Gaza's forgotten misery: Trapped between Israel and Egypt

Gaza's forgotten misery: Trapped between Israel and Egypt
As problems overwhelm Gaza, the closure of the Rafah crossing is overlooked writes Arafat
5 min read
19 Apr, 2017
Many Palestinians remain stranded, unable to seek necessary healthcare [Arafat]

The world's largest open-air prison will not open soon to release its prisoners to the outside world.

The decade-long Israeli blockade has subjected Gaza's two million residents to an unprecedented level of suffering.

Gaza, under siege since 2006, finds difficulty after difficulty thrown at it, offering no sense of stability to the Palestinians living there. Electricity outage, polluted water, unemployment among youth and graduates, poverty and salary cuts are some of the many problems the coastal enclave faced recently. 

A new suffering that is almost unmentioned in the news is the Rafah crossing closure. Rafah is the only port between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Due to the sea and air closures, and the travel ban imposed by Israel on Palestinians, the Rafah crossing has become the main lifeline for Gazans to the outside world.

On November 15, 2005, just after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, Israel and the Palestinian National Authority implemented the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) that aimed to improve freedom of movement and economic activity within the Palestinian territories, and to open the Rafah crossing.

Since the agreement, there were approximately 40,000 travelers a month. This number dropped dramatically to 10,000 when Hamas captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

After Hamas seized power in the Strip from the PA in 2007, the crossing was closed for the majority of the time, opening for limited humanitarian cases and certain criteria. The criteria included students, patients, dual citizenship Palestinians and individuals who have foreign residency status or foreign visas.

Palestinians in the Strip dug underground tunnels to smuggle goods and to help some cross the Egyptian border between 2007 and 2013.

While the crossing was operational between 2011 and 2013, with thousands of Palestinians travelling through it every month, violence in the second half of 2013 and through 2014 led to the Egyptian government blaming attacks on militants with alleged connections to Gaza, and closing the crossing completely.

In 2014 the crossing was opened only 156 days.
In 2015, 21 days.
In 2016, 44 days.

At the time of writing this article, four months into 2017, the Rafah crossing has only been open 11 days.

The last time Egypt opened the crossing was at the start of March, when only a few hundred could leave the Strip towards Egypt and towards Cairo International Airport. Hundreds were also allowed entry into the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of lives are affected, and as tension continues in the political sphere between Palestinian parties on one hand, Palestinians and Israelis on the other and as Sinai’s internal violence continues to implode, no one knows when this problem will end.

Pregnant, abu-Hasna found herself stuck in Gaza when she came 7 months ago to visit her sick mother.

Hisham Odwan, the manager of the Rafah crossing from the Palestinian side, urged the Egyptian authorities to open the crossing permanently or at least periodically.

"There is no information that the crossing will open, but we will officially let the Palestinian travellers know if there is any."

Gazan travellers waiting for the crossing to open now exceed 16,000, most of whom are patients and students, according to the Palestinian Interior Ministry.

One of those suffering travellers is Maher Hajj Ahmed, who is in urgent need of heart surgery in Egypt. He has been waiting to travel for four months.

The 65-year-old, whose papers are complete, was unable to travel in March, the last time the crossing was opened, due to the tremendous number of travellers.

"I was ready to travel the last time, but I could not. They promised to allow me the next time, and until now, the crossing is not open… I am dying," Ahmed explained.

Huda Abu el-Ain's story is not that different from Ahmed's. Her 16-year-old son has a problem in his right eye that makes him in urgent need of an operation in Egypt after Israel refused to let him through the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel.

"I have got my son's papers ready last month, and we are ready to travel once the crossing is open."

Abu el-Ain son's condition will get worse if he does not get treatment as soon as possible.

Palestinians wait at Rafah Crossing [Arafat]

Reham abu-Hasna, has been trying to travel back to Dubai to her husband. Pregnant, abu-Hasna found herself stuck in Gaza when she came 7 months ago to visit her sick mother.

"I can't give birth while being far away from my husband. He is the father of my son, and he has to see him."

Students too are suffering from the closure of the crossing. Mohammed Kamel, a 25-year-old student, has been waiting for a year, scared that his second visa will expire soon.

"I was granted two scholarships to pursue my masters in the U.K, and Spain, but sadly I lost them since I could not travel on time. Now I got this one to Malaysia, and I hope I can travel soon before my visa expires," Kamel added.

Gazans do not know who holds responsibility over the crossing’s closure, whether Israel, Egypt or the Palestinian parties. They do however know one thing: their future is in danger and something must be done soon.

Mohammed Arafat holds a bachelor degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is preparing for a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies. Author of, Still Living There, a book documenting Gaza's last war and its aftermath.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.