Tag Archives: border

All People Have Value


Kids and signsTrump’s policy of separating young children from their parents when they cross the border has galvanized Americans of all stripes to stand up and fight back.

Governors (Democrats and Republicans) are refusing to deploy their state’s National Guard to the border; television journalists are shedding tears on camera; mental health professionals are telling us about the long-term trauma these children will suffer; and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are telling the Administration to end this outrageous policy while proclaiming that “America is better than this!”

Marchers gathering 3

Protests were organized in many U.S. cities this week. I joined 500+ people in El Paso to March about 1.5 – 2 miles to the detention facility where many immigrants are being processed through the system after their children are removed and taken somewhere else. We chanted, yelled and some swore while the national and international media captured our stories.

By every measure, this action was successful, and Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso must be recognized for its effective organizing efforts.  Within 24 hours, President Trump had signed an Executive Order ending the separation policy.

Was it the media attention, or the Governors’ actions, or Congress, or a combination of many actions that caused Trump to reverse course? We may never know. But I have no doubt that when Americans are aroused and angry, we can move mountains.

All People in All Countries Have Value

Then why aren’t Americans aroused and angry over our government’s funding and support for Israel’s systematic killing, maiming and traumatizing of Palestinian children in Gaza?

If “All People in All Countries have Value” — how do Americans not recognize and become incensed with our government’s complicity in Israel’s war crimes?

[This isn’t the blog post to explain or convince anyone about Israel’s war crimes, but I acknowledge that lack of education may be part of the answer to my question.]

If Rachel Maddow and other journalists started crying on camera when reporting about American-made (and American financed) bombs falling on Palestinian children in Gaza, would that move anyone?

If a few Governors proclaimed their distaste for U.S. priorities, such as allocating $3+ billion each year to Israel’s war machine while cutting social programs at home, would that move anyone?

If there were simultaneous demonstrations and marches in large U.S. cities protesting Israel’s willful and deliberate killing of Palestinian children, would that move anyone?

Probably not.

Most humans (not just Americans) have a finite wellspring of empathy which seems to be doled out sparingly, as though we’re fearful that the well might run dry.  Immigrant families crossing the southern border with their children? That we can get our hearts and minds around. Palestinian families half way around the world, not so much, even though our government is directly responsible for the suffering of both.

Love Thy Neighbor

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Filed under Media, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy, Video

Stop talking about the “border”

We have a right to defend ourselves” just as any other sovereign nation, proclaims Israel’s leaders as they give the order to use lethal force against peaceful protesters on the other side of the fence with Gaza.

Whether Israel is correct depends on two things:

(1) Does international human rights law apply to these facts or international humanitarian law (rules of war)? The question has been presented to Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, said the killings on Monday reflected a “blatant excessive use of force by Israel” and likened them to “an eye for an eyelash.”

Mr. Lynk said that protesters appeared to pose no credible threat to Israeli military forces on the Israeli side. Under humanitarian law, he said, the killing of unarmed demonstrators could amount to a war crime, and he added that “impunity for these actions is not an option.”

(2) Is the fence between Gaza and Israel an international border or a fence separating two groups of people who each claim sovereignty over their territory?

You would be excused if you erroneously thought the fence was an international border because much of the mainstream media has adopted Israel’s framing of the issue.  Israel wants us to believe it has a border with Gaza; that since its withdrawal in 2005 the Gaza Strip is no longer occupied territory; and the fence represents an inviolable demarcation between Israel and “those people we prefer to call Arabs, not Palestinians.”

If Israel’s argument was correct, then the right to defend that border might have some merit, leaving aside the important issues of “Right of Return” and method of defense.

However, we succumb to Israel’s narrative at the expense of jettisoning the law of belligerent occupation, international humanitarian law and the facts that led to the establishment of Israel 70 years ago.


The current borders of the State of Israel are a result of war and of diplomatic agreements. The borders with Jordan and Egypt have been confirmed by peace treaties. The border with Lebanon resulted from the 1949 Armistice Agreement.  The borders with Syria and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have never been settled. In fact, Israeli Legislators have been passing laws to unilaterally extend Israel’s sovereignty into the West Bank, and they claim they no longer occupy the Gaza Strip. The U.N. and the international community have not recognized Israel’s unilateral pronouncements.

It’s time the mainstream media got the facts straight. Words matter.

Since the State of Israel does not have an internationally recognized border with the Palestinians in Gaza, the actions of both the Israeli military and the Palestinian protesters take on a significantly different cast.

The Palestinians are not trying to cross an inviolable border but rather exercising their Right of Return enshrined in Resolution 194 adopted by the United Nations on December 11, 1948.

The Israeli military is not protecting its sovereign border but rather killing unarmed protesters that have been caged in the world’s largest open air prison.


The State of Israel may have superior military weapons, thanks in large measure to American taxpayers, but we should not capitulate to Israel’s false narrative.

There is no internationally recognized border between Israel and Gaza. It’s just a fence; actually two fences.  The New York Times is beginning to set the record straight. (May 16, 2018)



Filed under Gaza, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Media, People, Uncategorized, United Nations


Today (Feb. 13, 2018) I learned that Israel’s travel restrictions in and out of Gaza through the Erez Border Crossing are well-documented policy, not just my imagination.

The Israeli border agency (COGAT) gloats that hundreds of Gazans enter Israel every day through Erez, but it won’t advertise that in the past year, it squeezed the number of exits by Palestinians down 51% compared to the number who crossed Erez in 2016.

GISHA, the legal center for the freedom of movement, issued a factsheet in January summarizing Israel’s travel restrictions. The entire factsheet makes my blood boil, but the following restriction elicited a silent scream.

MAKING GAZA RESIDENTS TRAVELLING ABROAD SIGN A COMMITMENT NOT TO RETURN FOR A YEAR: In February 2016, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) added a new criterion to the Status of Authorizations, a document which defines the categories of people in Gaza eligible to apply for exit permits. The criteria says that residents of Gaza can travel abroad via Erez and Allenby Bridge crossings on the condition that they sign a waiver stating that they will not request to re-enter Gaza for one year via Israel. In 2017, the practice became all the more absurd as Gaza residents whose exit from Gaza had already been approved for other reasons began to be detained at Erez Crossing until they signed the waiver. The authorities are thus essentially conditioning exit on signing the waiver. Our casework reveals that residents are being made to sign even when they do not intend to stay away one year nor have paperwork to allow them to reside in third countries and that minors were made to sign without guardians’ consent. The practice is a violation of one of the most fundamental rights – to leave and enter one’s place of residence.

Yep, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Article 13. — (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

But when did any international declaration impact Israel’s decision-making? Answer: Never.

In an act of love and solidarity, the American Friends Service Committee launched #ValentinetoGaza this year, asking friends to post photos of themselves with a Valentine poster for our friends in Gaza.

There are so many friends in Gaza I’m thinking of today, wishing I could knock down every barrier, and share a Valentine with you directly. You’re in my heart!

(Lora in Gaza in 2013 – floral arrangements are ubiquitous in Gaza

for weddings, birthdays, celebrations and Valentines Day!)


Filed under Gaza, Israel, Uncategorized

People speak out – “Open Access to Gaza”

I have a meeting scheduled at the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday. Going to hand-deliver my petition and try to speak with Deputy Chief of Mission Goldberger about my request to travel across the Rafah border.

January 12, 2016

Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Goldberger

Embassy of the United States of America

5 Tawfik Diab Street

Garden City, Cairo


Dear DCM Goldberger,

I’m an American citizen, currently in Cairo, attempting to return to Gaza to teach.

As you know, the U.S. Embassy in past years provided a notarized release of liability and responsibility to Americans wishing to travel to Gaza. This year, your office has refused to assist me or even meet with me to discuss this matter.

Your experience on the Israel/Palestine desk at the U.S. State Department in DC as well as your years of service as Deputy Chief of Mission in Tel Aviv would certainly provide me with very valuable insights. Perhaps you could give me some guidance about how to get permission from Israel to cross the Erez Checkpoint into Gaza.

As of Monday, January 11, 2016, 972 people have signed a petition urging the U.S. Embassy not to block Americans from traveling to Gaza.  The comments are very informative about how Americans feel about the 10 year siege on Gaza.  A sample of the 291 comments are reprinted below. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Americans-travel-gaza

“Freedom to travel is, or should be, a right of all Americans.”

“Dear Ambassador Beecroft and Deputy Chief Goldberger:

I am a Jewish American who is very concerned about the state of affairs in Gaza and the Middle East generally. While we can never abandon our commitment to the State of Israel, we need to adopt a more even handed policy that will truly promote peace and not just enable extreme elements in Israel if we want to stem the tide of violent Islamists. Citizens like Lora Lucero help to promote good will, inform the American public, and create pressure for a resolution of the Palestinian dispute, which has gone on for far, far too long. Please resume issuing waivers to American citizens like Ms. Lucero who wish to travel to Gaza.”

“Don’t prevent anybody form going in and out from Gaza. Stop the inhumane treatment of Gazans. They are pushing Gaza to more violence and bloodshed.”

“It’s so important to have an international presence in Gaza. Please provide documents for those Americans wanting to travel there.”

“I am appalled that Lora Lucero cannot travel to the Gaza strip BECAUSE, as I understand it, the US Embassy in Cairo refuses to grant the necessary documentation.”

“We as Americans want to be able to cross the borders, to bring aid, and let the world know what the Palestinian plight is about.”

“U.S. citizens should not be blocked by the U.S. OR Israel from traveling to the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Gaza. Our work and witness in extremely important to Palestinians living under occupation.”

“Please assist Lora Lucero and other Americans who want to in going to Gaza and showing that Americans can help those in need. If Americans are to be truly safe and true to our professed values, we need to help make the world a better place instead of approaching everything as a military issue.”

“In November 2012, I traveled to Gaza from Egypt, and I received the written waiver from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Also, the Egyptian Press Office at that time provided press credentials to travel to Gaza, which I also received. It was so important that we (a delegation organised by Code Pink and Free Gaza) were able to witness and to share what we experienced. It is frightening to think that U.S. citizens will be denied the ability to show support and report on the situation in Gaza. The current U.S. policy is an outrage and only serves to further isolate the people of Gaza.”

“Stop supporting the blockade of Gaza Strip. Lora Lucero is a most peaceful person and she and others should be allowed entrance.”

“Palestine/Gaza is occupied territory and is being isolated by Israel. There is no valid excuse for this. Allowing teachers to help out is the least that can be done.”

“Whatever can be done to help support people in Gaza must be done – they are in an open air prison. The world needs witnesses and the US must change its , or the US will be considered a terrorist.”

“I’m ashamed of the US government’s discrimination against Palestinians and the activists who want to help those in need.”

“If an American University teacher teaches in Gaza, this is effective personal Peace work. The US Consulate in Cairo should do everything helping her to finish her job!”

“The consulate’s refusal to provide support to Lora Lucero’s decision to travel to work with the people of Gaza, who are suffering from bombs and other munitions supplied by the U.S. is an unacceptable infringement on her rights as an American and a shocking failure of our government to stand for freedom and compassion.”

“All Israelis should be banned from entering the USA until this illegal siege is ended!”

“Urge you to do all within your power to end Israeli boycott of Gaza — please.”

“Humane and productive policies should define our country. Isolating, blockading, and punishing the people of Gaza is neither. Act like an American and allow volunteers to help with the humanitarian crisis there. It’s truly the least we can do.”

“I’ve been to Gaza — perhaps the most important travel of my life.”

“As an American Jew I find your blocking people from entering Gaza abhorrent. It is reminiscent of Hitler’s behavior toward Jews.”

“Our American passport says: the cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

“Lora Lucero and many other Americans are doing great humanitarian work by bearing witness to the reality of life in Gaza. Preventing them from travelling looks bad.”

“The U.S. Embassy in Cairo should at the very least meet with American citizens wishing to travel to Gaza, and resume the issuance of waivers to travel there.”

“Give people what they need to enter Gaza!”

“Ridiculous that I have to sign this (PETITION). Shame on you.”

“For how long are you planning to keep this inhuman practice?”

“These people have been collectively punished continuously for over a decade. Unbelievable.”

“It’s so sad that Egypt complies and buckles to Israeli pressure. Please allow those willing to dedicate their time helping humanity to enter Gaza. God bless.”

“By preventing people from going to Gaza, you’re showing the world that you condone all the hardships that the Gazans go through everyday of their lives. As long as some American citizens want to go for humanitarian purposes, I don’t think it’s wise to prevent them.”

“The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is totally neglecting their responsibility to an American citizen.”

“Do let people in to areas they wish to travel. It is their life and choice. If they do not intend any illegal activities toward other human beings, let them be.”

“It is good that persons with big Heart as Lora go to Gaza, it will help people in their “open jail”!


Lora A. Lucero


Filed under Egypt, Gaza, People, Politics, Uncategorized, 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.


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.


Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel


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


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

Speed dial and speculation in Egypt

I have Dina’s number on speed dial now.

Dina - Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Palestinian Division

Dina – Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Palestinian Division

I have been calling Dina several times each day to learn whether the Egyptian “Security” or “Intelligence” office has approved my travel across the Rafah border to Gaza.

Stuck in Cairo for two months, I’m very frustrated, angry, and fed up.

My calls are either (1) switched to the fax machine, (2) disconnected, (3) answered by the secretary who speaks no English but she knows my voice now, (4) asked to call back in “10 minutes”, (5) “Dina isn’t here” or (6) Dina and I finally connect!

Clearly, Dina has no control over the situation.  The decision must come from the “security” or “intelligence” office, and I’m not allowed to talk with anyone in “security” or “intelligence”.

On Sunday, Dina told me that no one has received approval to cross into Rafah for the past couple of weeks because there is a “security operation” going on there now — and the Egyptian military are flooding the tunnels.  She speculated that things might improve by the end of the week.

I don’t know much about anything in Egypt, but one thing I am sure about — speculation abounds.

There is huge speculation now that something BIG is going to happen in Egypt on March 9th.   A coup?  A massive protest?  The talk on the street is that it will be huge and it will happen on March 9th, but no one really says what “it” might be.

There’s also speculation about what’s going on at the Rafah border.  My friends in Gaza tell me there are many foreigners in Gaza today attending a conference.  Did they all enter through Israel’s Erez crossing in the north?   I doubt it.  Did they enter through the tunnels in Rafah?  Possibly.  More than one person has told me how easy it is to cross the border through the tunnels.  Or did these foreigners get permission to cross legally, and if they did, why haven’t I been granted permission?

Maj.  Gen. Alaa Saad (“military expert”) was on an Egyptian TV talk show in English today discussing the Egyptian military’s action at Rafah.

Egyptian Maj. Gen. Alaa Saad on TV Feb. 26.

Egyptian Maj. Gen. Alaa Saad on TV Feb. 26.

Saad said that Egypt is flooding the tunnels for Egypt’s security because the military believes weapons and jihadists are traveling through the tunnels and making the Sinai region very dangerous. He says the army doesn’t want to hurt the Palestinians working in the tunnels and that is why they are flooding them and not hitting them with rockets, to send a warning message.

Egypt has eased the travel restrictions at the Rafah border, says this military expert, and the army believes everything should be transparent.

Personally, I don’t see any easing of travel restrictions!   Maybe transparency could begin with the Egyptian “security” and “intelligence” office!!*!

Saad believes that the people and goods (food and medicine) should travel easily across the border without any tunnels, but he says there are people in Gaza who benefit financially from the tunnel economy, and they do not want to see the tunnels closed because it would hurt their wallets.

I find this statement very credible.  I have heard there are people in Gaza becoming millionaires based on the tunnel economy, and the Hamas government is collecting taxes from the entrepreneurs using the tunnels.  (Hamas could collect taxes from goods crossing legally above ground.)  

I have seen luxurious homes in Gaza that look like they are recently constructed.  Based on my personal observations in Gaza, there clearly appears to be the “haves” and “have-nots” but I’m not sure how this might be connected to the tunnel economy.

Everyone would benefit (Palestinians in Gaza, Palestinians abroad, Egyptians, Israelis, and the world) if there was a safe, secure, normal crossing at Rafah without restrictions.  Open and transparent for everyone to see!

As it stands today, the Egyptians are the jail keepers in the South, doing Israel’s bidding to ensure that Gaza remains the “largest open air prison” in the world.

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Filed under Economic Development, Egypt, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, People

Before I Forget . . . Some Questions!

On Sunday (Jan. 13) and Monday (Jan. 14) two different Egyptian guards stationed at the Rafah border refused to allow me to enter Gaza.  I was returning after a short visit to Cairo, having lived in Gaza since September teaching environmental engineers about climate change.  The Egyptian border guards had no questions about my visit to Gaza when I first crossed in September. 

  1. What is different in January from last September when I first arrived in Gaza?
  2. Why did it take the border guard nearly 3 hours to turn me away on Sunday, and only 15 minutes on Monday?
  3. Why did the border guard refuse to talk on the phone with my contact in Gaza?
  4. Why were the same two men in plain clothes standing outside of the gate both days talking to the border guards and one of them was pointing to me with a cocky smile on his face?
  5. Why was I told so many different reasons for turning me away,  including: 

“You don’t have permission from Gaza”

“You need permission from the U.S. Embassy”

“Your paper from the Palestinian National Authority makes no difference.”

Approval from the Palestinian National Authority

Approval from the Palestinian National Authority

 Inquiring minds want to know!!    Who is really occupying Gaza?   Israel?  Egypt?  or the United States of America?








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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel, US Policy

La – La – La – No – No – No!

I am ANGRY . . . spitting angry.  Here’s why.

Early sunday morning I met my good friend in Cairo (a Palestinian professor in Gaza currently studying abroad).  He had just arrived at the airport and arranged a car to take us to the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza.  He was very excited about seeing his family again, and I was looking forward to seeing my friends in Gaza again.

At the border, my friend passed through the Egyptian gate with no fuss at all.  When it was my turn, my documents were taken from me and I was told to wait.  I waited and waited and waited.  Thirty minutes turned into an hour, turned into two hours, and at the end of the afternoon my papers were handed back to me and I was told that I didn’t have permission from Gaza to enter.  Bah-humbug!

Pulling my suitcase behind me, I waded through a sea of men trying to get my attention.  I was looking for a driver to take me back to a hotel in the small town near the border about 20 minutes away (Al-Arish).  I selected a driver standing next to his car, asked him how much, and we settled on a price.  He had one other passenger, a clean-looking man in his early 30s, who jumped into the back seat with me. 

As we drove off, I started to worry.  Traveling alone, with two men I didn’t know, in a strange land, with a language I couldn’t speak.  It all spelled trouble, and I began to think some horrible thoughts.  The other passenger kept looking at me trying to make eye contact.  I could see him out of the corner of my eye and refused to engage with him.   The minutes ticked on.  Then I felt his hand on my leg, and I yelled “STOP”!!   

The driver pulled to the side of the road immediately, stopped and the passenger got out and moved to the front seat without a word. 

After we dropped him off in Al-Arish, the driver asked me in broken English what had happened.  I explained, and he shook his head and told me the passenger was an Egyptian policeman — and “policemen are bad!”  He apologized and took me to my hotel.  On the way, he asked about my plans to go to Gaza; and he said he could drive me through the tunnel underneath the border for USD $200 if I have problems getting into Gaza the following day.

I was pissed and ready to call it quits!   Who needs this?  Egyptian border authorities telling me “NO!”   And Egyptian policemen telling me “YES!”  Screw them all!*!*!*!*!

But after a good night’s rest on a real mattress for the first time in nearly 5 months, and a good breakfast, and more official-looking papers faxed to me from Gaza giving me permission to enter, I returned confidently to the Rafah border.

I walked through the gate before the guard could stop me, handed him my passport and papers, and waited for him to wave me through.  But he told me “Five minutes!” and walked off with my papers.  About 10 minutes later he returned with a young woman (who turned out to be having difficulty herself getting across the border). She was a Palestinian with dual nationality in Finland, bringing a delegation of Finnish activists to Gaza.  She translated.

The Egyptian border guard said I needed permission from the US Embassy, that I didn’t have permission from Gaza (I showed him the paper that said “Entry Approved” and realized he couldn’t read English).  I told him that I am a teacher and my students in Gaza are waiting for me.  I told him that I had been in Gaza from September to December, and was returning.  I told him that I entered Gaza in September without any trouble.   All of this with the help of a very nice interpreter.  But to no avail.  He just said “La . La . La”   I know what THAT means!

By this time it was 2:30 PM and I knew I had better catch a ride back to Cairo.  Again, I had to get through the swarm of young men pestering me for my attention.  I found a van, negotiated a fair price, and after it was full (10 people plus the driver) we headed back to Cairo, arriving nearly 6 hours later.  

I’m going to write a post just about the drive back to Cairo; it was memorable.  All of the passengers were from Gaza. One young man in his early 30s with a full black beard sang words from the Qur’an.  When we reached Cairo, he said in halting English “I want to give you a gift but all I have is my little black hat.  Will you accept it?”  I was honored and humbled.  I gave him my hat from Norway, which he accepted and said he would give to his wife.

So I’m back “home” — my home away from home in Cairo.  And I’m angry and ready to call President Morsi in the morning and tell him what I think of his police in the Sinai, and his border guards at Rafah.  Morsi has publicly declared that he supports the Palestinians and wants to ease travel restrictions into and out of Gaza.   Time to prove it MISTER!


Filed under Egypt, Gaza, People