Biblical Abraham was the common ancestor of both Arabs and Jews. Genesis 22 records a momentous event, when Abraham demonstrated his absolute loyalty and trust for God; it's celebrated by Arab and Jew alike (although they differ on whether the child involved was Ishmael or Isaac).
Verses 16-17 relate directly to explosive events unfolding in Israel today: "By Myself I have sworn, says the L ord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies."
A few decades later, when the son of Abraham was taking a wife, her relatives pronounced this unusual-sounding blessing on her: "Our sister, may you become the mother of thousands of ten thousands; and may your descendants possess the gates of those who hate them" (Genesis 24:60 Genesis 24:60And they blessed Rebekah, and said to her, You are our sister, be you the mother of thousands of millions, and let your seed possess the gate of those which hate them.
American King James Version×).
A "gate" in this context is symbolic of a choke point, a pivotal passageway, one that controls entrance and exit from the nation. If a nation controlled the "gates" of its enemies, it could defend against attacks.
The "gates" are today's "crossings"
Today in Israel, a term for these gates is crossings. When the political arm of the terrorist group Hamas took power in Gaza in 2005, Israel sealed all crossings going to and from this narrow strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs.
One of these has been in the news all year—the crossing at Rafah, located in the southeast corner of the Gaza Strip. Rafah is Gaza's main gateway to the outside world, since Gaza has no seaport or airport.
You can pull up a satellite view of it on Internet map programs and witness a sprawling city of 200,000 on the Israeli side of the border and a much smaller city of 40,000 on the Egyptian side. You can even see the wall that Hamas breached in late January this year.
Until 1982, Rafah was one city. It was divided into two as part of the Camp David Peace Accord. But instead of guaranteeing peace for the families and friends living in Rafah, it ended up dividing them. Initially, they traversed the border with relative ease, but mounting violence within Gaza by the late 1980s and early '90s changed that and the border tightened.
By 2000, Gaza's Rafah was one of the region's most violent cities, and the Israelis constructed the present wall (destroying a swath of homes to open up enough land to do so). And when Hamas took power, the Rafah crossing was almost completely closed.
Terrorists and thieves continue to cross the border through a network of tunnels to smuggle arms and other contraband. But the average citizen is unable to go back and forth easily if at all; many haven't seen relatives or friends for years.
When Hamas broke open the border in January, one Gazan resident of Rafah told of reuniting with his six siblings after an 11-year separation, as well as of visiting his father's grave in Egypt's Rafah for the first time. The man wasn't permitted to cross to attend his father's funeral at the time (Ibrahim Barzak and Omar Sinan, "Border Town United by Gaza Border Breach," AP, Jan. 26, 2008).
Among the first to cross was Naimeh Bayah, a wheelchair-bound mother, traveling from Jabaliya refugee camp to Egypt for surgery. A 52-year-old woman from central Gaza came to Egypt to buy the cement she needed to construct a proper Muslim grave for her son who had been killed in fighting between Hamas and Fatah. (Cement is but one of countless essentials in short supply in Gaza.)
Another Gazan on crutches slipped and fell in front of TV cameras, knocked down by the press of bodies rushing to get through the breaches in the wall between the two Rafahs.
Eighty percent of Gazans must rely on international charity for food. They poured into Egypt for nearly everything imaginable, including cows, camels, electronics, fertilizer, building materials and medicine.
But compelling as they are, these stories give only part of the picture.
Breaching the wall at Rafah far from spontaneous
The Egyptian government believes that Hamas conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood (an Egyptian-based terrorist group and the parent organization of Hamas) to breach the wall at Rafah. An editorial in the Middle East Times cast doubt on the suggestion that anything about it was spontaneous.
"Hamas knew that Egyptian troops guarding the Rafah border crossing would not fire on fellow Arabs and Muslims. Had they done so, the results would have reverberated across the Muslim world" ("Gazans' March on Israeli Border," Feb. 25, 2008).
The word conspired may seem inappropriate in light of how Hamas' action was portrayed in the Western media and even more so in the Arab press. Blasting and bulldozing holes in the border wall was described in heroic terms, including, "The greatest jail breakout in history."
However, the reason that Israel closed the Gaza Strip crossings is the continuing terrorist acts upon Israel by Hamas and various other Arab terrorist cells. Hamas hardly should receive praise for pulling people from a burning building that Hamas itself set on fire!
That seems lost on throngs who poured through the 15 holes Hamas blasted through the wall at Rafah. Estimates run as high as several hundred thousand people, or nearly half of the entire population of the Gaza Strip! Hamas gunmen are thus both the liberators of the Gazans and also the cause of their captivity.
"The intifada of the crossings"
The crossing at Rafah is under a strange security arrangement. Supposedly, the control of it passed from the hands of the Israelis after 40 years in November 2005.
At that time, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the new crossing "is intended to give the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives," adding, "for the first time since 1967, Palestinians will gain control over entry and exit from their territory" (David Morrison, "How the EU Helps Israel to Strangle Gaza," The Electronic Intifada, Feb. 14, 2008).
In reality, it's a mess and far from Palestinian control. The Palestinian Authority has only a token force of police at Rafah. Egypt, by treaty can have only a small military contingent on the border. The entire operation is under the supervision of the EU, which also garrisons a small military contingent at Rafah.
However, even though the Israeli Defense Force no longer guards the crossing, the treaty stipulates that Israel must have personnel monitoring TV cameras posted at the crossing—or the EU won't open it! So, to shut the border, all Israel has to do is not make anyone available to watch the TV monitors! As silly as that might sound, it effectively leaves the power to close the crossing in the hands of the Israelis.
And for the present, Israel still possesses this gate of its enemies (the terrorists within the Palestinians).
Roni Shaked wrote in an opinion piece for Ynetnews.com, "The battle of the crossings, launched several months ago [the Rafah 'breakout' being part of it], took a great leap forward Thursday [May 22, 2008]. Hamas leaders, disappointed with the failure to bring about a ceasefire and remove the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, are encouraging the ongoing activity against the crossings and are trying to instigate a third intifada—the intifada of the crossings" ("Thursday's Truck Bomb Part of Hamas' Attempt to Force Israel to Lift Seize on Gaza," May 24, 2008, emphasis added).
So, it's war on the crossings, on "the gates" spoken of in the ancient Scripture, showing that the Bible is remarkably relevant to this perennially peaceless land.
The breaching of Rafah's wall was part of a strategic effort by Hamas, calculated to bring international pressure on Israel to open all the crossings. In late May, Hamas demanded that Israel open Rafah immediately or that Egypt step in to take over. Hamas believes that Egypt can't openly resist such pressure, lest it seem to be against fellow Arab Muslims.
However, Egypt has good reason to resist, because it is afraid of Hamas. How could that be, when Egypt has more than 50 times the population of Gaza and 2,800 times the landmass?
A Hamas-Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy against Egypt
Bret Stephens, a reporter for The Australian wrote in January: "Egypt—not Israel—is the country that has the most to fear from a statelet that is at once the toehold, the sanctuary and the springboard of the Islamist revolution" ("The Gaza Breakout," The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29, 2008).
Stephens noted that Egypt's reaction to the Gaza breach was "near hysterical." Hamas' parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, launched approximately 70 demonstrations of support in Egypt simultaneously with Hamas' blasting open the border.
Stephens called the Hamas plan "a masterstroke." Breaching the wall was technically an act of war against Egypt, but Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood masterfully presented it as a humanitarian crisis and a bid for freedom. Because of the abundant publicity gained by Hamas in framing the crisis as precipitated by "cruel Israeli policies," Egypt would have great difficulty turning Gazans away.
Internal politics in Egypt put the government in a precarious position. The Muslim Brotherhood has a political foothold there, as well as continuing to sponsor terrorism. With the help of Hamas and the international publicity over the Rafah crossing, the Muslim Brotherhood has a real chance of seizing control of Egypt, making it an Islamic state.
The octogenarian Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has groomed his son to succeed him in the presidency, but the younger Mubarak has no military experience in a country where the generals have a great deal to say about who will lead the nation.
Only the beginning of trouble at the crossings of Israel
So, the intifada of the crossings is on. For its part, Israel recently announced plans to build yet another wall at Rafah within the next 18 months; it will be as large as the wall Israel has been building in the West Bank!
God warned Israel of old that should it fail to live by His laws, He would allow Israel's enemies to "besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down throughout all your land"; that "your enemy shall distress you at all your gates" (Deuteronomy 28:52 Deuteronomy 28:52And he shall besiege you in all your gates, until your high and fenced walls come down, wherein you trusted, throughout all your land: and he shall besiege you in all your gates throughout all your land, which the LORD your God has given you.
American King James Version×, 55).
Like its brother and great ally, the United States, the nation of Israel today is a generous and prosperous nation. Yet these descendants of the people to whom Deuteronomy was written break the laws of God in countless ways. Although they are both powerful nations still, the handwriting is on the wall for trouble "at the gates."