Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip have only one gateway to the outside world that is not directly controlled by Israel: the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
It is a “lifeline” for Palestinians that Cairo has tightly controlled for years, at times limiting the length of time it remains open to just 32 days a year.
These restrictions are part of Israel’s blockade of Gaza since 2007, which has transformed the Palestinian enclave into what some call an “open-air prison.”
But since Israel launched a brutal bombing campaign on Gaza last month, Egypt has failed to facilitate the entry of life-saving aid to more than 2.2 million people, citing Israeli restrictions. .
The first aid convoy, made up of 20 trucks, finally entered on October 21, 13 days after the start of the assault. Before that, Egypt said the crossing was officially open but unusable due to Israeli shelling on both sides of the border, which destroyed parts of the crossing and the roads surrounding it.
The amount of daily aid allowed into Gaza, estimated at around 31 truckloads per day before a four-day truce was agreed last week, was a “drop in the ocean” compared to the average of 500 daily humanitarian aid trucks that previously arrived. enter the band, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Under the temporary truce agreement reached between Hamas and Israel on Thursday, around 200 trucks have since been allowed in each day.
Middle East Eye analyzes the historical and legal context of the restrictions imposed by Egypt and Israel on the Rafah crossing, and how these countries contributed to the siege of the Gaza Strip over the years.
Israel announced a “total siege” of Gaza on October 9, barring the entry of fuel, food, medicine and other essential goods for Gaza’s besieged population.
The Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing, under Israeli control, used for pedestrian traffic, and the Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing, used for the transport of goods, were closed to an extent widely criticized by officials and UN experts as a form of “collective punishment”. .
The siege coincided with an intensive bombing campaign and ground incursion that killed nearly 15,000 Palestinians in 50 days, including at least 6,150 children. Thousands more are missing under the rubble.
The attacks began on October 7 following a Palestinian attack by Hamas in southern Israel that killed around 1,200 people.
Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes bombed the Rafah crossing while imposing strict conditions on Egypt regarding the entry of humanitarian convoys.
Humanitarian trucks due to enter Gaza via Rafah must first travel a distance of more than 100 km (62 miles) to the Nitzana crossing point between Egypt and Israel for a security check, then return to Rafah for another check before entering Gaza.
Cindy McCain, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), called the Israeli government’s restrictions and inspection conditions “insane.” Egypt’s Foreign Ministry also criticized the measures, saying they significantly delayed the delivery of crucial aid.
But even before the current conflict, the Rafah crossing was regularly closed by Egypt, particularly since the 2007 Israeli blockade.
UN data shows the worst period of closure occurred between 2015 and 2017, when the crossing was open on average only three days a month.
It was mostly open during the previous five years, while it has been closed on average every other day since 2018.
Rights groups have denounced Israel and Egypt for closing the crossing.
“Israel, with Egypt’s help, has turned Gaza into an open-air prison,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.
Israeli human rights group B’tselem said Egypt was “a partner in Israel’s policy of siege.”
Both rights groups describe the siege, including the closure of the Rafah crossing, as amounting to the crime against humanity of apartheid.
The history and legal framework of the Rafah crossing dates back more than 40 years.
Located on southern Gaza’s border with Egypt, the crossing became an international border following Israel’s 1982 withdrawal from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Under the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Israel returned Sinai to Egyptian control but maintained its occupation of Gaza.
“They cannot go to Egypt, nor return to the northern Gaza Strip…Gaza is almost completely destroyed and uninhabitable. »
– Lorenzo Navone, speaker
A new border is then created between Gaza and Egypt, dividing the city of Rafah into two parts; an Egyptian and another Palestinian. This split came into effect after the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai in 1982.
The crossing was then controlled by the Israeli airport authorities on the Palestinian side, while the Egyptian army controlled it on its side.
The 1979 treaty also established the Philadelphia Road, known as the Philadelphia Corridor, a 14 km long (100 meters wide) buffer zone along the entire Gaza-Egypt border, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Karem Abu Salem border post with Israel. The treaty gave Israel control of the route.
The Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), paved the way for the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was thus grant limited autonomy over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. .
Meanwhile, the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement established a new system of joint control over the Rafah crossing, with Israel retaining most control over people’s access, and the Palestinian Authority sharing some control over security and control.
However, in January 2001, Israel took full control of the crossing following the Second Palestinian Intifada. In December of the same year, Israeli forces destroyed Gaza’s Yasser Arafat International Airport, the only airport in the Palestinian territories, established only three years earlier under the Oslo Accords.
On September 1, 2005, Egypt and Israel signed the agreement on the deployment of a designated force of border guards along the border in the Rafah region, also known as the Philadelphia Agreement.
The agreement allows Egypt to deploy 750 border guards along the Philadelphia route to patrol the border on the Egyptian side. The Egyptian force would not be deployed for military purposes and would not change the status of the road as a demilitarized buffer zone. However, its goal was to “fight terrorism and infiltration across the border.”
Later that month, Israel implemented what it called “a disengagement plan” from Gaza, withdrawing its forces and settlers from the Palestinian territory because its continued presence there was seen as a risk to Security. Israel also closed the Rafah crossing for a few months.
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On November 15, 2005, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed the Movement and Access Agreement (AMA) for joint control of the crossing, which maintained Israel’s authority to close the border and restrict access individuals.
The agreement restricts the use of the crossing to holders of Palestinian identity cards and other categories of foreigners, including “diplomats, foreign investors, foreign representatives of recognized international organizations and humanitarian cases”, based on prior notification to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Notification to Israel, in accordance with the principles attached to the agreement, would be sent 48 hours before the planned trip.
WADA said observers from the EU Border Assistance Mission Rafah (EUBAM Rafah) would supervise border operations.
The crossing was reopened on November 25, 2005, when Israel handed control of the Rafah crossing to the Palestinian Authority, with restrictions on movement for Palestinians who were only allowed to use it for nine and a half hours a day. day, in accordance with the AMA.
Until the 2007 blockade, Israel controlled six of Gaza’s seven crossing points, in addition to its exclusive control over the strip’s air and sea space, as well as access to public services, including water, electricity and telecommunications.
Just two months after the Palestinian Authority regained control of the crossing, Hamas won the 2006 legislative elections, ousting its rival Fatah from power.
Later that year, a Hamas-led incursion at the Karem Abu Salem crossing killed two Israeli soldiers and captured another, Gilad Shalit.
In retaliation, Israel bombed Gaza, closed the Rafah crossing and barred EUBAM Rafah personnel from accessing it.
In June 2007, Palestinian political tensions turned deadly, with Hamas wresting control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah and becoming its de facto leader.
Subsequently, Israel suspended the AMA and the Rafah crossing came under the joint control of Hamas and Egypt.
“Random and unpredictable”
Israel then imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza, severely restricting the movement of people and goods.
The siege included the closure of all Gaza crossings except those at Rafah, Beit Hanoun and Karem Abu Salem. The Rafah crossing was closed for most of 2007 and 2008, which had serious consequences for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.
Lorenzo Navone, a professor at the University of Strasbourg who was based in North Sinai to conduct research on the Rafah crossing between 2008 and 2011, said…