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Egypt Joins Israel As Gaza's Jailer

The Egyptian military's takeover in July has lead to dire consequences for the 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip.
 
 
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Egyptian soldiers at the Rafah border with Gaza.
Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim/Flickr

 
 
 
 

There was a time when activist groups that focused on helping the Palestinians in Gaza reserved their harshest language and protests for Israel, which long has prohibited both air and sea traffic in and out of Gaza; tightly limited exchanges through its Erez terminal; and banned exports altogether.

While movement in and out of Gaza via the Egyptian terminal at Rafah was restricted as well, it nonetheless was a critical lifeline for Palestinians needing to travel, and for humanitarian aid. Likewise, members of the Egyptian government often played a constructive role in facilitating negotiations between the various Palestinian factions, as well as with international parties.

However, in the two months since the Egyptian military took control, it has made clear it will no longer serve as that "bridge". In fact, as the military and other opponents of ousted President Mohamed Morsi increasingly blame Palestinian "elements" for growing unrest and violence, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula, the interim government of Egypt has increasingly allied itself with Israel in strategy and actions - becoming just as much Gazans' jailer as its neighbor to the east. As  The Washington Post reported, "with Egypt's military-backed interim government shutting down the tunnels and largely closing its own pedestrian crossing at Rafah, Gaza is increasingly shut off from the world".

In response, organizations ranging from the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza to  Gaza's Ark (an international coalition focused on ending the Israeli ban on exports) are directly including Egypt in their messaging. And a petition launched by a grassroots coalition calling itself the  International Campaign to #OpenRafahBorder  attracted more than 1,000 signatures from around the world in just the first 24 hours. The coalition's goal is to collect 25,000 signatures and deliver them to Egyptian ambassadors, the United Nations and human rights organizations.

Stranded students and patients

Before Egypt's military ousted Morsi on July 3, an estimated 1,200 people-a-day used to cross through Rafah, which was Gaza's main window to the world. Since then, the average number of permitted travelers has only been  250 each day, if Rafah is open at all. At this article's writing, Rafah had been closed for six consecutive days. The  EuroMid Observer for Human Rights estimates that at least 10,000 Palestinians are currently on the waiting list to cross on the Gaza side alone.

Many of the individuals left stranded are students trying to get to universities after months of effort to apply for scarce scholarships. Malaka Mohammed, a 23-year-old refugee, is set to begin studying global politics and law at the UK's Sheffield University on  Sept. 30 , after working hard to obtain a partial scholarship and fundraising through an  online campaign. With about half of the needed donations already in, Mohammed took a risk and made arrangements to travel to the UK on September 18. Now she is wondering if all that work was for naught.

"Gaza really is the world's biggest prison and it's become more so every day. We thought the Rafah crossing was our exit to freedom and happiness. But it has become a place where people lose their hopes," she posted on Facebook.

Other stranded travelers include persons needing medical care. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, told  Reuters that 1,000 individuals a month require medical care in Egypt or other countries due to the shortages and other difficulties in the Strip. While foreign physicians often travel to Gaza to bring vital supplies and provide care, these days they aren't being allowed in. "Until June, we had received 60 delegations of doctors who performed surgery on 1,000 patients. No delegation has arrived since then," Qidra told Reuters.

 
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