In no particular order of importance, we thought we’d list some of the reasons why the opening of Rafah, while significant and helpful, doesn’t meet all of Gaza’s needs for access and why, as some voices in Israel have recently suggested, it can’t serve as Gaza’s only access point. Despite four unanticipated days of closure last week, the crossing has been operating for the passage of travelers on a more regular but still semi-limited basis.
1.Passage through the crossing remains limited: Egypt has indicated that it will operate the crossing six days per week during regular working hours, but it seems this won’t be enough: between 400 – 450 individuals have been able to travel through the crossing per day from Gaza to Egypt. From November 2005 to June 2006, approximately 660 passengers per day exited the Gaza Strip through Rafah and according to the Palestinian Crossings Authority, 10,000 people are currently waiting to travel.
2.The situation is unstable: As last week’s closure of the crossing indicates, the situation on both sides of Rafah remains unstable, such that it’s not clear whether the crossing will remain open, nor exactly to what degree.
3. Rafah doesn’t lead to the West Bank: Travel and movement of goods between Gaza and the West Bank remains severely limited, a problem which Rafah cannot address, as goods and Gaza ID holders are not allowed into the West Bank even via the Egypt-Jordan route. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are part of the same customs envelope, and are recognized, including by Israel, as a single territorial unit, which, despite four years of tight closure, still shares one economy, one education system, one healthcare system and countless familial and social ties.
4. Export is not moving and not through Rafah either: Export remains severely limited (about 2 truckloads per day, the last of which left Gaza on May 1, 2011, compared with a target of 400 per day in the Agreement on Movement and Access) and is currently not taking place through Rafah at all. This is impacting industries across Gaza which used to sell or export their wares in Israel, the West Bank and abroad. Before the closure, the vast majority of Gaza’s “exports” were sold in Israel and the West Bank.
5.Construction materials do not enter through Rafah: Construction materials are being let into Gaza via Kerem Shalom only (between Israel and Gaza) for approved projects undertaken by international organizations and following exceedingly lengthy bureaucratic procedures. Each month since January 2011, about 10% of what entered monthly in the years prior to June 2007 has entered for these specific projects. At present, Egyptian authorities have not indicated if or when they will allow construction materials to pass at Rafah.
6. Import of goods does not take place at Rafah: Imports to the Strip purchased by the private sector enter Gaza from Israel via Kerem Shalom Crossing. Even if Egypt were to allow goods to enter at Rafah (and there is no indication that they intend to do so nor when) the crossing and surrounding roadways are not currently equipped to handle the transfer of large quantities of goods, on the scale of the access needs of the Strip.
7. Humanitarian aid does not regularly enter through Rafah: Aid enters Gaza via Kerem Shalom Crossing, between Gaza and Israel. At present, Egyptian authorities have not indicated if or when they will allow convoys of humanitarian aid to pass at Rafah.
8.Medical patients in need of treatment not available in Gaza cannot always make the long journey to Egyptian hospitals. In any case, Palestinian hospitals in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, part of a common Palestinian health care system, are there to serve all residents of the Palestinian territory, including Gaza residents.
9. Reports prove it: Restrictions on access at the crossings between Israel and Gaza (at Kerem Shalom for goods and Erez for people) continue to impact the well-being of residents of the Strip. Yesterday UNRWA published a study showing high rates of unemployment and the Association for International Development Agencies also reported recently on how limits on the entrance of construction materials primarily impacts the work of aid agencies and residents of Gaza.
10. Rafah doesn’t lead to the West Bank: Oh wait, did we say that already? Well, we’re saying it again, because it’s very, very important.