Tag Archives: travel restrictions

Israel & Italy block travel for Palestinians

I’m making plans to visit Italy in mid- June to attend the International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome.  I’m excited.  I’ve never been to Italy.

Two colleagues from Gaza, an engineer and an architect, worked with me earlier this year to research and write a paper for the conference.  We submitted it, and we’re very pleased that it was accepted. We’ve been invited to present our paper to this group of academics, planners, urbanists and architects.

As an American, I can travel to Italy without first securing a Visa, so I’m busy looking for the cheap flights, cheap accommodations in Rome, and a cheap rail pass while traveling in Italy. There are many bargains.

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My colleagues from Gaza must apply for a Visa from the Italian officials, and for permission to exit the Gaza Strip from the Israeli officials. A double whammy. Here’s what Italy wants:

  • Entry visa application form
  •  recent passport-size photograph
  •  valid travel document whose expiry date is three months longer than that of the visa requested
  •  return ticket (or booking) or evidence that the applicant has their own means of transport
  •  proof that the applicant has sufficient means of subsistence as required by the Directive of the Ministry of the Interior dated 1st March 2000
  •  supporting documentation in relation to the applicant’s social and professional status
  •  health insurance covering a minimum of €30,000 for emergency hospitalisation and repatriation expenses, valid throughout the Schengen area
  •  proof of accommodation (hotel booking, Declaration of hospitality, declaration whereby accommodation costs shall be borne by the person inviting)

My colleagues have complied with these onerous requirements. One was rejected by Israel, the other was rejected by Italy.

I’m traveling to Italy with a heavy heart, angry that this bureaucratic red-tape and BULLSHIT are preventing my colleagues from joining me. This presentation will not be the same without them.

I’m trying to think of ways to use my privileged status as an American to highlight this unfairness and injustice.  Any ideas?

 

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Occupation, Politics, Uncategorized

Which passport do you have?

I’m really, really, REALLY beginning to appreciate the freedom and flexibility that comes with my American passport.

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I’ve never thought about it much before, but after speaking with several different men from Arab and African countries, I’m feeling a bit of the weight they must carry with the lack of freedom to move about and travel whenever, wherever they want. Even when they have the financial resources and are multi-lingual, their passports are a stumbling block.  (Look at the passport rankings to see what I’m talking about.)

Don’t kid yourself. Our movement on this planet is not by plane, train or ship—-rather it’s by unearned privilege!  With my American passport in hand, I can book a ticket on the TransSiberian Railroad and travel more than 5,000 miles from Moscow through Siberia, across Mongolia and into Beijing, as a friend and I did in 2009. No questions asked.

The reverse is not true. Many people in the world (most in fact) cannot visit the USA or anywhere else unless they jump through many, many hoops and are fortunate not to stumble along the way.

Is that how the wealthy, “developed” Western countries maintain control, by restricting travel of the population from the “other” parts of the world?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. General Assemby in 1948, addresses the right of travel but doesn’t seem to be worth the paper it’s printed on.

Human-Rights-Council-logo

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.

 

Article 14.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Ask the 1.8 million Palestinians imprisoned in the Gaza Strip about what they think of their right to leave and return to their country.

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Mural on Palestine Stadium entrance in Gaza

Ask the Palestinian beach soccer team, or Mohammed Naim Shahada (27), or Mohammed Tamraz (26), or Najah Yassin (53), or Fida Argelawi (32) or Samir Mustafa (55) —- all stuck in Gaza. As described in this Haaretz article in June 2015:

Samir Mustafa arrived [in the Gaza Strip] from the United States for a funeral in January, and has not been able to leave since. Mustafa immigrated to the United States 35 years ago and has U.S. citizenship. He lives in Maryland with his wife and their five children. In January this year he traveled to Gaza through the Rafah crossing to attend a family member’s funeral, and has not been able to leave. Mustafa worked in a spare parts warehouse, but was notified a month and a half ago that he has been fired for failure to show up for work.

“When I asked for assistance from the U.S. consulate they told me that I violated a travel warning that prohibits entry to Gaza since 2003, as if they’d forgotten that I’m from Gaza and I came to see my family,” said Mustafa. “Lately they’ve been telling me I’m on a waiting list, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have to wait. My wife and children have been living off the little savings we have, but it’s running out. I worked my whole life, in Israel as well, now I’ve spent six months walking around doing nothing in Gaza. I don’t understand why they don’t let me leave here and return to my wife and children.” According to Israeli authorities, since Mustafa did not enter Gaza through the Erez crossing, he is not allowed to leave from it, and therefore his only option is leaving through Rafah – which Egypt nearly always keeps closed.

Some small minds (Trump and Netanyahu for example) think that walls are the solution to keep the “others” out.

What would happen if, instead of focusing on keeping people out, we (the privileged Western nations) focused on ensuring that the benefits we enjoy are spread magnanimously around the planet.  There really is enough to go around. We have the resources, the technology, imagination and the brains to do it. We simply lack the heart and spirit of generosity.

This might explain in a small way why I’m so passionate about the rights of Palestinians, especially those imprisoned in the Gaza Strip. The burden of this illegal restriction on simple movement is unbearable to imagine, but it’s real and it must end.

 

 

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Filed under Gaza, Israel

Coming and going

Imagine this!

You live in Manhattan. Your family has lived there for 60+ years, not by choice but forced to flee to Manhattan as refugees from Brooklyn where generations of your family — as far back as anyone can remember — lived. You still have the key to the family house in Brooklyn but haven’t been able to return for a visit.

Gaza Strip superimposed on New York

Gaza Strip superimposed on New York, USA

You dream of returning to Brooklyn one day, some day. The dream doesn’t fade with time.

The new inhabitants started coming by boat and plane from across the ocean, just a trickle at first. After WWI, the trickle turned into a stream, and after WWII, the stream turned into a flood. People all over the world continue to immigrate to Brooklyn even today, but you’re not allowed to even visit.

In 1948, these strangers pronounced Brooklyn as their own. The audacity of it all is still perplexing to many.  Some New York historians write that your grandparents left Brooklyn peacefully and voluntarily settled in Manhattan. You know differently.

Fast forward to the present.

Unemployment in Manhattan today is over 50% for youth under the age of 25; and naturally, many of them want to travel out of Manhattan in search of jobs. Others have received scholarships to study abroad.  There are many who need medical treatment in facilities outside of Manhattan.

Seems reasonable, doesn’t it?  But here’s the scoop.

There are only 5 crossings from Manhattan to the outside world.  You can’t fly out because the government in Brooklyn destroyed the airport; the train that ran between Manhattan and New Jersey in the 1970s hasn’t run for many, many years; and no boats are allowed to dock in Manhattan.  [In 2010, the people in Brooklyn shot and killed nine passengers on a boat trying to reach Manhattan.]  Fair warning!  If you are a fisherman, don’t go too far from shore because those folks in Brooklyn have been known to shoot and kill fishermen from Manhattan.

Those same people in Brooklyn strictly guard 4 of the 5 crossings, allowing people to travel only through one crossing on the north side if they’ve received a permit from Brooklyn. Three crossings are designated solely for commercial trucks to bring supplies in for the 1.7 million people stuck in Manhattan.  Nothing gets out because Brooklyn won’t allow exports from Manhattan.

The 5th crossing is a passenger checkpoint ostensibly guarded by the people in New Jersey but everyone winks and nods because they know that the powers-to-be in New Jersey and Brooklyn are collaborating to enforce travel restrictions on everyone in Manhattan and on foreigners wanting to visit Manhattan.  Even the U.S. government is in on the deal.

This whole situation seems pretty fantastical but the people of the world just put their heads in the sand and pretend not to notice this open air prison in which you live.

head-in-sand

Why are you imprisoned?  The government in Brooklyn says these travel restrictions are needed for “security”. The noose has grown even tighter since the elections in Manhattan in 2006 when the results surprised Brooklyn and others.

You are just SOL !

Fidaa Abuassi shares this atrocity much better than I in her piece called The Epic Struggle of a Trapped Student.

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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!

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, People