A Timeline of Control Over the Rafah Crossing Point

March 13, 2023
IMA Research Team

By Zander Bamford-Brown

Map showing the land boundary between Egypt and Gaza

The Rafah Crossing Point is the only official crossing for people between Egypt and the Palestinian territory of Gaza. The crossing is a lifeline for Gazans enduring the ongoing blockade by Israel and Egypt, and it is one of only two places where people can officially enter and exit the Gaza Strip. As with many aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this crossing has a complex history. Below we have produced a timeline of the groups that have had direct control over this crossing. It is important to note that this timeline is a macro-scale view of the diplomatic relations surrounding the control of the official crossing. The reality for people, especially Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, is far more intricate. There are other official, unofficial, and illicit levels of control that impact the movement of people through this crossing. For example, while the Rafah border crossing was closed, a system of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt allowed goods and people to cross the border illegally. Conversely, even during the most open times there were significant border closures and individual restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt on Gaza.

Zander wrote the code for this timeline as part of a class on the Geospatial Web at McGill University.

Background on the Gaza Strip and Palestine

The State of Palestine is a de jure state that has received recognition from a majority of United Nations member States. Palestine claims the discontiguous territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip is a densely populated Palestinian exclave between southwestern Israel and Egypt. The area has a population of over 2 million, roughly two thirds of whom are registered refugees. Prior to 1948, the territories of Palestine and Israel were part of the British Mandate of Palestine. The mandate’s boundary with Egypt was based on a 1906 Treaty (see our Egypt Palestine (Gaza) Boundary Brief for a detailed description and analysis of the boundary). In 1949, Egypt took control of Gaza which it occupied until the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Israel directly occupied Gaza from 1967 until 2005. In 2005 Israel ‘disengaged’ from Gaza, however, Israel has maintained significant control over Gaza’s borders and is still widely considered by the international community to be an occupying force.

The Rafah Border Crossing in 2012. Photo by Gigi Ibrahim – Flickr/Wikipedia.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is the governing body that is tasked with the ‘municipal’ and internal affairs of Palestine. The PA has also come to take a role in representing Palestine internationally. Hamas is a militant Islamic Palestinian political party and organization. Hamas has been in control of Gaza since it won the PA legislative elections in 2006. In 2007 a violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah, the other large political party in the Palestinian legislature, led to Hamas gaining sole de facto control over Gaza while Fatah and the PA retained control of the West Bank. A handful of states, including Israel and the United States, consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. Many other states consider Hamas’ military wing to be a terrorist organization.

A UN OCHA map of southwestern Gaza, including the location of the Rafah Crossing.

For more on the international boundary between Egypt and Palestine, check out our Boundary Brief.

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