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Rafah ( ) (also Rafiah) is a Palestinian city in the southern Gaza Stripmarker, but also extends into the Sinai Peninsulamarker in Egyptmarker. Located south of Gazamarker, Rafah's population of 71,000 is overwhelmingly made up of Palestinian refugees. It serves as the district capital of the Rafah Governoratemarker. Yasser Arafat International Airportmarker, Gaza's only airport, is located just south of the city; the airport operated from 1998 to 2001, when it was bombed and bulldozed by the IDF. Rafah is the site of the Rafah Border Crossingmarker, the only crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.


Over the ages it has been known as "Robihwa" by the ancient Egyptians, "Rafihu" by the Assyrians, "Raphia" by the Greekmarker and Romans, " " by the Israelites, "Rafh" by the Arab Caliphate.



Rafah has a history stretching back thousands of years. It was first recorded in an inscription of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I, from 1303 BCE as Rph, and as the first stop on Pharaoh Shoshenq I's campaign to the Levant in 925 BC. In 720 BCE it was the site of the Assyrian king Sargon II's victory over the Egyptians, and in 217 BC the Battle of Raphia was fought between the victorious Ptolemy IV and Antiochus III. (It is said to be the largest battle ever fought in the Levant, with over a hundred thousand soldiers and hundreds of elephants).

The town was conquered by Alexander Yannai and held by the Hasmoneans until it was rebuilt in the time of Pompey and Gabinius; the latter seems to have done the actual work of restoration for the era of the town dates from 57 BCE. Rafah is mentioned in Strabo (16,2, 31), the Itinerarium Antonini, and is depicted on the Map of Madabamarker.

A Jewish community settled in the city in the 9th and 10th centuries and again in the 12th, although in the 11th century it suffered a decline and in 1080 they migrated to Ashkelonmarker. A Samaritan community also lived there during this period. Like most cities of southern Palestine, ancient Rafah had a landing place on the coast (now Tell Rafah), while the main city was inland. During the Byzantine period, it was a diocese.

Islamic rule

Rafah was an important trading city during the early Arab period, and one of the towns captured by the Rashidun army under general 'Amr ibn al-'As in 635 CE. Under the Umayyads and Abbasids, Rafah was the southernmost border of Jund Filastin ("District of Palestine"). According to Arab geographer al-Ya'qubi, it was the last town in the Province of Syria and on the road from Ramlamarker to Egyptmarker.

In 1226, Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi writes of Rafah's former importance in the early Arab period, saying it was "of old a flourishing town, with a market, and a mosque, and hostelries." However, he goes on to say that in its current state, Rafah was in ruins, but was an Ayyubid postal station on the road to Egypt after nearby Deir al-Balahmarker. Ottoman records in the 16th century show a small village of 16 taxpayers.

20th century

In 1917, the British army captured Rafahmarker, and used it as a base for their attack on Gaza. The presence of the army bases was an economic draw that brought people back to the city, and in 1922 it had a population of 600. By 1948, the population had risen to 2,500. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the refugee camps were established. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured Rafah with the Sinai Peninsulamarker and Gaza Strip , the population was about 55,000, of whom only 11,000 lived in Rafah itself.

In the summer of 1971, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), under General Ariel Sharon (then head of the IDF southern command), destroyed approximately 500 houses in the refugee camps of Rafah in order to create patrol roads for Israeli forces. These demolitions displaced nearly 4000 people. Israel established the Brazil and Canada housing projects to accommodate displaced Palestinians and to provide better conditions in the hopes of integrating the refugees into the general population and its standard of living; Brazil is immediate south of Rafah, while Canada was just across the border in Sinai. Both were named because UN peacekeeping troops from those respective countries had maintained barracks in those locations. After the 1978 Camp David Accords mandated the repatriation of Canada project refugees to the Gaza Strip, the Tel al-Sultan project, northwest of Rafah, was built to accommodate them.

Because of the Camp David Accords, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsulamarker and Rafah was divided, with part of it on the Egyptian side of the border under Egyptian rule. To cope with the division of the town, smugglers made tunnels under the border, connecting the two parts and permitting the smuggling of goods and persons.


In 1922, Rafah's population was 599, which increased to 2,220 in 1945. In 1982, the total population was approximately 10,800. In a 1997 census by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), Rafah and its adjacent camp had a combined population of 91,181. Refugee made up 80.3% of the entire population.

In the 1997 census, Rafah's (together with Rafah campmarker) gender distribution was 50.5% male and 49.5% female. In a 2006 projection by the PCBS, Rafah alone had a population of 71,000.

Rafah Border Crossing

Rafah is the site of the Rafah Border Crossingmarker, the only crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Formerly operated by Israeli military forces, control of the crossing was transferred to the Palestinian Authority in September 2005 as part of the larger Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. A European Union commission began monitoring the crossing in November 2005 amid Israeli security concerns, and in April 2006, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Presidential Guard assumed responsibility for the site on the Palestinian Authority side. On the Egyptian side, the responsibility is assumed by the 750 Border Guards allowed by an agreement of Egypt with Israel. The agreement was signed in November 2005 forced by US pressure, and specifies that it is under security requirements demanded by Israel.

On January 23, 2008, at 2 am, the border crossing was breachedmarker after gunmen set off an explosion nearby, destroying part of the Israeli Gaza Strip barrier. Over the next four days, approximately 700,000 Palestinians crossed into Egypt, most planning to buy supplies and return to Gaza. A smaller number of Egyptians crossed into Gaza.

See also


  1. Raphia - (Rafah) Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem.
  2. al-Biladhuri quoted in le Strange, 1890, p.xix. Al-Biladhuri lists the cities captured by Amr ibn al-'As as Ghazzah (Gaza), Sebastiya (Sebastia, Nabulus, Amwas (Imwas), Kaisariyya (Caesarea), Yibna, Ludd (Lydda), Rafh (Rafah), Bayt Jibrin, and Yaffa (Jaffa).
  3. le Strange, 1890, p.517.
  4. UN Doc A/8389 of 5 October 1971 (h) The continued transfer of the population of the occupied territories to other areas within the occupied territories. Such transfers of population have occurred in the case of several villages that were systematically destroyed in 1967: the population of these villages was either expelled or forced to live elsewhere in the occupied territories. The same practice has been followed in occupied Jerusalem. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post of 17 May 1971, Mr. Teddy Kollek, Israeli Mayor of Jerusalem, stated that 4,000 Arabs had been evacuated from Jerusalem. Likewise, in the case of Gaza, according to reports appearing in several newspapers and in letters addressed by Governments, several thousands of persons were displaced from the three major refugee camps in Gaza. Official Israeli sources have stated that these transfers of population were necessitated by new security measures, such as the construction of wider roads inside the camps in order to facilitate patrolling and the maintenance of law and order in the camps. Most of the persons whose refugee accommodation was destroyed to permit of the construction of these roads were forced to leave for the West Bank and El Arish, while a few were said to have sought refuge with other families inside Gaza. The Special Committee considers that the transfers were unwarranted and that even if the construction of new roads was considered indispensable for the maintenance of law and order, the arbitrary transfer of population was unnecessary, unjustified and in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
  6. Human Rights Watch. Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip. October 2004.
  7. About Rafah Rafah Today.
  8. Welcome to Rafah Palestine Remembered.
  9. Palestinian Population by Locality and Refugee Status. Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).
  10. Palestinian Population by Locality, Sex and Age Groups in Years Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
  11. Projected Mid -Year Population for Rafah Governorate by Locality 2004- 2006 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics
  12. Mitch Potter, Something that works: the Rafah crossing, The Toronto Star, May 21, 2006.

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