Its been a while since I’ve blogged, I realize. Much too long. This has been mainly due to being completely engrossed in finishing the Gaza Kitchen, which as many of you might now, is nearly out (advanced orders now being taken!) and has gotten some rave early reviews from the likes of Claudi Roden, Anthony Bourdain, and Ghada Karmi. But I want to get back in the swing of things-so to start I’m posting a piece I recently wrote for al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, on the status of Rafah (think of it as everything you ever wanted to know about the Rafah Crossing!) from last month…
When it comes to understanding the complicated realities of the Gaza Strip, the Rafah Crossing ranks among the greatest sources of confusion: Many people know it is the main gateway in and out of the blockaded Palestinian territory, and that it is frequently closed. But other details are fuzzy. Many are likely unaware that even when the crossing is supposedly “open”, it is still closed to large segments of the population – both the Palestinian residents of Gaza and others.
The government of the newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and Hamas leaders were scheduled to meet mid-September to discuss border security and easing of passage through the Rafah Crossing, according to press reports. The outcome remains to be seen, but so far successive Egyptian governments have adopted the Israeli principles governing the Crossing, even though Israel itself no longer manages it. Simply put, those principles are that, only Gaza Palestinians listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry are permitted to use the crossing. Visitors and non-resident Palestinians – even Palestinians from the West Bank – are still forbidden from entering Gaza, and this includes the spouses of resident Palestinians. Moreover, most young males face great difficulty in passing in or out and are often denied permission outright by Egyptian authorities.
Last month, the Crossing made the headlines again after a series of attacks by masked gunmen on military checkpoints in the Sinai. The Egyptian government closed Rafah indefinitely, much to the dismay of the Gaza Palestinians, who saw no reason for the closure and had no hand in the attacks. The Egyptian move brought back chilling reminders of the policies of years past carried out by both Israel and the government of the deposed president Hosni Mubarak, when the crossing was explicitly closed (according to leaked policy documents at the time) as a punitive measure, a form of collective punishment on the civilian residents of Gaza.
The Mursi government eventually reversed its decision, after having stranded thousands of Palestinians on either side of the border – but it remains an open question how much influence Mursi wields regarding the border crossing, which is controlled by the Egyptian border patrol.
Read more here on the Al-Shabaka website.