Young Egyptians seek to aid Palestinians

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Apr 26 11:16:32 MDT 2002

NY Times, April 26, 2002

Young Egyptians Hearing Call of 'Martyrdom'

EL SHEIK ZWAYED, Egypt, April 21 — One day recently, a 23-year-old Egyptian
man, Milad Mohammed Hemeida, strode past Egyptian guards near the border
with Israel, scattering them with a warning: "If anyone comes near me," he
said, "I will blow myself up."

Mr. Hemeida kept going, security officials said, straight into the narrow
no man's land that separates the two countries. From the other side,
Israeli soldiers ordered him to stop, then fired over his head. "God is
great!" Mr. Hemeida shouted back in Arabic.

One of the Israeli soldiers fired again, felling the young man with a
single shot.

Mr. Hemeida was not carrying any explosives, officials said. But since his
death the following day, he has been celebrated in Egypt as the first in a
new line of Arab martyrs to the Palestinian cause.

The specter is one that has long frightened officials in both Israel and
the Arab countries that surround it — of promising young Arabs, frustrated
by a lack of opportunity at home and infuriated by Israel's treatment of
the Palestinians, joining the fight in a way they have not done since 1948.

It is also a prospect that has suddenly become very real.

Egyptian officials have confirmed that half a dozen young men and women,
including Mr. Hemeida, have been stopped trying to sneak into Israel since
last week, apparently to carry out attacks. One Egyptian security official
said that since last month, the security forces have been arresting several
such young people each day.

In response, Egypt has tightened control of the border, carefully searching
young people at checkpoints well back from the international line. Last
Sunday, security officials outside this northern town turned back
journalists trying to reach the city of Rafah, on Egypt's seven-mile border
with the Gaza Strip, saying they could no longer visit without special
Interior Ministry permission.

"We are careful not to provoke anything," the Egyptian government's chief
spokesman, Nabil Osman, said, calling the border arrests isolated
incidents. "But the situation in the Palestinian territories is very

Yet unlike the Muslim partisans who flocked to wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia
and Chechnya, young Arabs have no easy path into Israel. Although Jordan,
Lebanon and Syria all have large Palestinian populations, Israeli officials
have reported only a few recent incursions from those countries, all of
them apparently by Palestinian militants.

The cry for leaders to "open the doors to jihad" in Israel has become a
standard of Arab street demonstrations. Despite the religious overtones of
such demands, the explosive response of young Arabs is largely rooted in
secular concerns.

"This is about a new culture emerging in the Arab world," said Mahdi F.
Abdul Hadi, a Palestinian political scientist and historian. "It is not
Islamist or pan-Arab; it has to do with a new sense of dignity among young
people in the Arab world who identify with the suffering of the Palestinians."


Louis Proyect
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