Restricted access at Rafah Crossing blocks Gaza residents’ main route abroad

Restricted access at Rafah Crossing following recent events in Egypt has blocked Gaza residents' access abroad and has left them with almost no way of exiting the Strip. In view of the fact that Israel does not allow access to or from Gaza via sea and air and imposes extensive restrictions on travel through Erez Crossing, Gaza residents rely on Rafah Crossing for travel abroad. The closure of the crossing during the days July 5-10 thwarted the travel plans of more than 10,000 people inside the Gaza Strip, including medical patients, and many Palestinians were stranded on the Egyptian side of the crossing, in Saudi Arabia and in other countries, unable to return home.

Since last Wednesday, the crossing has operated in a limited capacity, allowing Palestinians to enter Gaza and Egyptian citizens, medical patients with official referrals from the Palestinian Health Ministry and foreign passport holders to enter Egypt. More than 40,000 people travel through Rafah in both directions every month. This figure includes about 300 patients who are referred for medical treatment by the Palestinian Ministry of Health and hundreds of other patients who pay for treatment privately.

Events in Egypt have also affected the flow of goods into Gaza. The volume of fuel and construction materials shipped through the tunnels dropped significantly in June due to increased Egyptian military presence in the Sinai desert. Operations in some of the tunnels were renewed nine days ago, but shortages are still being felt felt throughout the Gaza Strip. For example, the price of a ton of cement has jumped from 380 NIS to 550 NIS and the price of a liter of Egyptian benzene has gone up from 3.2 NIS to 3.5 NIS.  The price of cleaning products, chocolate, and Egyptian dairy products has also increased. The price of 3 kg of sugar has risen from 10 NIS to 15 NIS.

The tunnels have become a major channel for bringing goods into the Gaza Strip, both because of Israel’s limitations on the entry of certain goods, such as building materials and fuel through Kerem Shalom Crossing, and because of low purchasing power in Gaza and cheaper prices in Egypt. In recent months, more goods have entered through the tunnels than entered via Kerem Shalom.

Egypt is not an occupying power in the Gaza Strip and it does not control Gaza’s air space and territorial waters. Therefore, its obligations towards Gaza's residents are strictly humanitarian. It must, however, take into consideration Gaza residents' right to freedom of movement and make the utmost effort to maintain a reliable and sufficient travel route through its territory.

In contrast, due to Israel's substantial control over the Gaza Strip, it has a duty, under the law of occupation, to enable Gaza residents to lead normal lives, including the possibility of leaving Gaza and returning to it. So long as travel through Rafah is not possible, for whatever reason, Israel must allow Gaza residents to exercise their right to freedom of movement through other crossings, whether on land through the border crossings between Israel and Gaza or by sea and air, to the outside world.