Frustration mounts amongst the stranded at al-Arish

Palestinians take part in a demonstration at the Rafah crossing at the Egypt-Gaza border, calling for the reopening of the crossing so that stranded Palestinians can pass into the Gaza Strip, 25 July 2007. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)


Any patience we might have once had has dissipated during the past weeks we’ve been stranded here in Egypt — any patience that would have held us over as we have been badly missing our loved ones in Gaza, the patience we might have once had steadily running out along with our money.

These words have been uttered by most of the Palestinians who are stranded at the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing terminal that has been closed by Israel for weeks. They have been forced to stay there, should the border re-open — yet their plight is becoming more dire day by day, while their appeals fall on deaf ears.

To learn about these seemingly forgotten Palestinians, The Electronic Initfada heard the accounts of some of the thousands of people trying to return to their homes and lives in Gaza.

Azmi, a resident of Rafah City in the southern Gaza Strip, left Gaza along with his family in early June for the sake of medical examinations in Cairo for his wife. He thought that he would stay a maximum of one week, yet he has stayed much longer than expected.

“I just thought that one week was enough for the examinations, so I took my children to enjoy some time in Cairo. Now I wish I had not even thought of moving out of Gaza. I wish I had not,” Azmi says while sitting at the local clinic of al-Arish, the Egyptian town where six thousand Palestinians are currently stranded.

Sha’rawi, a Palestinian governmental employee, had to leave for a training course in Europe. He was seen looking for food in al-Arish’s marketplace.

“When I was selected by the economy ministry for that training, I was very happy and began coordinating entry through the Rafah crossing for I had to catch my plane to Switzerland, so that I would not lose such an opportunity. Now I realize I was unlucky, for all the good times I enjoyed in Switzerland have been replaced with worst-ever times here,” says Sha’rawi.

Bassam traveled to Cairo six weeks ago for a quick visit aimed at renewing his children’s American passports at the US embassy there.

Bassam told EI that his kids have become so bored and frustrated that he doesn’t know what to do to relieve them.

“In the beginning, we spent some time at my brother’s house in Cairo, then we traveled to al-Arish, hoping the crossing would reopen. Now we are back in al-Arish and we don’t know how long we shall stay here,” Bassam elaborates.

Dawood, a merchant from the central Gaza Strip, used to leave for Egypt to trade clothes and household things to feed his children in Gaza, as he has been cut off from his work in Israel since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000.

“This time is the worst I have faced since I began to work in the trade — I had to sell most of my goods to locals here in order to keep living; even the assistance I was given along with the other stranded people here could not compensate my losses,” maintains Dawood.

Shadi finished a business trip overseas and arrived in Cairo in due time. He too had to move to al-Arish to wait for the crossing to reopen at some point.

Shadi, who is married with children, says, “I am staying at my uncle’s house here; however, I am feeling absolutely frustrated. I spend prolonged ours at night sitting idle at the beach, having no appetite to speak to anybody. My cousin Hassan always asks me to go [out with a group] but I always decline by claiming false pretexts. The situation here is getting so miserable but no one seems to care.”

Ibrahim, the head of a Gazan non-governmental organization, is scheduled to attend a conference in Washington in mid-August.

“As I have been stuck here since 14 June, after I was in London, I am really thinking about staying until the Washington conference is due but I am really hesitant simply because of my family and kids. I prefer to go back to Gaza rather than attending the conference, as soon as the crossing reopens. However, I am not sure the crossing will be reopened by the time I am to leave to Washington,” Ibrahim says.

The author has been stuck in al-Arish along with his sick wife, after she had finished medical treatment in a Cairo hospital.

Yesterday, when I phoned my children, my son Munir answered. When he heard me he cheered and said, “Dad, the crossing will reopen tomorrow.” I learned from my mother who took the phone that they heard on al-Jazeera that there have been efforts to reopen the crossing.

Surely, the crossing will eventually reopen, but in the meantime, the patience of all those stranded will have completely run out.

The Rafah crossing terminal, the sole outlet to the outside world for the population of Gaza, has been closed since 10 June, by an Israeli order. Approximately 6,000 Palestinians have been deprived of their right to return back to their homes and families.

Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including the Palestine Chronicle, aljazeerah.info, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari at hotmail.com.

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