August 8, 2017. Today, five months have passed since the last time Rafah Crossing was opened to people exiting from the Gaza Strip. This is the longest stretch of time during which the crossing was consecutively closed since 2007.
The names of approximately thirty thousand Gaza residents, who meet Egypt’s permitted criteria for travel, appear on the waiting list to exit from Gaza to Egypt, usually for the purpose of transferring to another country: Students hoping to study abroad, business people and traders, medical patients with referrals to treatment in hospitals, immigrants, people who wish to visit their relatives, and more. When Rafah Crossing was open daily, up until mid-2013, there was an average of forty thousand exits and entries recorded every month, by people who met the restricted criteria for permits. In the absence of the option of exiting Gaza through Rafah, the only remaining gateway between Gaza and the rest of the world is Erez Crossing, controlled by Israel. The number of exits from Gaza via Erez has also dropped dramatically, to about half of the monthly average of exits recorded during 2016. This indicates a trend which stands in contrast with what has been implied in repeated statements by Israeli military and government officials, who speak of the importance of improving living conditions in the Strip.
After a decade of closure, which has failed entirely in achieving its objectives, and even once Israel announced that it would ease restrictions on exiting and entering Gaza, freedom of movement for residents of Gaza has only declined and the closure has only tightened. Israel’s permit regime, along with Egypt’s policy at Rafah Crossing, and a series of steps by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to increase pressure on the population of Gaza – including reducing the electricity supply to the strip, cutting the salaries of thousands of PA employees in the Strip and forcing thousands more into early retirement – continue to damage the lives of residents, who face many adversities as it is.
Two million people, 42 percent of which are under the age of 15, live in the Gaza Strip. They deserve a chance at a decent life, as do we all. All parties with power and influence in the region must differentiate between their political motivations and the rights of Gaza residents to live in dignity. Arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement can and must be removed immediately.