Closing Gaza's Already Closed Checkpoints
Jan 25, 2005
Israel's announcement that it is closing the three checkpoints
around the Gaza Strip in the wake of last Thursday's terror attack
at the Karni crossing has created the impression that all the
crossings have been open recently. This, however, is not the case.
The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt - the only link that some
1,300,000 Gaza residents have with a foreign country - has been
closed for more than a month. It was closed on December 13, in
reaction to the Palestinian attack on an Israel Defense Forces base
in the area. Thousands of Palestinians who were abroad at the time
are stuck either at the crossing itself, in poor sanitary
conditions, or in hostels and hotels in Egypt, which
these "involuntary tourists" are paying for with their own dwindling
funds. At the same time, a similar number of Gazans are prevented
from leaving the Strip.
Under Israeli directives, Gaza residents have been banned for years -
starting before October 2000 - from returning from abroad via the
Allenby Bridge, Ben-Gurion International Airport or the Erez
crossing. In the last month, Israel has allowed some Gazans to
return via Erez, but only those who have appropriate connections in
Israel and in the Palestinian Authority, as well as United Nations
In the middle of last week, Israel allowed a small number of workers
and merchants to use the Erez crossing to leave Gaza, for the first
time in six months. Before then, people could only use that exit if
they were sick, diplomats, relatives of Palestinians jailed in
Israel, Palestinian VIPs, foreign visitors and Palestinians who are
citizens or residents of Israel and have family in Gaza.
Election observers stuck
For those who aren't VIPs, crossing through Erez takes hours. Last
Tuesday, P., a 64-year-old American citizen, came to Gaza to observe
the PA elections. At 9:30 A.M. she reached the Palestinian side of
the Erez crossing. Around noon, P. informed her friends in Gaza that
she and about 30 others were stuck at the checkpoint and prohibited
from crossing. Two hours later, half the people waiting were told
they could pass through.
The same day, Z., a pregnant woman in her late 20s from Jabalya
refugee camp, was waiting for three or four hours so she could go
for a medical check-up in Israel due to complications with her
pregnancy. She didn't feel well and was brought to the first aid
station at the Palestinian police station, where she had a
miscarriage. The IDF spokesman later said it had not received any
complaint about a pregnant woman detained at a checkpoint.
At around 3 P.M., seven Westerners were waiting at the crossing: two
Danes in their 70s, agricultural engineers who had visited Gaza as
consultants, and a few doctors from the Johns Hopkins University in
Maryland who had given a course in Gaza. They were unable to
understand why they weren't allowed to pass the 200 meters
separating the Palestinian side from the Israeli one. The reason
involves Israeli directives that require a Palestinian police
officer to tell an Israeli liaison representative the name of each
person arriving at the Palestinian side of the checkpoint. They are
allowed to cross only after Israeli approval.
Long wait at the crossing
According to the testimony of people who often pass through the Erez
crossing, the first delay begins when the Palestinian policeman has
problems reaching the Israeli liaison representative. Sometimes an
hour or two pass between the moment people give the Palestinian
officer their passport information and the moment someone on the
Israeli side responds in order to list the names. Then it takes time
until the Israeli official gives the okay.
The IDF said the delay was caused by the Palestinian officials,
saying they hadn't transmitted all the necessary information
immediately. But the Palestinian police, backed by eyewitnesses,
deny the charge.
The army also said Tuesday's delays were out of the ordinary, and
that delays generally don't last longer than half an hour. But
several people who pass through the Erez crossing on a regular
basis - at least when the checkpoint is open - say long delays are
not the exception, but the norm.
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