Rights groups: Rafah border crossing must be opened

After traveling through the northern Erez checkpoint into Gaza after being bussed from Egypt via Israel, a Palestinian family flees as an Israeli tank moving into position, 30 July 2007. Several hundred of the more than 5,000 Palestinians stranded for weeks in Egypt after Israel sealed Gaza’s borders returned home today. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)


Israeli, Palestinian and European human rights organizations today issued a joint declaration calling on Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the European Union, and Egypt, to immediately open Gaza’s borders to passenger traffic, irrespective of their political agenda concerning Hamas. The organizations jointly stated that residents of the Strip must not be used as pawns in the struggle for control in Gaza. The continuous closure of the border crossing for more than six weeks is causing severe harm to hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents who cannot leave the Strip or return to it, impairing their ability to earn a living, receive medical treatment, or pursue education abroad. Various reports indicate that more than 20 people have already died while waiting to return to Gaza from Egypt.

A Gaza resident, aged 25, who is stuck on the Egyptian side of Rafah with his wife and infant son, told Gisha’s researcher: “Our situation is a nightmare, it’s hell. We came for 15 days to get treatment for the baby, and now we have been here for 65 days. My money has run out. There are many sick people here who traveled to Egypt for medical treatment and got stuck here … I have another son in Gaza and we cannot go back to him.” Another man, who is waiting at the al-Arish airport, said: “More than ninety people are stuck here … There are seriously ill people among us who went to Egypt for treatment and are now trapped here.”

The call by the organizations was directed at the four parties involved in operating the Rafah border crossing. According to the call, Israel’s duty to act to open the border between Gaza and Egypt is based on its responsibility to ensure the well-being of Palestinian residents of the Strip, due to Israel’s position as an occupying force, employing effective control over Gaza. There is importance to finding emergency solutions to reduce the suffering of those stranded in Egypt, said the organizations. However, those cannot replace the Rafah crossing, and there must be a solution to its operational difficulties.

The organizations called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to care for the welfare of Gaza residents and to demand that Israel open Rafah crossing. The groups also said that it is incumbent upon the Hamas leadership in the Strip — which controls the security forces in Gaza — to allow for the safe opening of the crossing from the Gaza side, as part of its duty to safeguard the welfare and rights of Gaza’s residents.

The coalition of organizations called on Egypt to play its part by opening the border crossing from its side, and to attend to the needs of the thousands of Gaza residents waiting, some in intolerable conditions, on the Egyptian side. The organizations also called upon the European Union to issue an unequivocal statement that the Rafah border crossing must be opened immediately, and to demand that the parties permit the European observers to return to the crossing, since their presence is essential for its operation.

Participating organizations: Al-Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Addameer - Prisoners’ Rights and Support Groups, B’Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights

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