The Elders enter Gaza via Rafah

The Elders have entered the Gaza Strip today via the Rafah crossing from Egypt, after holding talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.

CORRECTION: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is apparently not with the group in Gaza, but will instead join them later.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson — who subsequently served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights — is in Gaza as Delegation leader of this group. In her time as High Commissioner, Mary Robinson being driven in a UN vehicle when it was fired upon while touring areas under Israeli control during the height of the second Palestinian intifada.

She noted in a statement today that “I was last here in 2008, just before the Gaza war. The situation has deteriorated to a shocking extent since then. This is not a humanitarian crisis – it is a political crisis and it can be solved politically. It is unconscionable and unacceptable that Israel and the international community have not lifted the blockade fully to allow Gazans to rebuild their lives and be part of the interconnected world that we take for granted. The easing of the blockade may mean more goods can be imported, but people are not free to come and go, reconstruction materials are still highly restricted, there is no real economy to speak of, and I have no doubt that things are not just stagnant – they are going backwards.”

Another former UN official, who was also Algeria’s Foreign Minister, Lakhdar Brahimi, and author of a report on restructuring UN Peacekeeping operations, is also in the group. He said today that “This situation is a disaster. It is creating a generation of young people who have little to lose. This is not in anyone’s interest”.

The population of Gaza is 1.5 million people — and half are under the age of 18.

Ela Bhatt of India, who is also with the group, said: “People cannot continue to live in an atmosphere of fear – no good can come of it. The people have the right to develop their economy – every other place in the world is being supported to meet the Millennium Development Goals. In Gaza, education, health, sanitation and socio-economic indicators are getting worse. I am especially concerned about the situation for women in Gaza”…

The Elders group is scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank. However, they will probably have to return to Egypt first, before onward travel. Israel has stated that persons who enter the Gaza Strip via any route other than its own vast military-controlled terminal at the Erez land crossing south of Ashkelon will not then be allowed to come to Israel via Erez.

In a public hearing last Wednesday in Jerusalem, members of the Turkel Commission investigating the “maritime incident” of 31 May 2010 suggested to Israeli human rights groups who were giving testimony about the sanctions regime in Gaza that if the Rafah land crossing between Egypt and Gaza were open, that could solve many of the problems caused by the Israeli military-administered closure regime at the land crossings between Israel and Gaza [though one of the Commission members suggested that there was greater luxury available in Gaza than in El-Arish, the Egyptian port city in the northern Sinai which occasionally serves as an alternative conduit for humanitarian goods destined for Gaza]…

In a new effort to send humanitarian relief supplies for Gaza, a boat hired by the UK group, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, reports that it is due to sail a ship on Sunday, from Syria to El-Arish, passing over the very spot where the Freedom Flotilla was intercepted by the Israeli Navy on 31 May. “Those on board the ship, including 40 survivors of the Mavi Marmara attack, will throw a wreath into the sea to commemorate those killed by Israeli troops”, according to the Campaign, here.

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