The nine-day long closure, imposed by Israeli forces prior to their bloody siege of Rafah in which more than 45 Palestinians were killed, has affected Palestinians travelling both into and out of the Gaza Strip.
Under mounting international pressure, the crossing was opened temporarily on Sunday to let in some of the 3000 Palestinians who were stuck on the border crossing for more than a week.
The scene was one of absolute misery and chaos.
Thin blankets and empty tins of food were strewn about on the filthy floor of the overcrowded Egyptian passport hall that had become a makeshift shelter for hundreds of stranded Palestinians.
Swarms of flies feasted on the rubbish left behind, and a noxious stench emanated from the single bathroom in the hall.
Upon receiving word that the border had been opened temporarily, frantic passengers – the sick, the pregnant, the young and the old – rushed to get on the few buses that would load them a few metres away to the Israeli side, one bus at a time, at a painstakingly slow pace, before the border closed again.
More than 45 Palestinians were
Many simply broke down in hysteria. “I can’t take this any more … please … please let me through … I just had an eye operation. I can barely see,” wailed one woman as she fell down to the floor in tears.
Another woman, Umm Ramzi, sat alone, a distance from the clamour of the crowd, comforting her ailing son. “He just had a stroke last week. He’s very sick,” she said.
“We’ve been sleeping here for seven nights now. This is a crime. And frankly I blame the Arab leaders for not doing more, they are a useless bunch.”
Witnesses said several open-heart surgery patients had to be rescued by ambulances after suffering post-operative strokes on the border with little food and no health care.
Cry for help
The stranded Palestinians’ cries for help went unanswered for several days, says one traveller who spent six days on the crossing, when he decided to take some action.
“I can’t take this any more … please please … let me
A stranded Palestinian woman
“I called everyone I could think of: human rights organisations in Switzerland, NGOs in the United States, the Egyptian Red Crescent, even Aljazeera, because no one seemed to be paying attention to the fact that 3000 people were stranded with no food or water for five days on the border,” said Salim Buhaisi, a vet from Gaza.
The Egyptian Red Crescent answered the call and began providing the tired travellers with blankets and food on the sixth day of the closure.
An Egyptian border official told Aljazeera.net on condition of anonymity they received direct orders from the Israelis on when to close the border.
There was little they could do in such a situation, said the officer, except to wait for new directives.
“This time we were told it was because of the impending operation in Rafah,” he said.
The officer also admitted it was the first time the border was closed pre-emptively. In the past, the border had been closed in response to a Palestinian strike, not an Israeli one.
The crossing was closed off to all travellers again on Tuesday, leaving Gaza a virtual prison. This marks the longest period the Rafah border crossing has been closed to incoming and outgoing travellers.