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Life Without Borders

Life Without Borders

An International Movement to Open Rafah Border Crossing

By Iman Badawi

It was at the Rafah border, Egypt, that the International Movement to Open Rafah Border, (IMORB), launched its global help initiative for Palestine. After the massacre in Gaza by the Israeli army that began December 27 2008, and lasted for 22 days, the plight of the Palestinians got world attention. However, Gaza remains under siege and humanitarian convoys are accumulating at the border. Nevertheless, only a few people are allowed to pass the border, while the majority of the aid is left in the open air to rot.

What is IMORB?

IMORB consists of human rights activists from various countries. These activists oppose the illegal blockade, which is tolerated, and encouraged by most governments of the world, especially the USA, Israel, Europe and many Arab countries.

Some members of civil society decided that it is able to mobilize, and demand the application of the basic rights of people that are iterated in international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (December 10, 1948). Hence, IMORB launched a call to any individual or group to participate, within its means, to establish a permanent sit-in at the Rafah Border between Egypt and Israel. They did so to apply pressure on the Egyptian, US, European and Israeli governments, as well as the international community to open the border, and allow the free movement of people, goods and aid.

In a gigantic step that took a lot of preparation and maneuvering with check points and police along the roads of Al-Arish - Rafah, IMORB has maintained a sit-in at the Rafah crossing gate since June 12, 2009.

Life on the Border

"The IMORB sit-in camp is a huge step towards opposing the siege. The group helps in negotiations with border police to provide support for Palestinians and others trying to reunite with families in Gaza," said Nada Kassass, an Egyptian journalist and one of the IMORB participants.

"We sleep in tents and under the stars. Hundreds of children have been killed from the recent Israeli massacre on Gaza, and the siege," explained Don Bryant from the US, on the fourth day of a fast to protest the suffering of 1.5 million Gazans under Israeli siege, which blocks humanitarian aid and restricts the free-flow of goods and people.

"Our numbers at the camp surged to 26 in the middle of the first week. We are holding the camp, under constant surveillance by Egyptian police, but with seeming tolerance," said Ellen Graves, a raging grandmother from western Massachusetts, US.

During our presence at Rafah Border, we witnessed hundreds of humanitarian cases, and some attacks on Gaza. On the first day, we witnessed an Israeli raid; suddenly, we heard the sound of an F16 coming from nowhere, and the sound of two strong blasts nearby lit up the sky. A third blast followed. Then we heard people screaming from a distance, and saw smoke coming from south-east Gaza. We also heard the voice of the drone roaming all night in the area. The bombing continued the following morning where 7-8 more blasts were heard.

Two days later, a German family, which consists of a mother called Elona and her six children, joined our sit-in after being denied entrance to Gaza. Elona and her children stayed with us till two of the children got sick, then we all decided that she should go to a hotel in Al-Arish till the border opens.

Some people, either local Bedouins or foreigners, supported us. I can not forget one man who stopped by us, opened the trunk of his car and insisted on sharing the hot bread he had just bought. Some people brought us drinking water. The only cafeteria here allows us to use its electricity to charge our phones and laptops.

Humanitarian Needs

Two hundred meters away there is an emergency station and the people there are very friendly; they offer us tea and also offered the use of toilets when the police closed the ones at the border along with the mosque. Jack and Christian often go there to watch football matches. One of the events that should be mentioned here is the joining of a new and unique member. The new member is a friendly white and brown small kitten. Don chose its name and called it Yafta or "Banner".

We had the chance to meet many people coming and going from Gaza. We have met a delegation from the Organization of Islamic Conference returning from Gaza. They were amazed by the sit-in and how it was holding its ground. We witnessed many people, Palestinians, Egyptians or internationals who were denied entrance to Gaza for no reason.

For instance, a humanitarian delegation from Australia was not only denied entrance to Gaza, but were also not allowed to leave Al-Arish city, and were turned back ten times from the first check point. Another group of doctors from the Arab Doctors Union were also denied entrance to Gaza. As for my personal experience, I stood at the border gate for hours trying to negotiate my way into Gaza for one day to attend a very close friend's wedding, and I was denied that right like the others.

As previously mentioned, the border was opened on the 27th, 28th and 29th in a scene that could be likened to Judgment Day and which should be a shame to the whole world. Imagine thousands of people, families and children have been waiting for weeks to go home, and they are all gathered like animals that were locked up for weeks and then suddenly released.

The arrangements to receive this great number of people were very poorly made; it was a huge mess that only added more suffering to the Palestinians who were going to and from Gaza. Palestinians were not allowed to go to the only bathroom or to the only café to obtain water! They were around 2,500-3000 people including children, old people, women, and injured and ill people. They waited more than 8 hours on a very hot day, and even sometimes got beaten by the police who were trying to control the chaos.

Some had arrived the night before and spent the night in the street 1.5 km away from the border. At 3pm they were told that the border is closed, and they had to come the following day to be tortured all over again.

Some locals took advantage of the Palestinian's ordeal and raised transportation prices from 5 to ten pounds per person, and the prices for luggage were amazingly high. Vehicles stopped 1-1.5 km away from the border which provided the chance for carts to take 100 pounds to move the luggage to the gate that was only 300- 500 meters away.

The suffering of old people, children and sick people was beyond belief. Some fainted, and we called ambulances for them. Some children were separated from their families and were lost. Women and children were screaming when the police prevented them from joining each other – there were children and luggage on one side and parents on the other.

We struggled to help our German friend, Elona and her 6 children, who were on the other side of the road. We gathered her children, got her luggage inside and finally she was able to enter. However, we were shocked to discover that the Egyptian authorities returned her to Al-Arish, after we were promised that she would be the first to cross on Saturday.

Elona was unable to join her Palestinian husband and her other children in Gaza. She said that the German Embassy refused to help her. What should a mother and six children do to join the rest of their family? It is just one of thousands of tragedies that one witnesses at the Rafah Border! Opening the borders 3 days a month increases the suffering of Palestinians and exposes them to extremely harsh and humiliating circumstances. This is inhumane and against international law and human rights declarations. One of the Palestinians stranded at the border said:

"This is harder than the war itself!"

Iman Badawi is a staff writer and assistant editor at the Discussion Forum and I Witness pages, IslamOnline.net (English website) based in Cairo, Egypt. She has a special concern for the Palestinian cause. You can reach her at youth_campaign@iolteam.com.

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