Tag Archives: US Embassy

My Coddiwomple

Coddiwomple – to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

Kabir (a 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint, whose writings, according to some scholars, influenced Hinduism’s Bhakti movement) — “I felt in need of a great pilgrimage so I sat still for three days.”

My journey began in Malaysia and ended in Dubai, with visits to London, Langholm, Edinburgh, Stirling, Cambridge, Brussels, Leuven, Tilburg, Paris, Lyon, Geneva, Milan, Como, Venice, Cairo and finally to the United Arab Emirates. Despite all the miles, I failed to reach my destination: Gaza, Palestine. [That’s another story.]

My itinerary was clearly not of my own making. My path appeared as the opportunities opened up. I simply kept my eyes and heart open to the possibilities.

Living out of my suitcase for nearly nine months was easy; traveling light is my forte. Staying connected with family and friends was easy too, thanks to WhatsApp and social media. My online SCRABBLE friends will never know how much they kept this traveler tethered to home.

SNAPSHOTS OF MY JOURNEY

MALAYSIA: The invitation to attend the Freedom Film Festival in Kuala Lumpur jump-started my adventure.  (I wrote about it here.)  A month in Malaysia included a radio interview about Gaza, a wedding attended by the new (old) Prime Minister and his wife, a press conference in Penang about an ill-advised and poorly planned highway project, and ended with a visit to a remote village in the Kelabit Highlands where I spoke with a classroom of middle school students, and received a simple request through a translator from an old woman sitting next to me in the village church. “Pray for me. My husband just died and I’m lonely.”

The Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak, Malaysia

I learned an important lesson in Malaysia. I’m never traveling alone despite the fact that I’m a solo traveler, an elderly American woman who can’t speak any language but my mother tongue, and without resources to squander on hotels.  My new Malaysian friends opened their homes to me in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, guided me through their country, shared their time and experience with me, and opened up new possibilities (from tasting the durian fruit in Penang to learning about stingless bees and honey at the agricultural expo in Kuching). When I left Malaysia, I had a new appreciation and confidence about traveling. It’s important to be cautious and smart about my surroundings, but I don’t need to fear the unknown.

EGYPT:  In November, I flew to Cairo and returned to my Egyptian family at Pension Roma. My goal was to finish a writing project (which I did) and get permission from the Egyptian authorities to travel to Gaza (which I didn’t).  Pension Roma has been my home away from home since my first visit in 2011, where I’ve met the most interesting people. This time, Elizabeth from the UK, Mona from Paris, Andre from Canada, and Belal from Gaza were my new friends. We traveled to new and old places in Cairo; Mona and Andre and I took the train one day to Alexandria; and Mona and I traveled to an Ecolodge in the Fayoum Oasis where we met Evelyne Porret, a potter from Switzerland, who transported the art and commerce of pottery to the village of Tunis in the 1980s.

Mona and I rode on a Felucca on Qarun Lake, visited the Wadi el Rayan protected area, explored the Meidum Pyramid that hasn’t been open to tourists for years, and dodged the Egyptian security detail following us. On my 65th birthday, my friends surprised me with a cake and a serenade at Filfila, one of my favorite restaurants in Cairo Jimmy Carter visited many years ago. I made a birthday resolution to walk 10,000 steps each day, a reasonable goal since I love to walk so much.

A casual remark from an employee at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo confirmed that the U.S. and Egyptian governments are working together to keep Americans out of Gaza. I was very disheartened and not sure about my next step until an American friend in London invited me to spend the Christmas holidays with him. With my writing project completed and no plans on my horizon, I jumped on a plane to London.

LONDON AND NORTH TO SCOTLAND:

I’ve never been to London, and seeing the city for the first time with Maurice was a wonderful reintroduction to the West following my adventures in Malaysia and Egypt.  In addition to the famous tourist spots, we walked and walked and walked . . . 3 dogs to be exact. Maurice and I decided to accept a house-sitting, dog-sitting assignment in the East End for nearly 3 weeks which allowed me to experience London at the granular level (sidewalk by sidewalk).

One day I met the author of Shy Radicals, another day I met a Facebook friend who shares my passionate advocacy on Gaza and also loves live theater. I joined a protest against the maltreatment of refugees. Amid everything new and exciting, I learned something important about myself. I’m stubborn, judgmental and have little patience when things aren’t going MY WAY.

Maurice and I decided to accept another dog-sitting assignment —- but he headed south and I took the bus north to Langholm where I was suppose to meet up with a retired Buddhist nun. Maurice and I had talked with her on the phone a couple of times from London; Maurice thought she might have a screw loose but I thought she sounded OK. Maurice’s instincts turned out to be accurate. She lived alone in squalid conditions with a little dog. It looked like the kitchen sink held dirty dishes that had piled up for several weeks, and she was a hoarder. I spent the night on her couch and extracted myself at dawn with a quiet “goodbye”.  I would have sought out protective services to assist her but she told me her adult son was visiting later that day, and I told her neighbor that I was leaving.

Without any alternative plans, where should I go? What should I do? I decided to check out the Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery up the road from Langholm, the nun’s spiritual home. I found a quiet retreat center at the monastery and was assigned a bunk bed in a room for six people but I was alone. January is a quiet time in northern England.

Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s quiet serenity included peaceful walks around the large estate, simple but delicious meals, nightly prayers in the temple, reading a very good book set in Scotland (Outlander) and lots of sleep. I arrived with a persistent cough that wasn’t getting better. The monk leading the prayers each night read off a list of names — people we were praying for — and I added my family to the list. Someone added my name to the list as well. One evening I was so tired, I skipped dinner and slept. When I awoke, I found a note next to my bed with a piece of bread and jam. “In case you’re hungry when you wake up.” Another evening the night watchman brought me a special medicinal tea bag that he said might help.

A monk recommended I visit with a doctor in town, and so I caught the bus for the 30 minute ride back into Langholm and the small clinic. A nurse practitioner saw me without an appointment. After many questions, taking my vitals and listening to my chest, she prescribed Amoxicillin and told me to return in a week if I didn’t feel better. Neither the clinic nor the pharmacy wanted a penny from me!

Within a week I was feeling much better and able to sit through the evening prayer in the temple without coughing. I may never know whether the prayers, the Amoxicillin, the medicinal tea, or simply the extended bed rest were responsible for my healing, but I learned an important lesson at Samye Ling. 

There are angels all around us, some we see and many we don’t. Speaking to them through prayer is a powerful way to connect with each other and the universe.  I learned how to pray at Samye Ling.

EDINBURGH: 

Scotland in January is cold, damp and gray but I didn’t know if I’d ever return and so at the end of the month I caught a bus to Edinburgh. I was hooked on getting to know Diana Gabaldon’s Scotland in her Outlander series better.

I walked and walked and walked, but noticed I was walking with more difficulty. Old Edinburgh is a three-dimensional city with steps everywhere. I spent part of every day in the Central Library Reading Room working on another writing assignment. Then I went exploring the city when it wasn’t raining, and sitting in Starbucks reading when it was.

Friends suggested I taste the Scotch. One evening I went up to the bar to ask for a recommendation. The bartender served me and the young man next to me paid for it. He could have been my grandson. I thanked him and asked him why? He said he was paying it forward, and suggested I do the same. The next day I discovered Social Bite where I bought lunch and paid it forward.

In Edinburgh I observed a heated debate about homelessness in Parliament, and watched the Advocates make their oral arguments in court wearing their robes and white wigs. I walked past protesters demanding a vote on whether or not to leave the UK following the ill-conceived Brexit move which a majority in Scotland didn’t support. I found myself caught in the middle of the Irish rugby fans waiting in front of Balmoral Hotel for their team to depart, walked through the Palace of HolyRoodhouse, and felt immersed in history everywhere.  The high points of my visit were the people I connected with — including a friend from Samye Ling, a friend from Gaza, and new friends from South Korea and Italy.  I finished my writing project and reserved a train to London.

I learned an important lesson in Edinburgh.  As much as I love to explore places and cities (I’m a city planner after all), it’s meeting people (old and new) that give my life meaning. The places and cities shape our understanding of the world and each other, but people provide the glue that makes the world turn.

LONDON REDUX:

In February, Maurice and I reconnected in London. This visit involved less tourism and more activism as I stood with the Women in Black at the Edith Cavell memorial, observed a discussion about Palestine in the House of Commons, attended Emma Sky‘s book reading at the Frontline Club, listened to Professor Ilan Pappe speak about colonization versus occupation in Palestine, and joined thousands of students protesting our inaction on the climate crisis.  I was keeping my pace at 10,000 steps or more each day but with difficulty. The pain in my left leg wasn’t going away. Maybe I should visit the doctor when I return to the US.

BRUSSELS, LEUVEN, and TILBURG:

I boarded a train on February 28 to Brussels and must have looked bedraggled when I arrived at the hostel. The receptionist asked me if I knew it was a hostel? Yes. “A youth hostel.” Yes. “We have an age limit of 35.” I didn’t notice any age limits on the website when I booked the reservation. She made an exception for me. Although I was clearly the oldest guest, young people from many countries struck up conversations with me and I felt right at home.

Brussels YOUTH hostel

Lora at a YOUTH hostel in Brussels

The museums, churches and the European Parliament filled my days, as well as a massive march opposing the Death Penalty.  One day I caught the train to Tilburg to visit an Egyptian friend pursuing his graduate studies there. Another day I took the train to Leuven to attend the Women in Black international conference. We stood outside city hall holding our signs in our vigil for peace and the end of war. When the organist in the church across the plaza played John Lennon’s IMAGINE, many of us had tears. It was the most meaningful vigil I’ve ever participated in.

PARIS, LYON and GENEVA:

A train to Paris (3 days), on to Lyon (7 days), and then a bus to Geneva (7 days) connected me to Mona, Naki, Eva and a new friend – Claire Elise. This was my second visit to Paris. I wasn’t interested in seeing the typical tourist sites. Instead, I spent one day walking around the Marais neighborhood only a few steps from my hostel. This is the Jewish quarter with very different architecture and history than most other districts in Paris. The Shoah Memorial and the Museum of Jewish Art and History captured my attention; a beautiful piano recital at the oldest church in Paris where Herbert du Plessis performed Chopin and Liszt soothed my restless soul; and a tour inside Notre Dame Cathedral and the Crypt under the plaza in front turned out to be prescient. Five weeks later, Notre Dame was engulfed in flames.

On March 10, I headed to Lyon on the train (the European Union has wonderful trains) and again I spent the days walking, walking, walking. The stairs up Fourvière Hill, the historical site of Lyon, almost did me in. The effort was worth it to see the whole city of Lyon below and the Basilique de Fourvière.

I joined students protesting climate inaction on Friday, and thousands of people marching and demanding climate action on Saturday. But I was questioning my next steps. Should I return to the US? Then I received a WhatsApp message — my name had been included in a medical convoy traveling to Gaza in a month!

Suddenly, my focus shifted to fundraising for the medical convoy. I consulted with a seasoned fundraiser and decided to record short videos about my campaign. Before returning to Cairo to join the convoy, I decided to meet a friend in Geneva.

Lora and NakiThere are people who touch your heart unlike any other. I hadn’t seen Naki since our days together in Cairo at Pension Roma seven years ago. When we reconnected in Geneva, and I met her husband, I felt the time melting away. We’re bonded together whether we share any physical space or not. I can’t explain it. 

We visited the International Committee of the Red Cross and I dreamed of a career my alter ego could have/should have had. My own career trajectory seemed so pitiful in comparison. Regrets and more regrets.

One day I walked past a well-organized Zionist demonstration in front of the United Nations Building. They were condemning the UN Human Rights Council meeting which had just wrapped up a discussion about Israel, Gaza and the Palestinian Territories. Back at the hostel, a young man overheard me talking with someone about the demonstration. He was from Brussels and had traveled to Geneva to be part of it but had questions after Googling information about some of the people who had spoken. He supported Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism, but the information he found indicated the speakers at the demonstration were Far Right reactionaries. He was questioning what the “other side of the story” might be. We had a good engaging conversation, listening to each other, and both agreeing to disagree respectfully. We agreed on the most important thing —- that it’s important to build bridges across the great divides in our society.

I learned something important in Geneva. It takes courage to walk across the divide and speak with the opposition (whether Israel-Palestine, pro-choice and pro-life, etc). That young man showed me how to do it, with respect and an open mind and heart. I hope I can emulate him in future conversations I have, and take the initiative to reach out across the divide.

MILAN, COMO and VENICE:

My three weeks in Italy (March 23 – April 11) was an adventure of pure convenience. I didn’t know anyone there, but it was so close. I didn’t want to pass up a chance to see a part of Italy I’d never visited. I also didn’t want to pass up the chance to take a bus through the Swiss Alps!

I was still managing 10,000 steps in Milan but not every day, and my gait was much slower. My posture must have given me away. Clerks were routinely asking me if I needed assistance and offering me special consideration to get to the front of the line. My head felt young and inquisitive, but my body was feeling its age. I thought about attending a performance at the Teatro alla Scala but I was too tired to stay out late.

Throughout my journey, I’d been reading history books about the places I visited. For the very first time, my high school history lessons were beginning to make sense. This was especially true in Milan and Venice.

Milan will always stick in my mind as a high-fashion center of clothes and design with very good public transportation, and some of the most magnificent buildings I’ve ever seen. I felt like a country bumpkin wearing the same things I’d been wearing for the past 6 months, but there was no one to complain, and I took a shower every other day. Ha!

A guest at the hostel raved about his visit to Lake Como, so I decided to take the train there the next day. The natural beauty + the town’s charm = a very special spot to return and settle down for a spell to write. I rode the funicular up the mountain. Just imagine — it’s been in operation since 1894.

Then I boarded a train to Venice (March 27 – April 11). Train travel everywhere was easy, inexpensive, and a joy. When will the U.S. emulate Europe’s leadership in public transportation?

Arriving at the Santa Lucia Train Station, I had directions to my hostel on Giudecca and knew I had to get a vaporetto (water taxi).  I knew exactly which one too.

I asked the first man who approached me for directions. He was slick and firm with his response. He could take me to my hostel on his private water taxi for a princely sum. I insisted I was looking for the public taxi, and he finally caved and pointed me in the right direction. As I walked off pulling my suitcase behind me, a young man said “Good job!” I asked “What?” And he told me I handled the pesky taxi sales person very well. On a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being the highest level of confidence, I think my confidence traveling alone has shot up to 8 or 9 since I started this journey in Malaysia six months ago.

venice-sestieri

I loved Venice so much, and the people were so welcoming, I decided to stay two weeks and really explore. Venice is definitely the city to walk. I walked everywhere, every day, but now slightly limping on my left leg. I explored nooks and crannies that I suspect the first time tourist never sees, but I also visited all of the tourist sites. I purchased Jan Morris’ book “Venice” at the most beautiful bookstore in the world, and took it everywhere I went. The weekly transit pass for the vaporetto was 60 Euros and well worth it. I jumped on and off several times each day, along with Venetians and their pet dogs. Venetians love their dogs.

The Vivaldi concert at Chiesa San Vidal was excellent. The food everywhere was delicious but expensive. Along with the calories, I was counting my Euros carefully.

Naila and the Uprising 3Every day I was fundraising for the medical convoy to Gaza, and slowly making progress. Asking people for money is difficult but I have overcome my reticence because I know the need is so great. One evening I decided to go to the mainland to see “Naila and the Uprising” — the same film that I’d seen at the film festival in Malaysia. I was curious to see how many people might show up. Are the Italians good solidarity activists for Palestine? I was pleased to see a roomful of people (probably 75-100) of all ages. My biggest surprise was seeing Naila herself, the central protagonist of the film, at the event with her husband. They answered questions after the film through an interpreter.

Throughout my travels, I found tremendous support for Palestine, much more so than I’ve seen in the U.S.  Maybe my solidarity work should focus on Americans in my own back yard.

Before I left Venice, I had to know whether there were any plans or actions addressing the inevitable sea rise and impacts of climate change. One evening Piazza San Marco was flooded when there was a convergence of high tides, full moon and lots of rain. It seemed to me the entire city would be under water with rising sea levels.

I asked to meet with the city’s planning director and was pleased that an appointment could be arranged before I traveled. I sat with Vincenzo de Nitto and his colleague, Marco Bordin, and our conversation ranged from the impact of tourism on the historic center of Venice to the inevitable rising sea level. They showed me the MOSE project which should be completed very soon, a series of steel gates at the inlets which will be raised whenever the sea level is expected to rise, and lowered when the water recedes. A technological fix to a new reality, but I wonder if it will work. Many planners and scientists laud Venice as a leader in addressing climate change.

On April 11, I boarded my flight to Cairo to connect up with the medical convoy going to Gaza.  That’s for another story.Coddiwomple

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019) — “Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon? Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

 

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Filed under Climate Change, Gaza, Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Shooting fish in a barrel

Life is unbearable in Gaza. It’s been unlivable for years for the 2+ million Palestinians trapped there, but now it’s at the breaking point. Many (most?) feel there’s nothing to lose by going to the eastern border and facing down the Israeli marksmen who are shooting them like fish in a barrel. Today 55+ Palestinians have been killed (including a journalist, a medic and a Palestinian with no legs) and hundreds wounded for demanding their rights enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194.

Less than 100 miles away in Jerusalem, Netanyahu and others are in a celebratory mood as the U.S. flag is raised over the new U.S. Embassy. They don’t even acknowledge the slaughter occurring in Gaza.

Gaza slaughter

I’ve called my two U.S. Senators (Udall and Heinrich) and Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham, demanding that they condemn the slaughter of innocent, unarmed Palestinians. I want them to join the other members of Congress who have spoken out against the killing and maiming of unarmed protesters, including: Senators Feinstein, Warren, Leahy and Sanders; as well as the following House members:

Barbara Lee (CA 13)
Alan Lowenthal (CA 47)
Lloyd Doggett (TX 35)
Hank Johnson (GA 04)
Danny Davis (IL 07)
Jan Schakowsky (IL 09)
John Yarmuth (KY 03)
Jamie Raskin (MD 08)
Keith Ellison (MN 05)
Betty McCollum (MN 04)
David Price (NC 04)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ 12)
Earl Blumenauer (OR 03)
Steve Cohen (TN 09)
Gerry Connolly (VA 11)
Peter Welch (VT 1)
Mark Pocan (WI 02)
Pramila Jayapal (WA 07).

My eyes are now focused on Udall, Heinrich and Lujan-Grisham.  I’m going to hound them until they come clean with a statement condemning Israel’s slaughter of innocents.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/269659083″>Voices of the Siege</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user3079357″>The Palestine Chronicles</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, nonviolent resistance, People, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy, Video

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

Egypt

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”!

Sincerely,

Lora A. Lucero

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy

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.”

841305_10200492187653108_1823089307_o

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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Letter-writing campaign to Marc Sievers

There are only two ways in and out of the Gaza Strip.

Israel controls the Erez border crossing in the north and effectively slammed that door shut in 2006 for Palestinians and visitors.

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The Rafah border crossing in the south with Egypt has been a difficult option for many but at least an option, until the military coup in July 2013.  Now Rafah is effectively closed, trapping 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza and preventing many Palestinians and others from entering Gaza.

Recently Egyptian authorities have forcibly deported international visitors who indicate their purpose of travel to Cairo is to proceed to Gaza.

Would the Rafah border open if U.S. authorities demanded that it open?

I think there’s a good chance it would. The U.S. still has some clout in Egypt, maybe not as much as it had when President Mubarak was in office, but Secretary Kerry talks as though the U.S. has leverage to impact the actions of the military junta in Cairo.

Early this month, Kerry spelled out some conditions that Egyptian authorities must satisfy if the U.S. is going to resume military aid to that country. What if one of those conditions was opening up the Rafah border?

(I can already hear my friends who are more experienced than me in the quirks of Middle East foreign policy, telling me I’m naive. The U.S. wants that Rafah border closed as much as Israel and the Egyptian military junta do.)

Of course, Secretary Kerry has never explicitly shared that position, but our “special relationship” with Israel makes it a foregone conclusion.

I recently sent a letter to Kerry and Marc Sievers, the man in charge of the US Embassy in Cairo, about my concerns. My letter is here.  I was surprised that it cost only $1.50 or so to send the letter to Cairo with an expected transit of 10 days.

What would happen if Sievers received lots of letters from Americans urging him to put pressure on Egyptian authorities to open the Rafah border?

He might dump them in the circular filing cabinet. He might get on the phone and request advice from Secretary Kerry. He might respond to the letter writers.

So I’m going to send Marc Sievers a letter every week for the foreseeable future with a different message focused on the Rafah border crossing. If my fellow Americans want to do the same, here’s his address.

Charge d’Affaires to Egypt Marc J. Sievers
The Embassy of the United States of America
5 Tawfik Diab Street
Garden City, Cairo
Egypt
US Embassy in Cairo

US Embassy in Cairo

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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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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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