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Press Release: Open Rafah Now!

Joint call by Israeli, Palestinian and European human rights organizations:

The Rafah border crossing must be opened;

The residents are not pawns in the struggle for control of the Gaza Strip

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 Gaza must not be used as pawns in the struggle for control of the area. 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 Gaza 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 El-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 as the occupying power to ensure the well-being of Palestinian residents of Gaza. It is important to implement emergency solutions to reduce the suffering of those stranded in Egypt, said the organisations. However, such ad hoc measures cannot replace the orderly functioning of the Rafah crossing, and a solution must be found to overcome the operational difficulties.

The organizations called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to ensure 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 Gaza – 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 in the meanwhile 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; 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; The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights; The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network; Physicians for Human Rights-Israel; The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel; Rabbis for Human Rights; Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights.

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For more details, and complete testimonies: B’Tselem Spokesperson Sarit Michaeli, +972-(0)50-5387230, [email protected]; Gisha Spokesperson Noga Eitan, +972-(0)54 753 3644, [email protected]