Baroud, editor of PalestineChronicle.com and author of the book, "My Father was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story", as I have on this day, paused to consider just how the newly announced changes regarding conditions at Egypt's Rafah border have affected Gaza so far.
Baroud's return story also sheds light on the kind of reality that moves so many advocates of the Palestinian cause–myself included–to tears. It can be read here: http://palestinechronicle.com/
Meanwhile, on Saturday morning Egypt's Rafah border control personnel started a new day under new working hours, joining the ranks of most westerners working 9 to 5. For two days prior to the new schedule world headlines declared, "Egypt opens Rafah border", "Gaza border reopens after 4 years", "Egypt lifts four-year blockade of the Gaza Strip" - whoa!
Let us re-cap:
For the past couple of months the Rafah border has been conditionally open:
1. From 10AM (or 11) to 4PM - 5 days weekly
2. Limited to an average of 300 crossing
4. Open to goods and supplies, i.e., building materials: no
1. Open from 9AM to 5PM–6 weekdays instead of 5
2. Limit on number allowed to pass: depending on how many Muslim men will allow their Muslim wives and other female family members to travel without a Mahram or male guardian, and in light of the visa restriction placed on men between the ages of 18-40, well, you do the math. How many will ultimately pass daily? 300 maybe? (The Egyptian embassy in Ramallah is reportedly processing visa applications for males between ages 18-40.)
Students: Those travelling for academic reasons may pass as long as they show proof of their enrollment; those crossing for medical reasons should carry a doctor’s letter of referral.
Additionally, "As for Palestinian students studying in Egypt, those rejected or without security clearance, their problem is almost resolved, according to Othman, who also noted that soon steps to receive security clearance will be simplified,"
Regarding proof of enrollment: if a student has previously been unable to cross the border to complete processing procedures required by Embassies located in Cairo, how will they be able to verify enrollment?
4. Open to goods and supplies: For random, limited quantity items yes, but otherwise, basically, no. Well, I stand corrected. When I was at the Rafah border May 15-17, I did see a potato chip truck pass through.
France: late 1700s: LET THEM EAT CAKE! -> -> Gaza: 2011: LET THEM EAT CHIPSY!
Reports also indicate that the revised Rafah border opening conditions have been made in follow-up to terms agreed to in the Unity Agreement signed in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah.
Term three states (as translated), "Follow-up of the reconstruction operations in the Gaza Strip and the efforts to end the siege and blockade that is imposed on it.
When will building materials be allowed to enter through the border at Rafah?
Who is controlling the access of building supplies to Palestine?
Could the continued embargo on building supplies have anything to do with the Obama Administration's recent announcement of US$2-billion in aid to Egypt?
Egypt's Almasry Alyoum reported on May 19 that the pledged aid was expected to be allocated: "US$1B over 'a few years' ... with a guarantee up to US$1B in borrowing for Egypt to finance infrastructure development and boost job growth."
Another announcement declared there would be no change in the US$1.5-billion foreign aid package to Egypt.
Building materials can be allowed into Gaza from Israel via the Shalom crossing to U.S. interest projects, as reported May 25 by Maan News Agency, but Egypt concedes to the Obama administration's purse strings in continuing to disallow entry of building materials from Egypt to Gaza.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s ambassador to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Yasser Othman, as reported by AhramOnline May 27, said that Cairo refuses any foreign interference in how the Rafah border crossing will operate.
Interestingly enough, in an 11th hour decision to withdraw its candidate for Arab League Secretary General, Egypt nominated pro-Palestinian Foreign Minister, Nabil El-Araby, who was swiftly and unanimously elected to the position as announced late in the day, May 15 - Nakba Day.
The Egyptian-International Coalition for Ending the Blockade and Rebuilding Gaza, led by organizer and public affairs director, Ahmed Elassy, looked to El-Araby for fulfillment of an officially announced commitment made April 17. The announcement being that the office of the Foreign Ministry would facilitate delivery of goods and building supplies requested by the group–who were waiting at the Rafah border May 15, poised to escort building supplies into Gaza at the time of the surprise Arab League announcement.
Which begs the question, were international interests and pressure responsible for the untimely May 15 exile of the pro-Palestinian El-Araby as head of the Foreign Ministry to head the Arab League?
May 28 concludes as an item from Reuters catches my eye, "Travelers sought as Gaza terminal empties quickly" - Hamas policemen at the Rafah border crossing toured nearby coffee shops on Saturday calling on travelers to Egypt to go to the terminal which emptied fast under Cairo's easier travel procedures.
"Is there anyone who wants to travel?" asked a black-uniformed Hamas police officer at a cafe near the border terminal gate.
This is certainly a stellar example of the effectiveness of the new border conditions; Palestinians being round-up like cattle for the media - but in reality, how many are even financially free to travel – let alone restriction free to travel!
At day's end news agencies were reporting that between 300-400 people passed between the Rafah and Palestinian Authority borders.
If you will recall, 300 was the pre-May 28 limit set for crossings–big change, right?
I leave you now with a couple of photo links; images taken by Demotix photo-journalists at the Rafah border.
This photo depicts two elderly male travelers: http://www.demotix.com/
In a second photo, clearly a man is about to watch as his wife and children exit with a male travel companion obviously over the age of 40. How long will the family be separated from one another? http://www.demotix.com/
These are current photos, not old file photos accompanied by many a story I paused to review the past two days that included pre-dated background scenes and outdated captions.
Please do not misunderstand me – I am thrilled for those positively affected by the May 28 changes in Egypt's Rafah border policy; however, for those who are not able to move freely due to age restrictions, visa and security clearance issues, passport issues and students with university enrollment issues–the changes remain to be seen.
And as long as building materials and other essential goods are not allowed to pass through Egypt's Rafah border–the siege and embargo in Palestine remains in effect.
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Aishah Schwartz, a Muslim American, is an internationally renowned human rights activist and writer focusing on the rights of Muslim women and the plight of the Palestinian people affected by the Israeli imposed illegal embargo on Gaza. Full biography here: http://aishahsjourney.blogspot.com/