Rafah border crossing continues to be largely closed for the sixth month in a row

Medical cases especially affected by extended closure

The Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt has remained closed for the whole of April. The Border and Crossing Authority in Gaza estimates that over 30,000 people registered as humanitarian cases are on a waiting list, including cases of individuals seeking medical treatment and education abroad.

Due to longstanding restrictions associated with the blockade on the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing, the Rafah crossing became the primary exit point to the outside world in recent years for Palestinians from Gaza. However, severe restrictions have been imposed by the Egyptian authorities from June 2013 onwards in the context of political uncertainty and military operations in northern Sinai. During the second half of 2013 the crossing was closed for a total of 97 days, compared with five days during the first half of the year; the number of Palestinians crossing declined by 28 per cent compared with 2012. In 2014, the crossing opened for only 158 days and less than 100,000 people traversed the crossing. Following an attack on 24 October 2014 in the Sinai Peninsula in which over 30 Egyptian military personnel were killed, Rafah was closed for the remainder of the year, with a few exceptional openings. In 2015, up to the end of April, Rafah had opened for only five days with only around 5,000 people crossing.

The case of Mohammed Madi

Mohammed Madi, one day before his death, 4 May (Watan video).

Mohammed Madi, one day before his
death, 4 May (Watan video).

Mohammed Madi, 36 years of age, lived with his wife and four children in Rafah. He quit his job as a driver in spring 2014 when he became ill and started losing weight. Mohammed spent months going to a number of physicians before finally being diagnosed as suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma by a Shifa Hospital haematologist. He required chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a PET scan which are not available in Gaza. The Palestinian MoH referral department referred Mohammed for advanced treatment at an Israeli hospital. When Mohammed applied for a permit to travel out of Gaza, this was denied by the Israeli authorities on the grounds that he did not hold an Israeli-issued ID card.

Mohammed had entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt in 2000 with an Israeli visitor’s permit, married and applied for family reunification which was never granted. The DLO advised Mohammed to change his referral destination to Egypt, but with Rafah crossing closed, the chances of travelling to Egypt were minimal. Mohammed appealed through the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza but was informed that such a case could take several months and may only waste time.

Mohammed’s health deteriorated and he spent the last week of his life in Najjar Hospital in Rafah, unable to move, with his family still waiting for the border to open, until his death on 4 May.

Background on the Rafah crossing

The Rafah crossing was established in 1982 after the Israeli withdrawal from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. The crossing was managed by the Israeli Crossings Authority until Israel completed its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005. In November 2005, control of the crossing was transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) was established to monitor the operation of the crossing as part of the US-brokered Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) between Israel and the PA.

In June 2006, following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Rafah crossing began to operate on an irregular basis. In June 2007 following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, EUBAM suspended operations at Rafah, although the crossing continued to open two or three days each month for scheduled, but irregular, openings to allow for the limited passage of specified Palestinian pedestrians (see chart). In June 2010 in the wake of the Israeli attack on the Gazabound flotilla, the Egyptian authorities re-opened the crossing on a more regular basis in both directions, and also permitted humanitarian aid to enter Gaza through the crossing. The number of Palestinians crossing increased steadily over the following three years, with almost 420,000 crossing in both directions in 2012, when Rafah was open for a total of 312 days. This trend continued into the first six months of 2013, when 40,000 crossed monthly (in both directions).

* This piece originally appeared in OCHA’s April 2015 Humanitarian Bulletin.