World leaders are warning of the risk of a wider war in the Middle East as Israel’s assault on Gaza could spill over to other parts of the region. We speak to independent journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous about the negligible amount of aid that Israel is allowing to trickle into Gaza from the Rafah border crossing. He also discusses Egypt’s response to Israel’s attempts to ethnically cleanse Gaza by forcibly transferring the already-displaced Palestinian population into the Sinai. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s refusal thus far to comply with this Israeli directive has generated widespread support in his country and across the Arab world, but, Kouddous notes, it’s a stance that’s also rooted in economic self-interest.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Health officials in Gaza say Israel’s unrelenting bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory has killed another 700 people over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll over the past 18 days to more than 5,800 Palestinians. Among them, 2,000 children are dead. One-point-four million Gazans, more than half of the territory’s population, has been displaced. Many say there’s no safe place to be in Gaza right now. The World Health Organization is pleading for far more aid to be allowed into Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. We’re going to look now at Egypt’s response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and the negotiations over aid coming through Rafah.
We’re joined by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist working with the Egyptian news outlet Mada Masr. He won a George Polk Award for his Al Jazeera documentary, The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. His latest piece for The Guardian is headlined “Israel’s endgame is to push Palestinians into Egypt — and the west is cheering it on.”
Sharif, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about all that’s taking place right now around the Rafah border crossing? And explain who it’s controlled by, and explain what Israel is calling on Egypt to do.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Thank you, Amy.
I think, well, first of all, we have to understand Egypt is the only country other than Israel to share a border crossing with Gaza. And what we’ve seen since October 7th is a lot of negotiations around what’s going to happen at this border crossing. So, as it stands right now, Egypt has insisted on allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza and has allowed multiple countries to deliver aid to Arish in northern Sinai. Countries like Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, the UAE have delivered thousands of tons of humanitarian aid that are kind of idling in these trucks at the border.
So far, since Saturday, something like 75 or 80 trucks have been allowed in, about 20 trucks a day. After a lot of negotiations, 20 trucks a day are being allowed in by Israel into Gaza. And this is nowhere near enough. You know, according to humanitarian organizations, they’ve called it a drop in the ocean. And just to give you a sense, 20 trucks a day amounts to about 4% of an average day’s imports before October 7th, before 1.4 million people were displaced, before 15,000 people were injured, before close to 6,000 people were killed. So, you know, the U.N. is saying that hundreds of trucks a day are needed. And on top of that, Israel has placed heavy restrictions on even that minuscule aid that’s coming in.
Well, firstly, Israel has bombed the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing four times since October 7th, even one time slamming into Egyptian territory at the border. But the aid, when it comes in, it travels to the Ouga-Nitzana border crossing with Israel, where it’s first inspected by Israeli authorities, and then it eventually gets into — goes back to the Rafah border crossing and goes into Gaza. This is a process that takes many hours.
But I think we have to understand that there’s two issues that really stand out on the restrictions. First of all, all deliveries of aid to northern Gaza are prohibited. So, none of this minuscule, even this like paltry amount of aid is getting to northern Gaza. You know, hundreds of thousands have evacuated from northern Gaza after Israel warned people to leave, but there’s still hundreds of thousands that remain. And just to give you a sense, the biggest hospital in Gaza is in Gaza city, Shifa Hospital. This is a hospital that usually, in normal times, has a capacity of about 700 patients. It’s currently overwhelmed with 5,000 patients. And you have something like 45,000 displaced people gathered in and around the hospital grounds seeking shelter. That’s according to the U.N. And none of the aid that’s coming in is getting to them.
But secondly, and very importantly, the aid that is coming in, none of it includes any fuel. Fuel is not being allowed to enter. And fuel is just absolutely crucial for so many things, perhaps most importantly for electricity to run generators. And without fuel, life-saving medical equipment, like incubators, ventilators, won’t work. And so this spells a death sentence for babies in neonatal wards and things like this. So, one official has called it, you know, that the aid coming in is more of a diplomatic symbol rather than actual meeting any humanitarian needs. But we have to see where this is going.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sharif, I wanted to ask you: First of all, on the water situation, is all water still cut off by the Israelis? And secondly, isn’t the whole issue of Israel urging people to leave Gaza through Egypt a clear sample of ethnic cleansing? After all, Israel has many entrances on its side of the Gaza Strip, where it could allow women and children to come out of northern Gaza, possibly even bus them into the West Bank. But they’re clearly trying to get rid of the Palestinians, as many as possible, from their occupied territories.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Yeah, I mean, this is — I mean, first of all, on the issue of water, people have talked about there’s a real risk of dehydration to death. People are drinking now dirty water. The aid that’s coming in is not enough. You know, the first day, it provided water for about 22,000 people for a few hours, and we’re talking about a place which has 2.3 million people. And no water has been allowed in since October 7th. No aid at all has been allowed in, except for these small convoys. There has been a water pipeline that was — that is supposedly working near Khan Younis, but it’s not nearly providing enough.
And yes, this idea of — so, first of all, this order comes down from Israel — well, first of all, Netanyahu, when this all began on October 7th, took to the airwaves announcing a war against Hamas and telling people in Gaza to leave now, and saying — you know, he left unsaid where they’re supposed to go. But then there was this order to evacuate to the south: 1.1 million people were supposed to evacuate within 24 hours. And you see this kind of push towards the Egyptian border.
And from what we understand, reporting through Mada Masr, that Egyptian sources have told us that in those days in the beginning at least, there was a lot of pressure, and continuing, for Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing, to create a so-called humanitarian corridor and to allow for the forcible displacement of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza into northern Sinai, and that instead of the United States and other Western countries pressuring Israel for a ceasefire, pressuring Israel to allow in the necessary amount of aid, they have instead been pressuring Egypt to open the border and allow for this mass displacement, and have been offering economic incentives to Egypt to do so. We have to remember Egypt is undergoing a very severe economic crisis, with a massive amount of debt, with record-high inflation. And so, you know, there’s been talk of debt relief, of financial compensation, in order to allow for this kind of displacement.
Now, Egypt’s response has been kind of very staunch on this, actually. The president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has very publicly rejected this idea of having a form of ethnic cleansing and forced displacement and exile into Sinai. He has cited Egypt’s sovereignty in this. He has cited the Palestinian cause in all of this. He is even — you know, is drumming up and is riding a wave of public support for this, because Palestine, as we heard from Rami Khouri, is a touchstone issue for so many across the Arab world, for so many across the Global South. And this idea of what they call a second Nakba, a second catastrophe and a second mass displacement, is firmly rejected. So even Sisi called for protests on Friday, for people to take to the streets, and people did, in Cairo, in Alexandria and in other places, although some people carried on those protests into Tahrir, some were chanting revolutionary chants, and we haven’t seen that for many years. And actually, Egyptian authorities have arrested over a hundred people because of that. But, you know, I think many see Sisi’s stance as laudable, rejecting what is essentially an endorsement of a second Nakba.
But I think we have to remember that, you know, him citing the Palestinian cause really rings hollow. And we have to remember that Egypt, its concerns really are national security concerns, not wanting to have a mass population of Palestinians, who could launch attacks against Israel from northern Sinai, and not having to deal with a refugee crisis. Egypt, after all, has helped enforce the siege on Gaza for many years. It destroyed the tunnels that provided a lifeline to Gaza. It has allied with Israel in many different ways in security coordination. It has allowed Israel to conduct a covert air campaign, aerial bombing campaign in Sinai. And it also treats Palestinians coming in and out of Gaza, notoriously, with indignity. But so far, this idea of rejecting this kind of a mass exodus, I think a lot of people are supportive of that policy and, instead, trying to pressure Israel to allow humanitarian aid in.
AMY GOODMAN: Ultimately, Sharif, is it Israel, is it Hamas, is it Egypt, who is preventing that aid? As you said, we’re seeing dozens of trucks now, after weeks of not having anything, when in fact they’re talking about the need is something like 400 to 500 trucks a day. And also, when it comes to what happened this weekend in Cairo, the so-called peace summit of Arab leaders, what did they come up with?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, the peace summit didn’t actually come up with anything. There wasn’t a joint statement that was signed. Sisi and King Abdullah and others repeated condemnations of Israel’s bombing, of Israel’s siege on Gaza, and Sisi again rejected this idea of a mass displacement to Sinai. And I think, you know, we have to also understand that this idea of resettling Palestinians in Gaza to Sinai is not a new one. It’s actually an old colonial fantasy. There has been numerous plans by Israel and others of this idea of resettling the Palestinians in Gaza, who 80% of which are refugees, by the way, who are refugees from 1948, of resettling them again into Egypt. In the mid-1950s, the U.N. devised a plan for this kind of mass resettlement, and it was met with popular outrage in Gaza —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: — and kind of crushed in a popular uprising. So, I mean, these kinds of plans are long-standing, and there’s a real fear that they will be realized. But for now, we have to see Egypt is rejecting it, but Israel is creating a situation where life is becoming unlivable in Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist working with the Egyptian news outlet Mada Masr, produced the award-winning documentary, The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, about the Palestinian American journalist. We will link to your piece in The Guardian. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks for joining us.
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