Skip to content Skip to footer

Egypt’s Sinai Construction Enables Israel’s Ethnic Cleansing in Gaza

Palestinians need a respite from Israel’s brutality, but mass displacement into the Sinai would be a catastrophe.

Maxar satellite imagery shows a view of the construction of a wall near the Rafah border crossing into Egypt on February 15, 2024.

Egypt is building a six-meter high wall in the Sinai near the Gaza Strip that is reportedly intended to close off an area of eight square kilometers to receive Palestinians from Gaza in the event of a mass exodus. While the construction implies a respite to the brutality of Israeli bombardment for Gazans, their mass displacement into the Sinai would be a human rights catastrophe.

Over the last four months, Israel has devastated Gaza claiming the lives of almost 29,000 people through bombardment and depriving its two-million-person population from access to food and medicine. Protests in Cairo and elsewhere have called on Egypt to open the Rafah crossing, the only border of Gaza not controlled directly by Israel. Egyptian authorities have long maintained the Israeli blockade of Gaza by closing the Rafah crossing more days than it was open, evicting and demolishing the homes and businesses of residents of the Sinai to create a “buffer zone,” and flooding tunnels that were a lifeline for Gaza’s residents.

Since October 7, a “woefully inadequate” amount of aid has been allowed to enter, and a limited number of exits have been authorized. People are desperately fundraising for the thousands of dollars in bribes demanded by Egyptian authorities to permit each person to cross.

It is without question that Gazans should, like all people in the world, have a right to safety from bombardment and freedom of mobility. The wall being built on the Egyptian border, however, promises neither.

News of the wall’s construction coincides with Netanyahu’s announcement of a ground offensive in Rafah, which currently hosts 1.1 million Palestinians who moved to this so-called “safe zone” after being given 24 hours to forcibly vacate Gaza’s north. On October 13, during the same 24 hours as this directive, a document was drafted by Israel’s Interior Ministry describing an ultimate plan to displace Gaza’s two million residents into the Egyptian Sinai.

At the time, Netanyahu downplayed the document as a hypothetical “concept paper.” Egyptian President Abdelfatah El-Sisi also vehemently denied that Egypt would comply with this strategy, while suggesting that Palestinians could instead be moved to the Negev desert “till the militants are dealt with.” All the while there were reports that this displacement to the Sinai was a topic of backroom diplomacy.

We cannot know if Egypt is building the encampment to prepare to temporarily host refugees in the event of a spontaneous storming of the border for which there is a precedent, or whether it intends to comply with yet another Zionist directive at the expense of Palestinian lives. What we do know is that the border is heavily fortified and monitored and has not been breached for over a decade.

We also know that the intentions and protests of Egyptian authorities matter little in the face of Israeli decisions. After all, Egypt is vehemently against the ground offensive in Rafah. It has increased its own military presence at the border, and is even threatening the (unlikely) action of suspending the Camp David Accords if Israel goes through with it.

Over the past four months, we have watched Israel systematically classify civilians unwilling or unable to vacate their homes, such as those who remained in Gaza’s North after the directive, as “terrorists” whose indiscriminate killing is substantiated. Were some people to evacuate to the Egyptian Sinai, to be held in a penned enclosure at the border zone, there is no guarantee that anyone left behind who refuses to leave, or is unable to, would be spared the same fate.

And while it is almost certain that Egypt, beleaguered with its own financial crisis and issues in the Sinai does not intend, nor have the capacity, to permanently accept displaced Palestinians, Israel has consistently and vehemently denied Palestinians the right of return. According to UNRWA there are at least 5.9 million Palestinian refugees globally, the descendants of those who were forced out of their homes between 1946 and 1948 through massacres and forced displacements at the hands of Zionist militias during what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba or “catastrophe.” In November, commenting on the forced displacement of Palestinians from Northern Gaza an Israeli minister was quoted boasting, “We’re rolling out Nakba 2023.”

When news of the “concept paper” suggesting the mass displacement of Palestinians was released, a spokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, stated that the displacement of Palestinians outside of Palestine is a “red line” continuing “what happened in 1948 will not be allowed to happen again.”

The architecture of the encampment being built in Egypt, its high concrete walls focused on towards containment, does not indicate the intention of a warm or welcoming reception. Displacement, which many of the residents of Gaza have experienced before in their lifetimes, is its own slow violence. The Sisi government has systematically denied Palestinian refugees in the country rights that his predecessor, deposed president Mohamed Morsi, afforded them, such as free education and healthcare. Despite spending decades in Egypt, or even being born in the country, they experience restrictions on work and aren’t afforded citizenship.

The stability of Egypt, too, may be in the balance. Despite high popularity in the years that followed his ascension to authority via a coup d’etat in 2013, it is reported that Egyptians are increasingly dissatisfied with President Abel-Fatah El Sisi, whose lavish spending on mega projects to keep the rank-and-file military and business elite happy has plunged the country into a severe economic crisis. Many are angered by Sisi’s perceived complicity in the sequester of Gaza and the unwillingness to challenge the Zionist state or break its blockade. Being seen as participating in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians would not be well received.

We are four months into a military campaign that is among the most destructive in recent history. It is one that has seen brutal violence directed at civilians, rendering Gaza the most unsafe place in the world for children. Governments globally, the Egyptian government included, must act immediately to ensure no more lives are lost. That not a single additional person is killed or displaced from their homes. That Palestinians will have a right to self-determination as they rebuild, one that can only be protected by an end to the occupation. None of these objectives are achieved by the mass displacement of Palestinians from Gaza into a concrete encampment in the Egyptian Sinai.