Crossing the Rafah border has been the odyssey of every Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip forever. Somehow, I cannot even remember a time when the Rafah border was totally open. Two years ago, I was asked by a journalist whether I remember a time when there were no restrictions over movement for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip or when we were able to travel freely. It didn’t take me much time to answer with a “No”. I still remember how we used to celebrate my uncles by making big banquets every time one of them would successfully make it to Gaza, spending at least a day or two (sometimes more) at the crossing. While celebrating their victorious 3-day return journeys, we would chat about the different ways Egyptians, Israelis and Palestinians would each treat Palestinian travellers. However, it was in 2007 when Hamas seized power over the Gaza Strip that Egypt’s perverse complicity in imposing a siege on the Gaza Strip started, leaving a population of around 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in one of the largest prison camps the world has seen.
Our enthusiasm in the Gaza Strip with the toppling of the former Mubarak regime in Egypt in February 2011 was linked to hopes that it would bring to an end to this epic of crossing the Rafah border. However, I remember the disappointment that this promised an easing of the blockade not a permanent opening of the borders. For, this easing did not prevent my mother, granted a medical report that shows her serious health condition needed urgent treatment, from being turned away twice at the Rafah Border. So this was an easing that had been deemed illegal but with which a supposedly US-backed government was complicit. At that time, we did expect that the siege would somehow come to an end. The Rafah border and the humiliation of Palestinians travelling through it has proved us wrong.
It is true that for the first time in four years, Palestinians from the Gaza Strip especially women and children were allowed to get out freely. However, the same restrictions over the movement of young male Palestinians aging between 18 and 40 were still ongoing. A limited number of around 300 to 400 Palestinians were allowed to cross daily, while hundreds of others were destined to either wait or be turned away.
Today, there is again a talk of a permanent opening of the Rafah border. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been pinning their hopes on the new Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, to put an end to the frequent closures which frequently take place under the heading of ‘security reasons’, i.e., the Hamas government. However, talk of the permanent opening of the Rafah border does not indicate that those previously mentioned restrictions shall be lifted. The Rafah border is still closed to trade and to the import of some basic construction materials which means that the 5-year-seige is still in effect. It also means that people will still be using the alternative tunnel trade which has now become the alternative means of getting to and from the Gaza Strip.
The ongoing unprovoked dehumanization of Palestinians crossing borders into Egypt shows no likelihood of change on the ground. So I have to ask myself, “Are we really expecting too much from the current Egyptian government?”