I would like to say that our activity for today is only meant to send out a message of support and solidarity with the brothers and sisters in Egypt, who are facing outrageous terrorism. Also, we want to show solidarity with the Egyptian army, who is fiercely battling such terrorism," Alaa-Eldin Ubaid, general coordinator of Palestinians Loving Egypt, told The New Arab.
Speaking to crowds from the stage, Zakariya Alagha, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, sent "warm greetings" to the Egyptian people and army, on behalf of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Kamal Atabateeby, an elderly Palestinian representing the Gaza tribes' association, spoke to The New Arab with great enthusiasm:
"I would say that we are very proud of the Egyptian people and Egyptian country. As a matter of fact, we Palestinians and Egyptians have been connected throughout history by means of kinship, as many families from Palestine have roots in Egypt and vice versa. Also, many Egyptians are married to Palestinians.
"We cannot forget that the Egyptian army has repeatedly fought for Palestine, back in 1948, through 1956 and 1967. Our warmest greetings go to both Egyptian people and army, right from this place."
Ordinary Gazans are desperate for the blockade to be lifted, and many saw the event as a chance to directly appeal to Cairo authorities to open the border.
Eman Abu Qainas, is one such ordinary Gaza resident, and a mother of six children.
"My husband and I have been separated for six months now, due to the closure of the Rafah crossing terminal," she told The New Arab.
"My husband is an Egyptian and I am a Palestinian - and I do believe that there is no problem between peoples. I would like to appeal to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi - may God protect him - to order the reopening of the Rafah crossing, so that I can rejoice with my family in Cairo."
|The rally saw a large turn-out of women and children [Hussam Addabaka]|
Other speakers included Ismail Redwan, a representative of the Gaza-based Islamic and national political factions, who told the crowd: "I would like to assert that the security and safety of Egypt are the same to us as ours. We have always believed that, in spite of what's going on currently in the nearby Sinai peninsula. Egypt has been supporting Gaza and recently Egypt has sent some shipments of scarce fuel. All due respect and love to nearby Egypt!"
Dr Suhair Abed, of the Egyptian community in Gaza, told The New Arab that the event would not be the last such gathering, and that future activities would help Palestinians and Egyptians to get closer to each other.
"There is no doubt that the Egyptian people love Palestine and Palestinians, and we are aware that the Egyptians are fully aware of facts about Palestine throughout history. I do not think that some negative images, drawn about Gaza by some local Egyptian media outlets, will have an influence on the Egyptian people's views," he said.
"Egypt and Palestine are strongly connected to each other. I doubt that such a strong bound between the two peoples, would be affected."
The Love Egypt initiative comes at a tough time for relations between Egypt and Gaza.
Much of Egypt's media, heavily influenced by state interests, has repeatedly accused Gaza's ruling Hamas movement of involvement in four years of violent unrest on the Sinai peninsula, particularly IS-inspired attacks on Egyptian security forces.
Over the past several months, Egyptian security chiefs have met with Hamas leaders in Cairo over ways to improve security on the Gaza-Egypt border. Hamas-led security personnel have been beefed up along the frontier, while a 15 kilometre-long, 100 metre-wide buffer zone has been set up on the Egyptian side of the border - displacing hundreds of people from their homes near Rafah.
Rami alMeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari