Gisha response to Egyptian announcement on easing passage via Rafah Crossing: Hope for Travel Abroad; Need for Travel between Gaza and West Bank

Fri., April 29, 2011 – Gisha expresses hope that Egypt will expand the ability of Gaza residents to travel abroad via Rafah Crossing, which has become Gaza’s gateway to the world, in light of Israel’s closure of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and restrictions on travel via Erez Crossing. Gisha notes the need also to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, recognized by Israel as a single territorial unit whose integrity is the basis for a two-state solution.

Gisha notes that since June 2007, Israel has prevented Gaza residents from transferring goods for sale to Israel or the West Bank, as part of a policy to separate Gaza from the West Bank. Security concerns cannot explain the ban, as Gaza residents are permitted to sell limited quantities of agricultural products to Europe – via Israel and Israeli security checks. Gaza, Israel and the West Bank are part of a single customs envelope, in which free trade is to take place and in which customs regulations are to be uniform.

Any arrangement for permitting goods to cross via Rafah should consider the need to maintain the unity of the Palestinian economy, existing in Gaza and the West Bank.

Background information on Rafah Crossing:

Since Israel closed Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and all but closed Erez Crossing to Palestinians, Rafah Crossing has become the gateway to the outside world for 1.5 million Palestinian residents of Gaza. Crossing via Erez (on the border between Gaza and Israel) is limited to "extraordinary humanitarian cases, especially urgent medical cases", preventing Palestinians from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.

Rafah was closed following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006 and remained mostly closed until June 2010, when Egypt opened it in the wake of the flotilla incident. Between June 2010 and January 2011, 19,000 people per month on average crossed Rafah in both directions, 47% of the number of people who crossed monthly in the first half of 2006.

Today, passage through Rafah is limited to holders of foreign citizenship or residence, holders of visas (including students studying abroad) and those seeking medical attention or study in Egypt. Crossing for Palestinians is limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry. Since the regime change in Egypt, the number of people permitted to leave Gaza via Rafah has been limited to 300 per day. The crossing is currently open five days per week. Since the 2005 "disengagement", goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah.