Palestinians at the Rafah border crossing. (Photo: Associated Press)
Having European citizenship allows Mohammed Mussa to travel freely outside the besieged Gaza Strip without exception. But he was most at ease when he returned from Gaza to Canada, his place of residence.
This young man came to Gaza to marry a girl. But he wanted to return within two days of the wedding because he feared that after his work holiday was finished, the Rafah crossing point (RCP)–the only exit for Gaza residents–would be closed, and he would face the loss of his engineering work.
While Mussa’s short trip to Gaza was cut short by fear, having the European passport makes him a lucky Palestinian. European citizenship has become a dream for the people of Gaza, who are suffering while traveling from or arriving to the Gaza-Egypt border.
The Rafah border with Egypt is located in the South of the Gaza Strip, and is the only outlet for 1.7 million people who live in Gaza, an area that does not exceed 360 square kilometers.
One trader named Hassan Al-Issawi was unable to travel because he did not possess foreign citizenship. Currently, Egyptian security does not allow people from Gaza to travel outside unless they fall under specific categories: holders of foreign passports, sick people and others who have residence abroad.
Al-Issawi wanted to travel to Egypt to import and sell some clothes during the Muslim festival Lesser Bairam, but after the the July 3rd removal of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Egyptian security closed the Rafah crossing point and destroyed more border tunnels connecting to the Gaza Strip.
Al-Issawi told Mondoweiss that he should have the right to travel freely like anybody else in the world. He wondered: “Where’s the result of Egyptian revolution?”
Getting foreign citizenship has become an urgent requirement for Al-Issawi and for Palestinian passport holders during their travel and transport, especially at the Rafah crossing point and at international airports. It is also necessary because Palestinians encounter difficulty in obtaining entry visas for many countries in order to find employment, escape from poverty and unemployment, or even for tourism and healthcare.
Ahmed Ba’lousha, a resident of Gaza, is another person who had trouble at the border. He was surprised when an Egyptian intelligence officer asked him to sign a security agreement, which is required for Palestinians under age 40 to allow him to enter Egypt. If he refused, the officer told him he would returned back to Gaza, he said.
Before trying to cross Rafah, Ba’lousha had traveled to Egypt and arrived via the Cairo airport. But Egyptian security detained him for several hours before he was deported–in collaboration with the Palestinian Embassy–to the Rafah crossing point without entering Egypt, claiming that he must sign a security agreement as well.
Egyptian restrictions on Rafah have intensified in recent days. Authorities suddenly closed the Rafah crossing point on Aug. 15 in both directions until further notice because of the security situation all over the country–especially in North Sinai.
Gaza’s director of crossings and borders, Maher Abu Sabha, said that even “if RCP is opened, the Egyptian authorities won’t permit any entry but those holders of foreign passports, residencies and patients, which means that the problem will [continue] until the stability of the situation in Egypt.”
The Palestinian Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Gaza, Ghazi Hamad, added that “Egypt currently allows 300 Palestinians per day instead of the 1200 [they allowed] in the months preceding the disposal of Morsi.” The RCP currently operates for only four hours. The restrictions on the number of people crossing has been reduced by 80% since the removal of Morsi from power, leading to the accumulation of thousands of travelers at the crossing at one time.
Even if the RCP works normally, Hamad said that thousands of Palestinians are prevented from travel because their names are included in the Egyptian intelligence security files. Hamad stated that “despite the dozens of requests and contacts with Egyptian authorities to resolve [this] problem [affecting] students, patients and humanitarian cases, all contacts and meetings did not succeed with any result.”
According to Hamad, contacts between the Hamas government in Gaza and the Egyptian government have ceased to exist since Morsi was deposed–“a matter that disrupted the movement of patients, traders and students in higher education in Egypt or in other universities abroad.”
The government in Gaza believes that the clamp down on citizens’ travel comes with the acquiescence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In Abbas’ first visit to Cairo, he called for a return to the 2005 agreement, which means Rafah would be managed by Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians and European observers.
Deputy Head of Hamas’ Political Bureau Moussa Abu Marzouq responded to the call by saying: “Insisting on the application of the 2005 Convention is a call for the return of the occupation.”
So while politics is played between all sides, Palestinian citizens of Gaza remain confined in jail. They are awaiting the opening of the Rafah crossing point and the green light from the Egyptian authorities to allow them to travel freely to the outside world.