Friday, June 17, 2011

Rafah is Open, The Siege is Over

Rafah Crossing Video Jun 16, 2011
The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt reopened to great fanfare on May 28th 2011. World news agencies trumpeted, “The siege is over.” At the time, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Menha Bakhoum said the decision was made to "Ease the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip." This has not been

I spent several hours at the Rafah crossing. I watched as people desperately trying to cross out of Gaza into Egypt were met with closed gates, yelling policemen and, finally, soldiers. Vehicles inched forward; hundreds of people surrounded them and pressed up against the gate, waving papers and passports, yelling at the Hamas policeman on the other side, imploring them for passage. Tempers flared. Women were crying, some simply from exhaustion, some from despair. People were treated like animals, herded behind the gate, policeman prodding and pushing people to clear the way.

Some people explained to me that they were turned away because their name was ‘not on the list.’ When they asked how to get on the list; they did not get an answer.

A British mother, Wesam Farah had come Gaza with her 2 young sons, Qasem and Qayis for her son’s school holiday. They had planned to visit family for three weeks, but they have not been permitted to leave. They have returned to the crossing on a daily basis for the past 2 weeks, their holiday turned to nightmare. Finally she was allowed to cross the gate, but the border patrol still held her family’s passports and she was uncertain they would pass. For the moment, she was relieved just to have some space to breathe.

A small boy caught my eye, as he stood pressed up against the gate. He held his mothers hand and he did not speak. I asked his mother how long they had been waiting. “We have come everyday and waited all day, only to be turned back. We have received no explanation, just told to go back.” She had planned the family visit for years, spending four thousand dollars on airfare for her family. Her departure flight from Cairo was leaving in 2 days. She was uncertain whether she would make it, but didn’t know what to do to rectify the situation. After our interview, the gate opened and as people surged forward, she was allowed to pass. The authorities still held her passport, her fate was still undetermined, but the relief of making one small step brought both tears and laughter.

Rafah Crossing is Open  (a little bit)
I would watch for hours as these 2 mothers ran back and forth, trying to find out where their passports had gone. Dodging in between cars and ambulances crossing back into Gaza, they searched for the men who had taken their documents. Finally, passports in hand, Wesam and her boys loaded their bags into a taxi and departed for the Egyptian side. I lost track of the Ukrainian woman, and could only hope she had managed to get out.

Later last evening after arriving back in Gaza City, we received a call from Wesam. She was back in Gaza. After 6 hours of waiting, the Egyptians turned her back. She was not allowed to pass and was told to return on Saturday and try again.

For the majority of Palestinians leaving Gaza is like a Kafka tale. The fanfare has faded, the misery persists.