The Rafah Border Crossing must be opened; Gaza residents are not pawns in the struggle for control of the Strip

Mon., July 30, 2007 – Israeli, Palestinian and European human rights organizations today issued a joint declaration calling on Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the European Union, and Egypt, to immediately open Gaza’s borders to passenger traffic, irrespective of their political agenda concerning Hamas. The organizations jointly stated that residents of the Strip must not be used as pawns in the struggle for control in Gaza. The continuous closure of the border crossing for more than six weeks is causing severe harm to hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents who cannot leave the Strip or return to it, impairing their ability to earn a living, receive medical treatment, or pursue education abroad. Various reports indicate that more than 20 people have already died while waiting to return to Gaza from Egypt.

A Gaza resident, aged 25, who is stuck on the Egyptian side of Rafah with his wife and infant son, told Gisha’s researcher: “Our situation is a nightmare, it’s hell. We came for 15 days to get treatment for the baby, and now we have been here for 65 days. My money has run out. There are many sick people here who traveled to Egypt for medical treatment and got stuck here… I have another son in Gaza and we cannot go back to him.” Another man, who is waiting at the El-Arish airport, said: “More than ninety people are stuck here… There are seriously ill people among us who went to Egypt for treatment and are now trapped here.”

The call by the organizations was directed at the four parties involved in operating the Rafah border crossing. According to the call, Israel’s duty to act to open the border between Gaza and Egypt is based on its responsibility to ensure the well-being of Palestinian residents of the Strip, due to Israel’s position as an occupying force, employing effective control over Gaza. There is importance to finding emergency solutions to reduce the suffering of those stranded in Egypt, said the organisations. However, those cannot replace the Rafah crossing, and there must be a solution to its operational difficulties.

The organizations called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to care for the welfare of Gaza residents and to demand that Israel open Rafah crossing. The groups also said that it is incumbent upon the Hamas leadership in the Strip – which controls the security forces in Gaza – to allow for the safe opening of the crossing from the Gaza side, as part of its duty to safeguard the welfare and rights of Gaza’s residents.
The coalition of organizations called on Egypt to play its part by opening the border crossing from its side, and to attend to the needs of the thousands of Gaza residents waiting, some in intolerable conditions, on the Egyptian side. The organizations also called upon the European Union to issue an unequivocal statement that the Rafah border crossing must be opened immediately, and to demand that the parties permit the European observers to return to the crossing, since their presence is essential for its operation.

The joint declaration:

Rafah Crossing, the only gateway connecting 1.5 million Gaza residents to the outside world, has been closed consecutively since June 9, 2007.

As a result, at least 6,000 Palestinians are trapped in the Egyptian towns of Rafah and Al-Arish, some of them under the harshest of conditions. Those waiting including patients who left Gaza to receive medical treatment and are being blocked from returning to their homes. The media reports that more than 20 people have died waiting. On the Gaza side of the border, medical patients, workers, students, and businesspeople are unable to leave Gaza in order to receive essential medical treatment, study, or earn their livelihoods.
The fighting between Hamas and Fatah and the attacks of the Israeli military on the Gaza Strip have caused many causalities. Refusal to allow the injured to leave Gaza endangers their lives and results in irreversible damage to their health.

There is evidence pointing to willingness on the part of actors within Gaza, with the agreement of Hamas leaders, to allow the opening of Rafah Crossing according to the Agreement on Movement and Access, agreed to by Israel and the Palestinian Authority on November 15, 2005. However, opening the crossing requires the participation of Israel, Egypt, the EU and various organs of the Palestinian Authority.
According to the Agreement on Movement and Access, Israel monitors Rafah Crossing through video cameras and supervision of passenger lists, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for operating the crossing, and European Union monitors supervise the crossing physically, after Israel allows them to reach the crossing. Egypt operates the crossing from its side.

The undersigned human rights groups call upon these parties to fulfill the provisions of the Agreement in order to allow the opening of Rafah Crossing – the life-line for Gaza’s residents.

We call upon Israel, the PA, the EU, and Egypt to immediately open the borders of Gaza for the passage of people, irrespective of their political agenda concerning Hamas. The residents of Gaza may not be used as hostages in a struggle over control of Gaza.

We call on Israel, the occupying power in the Palestinian territories and the principal actor shaping the policy for opening the crossings, to exert maximum efforts to bring about the immediate opening of the Rafah Crossing for regular passage in both directions. In Gaza, Israel controls the passage of people and goods, the population registry, the tax system and the financing of public services. Israel establishes its control by various means include limiting use of Gaza’s territorial waters, blocking Gaza’s airspace, vetoing the opening of Rafah Crossing, monitoring who travels through Rafah when it is open, and frequent military ground incursions into Gaza.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in times of war and occupation, requires Israel to care for the welfare of Gaza’s residents, to guarantee their rights, and to allow them to lead normal lives – including the ability to leave Gaza and to return home.

We call on the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected to represent all residents of the Palestinian territories, to ensure the well being of Gaza’s residents, to the extent that it is in his power. President Abbas must demand that Israel open Rafah Crossing and instruct his personnel within Gaza, to the extent possible, to participate in initiatives to operate the crossing in the Palestinian side, in coordination with the relevant parties.

We call on the European Union to unequivocally declare that Rafah Crossing must be reopened immediately, and to demand that the parties concerned allow the return of the EU monitors.
The Hamas leadership in Gaza – which controls the security agencies in Gaza, is obligated to allow for the safe opening of the crossing from the Gaza side, as part of a duty to protect the rights and well being of Gaza’s residents.

We call on Egypt immediately to arrange for the opening of the crossing from its side and to provide for the humanitarian needs of the thousands of Palestinians stuck in Egypt.

Participating organizations:

Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights
Al Dameer
B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual; The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel
Rabbis for Human Rights
Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights.