Tag Archives: borders

Borders

Protest refugees 8

A simple message seen in London the week before Christmas. A few people protesting the government’s actions with refugees seeking asylum in the UK. They quietly read the names, dates and circumstances of those refugees who have died trying to find safety and a new home in the UK. I was shocked to hear how many suicides occurred after the refugee learned his or her asylum application had been rejected.

Sharing that photo on social media elicited many who supported it, with one person making the effort to point out that “Yes but sovereign countries do. And that matters a lot, whether you want to acknowledge it or not!”

My initial reaction, if I’m honest with myself, was one of scorn. I decided not to respond because I know we’re using different playbooks — I’m a Democrat and a Progressive, the poster is a Republican and a Conservative. Our worldviews clash, and there’s no point in engaging with someone who is so wrong and misinformed.

However, his reaction to a simple message of love for our brothers and sisters no matter where they may live, continued to needle me. Why would he assume I don’t acknowledge the importance of sovereign countries or understand that there’s a significant political dimension to borders?

Then it dawned on me —- he must think the same of me, as I think of him. That I’m wrong, misinformed, uneducated, naive, stuck in my box and unable to appreciate the nuance of any issue.

And then an “AHA!” moment —- there are different kinds of borders.

  • the legal, jurisdictional borders between nation-states,
  • the political borders such as the divisions between the Republicans and Democracts in the U.S., the Conservative and Labor Parties in the UK, and Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, and
  • the borders we create in our own heads every time we think about “us vs. them.” 

Refugees die on boats that are sinking in the Mediterranean as they try to cross the borders between countries, while politicians cavalierly throw up political and legal roadblocks and refuse to engage in any meaningful sense with the forces driving the refugees to flee their homes in the first place.

The Israeli military sharpshooters are killing and maiming Palestinians every week at the fence (not a legal border) between Israel and Gaza for the simple purpose of protecting their sovereign country.  Fatah and Hamas appear to be sabotaging each other and the dreams of a future State of Palestine because they have erected impenetrable borders between the two. “Either you’re with us or you’re against us!”

And I automatically threw up a border between myself and my friend on social media, refusing to engage with him, dismissing his comment, and moving on to others with whom it was easier to see eye-to-eye. Us versus them!

There’s no immutable magic in the geographical borders between nation-states. History demonstrates how often such borders have changed, and they will undoubtedly change in the future.

And there’s certainly nothing special at all about any political party, despite what the politicians may tell us.

But the borders we create in our heads are the most pernicious and impenentrable because (1) we don’t see or acknowledge them, and (2) even if we do, most of us are unwilling to eliminate those borders. It’s far easier to stay within my comfort zone where I’m right, or at least I feel affirmed in my beliefs. It takes work and perhaps a bit of humility to try to tear down those “us versus them” borders in our minds.

And so as Christians celebrate Christmas 2018, the message I want to share is to remember the Golden Rule, treat your neighbor as you wish to be treated. I think that’s the key to breaking down every type of border.

Bethlehem

 

 

 

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Filed under Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

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

Free advice to the Palestinian and Egyptian Tourism Ministries

Tourism is the life-blood of the Egyptian economy.  It could be the same for Gaza if the Israeli Occupation and siege ended.  Tourism is more important than ever in this fractured and divided world because people need to meet each other, share a cup of coffee or tea, and talk (not on Facebook, but in the “real” world).

The Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza is not conducive to tourism; it’s clearly designed to impede passage. Only the heartiest of travelers will make the effort to cross (or Palestinians who require medical attention in Cairo).

In August 2011, I was turned away at the border by the Egyptian authorities, even though I had a written invitation from the university in Gaza and a valid Egyptian Visa.  No explanation was given.

The United States government doesn’t want Americans traveling to Gaza, having officially designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Last year, officials in the US Embassy in Cairo tried their best to deter me, finally charging me $50 for a notarized disclaimer that they had duly warned me not to travel.  If I needed assistance while in Gaza, they told me not to bother calling the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, they wouldn’t be able to do anything for me. 

This year, I didn’t even bother notifying the US Embassy about my travel plans.  In September 2012, I successfully made it through the Rafah crossing. Three months later, it was time to return to Egypt.

Three days before departure, I purchased my “exit” ticket in Gaza City for 60 shekels.  Then I went to another office where my name was put on a list and I was handed a slip with the date and time of my passage, as well as assigned #5.  It wasn’t until the day of travel that I understood the significance of #5.

Permission to leave Gaza.  Group #5 is my assignment.

Permission to leave Gaza. Group #5 is my assignment.

My journey from Gaza to Cairo took 15 hours; crossing the border was an excruciating FIVE HOURS!! 

There were three different reception halls (2 on the Palestinian side and one on the Egyptian side) each requiring longer than an hour’s wait.

Reception Hall #1 on the Palestinian side.

Reception Hall #1 on the Palestinian side.

Reception Hall #2 on the Palestinian side.

Reception Hall #2 on the Palestinian side.

 

Reception Hall #3 on the Egyptian side.

Reception Hall #3 on the Egyptian side.

Officials on both sides of the border need to make changes if they hope to build vibrant trade and tourism. (Don’t talk to me about terrorists!  In the 21st century, the world leaders need to GROW UP and learn to communicate about their differences, not pin labels on each other.)  

Group #5 spent alot of time waiting on bus #5.

Group #5 spent alot of time waiting on bus #5.

Lora in the rearview mirror shooting a picture from the bus in no-man's land between Gaza and Egypt.

Lora in the rearview mirror shooting a picture from the bus in no-man’s land between Gaza and Egypt.

So here’s my advice column to the Egyptian and Palestinian authorities who have responsibility for the Rafah border crossing.

#1  Sit down with each other and negotiate an agreement that benefits both Egypt and Palestine.  Forget the U.S. and Israel.  They should have nothing to do with the decisions about YOUR border.

#2  Why do you place a quota on the number of travelers between Egypt and Gaza?  I’ve heard the number is between 400-500 travelers per day.  Is that the number of people leaving Gaza or the number of people permitted to enter, or both?  Is there any other border in the world that uses the quota system?  I see no reason for a quota.  If you have an efficient, computerized inspection system, you shouldn’t need a quota.

#3  Install signs in different languages.  This border should be welcoming to visitors from around the world.  Of course, Arabic must be the primary language, but if tourists from other parts of the world are encouraged to visit, more signs in English, French, German, and Spanish should be installed.  An INFORMATION booth with someone assigned the task of answering questions from weary travelers might be helpful.

#4  Expedite and consolidate the review and inspection process.  Rather than going through two separate and very cumbersome processes in both directions, why don’t Egyptians take responsibility for inspecting the visitors who wish to enter Egypt, and Palestinians take responsibility for inspecting the visitors who wish to enter Gaza?  Do you really care who is leaving each of your territories? 

#5  Regulate and control the businesses at the border.  There are swarms of men on both sides of the border who are trying to grab the attention of the travelers to exchange money, to sell coffee and tea, to offer rides to Gaza City or Cairo.  They all seem to be operating independently and without any supervision, which is disturbing for the first-time international traveler.  The authorities should herd all of the vendors together, ensure that they are legitimate operations, and instill some confidence in the travel industry.  You could make some $$ by charging these vendors fees for working at the border.

#6  Don’t herd your visitors like cattle.  Traveling from Gaza to Egypt, I was herded along with 50-75 others in Group #5 (and I suddenly realized the significance of my ticket number). This might be appropriate if we were outlaws who needed to be guarded, but we are visitors and travelers who wish to be treated with respect.  If you have an efficient, computerized border crossing, there should be no need for herding people through the process.

#7  Set some goals.  Under the best case scenario, it shouldn’t take anyone more than an hour or two to cross the border in either direction.   

Israel controls the air and water as well as the other accesses to Gaza, but many Palestinians and foreigners alike thought that travel would be easier at Rafah after the Egyptian revolution in early 2011.  Their hopes have been dashed.

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

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

Today the Rafah border crossing yells “Visitors Beware!  We don’t want you!” in both directions.  I hope officials on both sides can work together to improve travel conditions.

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

Mars and the Sinai: breaking borders

On Sunday night, we heard news that NASA’s Rover, named Curiosity, successfully landed on Mars, some 154 million miles away from Earth.   Check out this interactive video about the Rover here.   It sounds like quite a feat of vision, human intelligence, and determination.

The purpose of this mission, I think, is to determine if Mars can support life or has ever supported life in the past.   (I wonder if Mars supported life eons ago with a species of limited intelligence that ended up destroying the planet for most life forms — like, say for example, spewing up CO2 into the atmosphere).

The Planet Mars

Back on Planet Earth, Sunday morning saw the the tragic killing of seven people in a Wisconsin Sikh Temple.  The lone shooter was identified as a 40-year-old Army veteran and former leader of a white supremacist heavy metal band.   Why?  Why?  Why?   

More death on Sunday night.   Fifteen Egyptian soldiers were killed at a military base in the Sinai as they were breaking their Ramadan fast.    The news reports here and here are full of speculation but few facts.  Israel accuses Palestinians in Gaza; Egypt closes the Rafah border; and Hamas vehemently denies any involvement.  I hope an investigation will uncover the truth.

Why can the human mind figure out the impossible — landing on Mars — and yet we can’t figure out how to live together in peace on Planet Earth?

Are we hardwired to explore but not empathize; to compete but not cooperate; to break new boundaries in space but build impenetrable walls on Earth?

Humans are stupid!   We spend billion$ on exploring the outer reaches of the Universe, and subsidizing the military industrial complex at home and in Israel, while millions of people suffer without enough food and water.

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Filed under Spiritual - Religion, US Policy