Brief: Sinai’s Rising Walls Close on 1.5 Million Palestinians in Rafah
February 23 2024

On Feb. 14, the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights released information on state-sanctioned construction occurring in Eastern Sinai. The report revealed that construction work is intended to build “a gated area surrounded by 7-meter-high walls” meant to contain over 100,000 people in the event that Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) forcibly expel Palestinians from Gaza into the Sinai Desert. 

Satellite photos and video of the Sinai show the construction of a wall along the Rafah-Egypt crossing. Reports claim the construction site “is surrounded by concrete walls and far from any Egyptian settlements. Large numbers of tents have been delivered to the site.” It appears like Egypt is preparing to receive an influx of Palestinians who are currently under siege near the Rafah crossing.

Instead of permitting aid trucks to enter Gaza, a concrete cage is being erected to contain Palestinians who flee a genocide. This buffer zone will transform into a refugee camp in the middle of the Sinai Desert, where Palestinians from Gaza will remain stateless refugees, overlooked by the world and condemned to live an unjust life of humiliation. The pattern that was initiated in the 1948 Nakba, where Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries were treated as second-class citizens at best in refugee camps and buffer zones, will likely be repeated.

Since Oct. 7, Palestinians in Gaza have been experiencing a genocide and humanitarian crisis that wrecked catastrophe in their lives including experiencing constant displacement and loss of family, home, and livelihoods. Euro-Med Monitor reports that 100,000 Palestinians have either been murdered, missing, or wounded. Over 1.3 million Palestinians have been displaced to Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city bordering Egypt. Ordinarily, Rafah’s population is around 220,000, but due to Israel’s annihilation campaign in Gaza, the governorate now holds 1.5 million Palestinians, 80% of whom are living in tents.

Rafah was designated a so-called “safe zone” by Israel, which prompted Palestinians from across the Strip to flee toward it. Except, Rafah, like the entirety of Gaza, is not safe. The border city has experienced aerial bombardment almost daily since the start of Israel’s extermination campaign. Deeply disturbing imagery of Israel’s war crimes has come out of Rafah. For instance, the video and photo of seven-year-old Sidra Hassouna’s lifeless and mangled body was shared on social media last week after Israel’s most recent carpet-bombing of Rafah.

On Feb. 11, Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the IOF would prepare for a ground invasion of Rafah. Gaza has been made uninhabitable by Israel’s bombardment and siege, but a ground invasion into Rafah would escalate matters even further. In an interview with Al Jazeera, displaced Palestinians shared the direness of their situation. Assaad Hassan, for example, said, We have nowhere else to go but to the grave if they carry out their threats to invade Rafah.” 

In an interview with Democracy Now, Noura Erakat called the potential of a ground invasion in Rafah, along with pushing a portion of Gaza’s population into Egypt’s buffer zone, the “worst-case scenario,” as it would permanently lock Palestinians into a state of no return, just as it did Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. With 1.5 million people crammed into a tiny city, the death toll would be cataclysmic. 

This is, without a doubt, a repetition of the 1948 Nakba, but on a much larger scale, with billions of eyes watching. 

World leaders have remained idle, refusing to hold Israel accountable for its crimes with any tangible action, let alone sanctions. The people of Gaza continue to ask: for how much longer do they have to bear this incomprehensible violence?

If a ground invasion takes place, Rafah will turn into nothing short of a death camp. Egypt’s buffer zone can only hold a small percentage of Gaza’s population. The Egyptian government risks complicity in this genocide, by facilitating the mass slaughter, starvation, and expulsion of the Palestinians from Gaza.

About The Author: 

Asma Barakat is the co-creator of an oral history archive titled Rooted in Palestine. Asma holds an MA in Sociology from The New School and a BA in Political Science from Montclair State University.

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