Rafah Crossing closes after operating for eight days

Rafah Crossing. Photo by Gisha

Rafah Crossing. Photo by Gisha

September 8, 2016. Rafah Crossing, Gaza’s portal to Egypt, opened for three days beginning August 30, exclusively to allow pilgrims to exit the Strip. During that time, 2,332 people left Gaza en route to Mecca to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. The crossing remained opened for five additional days, allowing travel for people who meet Egypt’s criteria for passage. During those days 2,902 exits from Gaza and 3,126 entries to Gaza were recorded.

The Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mecca performed during Eid al-Adha, is one of the fundamental pillars of Islam. Rafah is the only crossing available to Gaza residents for this purpose, as Israel refuses to allow Hajj pilgrims to travel through Erez. Yet, passage through Rafah for the Hajj is at the discretion of the Egyptian authorities. Seventy potential pilgrims were denied exit last week.

We note that residents of Gaza have been unable to perform the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca (which occurs during the rest of the year) due to the closure of Rafah Crossing and Israel’s refusal to allow travel via Erez Crossing and Allenby Bridge for this purpose. Gisha wrote to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) in April 2015, demanding Gaza residents be allowed to travel for the Umrah via Erez Crossing. COGAT replied that the unit was working on a procedure on the matter which would be released soon. The procedure has not been released to date.

Rafah Crossing has been open on only 22 days since the beginning of the year. In the first six months of the year, a monthly average of 1,896 exits and entries were recorded, compared to a monthly average of more than 40,000 exits and entries in the first half of 2013, when the crossing operated routinely and passage was not subjected to such restrictive criteria.

Through all of 2015, Rafah was open on only 25 days for people exiting Gaza