Rights Groups to Defense Minister: Open Rafah Crossing

Thu., March 8, 2007 – Israeli human rights groups Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel sent an urgent letter today to Defense Minister Amir Peretz demanding that he immediately open Rafah Crossing and stop the collective punishment against 1.4 million Palestinians who are trapped in the Gaza Strip.

The letter was sent following today’s incident in which five Palestinians were injured as a result of a crush of bodies, while trying to cross the rarely open border crossing. An additional three people were injured from gunfire that erupted after security forces tried to restore order.

According to the letter, the frequent closure of Rafah Crossing is a central factor in today’s incident. Since June 25, 2006, Israel has kept Rafah, Gaza’s only link to the outside world, closed 80% of the time, cutting off Gaza residents from the outside world. The closure creates unbearable pressure at the crossing from residents trapped in Gaza.

On the few occasions in which Israel permits the crossing to open, thousands of Gaza residents crowd the border, hoping to be permitted to cross. Among the estimated 5,000 people seeking to leave Gaza today were dozens of patients seeking medical treatment in Egyptian hospitals.

According to the letter, the closure of Rafah Crossing violates the basic rights of Palestinians to access medical care, educational and economic opportunities and family members. The letter further warns that imprisoning 1.4 million Gaza residents is not justified by security concerns, and it constitutes collective punishment, in violation of international law.