There are only two ways in and out of the Gaza Strip.
Israel controls the Erez border crossing in the north and effectively slammed that door shut in 2006 for Palestinians and visitors.
The Rafah border crossing in the south with Egypt has been a difficult option for many but at least an option, until the military coup in July 2013. Now Rafah is effectively closed, trapping 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza and preventing many Palestinians and others from entering Gaza.
Recently Egyptian authorities have forcibly deported international visitors who indicate their purpose of travel to Cairo is to proceed to Gaza.
Would the Rafah border open if U.S. authorities demanded that it open?
I think there’s a good chance it would. The U.S. still has some clout in Egypt, maybe not as much as it had when President Mubarak was in office, but Secretary Kerry talks as though the U.S. has leverage to impact the actions of the military junta in Cairo.
Early this month, Kerry spelled out some conditions that Egyptian authorities must satisfy if the U.S. is going to resume military aid to that country. What if one of those conditions was opening up the Rafah border?
(I can already hear my friends who are more experienced than me in the quirks of Middle East foreign policy, telling me I’m naive. The U.S. wants that Rafah border closed as much as Israel and the Egyptian military junta do.)
Of course, Secretary Kerry has never explicitly shared that position, but our “special relationship” with Israel makes it a foregone conclusion.
I recently sent a letter to Kerry and Marc Sievers, the man in charge of the US Embassy in Cairo, about my concerns. My letter is here. I was surprised that it cost only $1.50 or so to send the letter to Cairo with an expected transit of 10 days.
What would happen if Sievers received lots of letters from Americans urging him to put pressure on Egyptian authorities to open the Rafah border?
He might dump them in the circular filing cabinet. He might get on the phone and request advice from Secretary Kerry. He might respond to the letter writers.
So I’m going to send Marc Sievers a letter every week for the foreseeable future with a different message focused on the Rafah border crossing. If my fellow Americans want to do the same, here’s his address.
5 Tawfik Diab Street
Garden City, Cairo