Saturday, February 28, 2009

The siege continues

As the dialogue between Palestinian factions takes place in Cairo I sit in the same city waiting for an opportunity to reach Gaza.

After a second trip to Rafah, joined by American activists and armed with a letter from the Canadian embassy I was still denied crossing to Gaza, by the Egyptian authorities.
The letter (actually I was forced to obtain two letters) the Canadian embassy gave me was a disappointment for which they charged me L.E. 520 (approx $130 Cdn.) . They were not really letters from the Canadian embassy to the Egyptian authorities but rather declarations by me stating that I absolve the Canada from all responsibility, which I signed then the embassy stamped! (see

During the day (Tuesday) I spent at the Rafah border crossing there was more action than last time (Thursday and Friday of last week). They were allowing Palestinians to cross to Gaza, but no one else.

Other than the Palestinians at the Rafah border crossing there were a handful of internationals: activists, film makers and independent journalists, who were trying to go through. We, internationals, were Americans, Norwegians, British, a Bosnians and a Canadian. Most of us had some sort of support from our embassies. The Norwegian film makers were confident there clearance – coordinated between their embassy the Egyptian state security – would get them through. But alas, the clearance letter was not communicated to the authorities at the crossing and they had to go back to al-Arish at the end of the day with the rest of us. . (see

On our way back to al-Arish we drove into the town of Rafah, the border town that is split in two, a larger part is in Gaza and a smaller part is in Egypt. Rafah gained international fame as the site of the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. With Israel and Egypt’s siege it would have been difficult to imagine Gaza surviving without these tunnels and with. The smuggling of arms is not the main reason for the existence to these tunnels. They are a basic lifeline for the people of Gaza. All supplies, from gasoline to livestock pass through the tunnels and the price of merchandise increases tenfold as they pass from the Egyptian side to the Palestinian side. A very lucrative industry that is difficult to combat or crush even by turning Rafah into a military occupied zone (see

The only effective way to combat this smuggling industry is by opening legal trade routs, something the Israelis oppose so they can continue exerting pressure on the Palestinian population till Hamas accepts whatever conditions they want to impose.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Who is taking hostages?

The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaze was quieter than I expected it to be. The sand storm that engulfed the whole area, from Cairo to Rafah, maybe partially to blame but it is clear that the refusal to grant passage to Gaza to most of those who seek it is the major reason for the dwindling number of attempted crossings.

A French delegation of medical workers and activists from “La Campagne Civile Internationale pour la Protection du Peuple Palestinien (CCIPPP) have followed the Egyptian recommendations and obtained a letter supporting their attempt to cross to Gaza from the French embassy in Cairo yet all eleven of them have been waiting in Rafah by day and al-Arish by night for days. Tomorrow, again, they plan to pack their bags and checkout from their hotel rooms in the morning and head to the border crossing (forty kilometres away) in hope to enter Gaza.

A Jordanian delegation left today after three days of waiting. Before the end of the “gate work day”, at 4:00 PM, they set up a protest art exhibit: a few photocopies of political cartoons secured by rocks on the asphalt a few meters away from the gate. This was quickly dismantled and confiscated by the Egyptian security forces.

The Jordanians will not be back tomorrow. They left for Cairo this evening.

A few Gazan Palestinians were also present at the gate for hours, none of whom got through. Why? The border is closed. But why is the border closed? This is the million dollar question.
I asked many people and the clearest explanation came – unofficially of course – from one of the gate’s guards. Not a high ranking officer, actually not an officer at all but a simple solider. The closure is to force and pressure Hamas to accept the conditions of the latest Israeli proposal.

Let’s get this clear, Hamas has been accused of taking the people of Gaza hostage in the war with Israel (or was it Israel’s war against the people of Gaza?). But what is happening now is that Israel, Egypt and all their allies are taking the people of Gaza hostage and have no shame about it, starving them, barricading them and restricting all kinds of assistance or access to them till they have their way.

When will the hostages be released?

Ehab Lotayef at the Rafah border crossing, Feb. 19, 2009

(also see