16 July 2009
Yesterday, July 15, should have been a day of rejoicing here at Rafah Gate because the Viva Palestina convoy had finally been authorized to enter Gaza, but it turned into a nightmare for the many Palestinian families held up on the Egyptian side. Finally, at 10 pm we were smiling again when we saw Jenny Linnel and Nathalie Abu Chakra, two members of ISM-Gaza come through the Gate. The Egyptians had been denying them entry because they had arrived in Gaza on board the ships of the Free Gaza movement.
For those who don’t know the Rafah Gate, the frontier between Egypt and Gaza is situated in the middle of nowhere– 2 kilometers from Rafah. There is no hotel; the Egyptian police have closed the town to foreigners and have installed dozens of checkpoints—I would say one every 50 meters! And you can’t tell me it’s to stop contraband headed to Gaza because all the pathways leading to the tunnels are wide open.
Large numbers of Palestinian families denied entry for weeks on end–or longer—are forced to live in hotels in El Arish, a seaside resort 40 kilometers from the border. Because it’s high season, the hotels have hiked up their rates, so it costs these families a fortune. And that’s without the taxi fares. The price of a taxi between El Arish and Rafah is anywhere from 35 to more than 100 Egyptian pounds, and if you want to avoid the checkpoints, it can run to close to 300 pounds.
Among these families are Palestinians living abroad who have come to visit their families, to attend weddings; others are returning from hospital stays in Egypt or abroad; there are also young people who have finished their studies etc….Everyone has his or her own story.
Elated at news of the arrival of the Viva Palestina convoy, many of these families, exhausted and in debt, came today to try their luck at Rafah, hoping that the Egyptian police would be more lenient and that they might be able to get some help from members of the convoy.
But that was, unfortunately, not the case: for these families the day turned into a nightmare. They had arrived early in order not to miss the convoy, so they waited all day in the scorching sun. The first members of the convoy began to arrive around 2 pm in buses under heavy security.
Then the horror began: at this very moment, the Egyptian riot police set upon the Palestinian families them and began forcibly evacuating them. People were shouting, screaming, weeping—and the cops kept on beating them savagely.
We tried to slip into Rafah Gate in the midst of the confusion. We even succeeded, but were then dragged back out.
The scene we were witnessing was once again so shocking that Iman, furious, was shouting insults at Mubarak and his minions.
Laila got into one of the buses and called for the help of the members of the convoy, but they replied that there was nothing they could do. “We want to get into Gaza and we don’t want any trouble.”
A man in the bus called out, “I’m a Palestinian.” And one Palestinian woman, stuck in Egypt for many days couldn’t help saying to him, “Oh, fine, you’re a Palestinian from America and I’m a Palestinian from Gaza. You can get in and I am not even allowed to return to my home in Gaza.” By then the Egyptian police had arrived and they pulled Leila and this woman out of the bus.
No contact between Palestinians and foreigners. That has been the order of the day every day since we pitched our tents here at Rafah.
We can understand the attitude of the members of this impressive convoy, with its buses, refrigerator trucks and vans. It has been so difficult for them to get this far with half of their humanitarian aid(the other half was confiscated in Alexandria) that it was hard for them to jeopardize delivery of the remaining supplies by attempting to help the people they were watching being beaten up before their very eyes. They would have been heavily penalized—they would have been refused entry into Gaza.
How can one comprehend Egyptian policy? How can one understand these Egyptian policemen who viciously beat the Palestinians and treat them like sub-humans, like enemies? Why prevent the Palestinians from returning to their own homes? Who gives the orders? Why not tell them what procedures they need to follow? And, by the way, is there one? We have asked these questions countless times, and each time we got a different answer. The only thing we are sure of is that the Egyptian authorities are pathologically corrupt, that they collaborate willingly with the Zionist entity and that they lie to their police force and army units to make sure they keep mistreating the Palestinians.
We are going to wait for the return of the Viva Palestina convoy and we hope they will not be satisfied with 24 hours in Gaza, because the border is still closed, especially for Palestinians.
PS : A good news : Kefiah Ib Mousa Hamed, the Palestinian woman with kidney problems we found lying on the ground in front of Rafah gate some days ago came back and was the only one to be allowed to enter into Gaza.