Posted by CODEPINK Staff
Day two: Heading for Rafa
Good to his word, the driver we had met at the airport, Mustafa, was waiting for us at 7:30am to make the trip to Rafa. We had some errands to run first, however. We had been warned that if we wanted to cross into Gaza, we had to be journalists and get permission from both the American government and the Egyptian Press Center.
We got to the US Embassy when it opened at 8am, our press passes in hand. It took us about 90 minutes (and $30 each!!!) to get a letter from the Vice Consul at the Embassy that said:
- I have read and understood the travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State relating to travel to the Gaza Strip;
- I assume the risk for myself and I understand the Embassy does not recommend my travel to the Gaza Strip;
- I also understand that the Embassy cannot provide me with consular services in the Gaza Strip.
Not exactly a ringing permission slip, but it’s supposed to help get us in. We still had another letter to get. So we went to the Foreign Press Center. There we wanted another 90 minutes to get a letter in Arabic that supposedly saying something like “We can cross the border but we really shouldn’t.”
Finally, at 11am, we were ready to start braving the traffic and head north toward Gaza. It was a long ride, lots of desert and camels, Bedouin villagers. Then we arrived at the majestic Suez Canal, with freighter after freighter passing through the historic connection between the continents of Africa and Asia.
Three hours later, we arrived at the border of Rafah. There were groups of men hanging around, trying to get through the border. We talked to the policemen, handing them our letters from the US Embassy and the Press Center. They told us to wait fifteen minutes, a fifteen minutes that turned into hours and hours.
In the meantime, we talked to all the men at the border. There was a group of 15 civil engineers from various universities in Cairo who were trying to help the rebuilding of Gaza. They had been waiting since 10am, and had all their paperwork in order from the Egyptian government. But that didn’t seem to matter. They were still blocked from entry. There was also a group of doctors from the Syrian Red Crescent, some Egyptian doctors and even a Pakistani doctor. A few members of their group had gotten in a few days ago, but this group was not allowed in. Also turned away was a group of lawyers from Norway and France who wanted to investigate Israeli international law violations.
We've been talking with people on the other side, and they're terrified -- they say that Israeli bombing will begin there any minute. Planes keep flying overhead, something is brewing.
They keep telling us to go back, but we're going to stay here all night long. We'll try to stay awake and do what we can to move into Gaza.
CODEPINK Co-Founder Medea Benjamin and former US State Department official and retired Col. Ann Wright are traveling on a 10-day diplomacy trip to Gaza where they hope to learn, firsthand, the needs of the Gaza people, meet with Hamas, and to demonstrate what Special Envoy George Mitchell needs to do - visit Gaza and meet with Hamas. In addition, the women are meeting with several Palestinian aid groups to discuss plans for CODEPINK's new worldwide call to action "International Women's Day 2009: Dedicated to the Women of Gaza" to send aid to Gaza on International Women's Day, March 8th. To sign your organization on as a co-sponsor for International Women's Day, please click here. To learn more about Medea and Ann's trip to Gaza, please click here.