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Article 13 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
This article follows others that unequivocally recognize the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of ALL members of the human family, which naturally includes Palestinians. The inalienable right to freedom of movement of the more than 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children who make up the population of the Gaza Strip has been denied by successive Israeli governments and the Mubarak regime which imposed a barbaric siege. Mainstream human rights organizations describe the Gaza Strip as the “largest open-air prison on earth.”
This deadly siege should have ended when the revolutionary Egyptian movement ousted Hosni Mubarak and his murderous regime during which Egyptians in their millions made clear that their emancipation and the freedom of Palestine were their joint and connected goals.
This raised the hopes of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, 1948 Palestine and the shatat (diaspora), as well as millions of others around the world, that the Egyptian government and the Supreme Military Council would finally break the blockade of Gaza, as Egyptians clearly wanted. We expected the Rafah Crossing to be treated as a sovereign border between two states, as open as all other Egyptian border crossings, including those with Libya, Sudan and Israel. This would ensure the dignity and free movement of Palestinians, and all travelers, to and from the Gaza Strip.
Former Egyptian Foreign Minister, Dr. Nabil Al-Arabi, made very encouraging iniitial statements that the previous Egyptian government’s treatment of Gaza was “disgraceful” and that the Rafah Crossing would be opened permanently. On 25 May 2011, Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency announced the permanent opening of Rafah. The former rules at the Crossing were to be reinstated, thus allowing Palestinians with passports to cross into Egypt every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for Fridays and holidays. According to a statement issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Palestinian women and children would be able to leave Gaza without restrictions, while men between the ages of 18 and 40 would have to obtain visas to enter Egypt. Thus more than 60 per cent of Gazans would be able to cross without requiring visas.
This decision of the government post-revolution was implemented for just two days: 28-29 May 2011, and this Rafah Crossing policy was in reality retracted without any formal announcement. The current number allowed to pass each day has been reduced to an arbitrary figure of between 160-300 travelers.
The sudden about-turn comes in the midst of the worst medical crisis that Gaza has ever suffered. Most operations have been put on hold as needed basic supplies are not available. Thousands of students have lost the opportunity to further their studies abroad because they have not been able to travel to their universities. Residency permits for Arab and foreign countries of thousands of other Gazans expired when they couldn’t leave Gaza.
The current system requires every potential traveler to register online with the Gaza Ministry of Interior and confirm this registration with the Ministry of Transport. The number registered to cross as of the end of June exceeds 20,000, and with the daily rate of travelers at the Crossing restricted to a maximum of 300, the possibility of crossing before mid-September is almost nil.
Those who travel via Rafah face inhumane conditions: standing for long hours in the heat, then escorted by police to Cairo airport, and then waiting in a holding cell until departure. No other citizens in the world have to endure this humiliation, uncertainty and indignity by another country when they choose to exercise their right to leave their own country.
Palestinians demand freedom of movement now!
These restrictions should no longer be imposed on Palestinian people. It is an offense to the immense ongoing struggles of the Egyptian people in pursuit of human rights for the present Egyptian authorities to so quickly break promises made to them.
Under the Geneva Conventions we are all entitled to freedom of movement and protection from collective punishment such as the arbitrary closure of the Crossing.
Our demand, therefore, is the permanent and free movement of Palestinians, without distinction or limitation of any kind, through the Rafah Crossing.
Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)
University Teachers’ Association in Palestine (UTAP)
Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)
General Union of Youth Entities (GUYE)
Palestinian Youth Against Israeli Apartheid (PYAIA)
Arab Cultural Forum
One Democratic State Group (ODSG)
Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, Palestine
Campaign for the Right to Enter the Occupied Palestinian Territory
Karama Campaign for the Free Movement of Palestinians
Palestine Justice Network
Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People (Beit Sahour)
Al-Rowwad Center (Aida Refugee Camp)
Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, Egypt
People’s Socialist Alliance Party (PSAP), Egypt
Democratic Workers Party, Egypt
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
The Free Egyptian Movement
National Front for Justice and Democracy, Egypt
Popular Democratic Movement for Change, Egypt [HASHD]
ElNadim Centre for the psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture, Egypt
Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Egypt
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Egypt
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Egypt
Egyptian Socialist Party