Not to be a buzzkill– but what Rafah opening does and doesn’t mean

on 8 Comments

The big story of the week has been the much-acclaimed re-opening of the torturous Rafah Crossing.  It had been operating intermittently, if at all, and for limited categories of people for more than 4 years now.  For what seemed like eternity, the Mubarak regime- الله لا يردهم -, colluding with the United States and Israel to keep Gaza closed, had “conditioned” the re-opening of the crossing on a Fateh-Hamas reconciliation agreement, the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and a return to the much-maligned US-brokered AMA (Agreement on Movement and Access),  in which European monitors and live-video streams acted as proxies for Israel, who ultimately retained control over the crossing. 

There were some dark, dark times over the course of those four miserable years, and beyond, during which I and tens of thousands of others were prevented from entering our own homes over and over again, during which we were beaten and detained, humiliated and abandoned, when I wondered how would it ever end? How on earth could we as Palestinians find a way out of even this smallest and seemingly inconsequential dimension of our struggle, Rafah, this sole gateway, this portal, in and out of tortured little Gaza? How could such a routine aspect of life, movement, have become so impossible, yet made to seem so threatening, its stifling designed to seem so ordinary and justified? And why could no understand we we were mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, lovers, students and teachers…and we were tired like ordinary human beings get tired, of this miserable, hell. How could the status quo finally change? I can honestly tell you the last thing I expected was for an epic overthrow of Mubarak.

But back to Rafah.  Not to be a buzzkill or anything, but I think its time to break down the facts here. It’s true that the crossing has been open on a more regular basis (6 days a week) and to a greater number of Gaza residents for visa-free travel (unless you happen to fall into the dreaded 18-40 “male security threat” age-range), and as anyone who has suffered long hours (or days or weeks or months) in the punishing heat or bone-numbing cold of this little corner of the world awaiting entry or exit can attest, this news should be celebrated.

But with access STILL limited to Palestinians in Israeli-controlled population registry, the so-called re-opening of Rafah Crossing is simply return to status quo of years past.   Only Palestinians listed in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian population registry, carrying an Israeli-approved Gaza ID card, or hawia, can use Rafah Crossing. And those who do cross are still subject to arbitrary security screenings and possible denial of entry-or exit.

Translation:  Palestinians from the West Bank or East Jerusalem-even those with hawiat, Palestinians in refugees camps outside the Occupied Palestinian territories, “Filisteeniyit il-dakhil” aka 1948 Palestinians, or Palestinians abroad, are all still not allowed passage to Gaza through Rafah. This includes Palestinian families where one spouse possesses an ID, but the other does not, such as my own family, OR internally displaced Palestinians who live in Gaza but whose IDs were never approved by Israeli authorities (who are not allowed to exit). They number in the tens of thousands.

Additionally, according to the NGO Gisha, the expansion does not appear to include passage of goods, which are restricted to the Israeli-controlled crossings and subject to prohibitions on construction materials and export.

It also warrants reminding that while one border has been open, Gaza remains under tight maritime and aerial siege, and continues to be closed off to the rest of the Occupied Palestinians territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinian’s cultural, economic, and academic capitals. Israel has a legal obligation to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, recognized as a single territorial unit.

In addition, the deadly buffer zone along Gaza’s coastal borders, which juts up to 2km inland, preventing farmer’s from accessing their farm land, 1/3 of which exists in this zone, is still in place.

The collective result: development, prosperity, and possibility are stifled, as aid dependence rises. We should be under no illusions to the contrary. Gaza is still occupied, is still besieged.

Should be be thankful Rafah’s closure has eased? Absolutely. Should we be complacent, or simply settle for what we have? Absolutely not.

For more, check out GISHA’s “Gaza cheat sheet“, which breaks down the facts and figures and helps you understand what’s really behind the siege.

This is a crosspost from Laila El-Haddad’s Gaza Mom site.

8 Responses

  1. Citizen
    May 31, 2011, 10:30 am

    Not to worry, Bibi told us Americans Israel was ready for “generous” concessions (if only he had a partner with which to negotitate peace).

  2. Walid
    May 31, 2011, 10:36 am

    “الله لا يردهم ”


    The Rafah opening while still better than no opening, it’s essentially bogus and intended to take the pressure off the Egyptian military. Mubarak is gone, but nothing has really changed and this became obvious when activists were prevented from entering the Sinai on Nakba Day and last week with the ship that was diverted; we’ll surely see the same restriction this coming Sunday.

  3. Potsherd2
    May 31, 2011, 10:44 am

    Still no cement.

  4. Susan Johnson
    May 31, 2011, 11:23 am

    It is an improvement. All Palestinians should be able to come and go freely…that will be a day to celebrate.
    Does anyone know if the new opening regulations includes internationals? Do they continue to have hoops to jump through between the embassy (US) and Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Relations (I think that’s the correct Egyptian agency) I’d like to return to Gaza if possible.

  5. Dr Gonzo
    May 31, 2011, 11:33 am

    I think this is a very narrow concept to look at events through. Fact is the opening of Rafah is just one of many moves that is taking place in Revolutionary Egypt. Another is the reconcilliation of Hamas and Fatah done with Egyptian help. Or the talk of rising the price of Natural Gas to Israel. All these moves while appearing small on there own amount to a huge change when looked at as a whole.

    I think that when the elections take place in September there will be alot more progress on the Palestine issue with Egypt using alot more of its power.

    Also of course soon there will be the Freedom Flotilla 2 Stay Human arriving in Gaza yet another of the many baby steps that will together secure victory for Palestine.

  6. MHughes976
    May 31, 2011, 11:50 am

    And we should remember that getting things out is as important as getting things in. Gaza cannot have an economy until it can sell to the outside world. And it seems that the Egyptians are in no mood to facilitate this.

  7. annie
    May 31, 2011, 1:31 pm

    thanks laila, hearing you loud and clear. i’m curious if i am the only person who questions the timing of this to segue w/the flotilla. just not buying it. yes it is better (expanded hours) but everything else, not so much.

  8. chet
    May 31, 2011, 2:12 pm

    The token restrictive opening of the Rafah crossing appears to be an attempt by the Egyptian military leadership to appease the average Egyptian’s demand for its re-opening while still standing by the Mubarak agreement in order to get the US aid that was (is?) dependent on keeping it in place.

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