Last night, Egypt announced that as of this morning (23.8), Rafah Crossing would be closed until further notice, according to reports, in response to protests along Gaza’s perimeter fence with Israel. Salah a-Din Gate, a small goods crossing near Rafah, is closed as well.
The closure of Rafah compounds severe movement restrictions imposed by Israel, leaving Gaza residents with even fewer options to travel for medical, professional, educational, or personal needs. Dozens of Gaza residents are reportedly stranded on the Egyptian side of Rafah, with no means or hope of returning home to their families in the Strip. If the crossing remains closed, thousands of Palestinians abroad will have no way of returning home, as Israel blocks return via Erez of people who exited the Strip via Rafah.
In February 2021, Rafah Crossing resumed more regular operations, after months during which the crossing operated in a restricted capacity because of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past six months, there was a monthly average of approximately 14,000 crossings in both directions through Rafah.
Even when it is open, the wait time to receive permission to cross at Rafah is often long, and the journey through the Sinai is difficult and can be dangerous. Egypt enforces criteria for travel, allowing patients with referrals for treatment in Egyptian hospitals and Palestinians holding foreign citizenship, residency or visas to third countries to travel, subject to registration and sometimes high, expedited “coordination costs.” Rafah Crossing, even when it is open, does not provide a solution to people needing to travel to and from Israel or the West Bank.
Gisha Executive Director Tania Hary said in response: “This is a devastating development for thousands of people with hopes, dreams, plans, and above all, human rights that must protected. Egypt and Israel must respect the right to freedom of movement.”
Given its ongoing effective control over Gaza, which amounts to occupation, Israel is obligated to protect human rights and facilitate normal life in the Strip to the greatest extent possible. This includes facilitating access abroad, particularly given Egypt’s closing of Rafah Crossing.