For the first time since March: Rafah Crossing Opens for Return to Gaza Only
• At least 15,000 people stuck in Gaza, including thousands of medical patients and hundreds of students
• Israel mostly prevents Gaza residents from traveling abroad via its territory
May 26, 2015: Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt opened today for limited access after being closed for the last 75 days. The opening, which is expected to continue through tomorrow, will allow Palestinian residents of Gaza who are in Egypt or third countries to return to home but will not permit travel from Gaza. The last time the crossing was open for travel out of Gaza was March 9-10. At that time, just 2,443 people traveled in total in both directors, compared with nearly 41,000 people traveling each month on average in the first half of 2013, prior to the regime change in Egypt.
No information was available about when people would be allowed to travel from Gaza via Rafah. According to the Gaza Crossings Authority, 15,000 people have signed up to travel from the Strip, most of them stuck since the military operation last summer, unable to return to their studies, work and families abroad. The waiting list includes thousands of medical patients and hundreds of students who have not been able to reach their studies in countries such as Germany, the U.K. and Canada; they risk losing their visas, scholarships and places at universities.
Israel, which controls the crossings between Gaza and the West Bank and Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, does not allow the operation of a Palestinian airport or seaport and thus creates dependence on foreign ports for travel abroad. As part of minor easings in the travel restrictions to and from Gaza since last summer’s military operation, Israel announced that it would allow 30 students per week to leave Gaza for study abroad via Israel, the West Bank, and the Allenby Crossing with Jordan. However, only 94 students in total have thus far been permitted to travel via this route. Indeed, Gisha’s experience indicates that Israel is routinely rejecting travel requests from students. Travel between Gaza and the West Bank remains limited, primarily to medical patients and their companions, merchants and “exceptional humanitarian cases”.
Restrictions on movement of people and goods have blocked recovery in Gaza. As of the first quarter of 2015, unemployment stood at 41.6%. Five hundred and sixty factories and businesses were damaged in the military operation, more than 200 of them completely. In addition, 17,000 homes were destroyed, adding to an already critical shortage of available housing units. Yet, as of the end of April, just 894,049 tons of construction materials have been allowed to enter Gaza – 18% of what is needed for reconstruction, and not taking into account Gaza’s ordinary needs. Thus far, not a single home destroyed in the operation has been rebuilt.
Eitan Diamond, Gisha’s executive director: “Gaza residents have a right to access the outside world. Nine months after the end of the fighting and seven months after the Cairo conference in which 50 countries pledged billions of dollars to rebuild Gaza, the Strip remains mostly closed. Israel’s control over significant elements of daily life in Gaza creates an obligation to allow Gaza residents to travel abroad, including students studying abroad“.
For Gisha’s latest report on Gaza’s economy, see Made in Gaza.