Passengers waiting at Rafah Crossing. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 24 August 2013
In September 2005, following the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, Israel issued an order declaring the end of the military government there. However, Israel continues to control almost all the exit and entry points around the Gaza Strip. The area borders Israel on the north and east, and entry into Israel is possible only at crossings under its control. Access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea, to the west, and by air, is under Israel's exclusive control.
Rafah Crossing, on the other hand, is located on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Initially, it was widely assumed that the disengagement had also ended Israel's control of this crossing, and that free passage would now be possible. It quickly became clear that matters were more complicated.
Following the disengagement, Rafah Crossing was closed for three months. In November 2005, the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) was signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The agreement established that the Rafah crossing would be operated by the Palestinian Authority, under monitoring of the European Union and remote monitoring by Israeli security personnel. The agreement enabled Gazans holding Palestinian identity cards to cross. For seven months, the crossing operated in an orderly manner, and some 1,320 persons crossed daily.
On 25 June 2006, following the abduction of the soldier Gilad Shalit, Israel decided to close the crossing. It informed the European monitors that the crossing was closed for security reasons, and ceased to carry out its part of the agreement. Israel allowed the crossing to be opened only in isolated cases, and without giving advance notice. From then until June 2007, the crossing was closed for 265 days. After Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Israel announced the freezing of the AMA. The Palestinian force that operated the crossing on behalf of the Palestinian Authority was unable to reach the crossing due to Hamas' control of the Gaza Strip. Israel objected to opening the crossing on the grounds that it was unable to monitor the persons passing through it, and Egypt closed the border since it was impossible to implement the AMA. The European force also stopped its monitoring activities due to the European Union's refusal to cooperate with Hamas. As a result, since June 2007, the crossing has not been opened in accordance with the AMA.
Crowded buses at one of the rare times Rafah Crossing has been open. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 6 March 2007.
Initially, Egypt did not open the crossing on its side either, thereby becoming a partner to Israel’s siege policy. Closing the crossing denies the residents of Gaza any opportunity to go abroad, even when necessary for humanitarian reasons, such as to receive emergency medical treatment.
On 2 June 2010, Egypt opened the Rafah Crossing on its side of the border with Gaza and permitted passage for humanitarian and medical needs as well as to students, foreign residents and Palestinians interested in visiting relatives abroad.
At the end of May 2011, after nearly four years of restrictions on the use of the crossing, Egypt announced the official, permanent opening of the Rafah Crossing to Palestinians. Since then, and until July 2013, the crossing was open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and closed only on Fridays and official holidays. Egyptian authorities stated that women, minors and men over the age of 45 did not need entry visas to Egypt, and that the number of persons using the crossing would be limited to 600 a day. After initial difficulties and restrictions, Gaza Strip residents were able to pass relatively freely through the Rafah Crossing.
However, Rafah Crossing has been mostly closed ever since Muhammad Morsi was overthrown in July 2013. The crossing is opened only several days a year and even then passage is granted only to individuals who meet certain strict criteria - such as foreign nationals, the gravely ill, and students who go to school in Egypt or other countries. Individuals who want to travel abroad for meetings, family-related matters, professional courses or vacations are unable to do so. According to the World Health Organization and the Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip, Rafah Crossing was open only 24 days in 2015. On four of those days, it was open only to Muslim pilgrims returning from their Hajj to Mecca. In 2015 only 148 patients were allowed to go through Rafah Crossing for the purpose of medical treatment in Egypt. In contrast, from June 2012 to July 2013 - when Rafah Crossing was open regularly - Egypt allowed in approx. 4,000 individuals a month for medical treatment.