Rafah – A difficult history

Rafah has a long rich history dating back to the 1300’s.  In the 3000 years since there has been periods of intense fighting and destruction to the city at many different times throughout history.  There have also been times when the city was empty.  There is an inscription from the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I from 1303 BCE which shows the long history of this city.

The location of Rafah has made it an important point of trade and movement.  There have been many battles there.  The Egyptian ruler Ptolemy defeated the Syrian emperor Antiochus III in 217 BCE in Rafah.  The city was also more recently part of a battle in World War 1 from 1914-1918.  It was part of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War.  The allies led by Lieutenant General Philip Chetwode captured Rafa on January 9, 1917.  There was also an engagement between the Egyptian Army and the Israel Defense Forces at the end of the Arab-Israeli war in Rafah in 1949. This was part of the battle for gaza but because of Rafah’s proximity it was involved.


Today there are still many incursions going on in Rafah.  Rafah is the Border crossing point between Gaza and Egypt.  It is on the border of Egypt and has been opened and closed many times throughout the years.  It is the main point for people entering and leaving Gaza.  The crossing was originally opened by Israel in 1982 when there was a peace agreement with Egypt agreeing it would be operated by the Israel Airport Authority.  The crossing was open until the Second Intifada in 2000.  After this point there were some restrictions  and the hours were reduced that it was hoped.  The number of people traveling between the crossing fell by half.   Since then the crossing has not been opened very often.  There are many people who desire to cross but due to security concerns Egypt does not open the crossing very often.  During 2014 there was an average of about 8000 people exiting and entering the crossing.  There was an operation called protective edge where only certain types of passengers were allowed to exit Gaza.  These were people who had urgent medical issues and/or were injured.  After October 2014 it was closed all together for a period of time.  In 2015 the crossing was open for exit from Gaza to Egypt on 25 days.  The amount of times the crossing is open is steadily decreasing.  In May of 2016 after 85 days of closure the border was open for 2 days.  It was opened again right before Ramadan and for 5 days before the Muslim Holiday of Eid al-Fitr.  There has also been many homes destroyed in Rafah.  After the discovery of tunnels from Gaza to Rafah the Egyptians were concerned about weapons being smuggled through the tunnels.  The tunnels were destroyed.  They destroyed homes in parts of Rafah in an effort to make a buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt.  Egypt has claimed that Hamas in Gaza is helping militants in Sinai with arms and treating casualties.


Rafah is a difficult place to live with many conflicts brewing.  It is difficult for all the people involved.  There seems to be no real solution on the horizon.  As governments are more concerned about their security and tighten controls it affects the people who are living with the results of this tightening.  Making it harder for them to live their lives and enjoy freedom of movement and feel safe in their homes.  One can only hope that somehow there will be a time when all people will live in peace and feel safe where they live.

Rafah is a city with a long history. It dates back 3000 years to the time when it was a stop along a route the military took to help protect the region.

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