February 9, 2021. After being opened last week, Rafah Crossing, between Gaza and Egypt, was opened today until further notice for travel in both directions. Last week the crossing operated on four days, allowing more than 4,200 exits from Gaza to Egypt and about 2,700 entries back in to the Strip. Not everyone who had been registered on the waiting list for travel via Rafah made it out of the Strip last week.
Egypt last opened Rafah Crossing for three days in late November 2020. The occasional openings of Rafah, which was shuttered in March 2020 with the outbreak of the pandemic, have been critical but insufficient, especially given Israel’s virtual lockdown of Erez Crossing. According to reports, Egypt’s decision to open Rafah comes against the backdrop of talks between Palestinian factions, held in Cairo this week. It is unknown how long Rafah will remain open. Travel via Egypt is an important gateway to the world for residents of Gaza but it fails to meet their need for access to the West Bank and Israel, which is only possible via Erez Crossing.
Reports, photographs and information received by Gisha last week revealed dire, overcrowded conditions at Rafah Crossing. A woman who made it to Egypt told us it took her 12 hours to cross 500 meters, and two days to reach Cairo – a trip which would ordinarily take about eight hours.
Governments around the world are striving to strike a balance between public health concerns on the one hand and socioeconomic needs for travel on the other. Israel gave careful consideration to the decision to close its international airport and land crossings recently, and is expected to reopen them soon, while continuing to impose an almost full closure at Erez Crossing for almost a year.
Applications filed by students from Gaza, who were required to be present at academic institutions around the world in order to take advantage of lucrative scholarships, were not so much as considered by Israel. In its response (Hebrew) to requests from Gisha and from members of Knesset on the matter, the state said: “No room was found at this point in time to grant the request to add travel abroad for the purpose of academic studies to the list of exceptions currently included in the policy.”
Of the ten university students that Gisha had been assisting, seven managed to cross at Rafah last week. Israel forbids individuals who have exited Gaza through Rafah from returning to the Strip via Erez Crossing. This policy leaves students dependent on Rafah in order to to return home.
Israel’s control over various aspects of life in Gaza, including Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, comes with an obligation to protect the basic rights of Palestinians living there. Keeping the Strip trapped under a stifling, disproportionately severe closure lacking any basis in security or public health needs is illegal, immoral, and must end immediately. When its border with Jordan reopens, Israel must allow travel through Erez to resume as well, including for access to academic studies.