Crossings update: Rafah to open; no change in ‘coronavirus closure’ at Erez blocking students; Coronavirus cases in Gaza top 50,000

Rafah Crossing 2016. Photo by Gisha

January 31, 2021. Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt is expected to open to traffic in both directions tomorrow, Monday, February 1, for four days. The last time Rafah opened was November 24-26, 2020. Thousands are on the waiting list to exit via Rafah, while it’s expected that not all will manage to cross during the limited opening.

Among those hoping to cross are students, who, despite the coronavirus pandemic, hold lucrative scholarships and are being asked to present for in-person learning at institutions in several countries around the world.  Ten students recently appealed to Gisha for assistance in applying for exit permits via Erez Crossing to Jordan, and from there to third states. The Israeli authorities refused the requests of the students, due to the “coronavirus closure” on Erez, as well as on various procedural grounds.

Since last week, both Allenby Crossing, connecting the West Bank and Jordan, and Ben Gurion Airport are operating on a drastically reduced schedule due to coronavirus regulations enforced by the Israeli authorities. However, several of the students have been trying to reach their studies for months via Israel and Egypt, to no avail.

The situation at Erez Crossing has remained virtually static for the past 11 months. In March 2020, Israel tightened the closure on Gaza further still on the pretext of managing the pandemic outbreak. As part of what it calls the “coronavirus closure,” the state prevents movement through Erez, other than urgent medical cases and other isolated exceptions. In December 2020, 1,261 exits of Palestinians were recorded at Erez, most of them medical patients, compared to more than 21,000 exits recorded in February 2020. The Kerem Shalom crossing for goods is operating as usual, as is Salah a-Din on the Gaza-Egypt border.

According to media reports, Israel is expected to transfer 5,000 vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority in order to inoculate 2,500 medical staff in the West Bank. To date, about three million Israeli citizens, including settlers living in illegal settlements in the West Bank, have received a first dose of the vaccine. Israel continues to shirk its legal and moral responsibility to provide the vaccine to 4.5 million Palestinian living under its control in the West Bank and Gaza.

More than 51,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Gaza, with 4,485 currently active cases. Thirty-seven individuals are in critical condition and 522 residents in the Gaza Strip have died so far from the disease. On January 21, internal restrictions on movement enforced by the local government within the Strip were altered given a downturn in cases: a weekend curfew was lifted and mosques were opened for Friday prayers, however social distancing and mask-wearing regulations are being enforced. With the exception of essential services like bakeries and pharmacies, commercial centers and markets are still closed, but are scheduled to open on February 7. A nightly curfew of 8pm is also still being enforced.