Fatigue and stress was apparent on the face of Nada Mumer. Nine months pregnant, Mumer waited for the officer to call the names of people who will be allowed to ride a bus to the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing in Gaza.
“My husband is waiting for me in Egypt. I came to Gaza five months ago to visit my family, I managed to stay here for only two weeks, but I was shocked of the continuous closure of Rafah port. My son suffers from cerebral atrophy and needs urgent medical care in hospitals abroad,” Mumer said.
The departure gallery at the Rafah crossing was full of people with their suitcases, waiting for their turn to leave as Egypt announced a four-day window the crossing will be open. “I wonder how only four days will be sufficient for all those people to depart? Situations are terrible and insufferable. We ask the Egyptians to prolong the period,” Mumer said to me.
Palestinian officials were relieved by the Egyptian decision to open the Rafah crossing, which had been closed for more than two months, aggravating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
During this time, many people, including patients seeking advanced medical treatment abroad and students who want to complete their education in universities outside Gaza, found themselves trapped inside what is known as the “world’s biggest open air prison.”
Patients in danger
Gaza is full of tragic stories of people who were denied their right to travel to get medical treatment in hospitals abroad.
Ismael Redwan, 38, suffers from an issue with the cartilage in both his neck and back and he needs to perform a surgical operation in the Egyptian hospitals. “I have been trying to travel for three years, I keep checking my papers and my passport to submit them, but so far my name has not been included in the file to be allowed to cross the border, ” Redwan said.
Redwan was angry as he had to come every day from Beit Hanoun in the north of the Gaza Strip to Rafah on the southern tip of Gaza to make sure to submit his name before the four-day window was over. “I am not asking for too much, all what I want is to be given my legitimate right to travel to get a good medical treatment. Opening the port for 3 to 4 days every five months worsens our situations, we cannot cope with such a bitter reality,” Redwan said.
Muneera Sumor, 42, has had kidney failure for more than eight years, and doctors have decided that she needs to receive a kidney transplant in Pakistan. Although that her name is included in the file, she still fears she will be kept from traveling . “I will be reassured only when I reach the Egyptian side,” Mneera said.
This is not enough
The Egyptian officials agreed upon a limited numbers of “Palestinian humanitarian cases” to be granted the permission to travel. At the time of writing, only about 494 Palestinians had reached Egypt via the Rafah crossing.
Khaled Shair, the Palestinian coordinator of the Rafah crossing, confirmed that more than 7 buses carrying Palestinians reached to Egypt on the first day, and two ambulances from the Gaza Health Ministry transferred patients from Gaza-based hospitals to Egyptian hospitals.
“Gazans have been waiting impatiently to see the gates of the Rafah crossing wide open to reconnect them to the world. Yet, we see only a few hundreds of them have been allowed to travel, while we have about 20,000 registered names in our files of people who wish to travel,” Shair said.
Officials from the Rafah crossing said that they expect vans carrying a hundred tons of cement and gravel to reach the Palestinian side, along with Egyptian fuel to alleviate the power crisis that Gaza is experiencing at the moment.
Ordeal for Students and Workers
Suhaib Sameh, 22, is a university student from Gaza who came to see his family after three years of studying overseas. He was shocked by the decision to close down the Rafah crossing for about two months. “I started to feel as if I am living in a nightmare. I thought that I will not be able to join my university in Egypt to complete my study there,” Suhaib said. He will travel on the fourth bus, which is the last day.
Ahmed Naggar, 42, is afraid of losing his job in the United Arab Emirates as he has been trapped in Gaza for more than three months. “I should travel today or tomorrow, otherwise I will lose my job. They should increase the number of the names that are allowed to travel this time, I cannot endure staying here for more one day,” Naggar said.
The Rafah crossing has been open for only 15 days since the start of 2015, which has doubled the humanitarian suffering in Gaza. The Rafah crossing, with all of its intricacies, has been a central part of the siege which has been imposed on Gaza for more than eight years. Therefore, when one discusses the devastatingly profound effects of the siege on Gaza, one needs to include the continuous closure of the Rafah crossing.
Editor’s Note: After this story was filed Egypt re-closed the Rafah crossing with Gaza.