Monday, January 4, 2010

Going home but not giving up

On Saturday morning Barbara and I went to meet Dr. Mona El-Farra, MECA's Director of Gaza Projects. She had been outside of Gaza visiting family and was in Egypt en route to Gaza this week. Dr. Mona ordered a tourist van for us and a few other friends and we set out towards Al-Arish. We planned to stay overnight in Al-Arish and then head to the Rafah border crossing early on Sunday morning. There was no guarantee we'd get in but with invitation letters from partners in Gaza in hand we thought we should at least give it a try.

As we left Cairo behind I began to daydream of clean air and meetings with friends and partners in Gaza who I haven't seen in nearly two years. But the daydream didn't last long. Long before the first official checkpoint Egyptian police stopped our car, took our passports, and returned us back to Cairo. Dr. Mona who had solicited help from the Palestinian ambassador in Egypt to get back to her home in Gaza was also turned back. Her anxiety about finding a way back home increased.

That night the three of us met to review and discuss MECA's work in Gaza. We talked about evaluation plans for "Let the Children Play and Heal" since the pilot phase will end in January. We made lists of the photos and information we need about the schools and kindergartens we will partner with in the Maia Project. And since the siege continues and it is becoming more and more difficult for international activists and friends to reach Gaza and witness the situation firsthand we brainstormed ideas for bringing stories to you wherever you are.

We set plans for filming interviews with several of the 58 university students in Gaza receiving scholarships through MECA this year, with children and youth at our partner centers, and with children and teachers at the schools where MECA and Afaq Jadeeda have worked together to provide clean water. We will use this footage to give you all a glimpse of daily life in Gaza and to share some of the small successes of MECA's work with community organizations and schools in Gaza.

Then on Sunday morning Dr. Mona set out again (alone this time) to attempt the trip to the Rafah crossing and on to Gaza. Ten checkpoints and seven hours later she finally reached the crossing. And several hours later we received the great news that she had managed to reach her home in Gaza City. We were all relieved.

After the news of the many checkpoints along the road to the border, Barbara and I decided not to attempt the trip again. Though many other activists have stayed on in Cairo in hopes of entering Gaza we felt that the Egyptian government had made its position clear: those of us who came with the Gaza Freedom March would not be allowed to even reach the border with Gaza.

It's been difficult for us to follow the mainstream and alternative news while in Cairo but we hope the GFM has succeeded in putting Gaza back on the front page around the world. And we are excited to see where the new steering committee of five committed solidarity activists will lead us with the Cairo Declaration, which sets ambitious goals and strategies for our movement moving forward, as our guide.

Barbara has gone on to the West Bank to meet with friends and partners there while I am in Jordan catching up on emails and computer work. We both head to the US later this week.


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