by Eva Bartlett (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1434)
The suffering of the people of Gaza may have been overshadowed by events in Egypt but their suffering continues. It has in fact intensified. A number of organizations have demanded lifting the siege of Gaza.
The Egyptian government once again closed the Rafah Crossing on September 21 after it was opened for barely two days. People and goods were allowed to cross in a window of only four hours each day. The plight of the people of Gaza has always been grim but it has become much worse since the July 3 military coup in Egypt.
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the new military dictator and real power behind the façade of a “civilian” president coordinates his moves closely with his Israeli sponsors. He has destroyed more than 80% of the tunnels — Gaza’s lifeline — that are used to smuggle food, medicines and other essential items of survival from Egypt.
Article 13 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states:
This article follows others that unequivocally recognize the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of ALL members of the human family, which naturally includes the Palestinians. The inalienable right to freedom of movement of the more than 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children who make up the population of the Gaza Strip has been denied by successive Israeli governments and the Mubarak regime, which imposed a barbaric siege. Mainstream human rights organizations describe the Gaza Strip as the “largest open-air prison on earth.” This deadly siege should have ended when the revolutionary Egyptian movement ousted Hosni Mubarak and his murderous regime, during which Egyptians in their millions made clear that their emancipation and the freedom of Palestine were their joint and connected goals.
This raised the hopes of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, 1948 Palestine and the shatat (diaspora), as well as millions of others around the world, that the Egyptian government and the Supreme Military Council would finally break the blockade of Gaza, as Egyptians clearly wanted. We expected the Rafah Crossing to be treated as a sovereign border between two states, as open as all other Egyptian border crossings, including those with Libya, Sudan and Israel. This would ensure the dignity and free movement of Palestinians, and all travelers, to and from the Gaza Strip.
Former Egyptian Foreign Minister, Dr. Nabil al-Arabi, made very encouraging initial statements that the previous Egyptian government’s treatment of Gaza was “disgraceful” and that the Rafah Crossing would be opened permanently. On May 25, 2011, Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency (MENA) announced the permanent opening of Rafah. The former rules at the Crossing were to be reinstated, thus allowing Palestinians with passports to cross into Egypt every day from 9 am to 5 pm except for Fridays and holidays. According to a statement issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Palestinian women and children would be able to leave Gaza without restrictions, while men between 18–40 years of age would have to obtain visas to enter Egypt. Thus more than 60% of Gazans would be able to cross without requiring visas.
This decision of the government post-revolution was implemented for just two days: May 28 to 29, 2011. The Rafah Crossing policy was in reality retracted without any formal announcement. The current number allowed to pass each day has been reduced to an arbitrary figure of between 160–300 travelers.
The sudden about-turn comes in the midst of the worst medical crisis that Gaza has ever suffered. Most surgical operations have been postponed since much-needed basic medical supplies are not available. Thousands of students have lost the opportunity to further their studies abroad because they have not been able to travel to join their university. Residency permits for Arab and foreign countries of thousands of other Gazans expired when they could not leave Gaza. This has added to the suffering of the families in Gaza. Remittances from family members working abroad are one of the few sources of revenue for the desperate people of Gaza.
The current system requires every potential traveler to register online with the Gaza Ministry of Interior and confirm this registration with the Ministry of Transport. The number registered to cross as of the end of June exceeded 20,000 (it has clearly surpassed this number manifold), and with the daily rate of travelers at the Crossing restricted to a maximum of 300, the possibility of crossing for most of these people is almost nil.
Those who travel via Rafah face inhumane conditions: standing for long hours in the heat, then escorted by police to Cairo airport. Once there, they are required to wait in a holding cell, like prisoners, until flight departure. No other citizens in the world have to endure such humiliation, uncertainty and indignity by another country when they choose to exercise the right to leave their own country.
Palestinians demand freedom of movement now!
These restrictions should no longer be imposed on the Palestinian people. It is an offense to the immense ongoing struggles of the Egyptian people, in pursuit of human rights, for the present Egyptian authorities to so quickly break promises made to them.
Under the Geneva Conventions we are all entitled to freedom of movement and protection from collective punishment — such as the arbitrary closure of the Crossing.
Our demand, therefore, is the permanent and free movement of Palestinians, without distinction or limitation of any kind, through the Rafah Crossing.
The above is part of a petition that has been gaining global support from people of conscience and those who respect human rights and dignity. The petition has been made on behalf of the following organizations and individuals:
Eva Bartlett is a Canadian Peace Activist who has been to Gaza many times to express solidarity with Palestinian families.