The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Rafah – A Unique City


History of Rafah: Rafah is an ancient city, founded in the eighth century BC. It was called Robihwa by the Egyptians, Rafihu by the Assyrians, Raphia by the Greeks and Romans and finally Rafah by the Arabs. During the time of the Ottoman Empire, the route through Rafah connected Egypt with Syria and Lebanon.

Originally recognized as the boundary between Egypt and Syria, Rafah is now at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, along the border between Palestine and Egypt. The city is bordered by Khan Younis on the north, the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Beir Sabii Territories on the east. Its population swelled dramatically in 1948 and 1967 with the influx of refugees from elsewhere in Palestine.

Other facts about Rafah:
Population: Rafah has approximately 130,000 residents, and covers about 5,500 hectares. Over 70% of its people live in refugee camps, and more than 50% are under 15 years of age.
Climate: Rafah’s climate is semi-desert with temperatures reaching as high as 38 degrees C in summer and dropping to 10 degrees C in winter. The average rainfall in Rafah is 250 mm.
Educational Institutions: There are 43 elementary, preparatory and secondary schools in Rafah. Twenty-six are supervised by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNWRA) and 17 by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
Health Institutions: Rafah is in need of health services. There is one health center in the city and four clinics run by either PNA or UNRWA.
Other Institutions: There are many domestic institutions in Rafah that offer youth and children’s programs. In addition, there are 6 sport, cultural and social clubs; 2 women’s centers; 2 fitness centers; 2 handicapped centers; and 16 kindergartens.
Tourist and Archeological Sites: Rafah has many archeological sites where evidence of ancient civilizations can be found. At KHERBAT RAFAH there are bricks, columns and a graveyard; at TAL RAFAH ruins of brick walls and pottery; at KHERBET ALADAS, pieces of pottery; at TAL MSABEH pottery shards on a highland of ruins; and at UM ALMDEIDEH highlands of ruins and large stones.
Agriculture: Rafah has a significant area used for various types of agriculture, including greenhouses for both vegetables and flowers, vegetable farms and plots, citrus groves and other fruits.
Economy: Rafah has many small industries such as brick production, tailoring, smithery and car workshops. There are no large factories or industries in the city. Prior to the year 2000, Rafah had experienced significant growth including the construction of the Gaza International Airport (the only international airport in Gaza), as well as the construction of new schools and clinics and upgrading of infrastructure services such as roads, water and sewage.

Rafah has several strengths with potential for increased economic activity and prosperity: (1) Rafah’s strategic commercial location as the gateway to Egypt (the Rafah Land Crossing is the only southern connection between Palestine and Egypt); (2) Rafah’s strong sense of community with a history of neighborhood committees working together to help each other; (3) Rafah’s plans for new industrial and free trade zones near the airport; and (4) Rafah’s large beach area which offers excellent potential for tourism.

Current conditions in Rafah: All development plans are on hold because of the failure to end the Israeli occupation, and life in Rafah has deteriorated drastically since the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000. Poverty and unemployment are rampant, with levels of malnutrition and illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder reaching epidemic proportions. Over 12,000 people have been made homeless in the past three years as Israel has bulldozed a wide “buffer zone” through crowded neighborhoods along the Egyptian border. Crops, orchards and greenhouses have been uprooted and destroyed and fresh water wells damaged. The Department of Education has received no funding for three years. Hundreds of citizens have been killed and thousands wounded or maimed for life. International relief agencies, upon which the majority of Rafah’s citizens are now dependent for survival, are finding it increasingly difficult to operate in Rafah because of restrictions by the Israeli army. The international airport and port are severely damaged and have been closed by Israel, as is the border crossing with Egypt. Israeli settlements along the coast have taken control of the best land and aquifers, and the beautiful beaches of Rafah are now off-limits to its citizens.