Some 15,000 people who have asked to leave the Gaza Strip are still trapped there since last summer’s war. These people are imprisoned in the Strip without being able to return to their work or family abroad. Thousands of them need medical treatment and more than 1,000 others are students who couldn’t leave for their studies overseas and stand to lose their visas and scholarships and miss a year’s studies (as reported by Jack Khoury on Wednesday).
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In the last two days the Rafah checkpoint opened, but only in one direction – from Egyptian Rafah to the Gaza Strip. In the past two years the checkpoint has been closed most of the time. It only opens for a limited time and for a small number of people who are permitted to leave the Strip. The last time the checkpoint opened for entering and leaving the Strip was in the middle of March, for a total of 2,443 entries and exits.
Egypt’s refusal to enable Gaza residents to fly from Cairo completes the almost-complete blockade on the Strip’s people, apart from the Erez checkpoint, which is controlled by Israel. But despite the easing of some restrictions Israel announced after the war, the situation has remained almost the same.
“We feel like cattle in a pen. But even cattle are allowed sometimes to go out into an open space. In Gaza we’re forbidden to do so and we don’t even know why,” Mayasem Abu-Mer, a 25-year-old Gazan resident, said Tuesday. Abu-Mer was denied passage through the Erez checkpoint to the West Bank and from there to the Allenby checkpoint.
Delays in handling exit requests from the Gaza Strip is chronic. The Palestinian Civilian Committee submitted to Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories a first list including the names of some 350 students from Gaza, to arrange for their departure via the Allenby checkpoint to Jordan. The request was submitted last year. Meanwhile the semester began, scholarships and visas expired and only at the end of December did Israel approve the exit of 150 people on the list. Ultimately only 37 students left that way.
At the beginning of March, after 57 students were permitted to leave the Strip, those who came to the Allenby checkpoint were not allowed to enter Jordan because their visas had expired while they were waiting for their passage permits from Israel.
Control over checkpoints, airspace and sea renders the Gaza Strip heavily dependent on its neighbors. Israel, whether it wants to be or not, is to a large extent responsible for this population. Both the IDF and Shin Bet are in favor of giving more work permits to laborers. There’s certainly no reason for students who have families abroad and residents with urgent medical problems not to receive humane, efficient treatment.
We cannot allow the explosive security situation and the hostility toward Hamas to exacerbate the conditions in the Gaza Strip and increase the local pressure. This is not only a Palestinian interest but an Israeli one.