Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Did Egypt Really Open Rafah Crossing?
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 21, 2011
For most Palestinians, leaving Gaza through Egypt is as
exasperating a process as entering it. Governed by political and cultural
sensitivities, most Palestinian officials and public figures refrain from
criticizing the way Palestinians are treated at the Rafah border. However,
there is really no diplomatic language to describe the relationship between
desperate Palestinians – some literally fighting for their lives - and
Egyptian officials at the crossing which separates Gaza from Egypt.
“Gazans are treated like animals at the border,” a friend of mine told me.
She was afraid that her fiancé would not be allowed to leave Gaza, despite
the fact that his papers were in order. Having crossed the border myself
just a few days ago, I could not disagree with her statement.
New York Times reported on June 8: “After days of acrimony between Hamas and
Egypt over limitations on who could pass through the Rafah border crossing
between Gaza and Egypt, Hamas said Egypt had agreed to allow 550 people a
day to leave Gaza and to lengthen the operating hours of the crossing.”
And so the saga continues.
A few weeks after an official Egyptian
announcement to ‘permanently’ open the border - thus extending a lifeline
for trapped Palestinians under siege in Gaza - the Rafah border was opened
for two days of conditional operation in late May, and then closed again for
four days. Now it has once more ‘reopened’.
All the announcements
are proving to be no more than rhetoric. The latest ‘permanent’ reopening
has come with its own conditions and limitations, involving such factors as
gender, age, purpose of visit, and so on.
“Everyone has the right
to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,”
states Article 13 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This
universal principle, however, continues to evade most Palestinians in Gaza.
I was one of the very first Palestinians who stood at Rafah
following the announcement of a ‘permanent’ opening. Our bus waited at the
gate for a long time. I watched a father repeatedly try to reassure his
crying six-year-old child, who displayed obvious signs of a terrible bone
“Get the children out or they will die,” shouted an older
passenger as he gasped for air. The heat in the bus, combined with the smell
of trapped sweat was unbearable.
Passengers took it upon themselves
to leave the bus and stand outside, enduring disapproving looks from the
Egyptian officials. Our next task was finding clean water and a shady spot
in the arid zone separating the Egypt and Palestinian sides. There were no
A tangible feeling of despair and humiliation could be
read on the faces of the Gaza passengers.
No one seemed to be in
the mood to speak of the Egyptian revolution, a favorite topic of
conversation among most Palestinians. This zone is governed by an odd
relationship, one that goes back many years – well before Egypt, under Hosni
Mubarak, decided to shut down the border in 2006 in order to aid in the
political demise of Hamas.
The issue actually has nothing to do
with gender, age or logistics. All Palestinians are treated very poorly at
the Rafah crossing, and they continue to endure even after the toppling of
Mubarak, his family and the dismissal of the corrupt security apparatus. The
Egyptian revolution is yet to reach Gaza.
When the bus was finally
allowed to enter about five hours later, Palestinians dashed into the gate,
desperately hoping to be among the lucky ones allowed to go in. The anxiety
of the travellers usually makes them vulnerable to workers at the border who
promise them help in exchange for negotiated amounts of money. All of this
is actually a con, as the decision is made by a single man, referred to as
al-Mukhabarat, the ‘intelligence’.
Some are sent back while others
are allowed entry. Everyone is forced to wait for many hours – sometimes
even days - with no clear explanation as to what they are waiting for, or
why they are being sent back.
The very ill six-year-old held on his
dad’s jacket as they walked about, frantically trying to fulfill all the
requirements. Both seemed like they were about to collapse.
Mukhabarat determined that three Gaza students on their way to their
universities in Russia were to be sent back. They had jumped through many
hoops already to make it so far. Their hearts sank when they heard the
verdict. I protested on their behalf, and the decision was as arbitrarily
reversed as it was originally made.
Those who are sent back to Gaza
are escorted by unsympathetic officers to the same open spot, to wait for
the same haggard bus. Some of those who are allowed entry are escorted by
security personnel across the Sinai desert, all the way to Cairo
International Airport to be ‘deported’ to their final destinations. They are
all treated like common criminals.
“I can't watch my son die in
front of my eyes,” screamed the father of 11-year-old Mohammed Ali Saleh,
according to Mohammed Omer for IPS (June 10). He was addressing Egyptian
troops days after the border was supposedly ‘permanently’ reopened - for the
second time in less than a week.
Such compelling needs as medical
treatment, education and freedom keep bringing Palestinians back. The
Israeli siege has chocked Gaza to the point of near complete strangulation.
Egypt is Gaza’s only hope.
“I beg you to open the crossing…You
brothers of Egypt have humiliated us for so long. Isn't it time we had our
dignity back?” said Naziha Al-Sebakhi, 63, one of the many distressed faces
at the Rafah border, according to Mohammed Omer.
As they crossed
into Egypt, some of the passengers seemed euphoric. The three Russian
students and I shared a taxi to Cairo. A tape of Umm Kulthum’s ‘Amal Hyati’
– Hope of my Life – played over and over again. Despite everything, the
young men seemed to hold no resentment whatsoever towards Egypt.
just love Egypt…I don’t know why,” said Majid pensively, before falling
asleep from sheer exhaustion.
I thought of the six-year-old boy and
his dad. I wonder if they made it to the hospital on time.
Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an
internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), available on Amazon.com.