All photos made in January 2008
Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, January 2008
To enter Gaza one needs a permit from the Israeli authorities, the District Coordination Office (DCO) for Gaza. And one needs to apply thru an international non-governmental organization, a NGO. Since 2004, I’ve gotten a permit thru the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and only once, in 2008, did I experience difficulties—nearly one hour of sharp interrogation at the Erez crossing.
Planning my work in Gaza to begin on July 20, 2009, I wrote the director of the AFSC’s Quaker Youth Program in Gaza. She began the application process more than one month ago. Ordinarily the process takes no more than 2 weeks. However, after the devastating violence by Israel on Gaza for 22 days beginning on December 27, 2008, including possible war crimes on the parts of several parties, the process has become more complicated. In fact, Israel prevented the UN team investigating alleged war crimes from entering, so they had to go thru the Egyptian crossing at Rafah.
When Amal, the director in Gaza, phoned the DCO to learn about the application, either no one in the office answered the phone, or they told her, call back, we’ll let you know tomorrow. Frustrated after repeated tries, she asked me to call. Same response. Then two days ago they informed me that the AFSC was not registered, not accredited with the privilege of applying for a permit. This was the first either of us heard. Why, we wondered, hadn’t they told us that earlier?
This strikes me as deceitful, unjust, wrong, and suspicious.
Ibrahem Shatali, program officer
Furthermore, let us ask: what right does Israel have to control who enters Gaza, especially when they systematically prohibit humanitarian workers like myself? Yes, maybe they have a right to prohibit weapons and fighters, altho this could be debated. A population has the right to defend itself, as is claimed frequently in justification for Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza. And yes, Israel surely has the right to control entry from Gaza.
Suppose Canada or Mexico fortified its border with the United States and unilaterally decided who could enter the US and who would be prohibited. There would be an outcry against this shocking use of power—silence concerning Israel. Why?
My case is a microcosm of the larger situation: vast injustice, to the point of breaking international laws and contravening UN resolutions.
I suffer minimally. I am not stranded at the Egyptian border with thousands of other Gazans pleading to be allowed home, stranded without amenities in the heat or cold, without water, some of us dying. Egypt colludes with the US and Israel in maintaining its border. Nor am I stuck inside Gaza as were some 25 Fulbright scholars last year who Israel prevented from leaving. Nor am I lethally afflicted with injury or disease, untreatable inside Gaza by the limited hospital facilities, often without medicines and equipment in repair, qualified to leave for medical care in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or even Israel, but blocked at Erez.
Skip Schiel, volunteer photographer and photography teacher
My suffering is minor. I live in a flat in Ramallah, with food, water, shelter from the sun, and with friends and colleagues. I can continue my photographic work. I’m only prevented from serving in Gaza, making photographs for various organizations about their humanitarian work—the AFSC Youth Program, the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and the Palestine Water Authority struggling valiantly to purify the polluted saline aquifer water and treat at least partially the vast sewage created by 1.5 million human beings in one of the most congested, poverty stricken regions of the world. And I might not be able to offer photographic training thru the Youth Program and a university.
Unlike most Gazans, I might be able to communicate with a few people in the global community, touch them with a story, a photograph, a message, a plea. Not just for me to enter Gaza but for Gaza to be free, for acts of violence to stop and be adjudicated, responsibility taken, and reparations made by the responsible parties. This is my hope, my prayer, my request.
If you’d like to help, please consider contacting your Congress people (if you’re a US citizen, or the equivalent if you’re outside the US), best if in person with a group, but by phone, email or some other means, to demand: 1. remove the restrictions on entering humanitarian workers, 2. open the borders for humanitarian aid, 3. hold all parties accountable for violence and breaking international laws, and 4. end the siege, free Gaza.
Please feel free to forward this widely.
A minor update about the permit.
As of today, July 27, 2009, there is still no progress. But I just learned that the Middle East regional coordinator of the AFSC youth programs, Thuqan Qishawi, is also prohibited from entering Gaza, as is an American intern, Grace. This exacerbates the problem and allows me to claim that the entire program is jeopardized by this closure. If any wish to add that to messages to the legislators, please do. Other NGO’s report similar problems.
Of course, for years, the AFSC staff in Gaza is usually prevented from leaving. So this is a gigantic problem for any Palestinian programs with branches in the West Bank and Gaza. How can they coordinate?