Gaza Views: Update on Delegation -- Sunday May 24; Headlong into a Kafkaesque World -- May 27

This is the first two of a series of posts by Rosahill about her second trip to Gaza to witness conditions there. Promoted by carol.

Update on Delegation - May 24

Our entire group is now in Cairo and will be leaving tomorrow afternoon for Al Arish. But first, to satisfy Egyptian (and Israeli -- what do they have to do with it?) rules, we must line up at the American Embassy, pay them $30 and sign away our rights to consular services in Gaza. Thank you America for being there for us when we really need you!

Headlong into a Kafkaesqie World -- May 27

The Canadian delegation that arrived in Al Arish two days ago still has not crossed the border to Gaza. Phone calls and papers are flying, but the key to all of this is publicity. Who is keeping smiles from the faces of children in Gaza?

After spending the morning acknowledging the State Department’s travel warnings about Gaza and waiving our consular rights, we left Cairo. The five hour bus ride was quite relaxing for us. In fact, the entire day was more like a tourist trip than a mission to Gaza. Not quite so relaxing for our driver. He was in fear that he would be stopped for driving us – so afraid, it seemed, that it was very, very hard to persuade him to make a rest and lunch stop. At the first checkpoint after the bridge over the Suez canal, we did pick up a police escort. It might be my imagination, but it seemed to me checkpoints in the Sinai were much more numerous than they had been in March. We arrived in Al Arish about 5:30. We drove into the narrow street where the Sinai Star hotel is and, right behind us three big tour busses pulled in. The Canadians and the students returning from a day of protest at the border! The students, who had been camping out, decided they needed showers and beds for the night. The Canadians, who have been waiting three days at the border to cross, need shelter from the sun. It was terrific to see our friends.

In the middle of the night, the fun begins. A little after two a.m., the phone in my room rang. It was one of our delegation, asking me to come downstairs to meet the Egyptian secret police. Thereon followed a Kafkaesque conversation indeed. Two Arabic speaking members of the Canadian delegation were already there, along with three unnamed Egyptians, who told me they were there to tell me we had no clearance to cross the border. They were extraordinarily reluctant to identify themselves in any way, although one of them finally produced a badge that said “Police Officer”. Very enlightening. One of the others told me it was forbidden for him to identify himself!
They proceeded to make up one story after another about what and where the issue was with our crossing the border to Gaza – our embassy, the Foreign Ministry, the “national intelligence service, etc. My favorite was their suggestion that we call the Egyptian Ambassador to Gaza at 2 a.m. to clear matters up.

Bottom line – don’t go to the border, but if you do, don’t protest.

We decided it was all a bad dream, loaded up the buses in the morning and headed for the border. Just past the outskirts of Arish, we came to a checkpoint. There were three truckloads of riot police waiting, along with an assortment of other uniformed types. The police told us the road to the border was closed for “military exercises” and we could not proceed. Once we turned back to Arish, all the various uniforms packed up and left. I guess the “military exercise” was “how to close a border.”

Meanwhile, our CODEPINK friends back in Cairo were meeting with the relevant individual in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. They watched him fax yet another clearance to the secret police, and get a response that we were all cleared to go to the border. Back down into the buses. My 2 a.m. secret police pal showed up to watch us go, all smiles and giggles, saying everything is okay now (while his boss glowered in the background).

It was still hard for us to believe there wouldn’t be another snag along the way. When we got to the Egyptian border’s gate, there was one. The police asked us to gather all the passports, and for the nationalities of the people in the group. When we got to Palestinian, they said, “Let us see the passport.” It was Aysha Al Ghoul (the sister of Abdallah who came with us from Cairo in March and was not able to exit Gaza when we left because his papers were not in order. Aysha had the same kind of problem. She had been studying in Tunisia, came to Cairo to go home at last year’s end, and lost her passport. The Palestinian Authority issued her a new one but it did not include the Egyptian visa stamp that had been lost with her old passport. She thought since she was leaving the country, it would not be a problem. But because she is Palestinian, it is always a problem. (The Border Police paid absolutely no attention to the expired Egyptian visa of an American member of the student delegation). Sadly, Aysha went back to Cairo while we went on to Gaza – her home country she is not allowed to enter.

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