The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access marked the end of Israel’s military presence at the Rafah Crossing on the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, yet allowed Israel to maintain substantial control over the terminal. This control was exercised via Israel’s continued control of the Palestinian population registry, which determines who may travel through Rafah, the ability to monitor individuals traveling through the crossing, and the power to decide when and if to close Rafah. The crossing operated routinely as per the Agreement on Movement and Access until June 2006. The circumstances that led to the end of this arrangement are detailed in a report published by Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel in 2009, entitled “Rafah Crossing: Who Holds the Keys?” The report also presents our position on the responsibility of each of the parties – Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and external players – as a result of their influence on the ability to open the crossing.
In June 2010, Israel intercepted the Mavi Marmara, a ship headed for Gaza, resulting in the deaths of nine passengers and international condemnation. In the wake of that incident, Egypt opened Rafah Crossing for regular travel. The crossing was opened outside the context of the Agreement on Movement and Access and for limited categories of travelers including foreign nationals; Palestinians seeking medical treatment in Egypt; Palestinians with foreign citizenship, residency status, or a visa to a third country; students wishing to study abroad and individuals receiving special travel coordination from the Egyptian authorities. Between June 2010 and the end of May 2011, a monthly average of 15,700 passengers traveled through Rafah in both directions, representing some 40% of the monthly average in the beginning of 2006, before implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access was halted1. In late May 2011, Egypt announced that Rafah Crossing would be opened for travel to all Gaza residents who hold a Palestinian ID card and passport, with the exception of males aged 18 to 40, whose travel would be subject to certain conditions. Between June and August 2011, the monthly average of travelers through Rafah increased to some 27,700. However, the Egyptian-imposed cap on the number of individuals who can exit Gaza per day has resulted in waiting periods of weeks.
The Agreement on Movement and Access prohibited the import of goods from Egypt to the Gaza Strip through Rafah, and although it permitted export of goods through the crossing, arrangements allowing for export were never made. Egypt still does not allow the transport of goods through Rafah, with the exception of humanitarian aid, subject to its discretion.
As has been the case since Rafah Crossing first opened, travel through it is subject to registration in the Israeli-approved Palestinian population registry. As such, Israel continues to have some, if significantly reduced, control over Rafah Crossing. Its continued influence over the crossing is also a result of cooperation with Egypt on security matters. Egypt continues to consider Israel as holding governmental powers in the Palestinian territory, in part due to the peace treaty between the two countries which stipulates that the international border between Israel and Egypt in the northern part of the Sinai desert is the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip2.
Movement of people and goods between Egypt and the Gaza Strip by land also takes place through underground tunnels on the Egypt – Gaza border. The tunnels are not new, but before June 2007, they were primarily used for smuggling contraband such as weapons and narcotics. When Israel began restricting the passage of civilian goods into the Gaza Strip in June 2007, commercial trade via the tunnels increased and began to include many consumer goods and industrial products whose transfer Israel bans through land crossings. The tunnels now serve as the primary route for transporting fuel and building materials, which are restricted for import into Gaza by Israel3. The tunnels are also used for transporting cigarettes from Egypt, which are cheaper than the ones brought from Israel, as well as weapons, cash and narcotics. Israel occasionally bombs the tunnels from the air4. The tunnels do not provide a dependable or satisfactory trade route, yet the transporting of civilian goods through them has allowed the government in Gaza to determine tax rates (which are different from the ones set by Israel) for goods such as fuel, cigarettes and building materials, as explained below.
- Press Release, Gisha, Gisha response to Egyptian announcement on the opening of Rafah Crossing: There is still a need to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank,( May 26, 2011). [↩]
- Peace Treaty Between Israel and Egypt, March 26, 1979, 1138 U.N.T.S. 59, Article 2, according to which: “The permanent boundary between Egypt and Israel is the recognized international boundary between Egypt and the former mandated territory of Palestine, as shown on the map at Annex II, without prejudice to the issue of the status of the Gaza Strip.” [↩]
- Based on visits to the area, telephone conversations and personal interviews with tunnel operators in the Gaza Strip (February 2011). See also, Gisha, Reconstructing the closure – Will recent changes to the closure policy be enough to build in Gaza? (Dec. 2010), (hereinafter: Gisha, Reconstructing the closure). [↩]
- See for example, IDF Spokesperson press release, IAF Strikes Gaza Tunnel in Response to Rocket Fire (Feb. 2, 2011). [↩]