Archive for Rafah crossing

Easing the siege or passing the buck?

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , on 29/05/2011 by 3071km

Written by: Sherine Tadros

Date published: 29th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

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The image of Palestinians crossing Rafah on Saturday was heart warming. Not only did it signal the release of Gazans from their mental and physical prison, but also Egyptians from a moral responsibility they have evaded for four years.

Israel’s response has been much like a disappointed parent – shaking its head at Egyptian officials and warning of what’s to come from their foolishness.

Israel is worried. Not so much about the opening of Rafah but because in so doing Egypt did what they promised they wouldn’t and Israel feared they would – they went back on a previous agreement. For years, Israel handled former president Hosni Mubarak, now it has to handle 80 million Egyptians.

The Gaza end game

Since the start of the siege, analysts have written about Israel’s strategy in Gaza – pushing it towards Egypt in hope of washing its hands of the territory. The West Bank is useful, symbolic, resourceful, key for the settlers and Israel’s security. Gaza is a pain Israel can do without.

So for the past four years, Israel has been increasing its buffer zone area on the border (for “security reasons”) effectively squeezing Gaza. That has meant that the most fertile land in the Strip has been taken away; instead Gazans were pushed southwards. Israel systematically deprived Gaza of electricity, which made the Strip’s residents have to increasingly rely on Egypt as a power source.

As the siege tightened, Egypt was forced into the position of either helping Gaza or being complicit in the siege. At first it did a little of both, turning a blind eye to the hundreds of tunnels being built underground connecting the Strip to Egypt while keeping the Rafah crossing closed.

The result of tunnel trade is the creation of an Egyptian economy in the Strip. Egyptian cigarettes, coke, detergent, fridges – all smuggled in…even the Egyptian pound is used in some places in southern Gaza.

Gaza has been turning lock stock and barrel into an extension of Egypt.

The Israelis didn’t mind. Egypt did. There is no economic or strategic benefit to annexing Gaza right now.

Opening Rafah may end up completing a process that has been taking place for years. Egypt is right to open its gates to Gazans, but this does not absolve Israel of its legal responsibility towards the people they are occupying.

A window has been opened to the outside world, but the door is still locked and only Israel holds the key.

Egypt FM: Gaza border crossing to be permanently opened

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Hamas, Palestine, Siege with tags , , , , , , on 28/04/2011 by 3071km

Date Published: 28/04/2011

Source: Haaretz

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Egyptian FM tells Al-Jazeera that preparations are already underway to permanently open Rafah border crossing, which would allow goods and people in and out of Gaza with no Israeli supervision.

Egypt’s foreign minister said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday that preparations were underway to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi told Al-Jazeera that within seven to 10 days, steps will be taken in order to alleviate the “blockade and suffering of the Palestinian nation.”

The announcement indicates a significant change in the policy on Gaza, which before Egypt’s uprising, was operated in conjunction with Israel. The opening of Rafah will allow the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission or supervision, which has not been the case up until now.

Israel’s blockade on Gaza has been a policy used in conjunction with Egyptian police to weaken Hamas, which has ruled over the strip since 2007. The policy also aims to reduce Hamas’ popularity among Gazans by creating economic hardship in the Strip.

Rafah’s opening would be a violation of an agreement reached in 2005 between the United States, Israel, Egypt, and the European Union, which gives EU monitors access to the crossing. The monitors were to reassure Israel that weapons and militants wouldn’t get into Gaza after its pullout from the territory in the fall of 2005.

Before Egypt’s uprising and ousting of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, the border between Egypt and Gaza had been sealed. It has occasionally opened the passage for limited periods.

No Gaza optimism over easing blockade

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , on 20/06/2010 by 3071km

Written by Jon Donnison

Date published: Sunday 20th June 2010

Source: BBC News

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Fishing boats in Gaza City's harbour

“I don’t need ketchup or mayonnaise from Israel. I need my business back,” says Nasser al-Helo standing on a busy street in Gaza City.

Mr Helo used to run a business making steel doors in the Gaza Strip. Before the blockade he was able to import metal from Israel and would produce more than 300 doors a month.

“Now, it’s a big zero,” he says. “I’ve lost $300,000 in the past three years.”

Private industry has been devastated by Israel’s blockade, which was tightened in 2007 after the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the coastal territory.

Factories making anything from furniture to textiles, floor tiles to biscuits have gone under.

The Israeli blockade has starved them of the raw materials they need to produce their goods.

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. The United Nations estimates unemployment is at 40% in Gaza. Mr Helo used to employ 32 people at his factory. Now there are only four.

‘Not enough’

The overwhelming feeling among Gazans is that Israel’s announcement on Thursday that it is “easing the blockade” is simply not enough.

Omar Shabban

The details of how the blockade will be “liberalised” are still not clear, but reportedly the Israeli authorities will allow more civilian goods to enter, including all food items, toys, stationery, kitchen utensils, mattresses and towels. Construction materials for civilian projects will be allowed in under international supervision.

“Of course it’s not enough,” says Omar Shabban, an economist at the Gaza-based think tank PalThink.

“What about the blockade on people for starters?” he asks.

“One-and-a-half million people are trapped in a prison unable to leave.”

Israel maintains tight control of the border with Gaza, only allowing out a limited number of people to seek medical treatment. Israel says this is needed to protect itself from “terrorist” attacks.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt has also been closed since 2007, although special medical cases are also sporadically allowed to pass through it.

Desperate vendors

Mr Shabban argues that what is really needed in Gaza is not a few more food items – many of which are already available through smuggling tunnels running under the Egyptian border – but a total lifting of the blockade to allow people to work in Israel, as over 100,000 people used to do.

GOODS ALLOWED INTO GAZA

Coriander

  • Canned meat and tuna, but not canned fruit
  • Mineral water, but not fruit juice
  • Sesame paste (tahini) but not jam
  • Tea and coffee but not chocolate
  • Cinnamon but not coriander

Details of Gaza blockade revealed

Gaza also used to export many goods to Israel and beyond. Strawberries and flowers are still two of Gaza’s most famous products, but most of them never get beyond the barrier into Israel.

Instead, in strawberry season in January they are sold dirt-cheap off huge wheelbarrows on street corners, the vendors desperate to sell them at any price before they rot.

Israel has argued that the blockade is necessary to put pressure on Hamas.

The group came out top in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, but the EU, the US and Israel refused to recognise Hamas in government unless it renounced violence and its commitment to destroy Israel.

Then in June 2007, Hamas ousted its secular rival, Fatah, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority security forces from Gaza.

Rockets

Over the past decade, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel, killing more than 20 Israelis.

Man selling strawberries in Gaza

But since Israel’s major offensive on Gaza in 2009, which devastated the territory and left more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, the number has dropped dramatically. One person – a Thai farm worker – has been killed in southern Israel by a rocket fired from Gaza in the past 12 months.

Hamas has tried to rein in rocket fire, but it does not control all the militant groups in Gaza and sporadic, usually ineffective rocket fire continues.

Israel says it is the responsibility of the Hamas authorities to stop all rocket attacks, and that the blockade is necessary to stop weapons being brought into Gaza.

But at least until now the list of items banned from entering Gaza has gone far beyond weapons. Coriander, chocolate and children’s toys have famously been excluded.

Low expectations

In actual fact, such things are readily available in the supermarkets in Gaza.

Millions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt.

Butcher in Gaza City

There is food on the shelves and in the markets but the blockade means it is too expensive for most people to afford. A kilo of beef smuggled from Egypt costs around $15, more than most Gazans earn in a day.

“We are living on a black-market economy,” says Mr Shabban.

Gazans have little faith in Israel’s announcement. At best, they will wait and see if anything changes in the coming weeks and months.

Indeed, like most places in the world, people here are more preoccupied with the World Cup. The cafes of Gaza City on Friday were full of people cheering on Algeria as they thrashed out a dire draw with England.

The beaches in Gaza are packed this weekend with thousand of children enjoying summer camps and frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea.

But as they play in the water, a reminder that the blockade of Gaza is still very much in place – the sound of machine-gun fire just a few kilometres off the coast.

Israeli navy ships, which continue to occupy and control Gaza’s territorial water, regularly open fire on Palestinian fishing boats that stray beyond the limits of where Israel allows them to fish.

Yet most of the children did not even bat an eyelid at the gunfire.

The blockade here has been come a way of life. Few people are optimistic that will change.

KEY ENTRY POINTS INTO GAZA

map of Gaza showing key entry points• Rafah – under Egyptian control. Since flotilla deaths, opened indefinitely for people only. Has been closed for the vast majority of the time over the last three years. Makeshift tunnels in this area used to smuggle in goods, including weapons

• Erez – under Israeli control. Crossing for pedestrians and cargo. Access restricted to Palestinians under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and to Egyptians or international aid officials

• Karni – main crossing point for commercial goods

• Sufa – official crossing point for construction materials

• Kerem Shalom – for commercial and humanitarian goods. These last three crossings have been frequently closed by Israeli army since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007

• Opening of seaport and bus routes to West Bank had been agreed in 2005 but plans since shelved

• Airport – bombed by Israel in early years of the 2000 Intifada

• ‘Buffer zone’ inside Gaza where it borders Israel. Gazan farmers forbidden to enter the zone

Rafah crossing: Who holds the keys?

Posted in Activism, Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, History, Israeli politics, Non-violent resistance, Palestine, Siege with tags , , on 10/10/2009 by 3071km

Source: Closed Zone

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Despite declarations that it has “disengaged” from the Gaza Strip, Israel maintains control of the Strip’s overland border crossings, territorial waters, and air space. This includes substantial, albeit indirect, control of the Rafah Crossing.

During the past 18 months, Israel tightened its closure of Gaza, almost completely restricting the passage of goods and people both to and from the Strip.

These policies punish innocent civilians with the goal of exerting pressure on the Hamas government, violating the rights of 1.5 million people who seek only to live ordinary lives – to be reunited with family, to pursue higher education, to receive quality medical treatment, and to earn a living.

The effects of the closure were particularly harsh during the military operation of Dec. 2008 – Jan. 2009. For three weeks, Gaza residents had nowhere to flee to escape the bombing.

Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement calls on the State of Israel to fully open Gaza’s crossings and to allow the real victims of the closure – 1.5 million human beings – the freedom of movement necessary to realize their dreams and aspirations.

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Click here to read the full report Rafah Crossing: Who holds the keys? by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement