Saturday, May 28, 2011

What Opening Rafah Means & Doesn't Mean


By Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Palestine Center (a US Campaign member organization)
May 28, 2011

The news was welcomed by many around the world this week when reports about a decision taken by Egypt's current military government to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza surfaced. But what does the opening of Rafah mean? There will undoubtedly be those trying to proclaim that life is on the up and up in Gaza now and that the siege is over. But Gaza and the siege that entraps it is immensely complicated. Ignoring the nuances of this policy and thinking that Gaza is equivalent to a solid black box that just had its lid opened is entirely misleading. It is important, especially as the anniversary of the attack on the Mavi Marmara approaches, to understand what the opening of Rafah means and does not mean, and to redouble our efforts to raise awareness about, and challenge, the continued Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip.

What the Opening of Rafah Does Not Mean: The siege is over.

The siege of the Gaza Strip is a multi-layered closure with many dimensions. Several closure policies contribute to the siege effect, and the opening of Rafah is unlikely to have a major impact on the overall effect simply because the remaining closure policies, enforced by Israel, are not changing.

First, what exactly is the Rafah Crossing? Rafah is a Palestinian town in the Gaza Strip which straddles the border with Egypt. A terminal at the border exists to facilitate the travel of people across the border, but Rafah is not designed as a crossing for supplies. The opening of Rafah, while it may allow for people in Gaza to exit (with the permission of Egypt still required of course), has little effect on the actual quantity of goods coming in and out of Gaza.