Update 3 FROM GAZA CITY!
WE MADE IT INTO THE GAZA STRIP LAST NIGHT (Wednesday, local time) -- AND THIS REPORT IS BEING SENT FROM THE LOBBY OF THE COMMODORE HOTEL(!) IN GAZA CITY!
As recently as 36 hours ago even a partial success for the US-GAZA Relief Convoy seemed very much in doubt. New obstacles continued to mount as old bureaucratic demands from the US and Egyptian authorities were laboriously met. Time seemed to be running out, as many Convoy participants had to leave by this Friday or Saturday. The vehicles imported Alexandria were stuck in the Duty Free port; we were unsuccessful in negotiating for the ambulances we expected to deliver to GAZA; the Egyptian Foreign ministry was irregular in returning our calls and was claiming security concerns for delaying our permission to enter GAZA; finally, we were told by the US Embassy that the Egyptians would not let us cross into GAZA unless we had an affidavit from them that we were warned not to travel to GAZA and that we did so at our own risk. This had to be accomplished in person at the CAIRO Embassy, so that is why the Alexandria contingent had to give up the wait for our vehicles and return to CAIRO to get the affidavits on Tuesday morning.
At the US Embassy we had to swear before a vice-consul that we "have read and understood the travel warning by the US Department of state regarding travel to the GAZA Strip;" that we assumed all the risks, understanding that we could expect no help from US official if we ran into difficulties,etc. And they charged us $30 for the privilege -- our tax dollars (not) at work! After being told no one would be admitted to GAZA without this piece of paper, not surprisingly, no one asked for it at the Rafah crossing. It is no more than an expensive souvenir. . .
We had to get up at 3am early Wed morning in Cairo to get the buses ready and pack the relief supplies in rented trucks. After deporting around midday, we arrived in Rafah after a six-hour drive, checked and delayed at numerous Egyptian security checkpoints and reaching the GAZA crossing in the early evening -- then faced another 3-hour wait in stifling heat wwhile the Egyptian authorities laboriously (and it seemed intentionally, rather than casually inefficient in doing so) all while a crowd on the Gaza side had been waiting for us expectantly for two days. We were limitedto just 24 hours in GAZA.
hen we finally crossed into GAZA long after dark, the moment was stirring and highly emotional. I mentioned previously that the majority of Convoy participants were Palestinian-Americans. The younger ones had mostly never been to the home of their families. They shouted excitedly and waved Palestinian flagsas they met the waiting crowd. Older Palestinian -- many of whom were meeting family they had been separated from for years -- wept.
What we did and saw in Gaza during our whirlwind day will have to wait for a later report. We are rushed now to get back to Rafah by bus so we can cross bck into Egypt and catch our flights from CAIRO.