Editors’ note: Amid surging violence between Hamas and Israeli forces, JURIST is seeking perspectives from law students, law professors and lawyers around the world. Neither this nor other commentaries in this series constitute JURIST editorial policy, nor do they necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial team. This commentary was drafted by an Israeli law student. For a different perspective, see another commentary published today, which was written by a collective of Palestinian lawyers and law students, here.
Amid the ongoing war in Israel, where more than 1,300 Israelis have lost their lives, and over 3,000 have been injured, it’s essential to consider the broader context. Hamas initiated an assault on October 7, resulting in a significant toll on Israeli civilians. Additionally, there are currently 126 confirmed Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.
Furthermore, The Jerusalem Post reported that Iran has conveyed a message to Israel through the UN, suggesting possible intervention if Israel persists in its military campaign in Gaza.
In contrast to Hamas’s strategy of targeting Israeli civilians, including women and children, in its invasion last weekend, Israel’s military has taken a different approach. Israel has warned approximately 1.1 million civilians to evacuate the northern part of the Gaza Strip, intending to minimize civilian casualties as much as possible.
The situation is further complicated by Hamas’s stance on Palestinian civilians. Instead of encouraging them to leave Gaza, Hamas is demanding that they stay in their houses. The terror group intends to use its own people and the hostages it abducted from Israel as human shields. They hope that either Israeli concerns about collateral damage or global condemnation will compel Israel to scale back its counter-invasion.
In this complex and challenging environment, it is crucial to consider the multiple facets of the situation and the actions taken by various parties involved.
Gaza’s borders are multi-dimensional, with access to the sea, Israel to the north and east, and Egypt to the south, where the Rafah border crossing stands with the strictest restrictions. A misleading narrative unfairly places the onus on Israel for not providing an exit for the Palestinians in Gaza during conflicts, when in truth, their own Arab neighbor imposes restrictions. Let’s dispel the misconceptions and uncover the facts.
Israel unilaterally and unconditionally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, dismantled settlements, and relinquished control. Subsequently, democratic elections in Gaza led to the election of Hamas as the governing body. The Palestinian population chose its leadership, but Israel has continued to provide water, electricity, and fuel to Hamas while it committed acts of terror against it.
However, one aspect that goes unnoticed is Egypt’s role in this equation. Sharing a border to the south, Egypt could play a significant role in the lives of Gazans for the better. However, their border remains closed and highly restricted. why is that? The answer is simple: Hamas, the Egyptians don’t want anything to do with the terrorist organization.
On October 9, Egypt took measures to prevent a potential influx of Palestinians from besieged Gaza. Stringent border control hinders Gaza’s residents from seeking refuge in Egypt amid the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel. The question is: why does an Arab country like Egypt prevent Palestinians from seeking refuge and safety within its borders?
While discussions around Israel’s responsibilities and actions continue to dominate the headlines, Egypt’s stance remains a critical yet often ‘forgotten’ in the larger equation. Are the Gazans to blame? Is Egypt restricting the border illegally (per international law)? If not Egypt where else can they go? Alas, we find them refused by other Arab countries as well. Understanding the principles of international law in relation to refugee refusal is critical in this context.
International law acknowledges that countries may, under specific circumstances, restrict or deny entry to refugees. These circumstances could encompass concerns related to national security, public order, or when there are substantiated reasons to believe that a refugee poses a threat to the host nation. Nonetheless, these measures must align with international human rights standards, ensuring that the fundamental principle of non-refoulement is upheld. This principle strictly prohibits the return of individuals to a territory where they may face persecution or serious harm. Understanding these international legal principles, it will be very hard for Egypt to justify its stringent border controls and the refusal of refugees from Gaza.
The misconception that Gaza is an open-air prison solely due to Israel is, in reality, a smokescreen or a form of antisemitism. So, the next time the question arises, “Where is Gaza supposed to go?” one possible answer lies southward, towards their fellow country: Egypt.
Tamar Silam is a law student in the Buchmann Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University.
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