Posted by CODEPINK Staff
Sandra Ruch, a member of the 68-member delegation to Gaza that just this morning entered the war-torn region through the Rafah checkpoint, sent us this piece documenting her experience, describing events on May 30. Enjoy!
Today was a giant marathon. At 11:30 p.m., it is still not over. We have Mohammed El Majdalawi to thank. He organized an amazing itinerary for us and has been very efficient and organized from day one. Mohammed is only 21 years old but like the much of the youth of Gaza – he is committed to helping his people.
Today is our only full day in Gaza and there is so much to do and so little time. At 9am we left by taxi (a mini van) for the office of Dr. Yousef Moussa for a short meeting in his office at the Union of Health Work Committees. He gave us a power point presentation on his organization and the current situation in Gaza. We were there about a half hour and then went to their hospital located in the north – Al Awada. This hospital is one of the only in this northern area and specializes in obstetrics. They have about 500 births per month with a 1 percent mortality rate for new borns. It was impressive but there are still a few windows that have no glass just cardboard from damage during the massacre. One of the doctors told us how a window shattered as he was walking by. There is a new operating theatre and recovery area but they cannot open it yet because there is a lack of doctors and medical staff in general.
From Al Awada we went to Al-Assria Center where we gave the soccer uniforms we purchased in Cairo. The boys were so excited – I heard that one was rapping my name before we arrived and even wanted to perform it for me. I was very animated when I showed them what I had bought – pulling out the shirts and shorts, socks and shoes – bags and balls…..and having all the boys give an ooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhh and an ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, it was a fun moment. We then went into a room with younger children and gave away the other toys. Then we were entertained by a Dubka group from the center – they are so talented and they had us all up dancing before we left.
The next part of the trip was touring areas that have been devasted by the massacre – we visited areas where people are living in tents and are dependent on humanitarian aid. Seeing how these people are forced to live now is just heartbreaking. We have to remember that just months ago they were living in their own homes cooking on real stoves and keeping their food in a refrigerator, sleeping in beds, showering in bathrooms…we have to remember that their homes were mercilessly bombed – innocent people targeted by an army. WE went to the home of a family that had 29 members of their family murdered. They were forced out of their home by the Israeli army and told to go to a home about 50 metres away. Then this home was fired at – 29 killed and many injured. Inside their home the soldiers wrote on the walls – a drawing of a tombstone with Arabs written on it in Hebrew. It is hard to imagine anyone surviving this nightmare – we saw the wounds on the leg of one of the children. We saw the pictures of the other martyrs – little children, mothers, sisters…………killed like animals.
We saw the American school that was totally destroyed by bombs. We went inside a couple of homes – it is too bad that our time in Gaza was cut so short because we were not allowed in Gaza. We left our hotel at 9 in the morning
Our itinerary was
930 – meeting with Dr. Youssef Moussa of the Union of Health Work Committees
11pm – tour of Al Awada hospital
Visit tent area in Jabalyia Refugee Camp
Visit Al-Assria Center Community Centre
Visit to home of family devastated by army
5pm - press conference at Ramattan News agency – broad cast live on Al Jazeera
6pm – back to hotel and dinner meeting with Palestine Youth Committee
7pm – meeting with ISM
8pm – meeting with director of Al-Assria Center Youth Centre
9pm – meeting with Dr. Hassan Shaban Zeyada from Gaza Community Mental Health Program
10pm – meeting with Majed Abusalma to discuss Youth initiatives.
The ISM reported on several aspects of life in Gaza – fishing and farming, etc. We heard from Eva Bartlett from Ontario and several other ISMers who come from all over the world.
I sat with Mohammed and Nabil until 1 a.m. in the lounge at the Sinai Stars hotel and finally went to sleep. Just before one of the guys took a call from someone identifying as the secret police and asking some questions about the group. He appeared to confirming our group details. At 2:30am Nabil and Mohammed and Samir (from the NewYork group) were called out from their rooms and questioned. They were warned that this could affect their chances of ever returning to Egypt and Gaza again. They were told that the rest of the delegation would be ok but they would never see family again. This concerned us all because we are all travelling on Canadian and American passports – why were these 3 singled out.
730am – I am awake and leave my room for a cup of coffee in the lounge – there are 2 secret service police sitting in the reception area. 2 more appear shortly after. I go outside to buy another phone card – 2police vehicles and many officers are outside the door – how many more are surrounding us? A man comes and identifies himself as being from the Palestinian Authority and responsible for humanitarian aid going into Gaza. He talks and talks and talks to Mohammed and Nabil – he occupies all their time and it hard to get facts and information from them. We have a short meeting with Felice from New York and Ali from the student group. Mohammed, Nabil and Kenana choose to stay behind. They have been told that we will probably not clear the first checkpoint. The 3 organizers decide to make our move and see how far we can get. The 3 we are leaving will join us if there is any movement in Rafah and we are getting in.
We are being told that the Egyptians do not want us at Rafah border because they have heard that the students will be demonstrating. They do not want demonstrating - they define this as including our banners, singing, dancing and playing with children. This is what they are warning us all about – demonstrating – peaceful or not!!! WE know that this is an important part of our mission – to bring attention in any way we can to the siege on Gaza. We will sing, we will play with children, we will display our banners……we will continue to break the siege. This is why our members stay behind – to not associate with “demonstrating” because of the stern warning they have received from the secret police. On the bus we discuss the decision to leave 3 behind and many of the delegates are upset that a decision of this type was made by the group organizers, the 3 involved and not the whole group. They think we should not have left them behind, that some of them would have stayed and they are concerned for everyone’s safety. I have made the decision because the 3 behind have told us to do. They are not feeling threatened unless they come with us to demonstrate. We are going to the border to try to cross the Rafah border and to make a ruckus if we can’t. That is the purpose of our mission.
As we have been warned, we do not make it past the first checkpoint. We are told that there are army maneuvers being held on the road ahead. Other vehicles pass by freely. The police officer tells me they live in the small villages ahead. I tell him thank you and we will wait right here on the road until the army is finished. He says it is not possible. I tell him that we can wait in one of the nearby villages. He says he orders that this is not possible – we must go back. I try all my tricks and agree to go back.
We arrive back at the hotel – 6 Canadians, 15 New Yorkers, and 38 students…….meetings are being held. I call Tighe – I speak with Ann Wright and Medea……Tighe and Ann have a meeting with Ambassador Yassir Osman from the National Security. In the end they sit in his office for hours until they know we have complete permission to cross and we are at the Rafah border. Nabil and Mohammed are key in the developments. We don’t leave the hotel until we have complete assurance from the National security and the Secret Police that we can pass to Gaza today. WE have learned a lot from this mission – we are learning who the key players are in the Egyptian system and we now know that the Secret Intelligence has a lot of power and they also hold the final key!
We still worry that once inside the terminal we will not be able to leave and we will be held inside like the project hope convoy. It is around noon when we arrive at Rafah Gate…..it is 7:30pm when we finally arrive at the Al Qud Hotel in Gaza City. We are tired, hungry and so excited.!!!!!!!!!!!
Mohammed El Majadawali met us at the airport as do some journalists. He has a small bus for us. The other 2 groups are met by their buses and organizers. We head to Gaza City.
I am so excited to be back inside the Al Quds Hotel – everyone is welcoming and the remember me. I will have a single room and ask if I can have the beautiful suite that my friend Salina had in March. I get room 204 instead – the King’s suite ( I said he must mean Queen)….same cost $75US per night for singles and $80 US for doubles. I am told my room would normally be $250 but it is special for me. The room has 2 balconies, a bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and a bidet…..a full salon and a bedroom with a queen size bed. Wow………….luxury. I promise you I did not use the tub but showered always aware of the lack of water in Gaza. But it is fun………..the others are just across the hall. Mohammed and Nabil go to visit family. I cried watching Nabil meet his uncle and cousins……………thank God we were able to arrive in Gaza.
Dr. Moussa Youssef (Union of Health WorkCommittee) calls me. He will try to meet us. We all go and get ready to go to dinner. I have chosen the Palmera restaurant from a list I have written a star beside it. Dr. Moussa arrives at the hotel as we are leaving – he notices my gelabea and tells me I look like an Palestinian woman. He asks why I have chosen that restaurant and says Lanterna is much nicer. I go in his late model SUV with one other delegate and the others get back in the bus with our coordinator Mohammed. The restaurant is gorgeous – we sit in the open air area. Our host says the place is known for it’s chicken. I order the mixed grill………..we have a mix of salads and the food is fabulous. At the end I ask for the bill but Dr. Moussa will not hear of it…..we are his guests…………my meal was 55 shekels – average costs per person are 35 -55 (divide by 4 for Canadian dollars).
We say good night and make an arrangement to meet in his office for a short presentation at 9:30 am. It is late and we are exhausted.