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Egypt blocks Rafah border in coordination with Israel: 1.8 million Palestinians denied free access to the world

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The 23-year old Palestinian wants to leave, like almost every young person. But travelling has become nearly impossible for Palestinians since Egypt has started a crackdown on Hamas, accusing it of being involved in the deadly attacks last October which left 33 Egyptian soldiers dead.

As a result, Egypt shut the Rafah border, the only remaining gateway for Palestinians in Gaza to the outside world, after Israel had imposed a blockade on the Strip in 2007. With this total closure, 1.8 million Palestinians are “locked in and denied free access to the world”.

Since last October, Egypt has only opened Rafah occasionally, for two or three days at a time and mostly only in one direction.
“Rafah now opens only for the dead,” says photographer Ezz al-Zanoon. “Maybe I must die to get out,” he adds, laughing about his morbid joke.

The last time the crossing was opened was 65 days ago when a Palestinian died. “It’s the right of everyone to move. Animals are allowed to move, why can’t we?” asks Bozom, adding Gaza’s people are living in a prison.”

“We are tired, fed up. We don’t have energy anymore,” says Nagham Mohanna, a coordinator at the Gaza Center for Media Freedom.
After Sisi and the Egyptian military toppled then-President Mohammed Morsi, relations with Gaza deteriorated dramatically. Before Sisi an average of 34,000 people crossed Rafah every month.

Mohanna was abroad when the crossing closed last year. Her two-week visit in Dubai turned into a 50-day nightmare. “My visa ran out, and I couldn’t buy a ticket to Cairo because Egypt prevented Palestinians from returning because of the situation.”

“I had to leave Dubai. I couldn’t go home and didn’t get a visa to go anywhere else. You feel like nobody wants you.”

Mohanna somehow reached Egypt and reached Palestine when the blockade opens for stranded Palestinians to cross back into Gaza: “There were so many people. The Egyptian security guards beat people up; they shot [their guns] into the air. Many of the people trying to cross didn’t make it.”

The experience was so bad that Mohanna says she will not try to leave again as long as the situation persists.

According to the Interior Ministry in Gaza, there are currently 25,000 humanitarian cases of Palestinians waiting to leave through Rafah, among them those with illnesses, students, and foreign passport holders.
Bozom says he has no information about when the border will open, nor does he expect the situation to change as Egypt does not show any sign to restore the relations with Gaza.

Hasan Zeyada, head of Gaza Community Center’s mental health programme, says the closure leaving psychological impacts with growing feeling s of helplessness, especially among the youth.

The humanitarian and economic situation in the Gaza Strip has worsened significantly over the last year, mostly due to the nine years of the Israeli-imposed siege, as well as the devastating effects of repeated wars by Israel on the coastal territory, most recently in 2014.

“Opening Rafah permanently is not an alternative to a full lifting of the Israeli blockade. All crossings, including Rafah, must be opened without restrictions if some two million people in Gaza are to avoid further descent into a humanitarian crisis, which is depriving them of rights and dignity on an appalling scale.”