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In 1982 the town of Rafah was split in two by the Israel-Egypt peace treaty:

When Israel withdrew from the Sinai in 1982, Rafah was split into a Gazan part and an Egyptian part, dividing families, separated by barbed-wire barriers. The core of the city was destroyed by Israel and Egypt to create a large buffer zone.

As a consequences, some Palestinian inhabitants of Rafah remained on the Egyptian side. What is their status - are they considered Palestinians or Egyptian citizens? Beyond Rafah, how significant is the Palestinian population in Sinai? Do these Palestinians live in towns like Rafah or are the majority of them Palestinian Bedouin?

Remarks

  • I suppose similar questions could be posted about Israel-Jordan border, although these are likely less controversial due to the existences of the natural barrier (the Jordan river.)
  • It is worth noting that Rafah was already divided in 1906 Egypt-Ottoman border agreement (see also Aqaba/Taba crisis):

Delimitation is defined as the final selection of a specific boundary within a broader zone. As Bramly had already prepared a survey and map of the area in 1902, he had all necessary details of tribal territories and water resources as well as all the major routes - all based on information provided by local Beduin tribes (Brawer, 1988: 65; Brawer, Personal communication, 14/12/93). On the basis of all the information he gathered in 1902, Jennings-Bramly suggested the establishment of a ‘natural boundary’ which would be founded on the geographical and topographical features of the area (Figure 1).

The line suggested by Bramly began at the Mediterranean coast northwest of Rafah, continued straight south for 16km then turned west up to wadi El-Arish (see Toye, 1989: 454, 594). From wadi El-Arish near Bir Lachfan, the boundary turned southeast along the wadi up to its connection with Wadi Moilech and Wadi El-Ein. Because this line was founded on natural features it was meandering and was thus rejected by the British command in favour of a straight (geometric) boundary line. The British were not concerned about dividing tribal territories or about the necessity for a boundary based on natural features but were preoccupied with their need for a boundary which would be short, easy to demarcate and defend (Brawer, 1979: 372).

(image source)
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From From the Archives, 1982: Rafah, a town divided:

Rafah began as a farming settlement around an oasis at the point where the Sinai meets the Gaza Strip. In 1906, under British pressure, a border line was drawn between Egypt and the Ottoman-ruled Palestine and Rafah became a divided city.

When Israel was created in 1948, Gaza was under Egyptian control but Rafah was kept divided. After the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel captured the Sinai and Gaza, Rafah was united and the old border taken down.

Houses and businesses were built across the border line and Rafah grew. People moved from one side of town to the other and the standard of living marginally increased as Arabs found work in Israel. The population was further swollen when 500 Palestinian refugee families were moved into an abandoned UN base adjoining Rafah which is now called “Canada”.

Additional references about Rafah:
A tale of a city split into two
In Rafah, a tale of two cities
“Look for Another Homeland”: Forced Evictions in Egypt’s Rafah

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  • I found an article saying “as many as 80,000” Palestinians live in Egypt, but it's outdated (2011), and doesn't say where in Egypt they're currently living.
    – dan04
    Jan 26 at 19:26
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    But, given that Sinai was always part of Egypt (except for the decade or so when Israel occupied it), I'd assume that its natives would be Egyptians. Unless you're referring specifically to people who moved from Gaza to Sinai.
    – dan04
    Jan 26 at 19:37
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    The current Israel-Egypt border isn't exactly the same as the original border during the British Mandate. For example, there was a dispute over Taba in the 1980's.
    – dan04
    Jan 26 at 19:45
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    According to Wikipedia, the 1906 border between (then-British) Egypt and (then-Ottoman) Palestine/Israel “mainly served British military interests”, as opposed to being an ethnic border.
    – dan04
    Jan 26 at 19:52
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    The attempt to divide Bedouin tribes between "ethnic Egyptians" and "ethnic Palestinians", is nothing but a display of western misunderstanding of the middle-east. The whole notion of "nationality" from a bedouin perspective, is some wierd western idea forced upon them. Bedouins are ethnic bedouins, and Egyptians are ethnic egyptians, nothing more. If you look for some real examples of ramifications of "western colonialism", it's Egypt controlling the Sinai desert - two historically contradicting societies forced into becoming one country.
    – Jacob3
    Feb 6 at 10:31

1 Answer 1

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It's highly unlikely that anyone will find a reliable estimate of how many Palestinians live in Sinai or what their citizenship status is.

Dr. Oroub El-Abed did extensive research on the Palestinian populations of Egypt for her 2009 book Unprotected: Palestinians in Egypt Since 1948. The book makes almost no mention of Rafah specifically. There is merely a footnote about Camp Canada which was located in Egypt near Rafah from 1972 to 2000. The Palestinians there were apparently all relocated to Gaza by the PLO following the Oslo accords in the late 1990s.

In an article, El-Abed does state (again mainly in a footnote) that she observed the presence of a Palestinian community in Rafah but does not estimate its size.

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