Tag Archives: border crossing

Who Can I Blame?

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.”

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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.

RefaatandRawan

Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi meet with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

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. hifive

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!

Gaza

The Gaza Strip outlined in green.

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?

apartheid wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel, Politics, US Policy

My Travails Crossing the Rafah Border

Lora's passport stamp from Palestinian Authority.

Lora’s passport stamp from Palestinian Authority.

Travel to Gaza has never been easy.

In 2004, my friend and I made it through the Erez Checkpoint between Israel and Gaza only after answering a ton of questions at Ben Gurion airport. Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, a world-renowned Palestinian psychologist in Gaza, was not so fortunate. Israel wouldn’t allow him to travel abroad to accept an international award from his peers, so we journeyed to Gaza to bring the award to him.

My next attempt to visit Gaza came in July 2011. I had an invitation to meet with colleagues at the university and planned to stay only a few days. I wanted to see how Israel’s Operation Cast Lead (08-09) had impacted the Gaza Strip. I thought I was prepared. I’d done my homework and read the entire Goldstone Report. My reading list was growing.

I suspected it might be dangerous. Hamas was now in control of the Gaza Strip. Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian journalist and ISM volunteer, had been abducted and killed a few months earlier. But I wasn’t deterred.

I took the bus from Cairo to El-Arish in the northern Sinai. The 4-5 hour trip passed quickly without interruption. Hopping into a taxi for the final 50 km. to the Rafah border, I found myself sitting next to a journalist, a friend of Vittorio Arrigoni. I offered my condolences. When he heard about my plans to cross the Rafah border, he laughed at my naivety. No security clearance? No official paperwork giving me permission to cross the border? Good luck!

I recall thinking:

“I have permission from the Gaza side to enter, why would Egypt have any control on who LEAVES Egypt?”

Sign at the border between Egypt and Gaza.  I took the picture in July 2011.  Now I can read and understand the Arabic!

Sign at the border between Egypt and Gaza. I took the picture in July 2011. Now I can read and understand the Arabic

I was turned away.  لا لا لا  No – No – No! The Egyptian border agents spoke very little English but it was clear they didn’t see my name on their list and so I was not going to enter. I could stamp my feet and shake my head all I wanted, it made no difference. So I returned to Cairo and started knocking on government doors. It took about a month, but I finally received the approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a day before my flight was scheduled back to the United States. I was teaching and expected to be in my classroom the following week. So with my “approval” in hand, I returned home, deflated but not defeated.

I signed up for an Arabic Language class at my university and continued with my “homework” to learn as much as I could about the Israel-Palestine conflict. And I made plans to return to Gaza.

In the Spring of 2012, I contacted the Egyptian Embassy in Houston. I sent them my invitation from Gaza to teach a climate change seminar, along with my passport and the fees for a Visa. Several phone calls to follow-up, and I finally received my passport with the Visa and an official-looking paper giving me permission to cross the Rafah border. I flew to Cairo in September 2012 and made an uneventful crossing at Rafah.

Rafah border gate between Egypt and Gaza in the summer of 2011.

Rafah border gate between Egypt and Gaza

The next three months in Gaza were an amazing education for me. I can’t begin to summarize it here but take a look at my blog. I wrote alot about my experience. I was the student, my students were my teachers. In November 2012, Israel launched another military assault on Gaza which I’ve dubbed the Polite War. See here, and here, and here. The active shelling lasted 8 days and nights but the human trauma and scars will last another generation.

Silly me. I decided I needed a break and would spend the New Year holiday in Cairo before returning to Gaza. I left Gaza the day after attending a beautiful Christmas Eve mass in the Holy Family Church in the Old Town in Gaza City. Two weeks later, in early January 2013, I shared a taxi with a Palestinian friend who was returning to Gaza from his studies in Malaysia. On the ride across the northern Sinai, my friend showed me his manuscript that he wanted to get published. When we got to Rafah, I watched him skate through the checkpoint with no problem, while I was told لا لا لا again. No – No – No!

“Wait!  You let me cross 4 months ago and I have all the same paperwork. You’re mistaken. I must return to Gaza.”

Nothing I said made a difference. I returned to Cairo and spent the next 4+ weeks knocking on official doors, meeting and having my picture taken with the Egyptian Minister of Interior, the Egyptan Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Palestinian Ambassador to Egypt. Finally, I received a phone call about 10 PM one night in mid-February 2013 from the assistant to the Palestinian Ambassador. She told me that my name was on “the list” and I had permission to cross the Rafah border on Sunday.

Al-hamdulillah!

I returned to Gaza and solidified friendships, continued to learn more about the reality of Israel’s occupation and siege, and decided I wanted to make a difference … but how? In May 2013, I left Gaza determined to return. I wasn’t sure when or what I might be doing when I got back, but I left my heart in Gaza.

Ahmad and me at the Rafah border crossing on Gaza side.

Ahmad and me at the Rafah border crossing on Gaza side.

Fast forward to November 2015. I’m back in Cairo trying to return to Gaza.

I’ve packed up my house, put my things into storage and hired a property manager to take care of my home in the U.S. I’ve been a nomad or pilgrim for the past year, living with friends, waiting for the Egyptian Embassy in the U.S. to process my application to return to Gaza. For many, many months, the Egyptian Embassy wouldn’t even accept my application. “No one is allowed to cross the Sinai,” they told me. “It’s too dangerous.” I waited patiently.

In August, I called again. This time they said they would accept my application but didn’t make any promises about whether it would be approved. I submitted all of the paperwork to the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC and held my breath.

Al-hamdulillah! The Egyptian Embassy in DC notified me that my Visa application had been approved with the security clearance to cross the Rafah border. I picked it up on September 11 and left the U.S. on October 14 fully expecting that I would walk across the Rafah border without a hitch. My biggest concern was the weight of my luggage. I’m carrying a ton of books to the library and to friends in Gaza. I had to ditch most of my clothes and personal things to stay within the airline’s weight limit. [Side note: Israel must consider books a threat because these are one of the many prohibited items that Israeli officials will not allow into Gaza.]

When I arrived in Cairo, I learned that the security clearance marked in my Visa was probably not sufficient to get me across the Rafah border. Given the increased tension and violence in the northern Sinai, I don’t want to make an aborted trip and be turned away. I’ve had too much experience with that scenario.

Today I had a long phone conversation with an official in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He received my fax (Visa with security clearance) and confirmed that it doesn’t give me permission to cross the Rafah border. It only gives me permission to enter Egypt.

I complained and told him the Egyptian Embassy in DC said I had permission to cross the Rafah border. I told him I don’t need security clearance to enter Egypt. I can just fly to Cairo and purchase a Visa at the airport.

He said there are new rules since the war in Gaza in the summer of 2014, the one Israel dubbed Operation Protective Shield. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo must fax a letter with my documentation to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I told him I would not have left the U.S. and traveled to Cairo unless I was told I had permission to cross the Rafah border.

He repeated that I need to talk with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo about faxing my papers to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He said he would expedite my request as soon as he receives the fax from the U.S. Embassy.

Last Thursday I sent an email to the U.S. Embassy requesting a meeting. Today I’m going to send a message to my U.S. Senator asking for his help to arrange the meeting.

I’m also going to try to contact the Palestinian Ambassador in Cairo.

The reality of Rafah: this border was open 264 days in 2013 when I last crossed.  It was open 124 days in 2014. It’s only been open 19 days in 2015. Lora Lucero has options. I can sit and wait in Cairo. I can return to the U.S. I can hike the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. But the Palestinians in Gaza have no options. They can’t travel abroad for work, for higher education, for medical treatment or for pleasure, which is the basic right of any human being.

Americans – Ask yourselves if this seige on Gaza (going on 8 years now) is something you want your government and your tax dollars supporting.

Outside of the Rafah border crossing gate on the Egyptian side.

Outside of the Rafah border crossing gate on the Egyptian side.

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel

Why Gaza? Answering the question.

10682305_10205074594490415_7766625559446625498_o (1)“Why Gaza?” a friend asked in disbelief. Truthfully, everyone is asking me the same question. With the special security clearance finally stamped on my Egyptian Visa and my plane tickets in hand, the reality is now settling in. I’ll be leaving home in mid-October, headed for the Middle East and my new home for the indefinite future in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.

This isn’t my first time to Gaza. In 2004, a friend and I passed through the Erez Checkpoint from Israel in the north. We were on a mission. Israeli authorities had refused to allow a local Palestinian psychologist to travel abroad to receive an international award and recognition from his peers, so we were carrying the award to him. That was my first taste of life under Israeli occupation – freedom of movement was greatly restricted, even for the most respected professionals in Gaza.

On that visit, we drove to Rafah in the south to see where Rachel Corrie, an American volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), had been killed a year earlier by the Israeli Defense Forces. She was crushed under a military bulldozer while trying to protect a Palestinian doctor’s home from demolition. I stood on the barren site and saw no evidence of the house or the family but many children came up and asked me to take their photographs and I happily complied.

Then an old Palestinian man, maybe in his 60s and wearing the traditional long white galabiyya, came up to me and began to emphatically tell me something in Arabic. I had no clue what he was saying but I didn’t turn my eyes away from his withering verbal assault. Finally, he threw his arms up in the air, disgusted, and walked off. Our driver shared his translation of the old man’s words for me on our drive back to Gaza City.

“People from around the world come to Gaza all the time. They look, they take pictures, they cry big crocodile tears, and then they leave and nothing changes here. The same is going to happen with you. You will leave and nothing will change.”

That encounter was the turning point for me — from a mildly curious observer of the Middle East to a serious student of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. I’d been steeped in the Israeli narrative all of my adult life without appreciating that there was another side to this coin. I never had a reason to question the mainstream media’s reports about the Middle East, but now my eyes were telling me a different story.

10603961_10204698724733906_7149256136853381628_oThe past decade has been my personal graduate education on the Middle East, including books, films, lectures and personal contacts to learn about the colonial history, the Nakba (the “catastrophe” of 1948 continuing to the present) and the failed “peace process.” I studied Arabic for a year at the University of New Mexico but must admit my failure to learn the language. Then I returned to Gaza for nine months (2012-2013) where my real education took place. (More about that visit in the future.)

Some family and friends have chided me for my “obsession” with only one side of this “very difficult conflict.” Their caution is well-intentioned but they fail to acknowledge that Americans haven’t received fair and balanced news coverage since the creation of the State of Israel sixty-seven years ago. My framing of the issues and events in Israel and Palestine only provides a more complete and (I would argue) more accurate picture. My obsession is for the truth.

“Why am I going to Gaza?” I want to witness and report what is happening on the ground. The United Nations predicts that the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020. Israel’s stifling blockade, combined with its lethal military operations (3 in the past 6 years), have created an enclave of de-development (not only hindering but actually reversing development) with the highest unemployment rate (43%) in the world, according to the World Bank. The current population of 1.8 million Palestinians is expected to reach 2.1 million by 2020. The coastal aquifer which supplies most of their clean water is now 95% polluted. They are in the dark more often than not, with electricity available only a few hours each day. This tragedy has endless statistics but one simple fact remains: this tragedy is man-made as well as a foreseeable outcome of Israel’s very deliberate policies, funded and supported by American taxpayers.

So I’m going to Gaza to be a bridge between the Palestinians and people in the West (especially Americans) who cannot visit the Gaza Strip and don’t get the whole picture from the Western mainstream media. We have a responsibility not only to search for the truth and educate ourselves, but then to take action. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Desmond Tutu

Lora

Lora

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel, People

Borders

I’m hoping my story will be posted on this website.

The Gaza Strip is the only spot in the world where the people do not control their own borders.

The occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) include the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  No one enters or leaves the OPT without permission of Israel (the occupier).  Israel controls the airspace over Gaza, the sea adjacent to Gaza, and each of the six land crossings. Only two of these crossings are for people, Erez in the north and Rafah in the south.  
Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel has blockaded the small enclave, tightly monitoring what goods and supplies enter, even keeping the Palestinians on a diet. An Israeli government adviser has been widely quoted: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”
I tried unsuccessfully to enter Gaza in August 2011 but was turned away at the Rafah border by the Egyptian guards.  I tried again in September 2012, this time with written permission from the Egyptian Intelligence office, and I was welcomed with open arms by my Palestinian friends.
When I left the Gaza enclave at the end of December for a short visit to Cairo, I was again refused permission to cross the Rafah border in January 2013.  I spent the next two months talking to EgyptianAmerican andPalestinian officials and finally received permission to enter Gaza in early March.
The world needs to know about this “open air prison” and the collusion between Israel, Egypt and the U.S. to imprison 1.7 million men, women and children.  We should be horrified when Israeli soldiers board a humanitarian ship in international waters headed to Gaza and kill 9 passengers.  We should be horrified when Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian fishermen.  We should be horrified when Israeli soldiers kill farmers at the border.  We should be horrified by Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, reported to be the most densely-populated spot on the planet.
Israel must be held accountable for these crimes and the people of the world need to wake up.  The largest open air prison is a crime against humanity.

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Israel Defense Forces

Diplomacy

My last attempt  to return to Gaza this month is resting in the hands of the Palestinian Ambassador to Egypt, Dr. Barakat El Farra and his assistant Maissa Hidmi.

Palestinian Ambassador Dr. Barakat El Farra and Maissa Hidmi

Palestinian Ambassador Dr. Barakat El Farra and Maissa Hidmi

My 6-week odyssey began on January 15 when I was turned away at the Rafah border by the Egyptian border guards.  No reasons were given.

I have asked for help from President Morsi’s Ombudsman, from the US Embassy, from various people within the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and now my request has been sitting for two weeks in the “Security” or “Intelligence” Office.   My money is running out.  So is my patience.

The meeting this morning at the Palestinian Embassy in Cairo went very well.  I was honored to be invited into the inner sanctum and to visit with the Ambassador.

A very small world indeed!   The Ambassador’s cousin is a friend of mine who has visited New Mexico.  At the end of our meeting, I invited Ambassador El Farra to New Mexico as well.  I hope one day we will sit together and eat dinner in Old Town, Albuquerque.

I really appreciated his interest in helping me with my travel problems, and the time he spent talking with me and answering my questions.

The Ambassador spoke about some of the serious difficulties . . . no paychecks for Embassy employees last month.  [I believe I read that Netanyahu has recently agreed to release the funds to the PA which he withheld as punishment following President Abbas’ success at the United Nations in November.]

I asked about President Morsi and the decision to flood the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

The Ambassador expressed support for Morsi. “Palestine and Egypt have a good relationship.”  The tunnels are a serious problem for several reasons, he said.

First, the black market economy in the tunnels absolves Israel of its responsibility as the Occupier to provide for the needs of the people in Gaza under international law.

Second, the black market economy in the tunnels is benefiting 850 people in Gaza — making them millionaires — and not benefiting the 1.6 million Palestinians living in Gaza.

Third, the tunnels give Israel an excuse to crack down on Gaza because they argue that weapons are smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels.  If there were no tunnels, Israel could not use that excuse to attack Gaza, he said.  [although Israel would likely find other reasons!]

Normal trade and movement of people should occur at the Rafah border crossing, the Ambassador said, with no need for tunnels and black markets.  President Morsi has made improvements at Rafah.

Hopefully, I will get permission to pass through Rafah soon.  If not, I must head back to the USA.  😦

 

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel, Occupation, People

US Embassy Saga

Two weeks ago today the Egyptian guards refused to let me pass through the Rafah border into Gaza, Palestine. They gave me multiple, ambiguous reasons.  That particular tale is here.

So I returned to Cairo to find some answers.

I pressed and pressed and pressed to meet with President Morsi’s new Ombudsman.  Surely he would help me.  The Presidential staff, although friendly-enough, were very good at deflecting me.  Finally, I received a call from the Deputy Minister of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He is also an Ambassador.

Ambassador El-Adawy wanted to hear my story. Although his responsibility is typically focused on helping Egyptian citizens with their issues overseas, the office of the President had called him and asked him to help me.

I explained that I live and work in Gaza and was not allowed to return, despite having all the paperwork and approvals I thought I needed.  While I sat in his office, the Ambassador called the Palestinian Ambassador in Cairo and explained my situation. The Palestinian Ambassador said that Gaza approved my travel, so there was no hang-up on the Palestinian side of the border, maybe it was the American Embassy.

I asked, “What authority does the United States have over the border between Gaza and Egypt?”  He smiled and said “Gaza might be a special case. Go to the U.S. Embassy and talk with them. Then please come back and tell me what they said so my office is informed about the border crossing procedure.”

As luck would have it, the second anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution intervened.  Protests, demonstrations and violence in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt broke out on Friday, January 25.

I walked to the US Embassy one day and found it was closed because of the unrest.  I called the Embassy to make an appointment and learned the first available appointment was two weeks away.  I called the emergency line and told them I needed to speak with someone right away.  My name was put on a list for the following day.  Called the next morning to learn the Embassy was closed again.

One delay after another, my patience was wearing thin.

Long line in front of US Embassy in Cairo

Long line in front of US Embassy in Cairo

But today I finally stood across the counter from a US Embassy staff person.  (I’m going to share the whole saga of this morning’s visit in another post.)

We were divided by bullet-proof plexi-glass as she spoke through a headset with speakers blaring our conversation out to everyone.  Don’t expect any privacy if you have an appointment at the US Embassy in Cairo.

I explained my business, she passed a form through the slot to me and said, “You need a notarized affidavit to present to the border guards.  Go pay $50 USD and when you return, I will give it to you.”  I was expecting that routine because I had paid the $50 USD in August 2011 when I first attempted to travel to Gaza.

I pressed her for more information.  “I didn’t need an affidavit when I traveled across the border in September 2012, what has changed?”  “I’d like to see the border crossing procedures in writing.”  “Why does the US get involved in the border crossing of another country?”   I peppered her with many questions.  She deflected most of them with non-answers.

Finally, I was about to pay the $50 USD when someone behind the clerk mumbled, “We aren’t doing that anymore.”

Turns out that the US Embassy sent a notice to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 29 (LAST WEEK!) informing them that the US Embassy is no longer providing affidavits to their citizens for crossing into Gaza.  I asked for a copy of this notice but after consulting with her supervisor, she told me that it is “government-to-government communication” and so she couldn’t share it with me.

Her supervisor came out to talk with me, and I peppered her with more questions.

“No, we don’t have any agreements with the Egyptians or Israel about the Rafah border crossing.”

“No, we don’t keep tabs on who is crossing; we have no way to monitor that border.” (Yeah, right!)

“We decided unilaterally to discontinue the practice of giving our citizens affidavits because neither Canada nor the UK do it for their citizens, so we didn’t think it was fair that Americans had to go through that process.”  (Implying that it was not a process the US had originally concocted.)

“The Rafah border is an issue for Egypt to deal with; it’s a sovereignty issue that we won’t get involved in.”

She couldn’t give me anything in writing, and advised me to return to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the border-crossing procedures with them. (It only took 2 weeks and 3+ hours in a line today to learn that information.)

I walked across the street to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The Ambassador and his assistant are very friendly and very accessible.  We talked about the next step, and that’s when all hell broke loose.

Yelling, shouting, explosions, tear gas outside the window.  The demonstrators had returned and were protesting the killing of one of their groups whose funeral was today.

We watched all of the action on the street below from the second story window until the blasts occurred.  Then we were warned to stand away from the window.  Someone brought us masks for our faces.  And the Ambassador said he would take me and three other women in the office away from the turmoil in his official vehicle.

I’ve met a lot of official bureacrats in the past, but Ambassador Maher El-Adawy gets my vote for being the most thoughtful, intelligent, sincerely caring diplomat in the world.  Egyptians are very lucky.

Lora and Ambassador Maher El-Adawy

Lora and Ambassador Maher El-Adawy

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, US Policy

US Embassy warns Americans

I’m having a problem returning to Gaza.  I lived there for more than 3 months (Oct-Dec 2012).  After a short break in Cairo, I want to return to Gaza but I was turned away at the border by Egyptian guards.  See here.

So what’s the problem?

The Egyptian and Palestinian authorities have assured me that they have no problems with my passage into Gaza.  They recommend I check with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Here’s what the U.S. Department of State says about traveling to Gaza on its website.

Travel Warning

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

December 20, 2012

“The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid travel to the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization, by any means, including by sea. U.S. citizens in Gaza are advised to depart immediately. The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. Exchanges of fire between the Israel Defense Forces and militant groups in Gaza take place regularly, and civilians have been caught in the crossfire in the past. Although the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt allows for some passenger travel, prior coordination with local authorities — which could take days or weeks to process — is generally required, and crossing points may be closed for days or weeks. Travelers who enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing must also exit through the Rafah crossing, and those entering the Gaza Strip may not be able to depart at a time of their choosing. Because U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. Government are not allowed to enter the Gaza Strip or have contact with Hamas, the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens is extremely limited.”

I have some questions for US Embassy staff.

1) Why is the US involved with the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza?

2) How is the US involved at the Rafah border?

3) Does the US coordinate with Israel at the Rafah border?

4) Does the US coordinate with Egypt at the Rafah border?

5) Does the US coordinate with the Palestinian Authority at the Rafah border?

6) What written agreements exist between the US and Egypt/Israel about the border crossing at Rafah?

This is going to be an interesting meeting.

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