Monday, March 9, 2009

Pressure bears fruit

I am now in Gaza, but let me start from where I left off last.
An international delegation of mostly women organized by Code Pink planned to be in Gaza on International Women’s Day. I contacted them before their arrival in Cairo and requested to join their delegation. They arrived in Cairo on March 5th and we all left to al-Arish on March the 6th.

At al-Arish we were directly sought out by directors of the Egyptian Red Crescent in the region who – to our surprise – said they know about our delegation and have orders from the head of the organization, Ms. Suzanne Mubarak wife of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, to facilitate our crossing into Gaza!

It was a surprise move that could only be explained by the Egyptians’ worry about having hundreds of internationals stuck at the Rafah-Gaza border at the same time (knowing that the Viva Palestina convoy led by British MP George Galloway is arriving at al-Arish on March 7), attracting media attention and further tarnishing the already bad image of Egypt as a major participant in enforcing the siege of Gaza.
On March 6th we headed to the border. The Egyptian Red Crescent provided us with a truck to carry the symbolic gifts we carried and the directors were with us every step of the way.

This accompaniment, of course, did not save us from the ills of Egyptian immigration bureaucracy but after a few hours that saw the loss of, search for and finally finding one of our delegation members’ passport (which alone took one hour) and paying over 5,000 in “exit process processing” fees.

Finally we were in Gaza by 2:00PM. The immigration process by the Palestinians (Hamas led government) was extremely efficient and the terminal was far better organized than the Egyptian one. We were welcomed by the governor of the Palestinian city of Rafah and headed to Gaza city which we arrived at by sunset.
Yesterday, Sunday March 8th, International Women’s Day, was our first full day in Gaza. Our program was set by UNRWA which is giving us lots of logistical help. The women in the delegation visited women’s community centers and celebrated with the Palestinian women. I did not leave the center of Gaza city yet I did see bombed government buildings and police stations in the middle of residential areas.
I visited Ramattan news agency, the only agency that was reporting from Gaza during the period of the war. They showed us footage from before the war of Israeli helicopters launching 4 missiles in a row on the apartment building that houses their offices.

I also visited the “Community Media Center” which works on giving youth media experience. There I met a group of youth who have degrees in various media disciplines and who are unemployed since the media business is being stifelled in Gaza more than most other business. Their hopes and vision were inspiring but their pain and frustration were undeniable.

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