Recently I read that the Rafah Crossing, the crossing between the Gaza strip and Egypt, would be opened. I wondered a lot. Firstly, I wondered what preconditions would accompany this change, how it might affect Gazans and whether it signals a substantial change in Egyptian Government Policy as prison guards paid in American Military Aid. This post will address the first 2 questions
The following animation by Gisha (an Israeli NGO) looks at the Israeli ‘disengagement’ from the Gaza Strip and the blockade.
What are the reasons?
Israel mostly cites self defense as the reason for its blockade of Gaza. The general argument here is that the Palestinians are dangerous. They have attacked Israel in the past and Israel must protect itself, by preventing weapons from being smuggled into Gaza and not allowing suicide bombers to cross the border into Israel.
What does it limit?
The following ‘Cheat Sheet’ from Gisha outlines the restrictions of the blockade. As is pointed out, that apart from the tunnels, the only items allowed into The Gaza Strip, have to come through the Kerem Shalom crossing (Israel).
Items that are prohibited include items that have ‘Dual Use’. Meaning, Items that can be used for weapons purposes. A list of those is available here. Among such items are any textiles or fibers containing carbon, Natural wood beams and platforms over 2cm thick (except for those in finished products) and Water disinfection materials (solutions with a concentration of over 11%). Construction materials like Gravel, Cement and Steel are also prohibited, which has ensured that the many schools which have been destroyed in attacks by the Israeli Military, have not been able to be rebuilt.
The report goes on to mention that, excluding a short period in which Israel allowed small exports of strawberries, peppers, tomatoes and flowers to Europe, ALL exports from Gaza are banned. I’m not sure how this protects the Israeli people, but hey who am I to ask questions, right?
How has it affected Gazans?
Although Israeli politicians and Generals argue that it is for reasons of security, the facts show that the people most affected by the blockade, are normal Gazans, a majority of which are children.
This Amnesty International report provides information on how the blockade has created what the head of the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency has called “a humanitarian Crisis”.
Consider the following from the report:
“Israel’s military blockade of Gaza has left more than 1.4 million Palestinian men, women and children trapped in the Gaza Strip, an area of land just 40 kilometres long and 9.5 kilometers wide. Mass unemployment, extreme poverty and food price rises caused by shortages have left four in five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid.”
“According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the number of refugees living in abject poverty in the Gaza Strip has tripled since the blockade began. These families lack the means to purchase even the most basic items, including soap, school materials and clean drinking water. According to the UN, more than 60 per cent of households are currently “food insecure”.
The report rightly points out that rather than targeting Hamas, as it claims it is doing, the Israeli Government is engaging in a kind of collective punishment against Gazan Civilians.
What about the opening of Rafah?
It’s certainly a good thing that the new Egyptian Government has chosen to open the Rafah Crossing. Though we should keep in mind that it will only grant some semblance of freedom of mobility, in that it will still be heavily policed and only allow some to cross.
Laila Al-Haddad writes,
‘Only Palestinians listed in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian population registry, carrying an Israeli-approved Gaza ID card, or hawia, can use Rafah Crossing. And those who do cross are still subject to arbitrary security screenings and possible denial of entry-or exit.
Translation: Palestinians from the West Bank or East Jerusalem-even those with hawiat, Palestinians in refugees camps outside the Occupied Palestinian territories, “Filisteeniyit il-dakhil” aka 1948 Palestinians, or Palestinians abroad, are all still not allowed passage to Gaza through Rafah. This includes Palestinian families where one spouse possesses an ID, but the other does not, such as my own family, OR internally displaced Palestinians who live in Gaza but whose IDs were never approved by Israeli authorities (who are not allowed to exit). They number in the tens of thousands.’
She points out that this freedom of movement will not apply to goods, which will still only be able to pass via the Kerem Shalom crossing, and will still be subject to the ridiculous restrictions the Israeli Government has placed on them. This means, no construction materials and hence no rebuilding of schools or medical facilities. It means that Gazans still wont be able to export (No, not even the strawberries and flowers) and are still going to be living in a humanitarian crisis in which 4 out of 5 people are dependent on humanitarian aid.