If Israel wants a say in passage via Rafah, it should permit passage between Gaza and the West Bank, writes Gisha director, Sarah Bashi, in today's guest post about Gaza's southern border being opened by Egypt through post-Mubarak legislation. Gisha is an Israeli NGO, an acronym which stands for Center for Freedom of Movement.
Gisha welcomes the announcement that Egypt will expand the ability of Gaza residents to travel abroad via Rafah Crossing, which has become Gaza's gateway to the world, in light of Israel's closure of Gaza's airspace and territorial waters and restrictions on travel via Erez Crossing. Gisha notes the need also to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, recognized by Israel as a single territorial unit whose integrity is the basis for a two-state solution.
Since the capture of an Israeli soldier in June 2006, Israel has vetoed the implementation of the U.S.-brokered 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which gave Israel security supervision over Rafah Crossing in exchange for a commitment to permit access between Gaza and the West Bank. If Israel wants a say concerning passage via Rafah, it should implement its commitment to allow Palestinians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank.
The Egyptian commitment concerning Rafah includes longer operating hours, no numerical limit on passengers, and visa-free travel, except for men aged 18-40. Crossing for Palestinians is expected to continue to be limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry. The expansion does not appear to include passage of goods, which are restricted to the Israeli-controlled crossings and subject to prohibitions on construction materials and export.
Background – Netanyahu Mislead Congress.
Since Israel closed Gaza's airspace and territorial waters and all but closed Erez Crossing to Palestinians, Rafah Crossing has become the gateway to the outside world for 1.5 million Palestinian residents of Gaza. Crossing via Erez (on the border between Gaza and Israel) is limited to "extraordinary humanitarian cases, especially urgent medical cases", preventing Palestinians from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.
Rafah Crossing was operated according to the U.S.-brokered Agreement on Movement and Access until June 2006, when Israel announced its suspension following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comment before the U.S. Congress that in Rafah, "the European observers evaporated overnight" failed to note that the "evaporation" was ordered by Israel, which refused to allow the EU border mission observers to reach their post and has objected to the implementation of the agreement ever since. The EU observers have been waiting in their hotel in Ashkelon for the last five years, waiting for Israeli permission to return to Rafah.
Rafah remained mostly closed from June 2006 to June 2010, when Egypt opened it in the wake of the flotilla incident for limited categories including holders of foreign passports or visas and those seeking medical attention in Egypt. Between June 2010 and January 2011, 19,000 people per month on average crossed Rafah in both directions, 47% of the number of people who crossed monthly in the first half of 2006. Crossing for Palestinians is limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry.
(Many files were destroyed in aerial assaults during Operation Cast Lead.)Since the 2005 "disengagement", goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah.