Thursday, 7 March 2013

New challenge to the project

Today we were notified that Skatejam's application to the Egyptian authorities for permission to leave Egypt to travel to Gaza was declined by the security clearance department.  We have been told that the reason is to do with the materials list we submitted.  This is a depressing news because it not only presents a challenge to us for the project but it also confirms that the siege of Gaza from the Egyptian Rafah side is still in place.  Apparently the following items be a security issue:

Skateboard Shoes (USED / SECOND HAND) 3
Sets of skateboard bearings (USED / SECOND HAND) 20
Sets of skateboard wheels (USED / SECOND HAND) 19
Pair of skateboard Trucks (USED / SECOND HAND) 8
Skateboard helmet (USED / SECOND HAND) 1
Set of skateboard hardware (spacers, bushings, pads) 4

So we have told them we don't need to take the materials.   We'll find a way to get the stuff there but will have to wait longer now for team clearance. We did not want to use the tunnels but this decision leaves us with little choice.

The rumoured flexibility on the border under the new administration appears to be just that.

We also went to the British Embassy in Cairo his morning to ask for a reply to our email.  I asked them to please confirm that they had received our communication.  It was almost like asking them to sell their grandmothers.

Me: 'Hi, we're a group that is travelling to Gaza with an invitation from an organisation in Palestine'
Woman on the counter: 'We don't advise travelling to Gaza'
Me: 'I know.  I sent you an email with details about our project asking for a response'
Woman on the counter: 'Ok did you call or email?'
Me: 'I emailed you with all the paperwork'
Woman on the counter: 'When did you send it?'
Me: 'Two days ago'
Woman on the counter: 'Yes we have read it'
Me: 'How do I know you've read it? I need to have evidence that you have received our email so that I can show it to the Egyptian border officers at Rafah who need to know that our consulate are aware of what we are doing and that we waive our consular rights.'  (passed paperwork through hatch)
Woman on the counter (looks at paperwork evidently not recognising it in any way whatsoever):  'We can't provide any letter of support to groups wanting to travel to Gaza'
Me: 'I didn't ask you for that I asked you for a reply to our email to confirm that you have read our information and you know who is going and that we waive our rights'
Woman on the counter: 'Ok we'll send confirmation'
Me: 'You need to mention the names of the people I named in the paperwork, otherwise it will only be confirmed to me'
Woman on the counter: 'Ok we'll do that'
Me: 'It needs to be today because we want to travel'

10 hours later no email from them.

The embassy reception is just like a government office in the UK, same green lino on the stairs, government posters in noticeboards, contract carpet, water cooler, computer in the corner that doesn't connect to any network.  Same parrot fashion response from a person that is careful to make sure they implement the policies in the most conservative way they can 'to cover their backs' in the event of any mistake.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Returning to Gaza

This month I'm returning to Gaza with Skatejam, an organisation that constructs skateboard half pipes.  We have an invitation from Emaar Association for Rehabilitation and Development in Khan Younis to deliver the project for two weeks at the Al Amar Sports Club.  We received a formal invitation almost a month ago but the siege of Gaza is still effectively upheld on the Egyptian side of the border and we are stuck here in Cairo.  We will get in eventually but it is a slow and unpredictable process which makes planning and timing very difficult.  It's the expected and unnatural situation that people in Gaza live under permanently.
Delays on access from the Egyptian authorities is another facet of the siege. If you wish to visit Gaza you need a letter of invitation from an NGO in Gaza and an Egyptian security clearance letter, otherwise the Egyptian side of the border won't let you out.  The siege is upheld by the British Embassy as well as the Egyptian authorities because even though the Palestinian side have invited us the border crossing is restricted by Egyptian permissions and the British Embassy who could provide us with a supporting letter but refuse to do so.
It's been rumoured that it is easier to cross under the new Morsi administration, but the process appears to be just as slow as before.
Nevertheless there are four of us here and we're waiting until we get in.