Jennifer Loewenstein Archive

Very worth reading. One comment - she forgets to mention that Israel retains control over the Palestinian population registry. -J
At the Rafah Crossing
The Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project has a delegation on the ground in Rafah this month.  This is Serena's account of the opening of he crossing, which was covered in the U.S. media earlier this week.

RAFAH TERMINAL, Gaza Strip - "It was a smooth debut Saturday for the first
Palestinian-run border crossing. Hundreds of travelers zipped through
passport control without having to submit to Israeli security checks,
savoring their new freedom after 38 years of military occupation."*

Reading the headline news on Rafah Crossing one would conclude that
Palestinians are free to come and go as they please with minimal control
by Israel over Gaza in general, nothing significantly impeding them from
creating a prosperous economy, controlling their borders, air space and
sea ports. The AP news wire with such titles as "Palestinians zip across
border" and "Speedy passage from Gaza" conjure up
images of anyone being able to leave Gaza as they please, with a snap of
their fingers.

At the ceremony held at the crossing last Friday, Nov. 25th, Abbas stated
"I think every Palestinian now has his passport ready in his pocket; let
them come to cross at this terminal whenever they want,". Despite the
opening of the crossing and the majority of control being handed over to
the PA, Egypt and the EU, stating that Rafah crossing is open for all to
come and go freely is misleading.

Talking to people in Rafah I get the impression that the feeling on the
street is not necessarily reflected in the statements of Abbas and other
officials. "Sure I can cross" they tell me, "If I had a visa". Men
between the ages of 15-55 cannot cross without one. Or I hear "If I had a
passport I could pass". Men over the age of 55 must have this ID to
legitimize their passage. Not only is the bureaucracy to obtain these
documents astounding, taking anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, but it
costs more money than most people here can afford to fork over.

Abu K has been talking for weeks now about finally being able to visit his
parents in Egypt, he has not seen them since the Intifada broke out. We
have gone with him, visiting various governmental offices and a lawyer as
he attempts to renew his ID card. This process is slow, weighted down
with bureaucracy. It could take him up to 3 months before he gets
approval. At the same time he has been hoping that his parents would be
able to come visit him in Rafah with the opening of the crossing. He kept
saying, "I will see my parents soon Insha'allah". As the crossing
officially opened he learned that his parents will have to obtain
passports, beyond the ID they already hold. This process as well can take
up to 3 months. His hopes of seeing them, like those of so many others
rose with the hype of Rafah crossing opening. Time and time again the
rhetoric does not materialize, the reality of everyday life does not

Another friend, Ahmed, has t-shirts of Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall that
need to be mailed to the states. Mailing anything in and out of Gaza is
extremely unreliable, exemplifying the occupation of Gaza in its current
form. Ahmed is my age, 24, meaning he needs a visa issued by the PA
before being able to cross in to Egypt. Again visas not only take months
to process, particularly now as hundreds of people are applying for them,
they are also extremely expensive, limiting access even more so to those
who's income is above average, or those who patiently save enough to buy
their way through. Ahmed's strategy is to send his father who is over 55,
thus not needing a visa, merely a valid passport, to mail them from Egypt.

We attended the private ceremony of the opening of the crossing. Being
that we are here in Rafah we decided to see if it was all that it was
cracked up to be. As we drove toward the crossing the road was lined with
Palestinian security guards, after all it was a ceremony for government
officials, foreign dignitaries and politicians. When we arrived at the
first gate there was no shortage of people crowded outside trying to
enter. Those with press passes were allowed to pass through freely, as
were the fancy cars carrying men in suits, businessmen, and politicians.
We pushed our way through the crowd Rochelle and I and two Palestinian
friends, Ahmed and Mahmoud. Standing in the midst of the crowd we waited
not knowing what was happening. Mahmoud called to us and the next thing
we knew security guards were ushering us through the gate. On the inside
of the gate Palestinian police and military personnel dressed in blue
fatigue swarmed the area. We began walking and were quickly escorted into
a van with other journalists. Wondering how we made it in passed all the
security I had the suspicion that being two white women carrying video
equipment may have had something to do with it. Mahmoud later confirmed
this was true. He told the security guards that he was escorting two
journalists. This gave us a good laugh, but also clearly exemplified the
power we hold as Americans here. Had Mahmoud and Ahmed attempted to come to the ceremony alone they would still be waiting outside the gate.
Staring through the barbed wire fence while those who represent them pass
by without a glance in the direction of the people they speak for.

Just entering this ceremony the division between the people and the
politicians was starkly clear. Hearing Abbas tell the 1,500 guests "Now
every one of you can submit your passport and cross freely with no
limitations," I thought, yeah, everyone here at the ceremony can do that,
what about those watching from the other side of the barbed wire fence
surrounding us, isolating the people from those representing them on the
world stage.

I never held the illusion that the Palestinian Authority represented
completely the will and voice of the Palestinian people, just as I know
the American government does not represent the will and voice of the
American people. What I witnessed there solidified in my mind the kind of
lives politician lead, shuttled from one place to another, constantly
surrounded by armed guards, isolated from society. It makes it difficult
to see how they could ever fully know the peoples needs or understand
their dreams and hopes for the future enough to implement changes that
will benefit the people who know suffering they can only imagine.

I realize this is harsh. People may disagree but what I experienced at
this media stunt, men in suits surrounded by international media,
Palestinian and Egyptian politicians thanking Condoleezza Rice, thanking
Israel. The Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman, and the European
Union special envoy to the Middle East peace process, Mark Otte calling
this a new era and Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) summing it all up as a
historic day left me feeling empty. The hollowness of their words we have
all heard before, watched it on TV. This was simply first time I heard it
standing on a red carpet filming Abu Mazen while Palestinians who live on
this boarder, who’s flesh and blood know the pain and fear of this
military occupation are made to stand outside this ceremony and listen
while others portray their life’s through political rhetoric. I believe
equality and peace will not be borne out of this hierarchical power
structure by which we live. Peace requires the creativity of us all to
dream up a system of equality and sustainability, for the benefit of
everyone, not simply a few.

I recognize the limited ability the PA has to make positive change. I
understand the pressure from the US and Israel, the demands they make in
return for any concessions to the PA. This is not a black and white
situation, I am just beginning to understand the complexity of it all.
Day by day I gain insight into the intricacies of internal Palestinian

We spent Saturday interviewing adults and children asking them to talk
about their lives under occupation, their thoughts on the disengagement,
their hopes and dreams for the future, etc. They shared with us the pain
and suffering they have experienced and still experience. As I sat,
listening and watching I could see so clearly the trauma everyone here
lives with. Their voices were strong but watching their eyes and their
shaking hands I knew they were re-living experiences I could never
understand and things they can never forget.

As I sit here thinking of all the dignitaries and politicians fenced off
from the community around them, deciding the fate of millions of people,
thinking about the stories I have heard of explosions in the night, the
constant gunfire, refusing to leave ones home despite the danger of
staying I can't help but feel they are two different worlds. I can't help
but wonder if we, ordinary people, took our fate into our own hands,
beyond the control of governments what we would create. Surely, having
experienced the horrors of war, the pain life brings, we would come
together and find someway more successful then all the peace processes,
accords and summits held to "win the peace" as Bush so elegantly puts it.
Being here, getting to know people, hearing their stories and sharing them
with you all I feel a part of this process of change, this resistance, and
knowing this is taking place all over the world I can still find faith in
humanity despite the atrocities we are capable of committing.

* Written By Ibrahim Barzak, Associated Press

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Jennifer Loewenstein