A Palestinian woman waits at the closed Rafah crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on 5 July.(Eyad Al Baba)
Palestinians trying to return home to the Gaza Strip via Cairo airport are being deported by Egyptian authorities to the countries they flew in from, at their own expense.
The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, which is a six hour drive from Cairo airport, has been closed indefinitely, ever since the Egyptian army overthrew elected President Muhammad Morsi on 3 July after days of street protests.
In recent days, militant groups in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula have repeatedly attacked Egyptian army posts and checkpoints.
Yousef M. Aljamal, a writer and occasional Electronic Intifada contributor, was among those deported. Aljamal was returning home to Gaza from New Zealand, where he participated in the recent Conference on Palestine in Auckland.
Aljamal tweeted about his deportation from Cairo, back to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, where he had stopped in order to obtain an Egyptian visa.
He reported seeing other Palestinians sent back to Algeria, Jordan, Tunisia and Canada, among other countries.
The Palestinian government in Gaza has appealed to Egyptian authorities to re-open Rafah, citing thousands of Palestinians, including many pilgrims, stranded away from home.
Even before the latest crisis in Egypt, conditions at the crossing have remained difficult and unpredictable, with “Mubarak-era cruelty” remaining the norm.
Airlines may not board Palestinian Authority passport holders bound for Egypt
Twitter user and blogger @LivefromGaza reported that her relatives heading home to Gaza were not allowed even to board a flight from Canada to Cairo:
Information on the website of the International Airline Transport Association (IATA) states:
Due to closing of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, holders of travel documents issued by the Palestinian Territory are not permitted to transit Egypt from/to Gaza. Exempt are holders of a valid visa or residence permit issued by Egypt.
The information in the screenshot was obtained on 8 July by entering the data of a hypothetical Palestinian Authority passport holder traveling from Canada into the IATA travel information database.
This is provided for illustrative purposes only, and people should seek their own information before deciding whether to travel.
Anti-Palestinian campaign intensifies in Egypt
The deportation of Palestinians comes as campaigns against Palestinians are intensifying in Egypt.
Anti-Palestinian campaigns in the Egyptian media are not new, as Joseph Massad wrote last August. They have included outlandish claims that shortages of basic supplies including fuel and medicines for Egypt’s 83 million people are caused by supplies being sent to Gaza’s 1.7 million Palestinians.
The volume has however increased amid the ongoing crisis. Rumors circulated by Egyptian media and social media accuse Hamas – without evidence – of sending operatives to support the deposed Muslim Brotherhood government.
Such rumors have led to false accusations and deportations of Palestinians living in Egypt, as the Egyptian journalist Fahmy Howeidy reported in a 7 July article in Egypt’s Shorouk News.
Howeidy concludes his powerful piece with these observations:
Who is the party that is keen to terrorize and humiliate Palestinians and fabricate charges against them in Egypt? And what is its interest in doing this? And why is there no clear political stance to stop these humiliations? My information is that there are elements within the Palestinian security apparatus still working against the government in the Gaza Strip and trying to malign it and bring it down.
There are also elements within the Egyptian security services – whose arms reach into the media – who despise Palestinians and sneer at resistance, and who cannot bear to hear the name of Hamas because of their relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. And these parties have rebounded lately, for well-known reasons. This leads to ask who they represent and to what extent they are connected with the deep state whose elements do not cease for even a day from spreading hatred between Egyptians and Palestinians in violation of all national and ethical norms.
Syrians, as well as Palestinians, have also been targeted by such rumors and campaigns.
As Egypt slips further into political chaos, Palestinians stranded abroad are hoping they can get home without falling victim to the increasingly poisonous atmosphere.