Israel-Hamas war

The door that might not open: Rafah crossing to Egypt Gazans’ only way out

Lian Buan

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The door that might not open: Rafah crossing to Egypt Gazans’ only way out
78 Filipinos are among the anxious Gazans waiting by the crossing

MANILA, Philippines – The Rafah crossing southernmost exit of the Gaza strip which leads to Egypt, is the only remaining way out for Gazans facing heavy bombardment from Israel, and it remains to be seen whether it will open soon or at all.

When Israel began retaliating after the Hamas attack, it gave the more than one million civilian Palestinians in the Gaza strip just 24 hours to move down south saying” evacuate south for your own safety and the safety of your families and distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields.”

But the Gazans asked, go where?

Gaza used to have seven points of access or “crossings” but only three remained open after Israel imposed a blockade in 2007, leading the United Nations to call it the largest open-air prison. The three crossings that remained open after 2007 were the Rafah crossing to Egypt and Beit Hanoun or Erez crossing to Israel, both of which were for people; and the Karem Abu Salem crossing near Rafah is meant only for goods.

Hamas fighters breached through the Erez crossing in the unprecedented attacks of October 7, which led Israel to close it and the Karem Abu Salem crossing which it also controls.

Historically, the Rafah crossing was never an easy access especially for Gazans. For one, it’s not open every day. In the last three years, it’s only open around half of the year according to data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

There appeared to be hope on Monday, October 16, when information spread from Egyptian sources that the Rafah crossing was going to reopen for the movement of aid, and to get foreigners out. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly denied that there was any truce “in exchange for getting foreigners out.”

Still, Gazans and especially foreign passport holders are waiting in the crossing for a chance of getting out, including 78 Filipinos. For these Filipinos though going through the crossing means they would leave behind their Palestinian families.

Flag, Person, Car
AT THE BORDER CROSSING. People with Egyptian flags cheer next to a convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid to Palestinians by Egyptian NGOs, as they wait for an agreement on the Rafah border crossing to enter Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the city of Al-Arish in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, Egypt, October 15, 2023.

“Today, civilians across Gaza lack food, electricity, and water in order for families to be able to meet their basic needs. Hospitals are rapidly running out of supplies and are facing increasingly difficult conditions under which they need to function,” said William Schomburg, the head of sub-delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza, speaking from the camp at Rafah crossing on Monday.

“The ICRC stands ready to meet the needs of Gazan communities. However, in order for us to be able to do this, we need safety, security, and supplies,” said Schomburg.

The door that might not open: Rafah crossing to Egypt Gazans’ only way out

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.