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Egypt’s coup regime limits access to the Rafah border crossing, stranding thousands of patients, students and business people

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YOUSEF ALHELOU, TRNN CORRESPONDENT, GAZA: This is the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip that links Gaza with the outside world. As people here are denied their right to freedom of movement into and out of Gaza, they call on all concerned parties to intervene in order to keep the Rafah crossing open 24/7.

Thousands of people, including students and patients, have been stranded here for several days waiting for the crossing to open. They demand the full reopening of the Rafah crossing permanently and unconditionally and to be treated with dignity.

The crossing has been closed for a week for what Egyptian authorities say are security reasons after the Egyptian army started a crackdown against militants in the Sinai peninsula.

Dozens of students demonstrated near the crossing. In response, Egyptian authorities agreed to open it on September 18 and 19 for four hours each day for “emergency cases only”. This will not address the needs of the the 500-plus medical cases, let alone the 5,000 humanitarian cases, students, business people, and workers waiting, some for several weeks, if not months, to get out of Gaza.

STRANDED GAZAN: I feel so depressed. I feel detained and humiliated and violated, because tonight one of the most basic rights that I have, like, the right to have education, the right to travel–and this is totally inhumane. And as you can see here, thousands of people are trying to leave, and only the Rafah border is going to be open for only four hours after seven days of complete closure. So this will not even solve 2 percent of the crisis that the closure, the partial and complete closure has led to.

STRANDED GAZAN: You know the situation in Gaza’s getting worse. By the time [incompr.] that we are student, that we are going to Turkey to study. But you know that nowadays we are stuck here, so we can’t travel. We asked the responsible persons to open this crossing that enable us to travel easily to our countries and to our study places.

ALHELOU: This scene demonstrates the immense amount of suffering and frustration caused by the closure of the Rafah crossing, the only access point for the Gaza Strip which has not been closed off by Israel.

The situation is chaotic, as you can see hundreds of people are waiting inside this hall at the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, waiting to hear their names.

STRANDED STUDENT: I am one of thousands of people who are stuck here in Gaza and cannot travel. I feel disappointed, because I’m stuck here in Gaza since two months and cannot travel. This is so frustrated, and we are so frustrated here in Gaza. I expect to facilitate our travel and [incompr.] bus here in Gaza. We are suffer too much from this misery. And I hope soon they will open the border so that we can travel and catch our study and our businesses out there.

ALHELOU: Egypt controls the Egyptian side of the crossing. And only since late 2005 the Palestinians have been in control of the Palestinian side of the crossing, after Israel withdrew its forces and the Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Being denied the right of freedom of movement for so many years, the ordinary people of Gaza’s 1.8 million who live in 360 square kilometers are victims of Israel’s prolonged military occupation and the political disagreements between the governments representing the two main rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas and the new Egyptian military regime.

Human rights groups say that Israel remains the occupying power in Gaza through controlling Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters, and land crossings, especially the Eriz pedestrian terminal that links Gaza with the West Bank.

HAMDI SHAQQOURA, THE PALESTINIAN CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: I have to put the whole affair back to track, back to the fundamental issue. Gaza Strip is an occupied territory according to international law. This is not our position. This is the position of international law. This is the position of the United Nations, all United Nations bodies and mechanism, including those of human rights. Gaza is an occupied territory.

The welfare of the occupied people lies on the hands and the–this is the main responsibility of the occupying force, which is Israel. Israel for the last six, seven years has been imposing severe closure measures. This is kind of collective punishment imposed illegally, according to international law, against a civilian population.

ALHELOU: It is worth nothing that prior to 1967, under an Egyptian administration, the Gaza Strip had no controlled borders with Egypt, and Gazans were able to drive through the Sinai up to the Suez Canal without being stopped at all.

Haidar Eid, an Independent Political Analyst, says that the restrictions imposed on Gazans are a form of collective punishment.

HAIDAR EID, INDEPENDENT POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what the new Egyptian regime has been doing against the Palestinians of Gaza amounts to a form of collective punishment. The Gaza Strip has been besieged since 2006, when Hamas won the January elections of 2006. The Mubarak regime was directly complicit in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians of Gaza. Unfortunately, this system of oppression has not come to an end even after the winning of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. But it has gotten worse since the military coup against Muslim Brothers. Now the Palestinians of Gaza are being actually punished for the mere fact that the Muslim Brothers are ruling the Gaza Strip. I think the major demand of the Palestinian leadership should be lifting the siege imposed on Gaza immediately by opening the Rafah crossing unconditionally and permanently 24/7.

ALHELOU: The Egyptian military regime, in power since July 3 after deposing former president Muhammad Morsi, has repeatedly accused Hamas-ruled Gaza of taking part in the fighting in the Sinai Peninsula.

Ordinary Palestinians recalled their experience, saying that the Egyptian authorities subjected them to harassment and deportation policy at Egyptian airports and crossings, even if they are simply transiting to and from Gaza.

YOUSEF ALJAMAL, BLOGGER: Nowadays, because of the situation in Egypt, when Palestinians arrive to Cairo International Airport, they are directly deported to Rafah crossing if they are lucky. If not, they will be sent back to the countries they flew to Cairo from–same as what happened with me in July this year. I was sent back to Malaysia. Others were sent back to Canada, Pakistan, Jordan, and other countries. But I think now things have changed. Most people who arrive to Cairo are deported directly to Rafah in case Rafah crossing is open.

ALHELOU: The siege on Gaza has been tightened, with the restrictions affecting the Rafah crossing and the destruction of the tunnels that serve as the lifeline for Gazans.

The Egyptian military has increased its campaign to curb the tunnels on the Egyptian side of the border since July’s ouster of Morsi. Meanwhilethe army is building a 500 meter buffer zone along the 12 kilometer shared border with Gaza. The Hamas government in Gaza condemned the Egyptian activities along the border and urged Egypt not to establish any security sterile zone.

Economic experts say that the latest measures have worsened the already fragile economic situation, as 70 percent of Gaza’s goods come via the tunnels.

MOHSEN ABU RAMADAN, ECONOMIC EXPERT (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): The Gaza Strip is facing a humanitarian crisis. There is severe shortage of fuel and construction materials that come from the Egyptian side via underground tunnels. Seventy percent of goods that Gaza needs are brought in through the tunnels. Most of these tunnels have been closed by Egyptian authorities in recent weeks.

Currently there is one Israeli-controlled commercial crossing is in operation, through which goods are imported into Gaza. But there are many restrictions imposed on the entry of some commodities. In addition to that, this crossing is sometimes closed due to what Israeli authorities say Jewish holidays or security reasons.

So the Gaza economy is totally dependent on the Israeli economy, as Palestinians have no control over the land crossings.

ALHELOU: Whilst the Egyptian closure of the Rafah crossing and the tunnels has exacerbated the existing situation, the fundamental issue to be tackled is the Israeli siege on Gaza, strengthened to a strangling point in mid 2007.

In light of the silence on part of the international community, now it remains to be seen if the people of Gaza will ever have a chance to live normal lives, especially as they are denied their right to move freely to and from Gaza, import and export without restrictions.

Yousef Alhelou, in Gaza for the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Yousef Al-Helou is a Palestinian journalist and correspondent for The Real News Network based in Gaza-Palestine & London. His work has been featured in a variety of media outlets including BBC, GRN, CBC Radio Canada, TV New Zealand, UN Observer, Reuters Institute, Middle East Monitor, Press TV, Al-Etejah TV, Maan News Network, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, PNN among many others. Yousef is a Reuters journalist fellow and a UN fellow as well and took part in many speaking tours in the UK/Ireland about his work experience, reporting in a war zone. Yousef covered the infighting between Fatah and Hamas as well as the two Israeli wars on Gaza in late 2008/early 2009 and late 2012, arrival of siege-breaking boats and many other major events since 2006. Yousef runs Gaza TV News page on Facebook that has more than 49,000 followers. Currently he is working on his research about the rise of citizen journalists in Gaza and their impact of public perception of Palestine in the West.