As of December 15, I’ve been on my journey to return to Gaza for 470 days.
I packed up my house in Albuquerque, New Mexico and put my things into storage. I found a very responsible property manager to handle the house as a rental. I called the Egyptian Embassy for months, waiting patiently for them to give me a Visa with special security clearance to cross the Rafah border into Gaza. When they finally said “Yes, you may go to Gaza” — I jumped on a plane and flew to Cairo.
That’s when I hit a brick wall, actually many brick walls. First, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told me “No, you don’t have the right paperwork to go to Gaza (despite the contradictory information the Egyptian Embassy in DC had told me only weeks earlier). You must first get permission from your U.S. Embassy.”
I’ve been through that game before, see here. In 2011, the U.S. Embassy advised me not to go to Gaza but they sold me a notarized waiver of liability and responsibility letter for $50 USD which I carried over to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for my ticket into Gaza.
This year, staff at the US Embassy informed me that they don’t provide any assistance or paperwork for Americans wishing to travel to Gaza. Zilch! Zip! Nada! I requested a meeting with the Deputy Chief of Mission Goldberger because he’s had considerable experience with Israel-Palestine during his career. He refuses to meet with me.
I asked my U.S. Congresswoman if she would try to arrange a meeting for me with DCM Goldberger. Her office has been trying for more than a month, but no response from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
I visited the Palestine Embassy in Cairo, hoping someone there might be able to help me as they did in 2013. See here. This year there’s a new Palestinian Ambassador and new rules established by the Egyptians. The Palestinian official with whom I spoke expressed an interest in my plans to return to Gaza, and understood the difficulty I’ve been experiencing. He said a Spanish delegation came to visit him a couple of months ago to make the same request, but his office couldn’t get them through the Egyptian bureaucracy. His advice to me — “talk with your U.S. Embassy”.
The Palestinian official and I finished our coffee while a clerk made a photocopy of my passport. He mentioned that my passport is the envy of everyone in the world. I asked him “why?” He responded, “Because it gives you access to everywhere, it opens doors for you.” I said, “Apparently my passport doesn’t open the Rafah gate.” He smiled and we both “high-fived” each other.
So who can I blame for denying me access to Gaza?
The Palestinians inside Gaza and outside want to help me. They’ve given me a letter of invitation but they don’t have control over their own borders.
The Americans don’t want me to travel to Gaza. The U.S. State Department routinely issues travel advisory warnings to avoid travel there. I find the following statements noteworthy.
Some U.S. citizens of Arab or Muslim heritage not on the Palestinian Population Registry or otherwise prohibited from entering Israel have experienced significant difficulties and unequal and hostile treatment at Israel’s borders and checkpoints. U.S. citizens of Arab or Muslim origin visiting the West Bank, including those not on the Palestinian Population Registry, have experienced restrictions by Israeli authorities from visiting Jerusalem or Israel.
Since October 2015, attacks on individuals and groups have occurred with increased frequency in East and West Jerusalem, Hebron, and Bethlehem, as well as various other places in the West Bank and Israel, including Tel Aviv. There is no indication that U.S. citizens have been specifically targeted based on their nationality, although perceived religious affiliation may have been a factor in some violent attacks on U.S. citizens. More than 12 U.S. citizens have been among those killed and injured in multiple attacks in 2014 and 2015. U.S. citizens involved in or observing demonstrations have sustained serious injuries. Therefore, the Department of State recommends U.S. citizens avoid all demonstrations for their own safety.
No Americans have been killed in Gaza!
I understand, and appreciate, my government’s concern about my travel plans but I find it incomprehensible that I can’t even get a meeting with DCM Goldberger in the US Embassy in Cairo.
I understand, and appreciate, Egypt’s concern about foreigners traveling across the northern Sinai to the Rafah border. That area is an active military zone where Daesh (ISIS) is openly targeting Egypt’s military and security personnel.
The silent partner in this deplorable situation is the State of Israel.
Israel controls the only other access point to Gaza in the north, the Erez Crossing. Israel refuses to allow ships to enter Gaza’s seaport, even boarding and killing internationals who tried to break the siege in 2010. Israel destroyed Gaza’s only airport shortly after it was opened and christened by President Bill Clinton in 1998.
I blame the State of Israel.
Israeli officials denied Dr. Mads Gilbert (the Norwegian doctor who volunteered at Shifa Hospital during Israel’s military operations) access to Gaza for life. They blocked Amnesty International from entering Gaza during the war in July/August 2014, and then denied access to the U.N. Human Rights Committee charged with investigating possible war crimes. I personally know journalists who have applied and been denied access across Erez into Gaza.
In all fairness, I should go through the steps of applying and seeking permission from the State of Israel to enter Gaza through the Erez Crossing. Then, and only then, can I blame Israel if I’m unable to return to Gaza.
Meanwhile, the largest open air prison in the world remains off limits to most foreigners and the U.S. government is complicit in this deadly blockade and siege for 8+ years. What doesn’t Israel want you to see?