“We don’t have any service to Gaza or Ramallah,” two different government clerks told me today at the main post office in Cairo. “Remove Palestine from the mailing label and replace it with Israel.”
Egyptian policy has changed since the first time I mailed a box from Cairo to Gaza in 2011.
As the crow flies, Gaza is only 346.29 km (215.17 miles) from Cairo, but they are the longest miles I’ve ever traveled. I haven’t succeeded in crossing that distance in the past six months I’ve been in the Middle East.
Politics. Just stupid politics, and the Israeli-Egyptian-U.S. blockade of Gaza.
In 2011, I sent a similar box of books and small gifts to Gaza from the very same post office a few blocks from my hotel in Cairo. I couldn’t have managed that transaction without the capable assistance of Eid who navigated us from one part of the complex to another, up staircases, through noisy lines, and finally to the clerk who dutifully inspected everything in the box and then processed the delivery instructions to Gaza, Palestine. No questions asked.
Five years later, Eid helped me again. In 2016, the first postal clerk told us that there are no post offices in Gaza. No postal service in either direction — from Cairo to Gaza or from Gaza to Cairo, he said.
We walked across the street to another office within the same complex.
The second clerk we spoke with was sitting beneath a sign that read “Customs Office” in English and Arabic. He looked inside the box, asked if there was any medicine inside, seemed satisfied with the contents, and directed us to tape up the box. Al-hamdulillah! We were making progress.
Then we proceeded to another line and waited to complete the shipment with the third clerk. He looked at the label, saw “Gaza, Palestine” and directed us to cross out Palestine, and insert Israel. Eid and the clerk exchanged a few words, but it didn’t seem that the clerk would budge.
Eid asked me if I had a pen. “None of my pens will erase Palestine,” I told him. He replied, “We’re not going to be able to send the box unless we write Israel.”
So we left and Eid was kind enough to carry the box back to the hotel. Maybe there’s another way to skin this cat.
Shame on Egypt for collaborating with Israel on this economic, social and political siege of Gaza. Shame on you President El-Sisi.
March 20, 2016 UPDATE
I returned to the main post office in Cairo today with a smaller package addressed to my friend in Jericho, Palestine. I capitulated and wrote “Israel” on the label. The address was written in Arabic on one side and in English on the other. Small, innocuous, and clearly labelled. There should have been no problems.
Again, the postal clerk told me he would not accept my package for Jericho. He spoke good English and I showed him where I printed “Israel” on the label, but he said there is no service to Palestine. Instead, the package would go to Tel Aviv and sit there for 3 weeks, he thought, and then the Israeli officials would return the package to Egypt. I asked him how I could send anything to friends in Palestine and he just shrugged and threw up his arms. My gut told me he was as frustrated with the stupid politics as I was —- and that he wished he could have helped me.