Rafah crossing still not so open

meeting with the Palestinian Legislative Council PLC.

On returning from on a delegation to the Gaza of UK parliamentarians recently, through Cairo, Murad Qureshi AM tells us what he saw first hand as the Arab spring enters its summer.  

The trip began in Cairo on the day that a new government with the same limited powers was sworn in as the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Council came under fire from the revolutionaries who refused to leave Tahrir Square.  The trip ended with news that the Hamas authorities in the Gaza strip had executed two men who were convicted of collaboration with Israel; reminding us all that it was as much a war as a siege that had yet to resolved along the Gaza strip.  

In-between, I gathered a number of impressions including the following: When we first entered the Gaza strip, it felt like an open prison which was the description used by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron last year. The Rafah crossing is the only route into the Gaza Strip on the Egyptian side whilst all the points of entry fromIsraelare closed off; therefore the Rafah crossing is a vital link to support the Gaza economy. The movement of goods and aid via the crossing is a vital lifeline for the Palestinians who live in the Gaza strip and who desperately rely on this channel for their basic sustenance.  In recent times, most of us around the world were under the impression that the Arab spring would have opened it up but alas, movement through the crossing is at best slow and if you’re a Palestinian painfully so.  What ever happens, one thing is for certain, that is,Egypt will play a key role in the survival of the Gaza strip through its management of the Rafah crossing. 

During the official tour, we of course paid a visit to the Palestinian legislative Council.  We were greeted by some of their members where we were told of the number of times the premises had been bombed by the Israeli forces.  WhileIsraelmay still have some difficulty accepting Hamas as the main political grouping running the Gaza strip, it is nonetheless incomprehensible and inexcusable that the democratic institution that represents Palestinians in the Gaza was bombed. Not surprisingly, the resilient character of its citizens has seen it rebuilt so that Palestinians can continue along a democratic road. 

It was harrowing also to learn about the plight of relatives of prisoners inGazawho have not been able to see their loved ones since their imprisonment in Israeli jails.  There are children who have never seen their fathers and who perhaps never will.  The siege has meant little if any Palestinian’s freedom to move between the Gaza or West Bank, let alone toIsrael.  This is where many would have worked making daily trips and the curtailment of this movement for the families is clearly isolating prisoners. 

The current siege is affecting the delivery of desperately needed medical supplies to hospitals like Al Shifa, where the lack of medicines and supplies to equipment like radiographs has meant that no less then 500 more patients have died since the siege began.  Some convoys of medical supplies have been allowed in like the “Miles of Smiles” initiative earlier in the month but it is not enough to plug the huge gap of critical care needed inGaza. 

And finally at our last stop back to Cairo was the Al-Asqa University.  Here, the educational apartheid between academic institutions inIsrael and Palestine was very apparent.  This does not bode well for the future.  Often links between academic institutions are the only thread of cohesion in countries or states existing within political and military adversaries but alas there were no signs that there is any such exchange of thought and views, often critical in maintaining links between states in difficult times.

 All this and many more impressions made me increasingly aware that the two state solution has become just a mirage in the desert sands.  If things are to move forward in the near future, recognition of Palestine is critical. In this respect moves are afoot to get the UN to recognise Palestine this coming Autumn and let us wish it much success.  In the meantime, the Arab spring has yet to forge a permanent change in the fortunes of Palestinians but as spring turns into summer, one starting point can be to open up the Rafah crossing – undoubtedly, the life line for citizens living in the Gaza strip.