RAFAH CROSSING, October 23 (JMCC) - Several vehicles and tens of passengers gather every morning at the last gate of Rafah
crossing on the Egyptian border in the southern Gaza Strip
, trying to be first of those allowed to pass.
policeman orders a taxi crammed with passengers to move inside the crossing. Vehicles pass through a black iron gate to arrive at the departure hall where passengers receive a passport check and permission from Egyptian authorities to pass.
Since Egypt opened Rafah crossing in June 2010, the border sees little of the chaos and traffic jams that it used to.
A woman dressed completely in black, her face covered with a veil, waited with her two teenage daughters for the required Egyptian permission.
She said she is going to the Egyptian town of Rafah to see her daughter, who was married in January 2008.
When the border was torn down in 2008, we seized the moment and my daughter was married to her cousin,” said Fathia Qishta, 53. “Since Egyptian security reconstructed the border, we have not seen her.”
In January 2008, the border between Rafah and Egypt was pulled down and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt for approximately 20 days. At that time, the Gaza Strip had endured two years of a debilitating closure, with Israel
only allowing certain food and materials into the area.
Reem Faraj from al-Maghazi refugee camp said that she was eager to travel to meet her family in Egypt.
I have not seen them in five years. I couldn’t even attend the wedding of my two sisters, she said. Even though we are in the busy olive harvest season, it is a good opportunity to see my parents and let them see my children. I thank the Egyptians for opening the crossing, said the mother of five.
Khalil Abu Hadayed from Khan Younis
was upset, however, when his travel plans were scratched – Egyptian security refused to allow him to pass.
I was informed that going to Malaysia does not need a visa, but Egyptian security won’t allow me to transit through Egypt because I do not have a visa, he said.
Mohammed Al-Khaldi, 45, said that he is heading to Saudi Arabia. He has coordination from the Egyptian side, thus he has no problems getting to Egypt.
Gazans cannot travel through Rafah to Egypt without “coordination,” which is the alternative to a visa.
After Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip in 1967, the border between Gaza and Egypt fell under Israeli control. In 2005 when Israel dismantled its settlements
in the Gaza Strip, a US-brokered deal put the crossing under Palestinian government and Egyptian control with European observers monitoring events.
That deal was effectively frozen by Israel after Palestinian armed men captured an Israeli soldier in June 2006, and all of Gaza’s crossings into Israel were closed by Israeli authorities.
In June 2007, Hamas forces took over Gaza after bloody clashes with Palestinian Authority
security apparatuses. With that, Rafah crossing came under Hamas control and Egypt stopped most movement through Gaza’s last remaining lifeline.
Egypt periodically opened Rafah crossing to Gazans for humanitarian cases, allowing patients, students, pilgrims, official delegations and other cases to pass in and out through.
Hanan Ashoor, 33, said that she was unable to meet her family in Doha seven years ago, but not long after the Israeli war in Gaza in December 2008, she traveled to Doha as a member of a woman’s delegation at a conference on women.
Today the crossing is an active port of access, with Egypt opening the crossing on most days to travelers as a result of growing pressure to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Egypt and the Palestinian Authority assert that operations at the crossing should be reworked under US-brokered 2005 accord – in other words, that Palestinian Authority security forces would run it. Hamas refuses these terms.
This is an official international agreement. The parties to the agreement refuse to deal with Hamas simply because Hamas is illegal, said Ghassan Khatib
, head of the Palestinian Authority Government Press Office. Dealing with them means participating in the Israeli goal of strengthening the split between Gaza and the West Bank.
In May 2010, Egypt opened Rafah crossing after Israeli commandoes killed nine Turkish activists aboard a fleet of ships headed to break the Gaza blockade.
Ghazi Hamad, head of the crossing authority of the Hamas-led Gaza government said that some ten percent of passengers are banned by the Egyptian authorities.
“Since June 2010, 54,000 passengers have managed to access. Last week, 2,700 passengers tried to depart Gaza, and 270 of them were banned by Egyptian authorities for various reasons, Hamad said. Officially, no one should leave, but Egypt allows students, patients and those with a special coordination with Egypt.”
Hamad said procedures are running smoothly, as long as passengers have coordination.
Imad Ghazi, a Palestinian from Gaza who works for a TV company in London had to leave his wife at home when he visited his family in Gaza.
His wife is not allowed to enter Gaza as long as she has no Palestinian passport. Hamad confirms that Egypt allows foreigners to leave Gaza but not to enter via Rafah crossing.
'It is not fair to be treated like this. I can't understand the reasons why we are being punished, especially that the Israeli occupation is no longer in charge of the borders, Ghazi said.
Some Palestinians who have recently arrived in Gaza remain worried that the crossing could close at any time.
Khaled al-Zahar, 28, has just arrived in Gaza from Dubai to marry his fiancée.
It is very possible that after I get married, the crossing will be closed again,” says the businessman. “So I may lose my work and it is not easy to find work there.”
And as Egypt eases movement for individuals, commerce in Gaza remains paralyzed, with the import and export of goods still banned from Rafah crossing.
Official Hamad says that Rafah crossing will run normally only after there is reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip – “with no need for international observers.”