Nader and I tried to get into Gaza on Nov. 25,26 and 27. We met in Amman and then we flew to Cairo and then from there overland across Egypt and the Sinai desert to Arish and Rafah. It was a very long, costly and trying journey but it would have been nothing had we been able to enter. Needless to say we are very disappointed. Our last conversation with Dr. Suhaila Tarazi at the hospital in Gaza was heart wrenching. The situation is grave and we are helpless. I promised that I would keep you updated, so here is the account of the trip so far. At the time of posting this there is stil a chance that I may enter Gaza to deliver the equipment with a boat sailing fron Jaffa to Gaza. Cross you fingers and read this: Sunday, November 23, 2008
The muezzin in the mosque calling for early morning prayer is determined to get me out of bed. I don’t mind it actually, this is my first night in Amman and I can’t sleep very well anyway. Besides, I love hearing the call for prayer, it is part of the sounds of the Middle East and growing up in Jerusalem one hears this all the time.
I crossed the Sheikh Hussein Bridge from Israel to Jordan yesterday, it was for me the third time. Nader met me and with and we took a taxi together to Amman. When we arrived at his house it was afternoon and we were scheduled for a dinner meeting at 8:30 with several key members of Jordan’s Rotary clubs. We had to time for lunch, shower and rest.
We arrived at Howara Restaurant in Amman at 8 PM, 30 minutes early. This is an exclusive, reservations-only restaurant. We were to meet everyone there and the table was set for 8 people. The first to come was Mustafa Nasereddin. He is a prominent Rotarian, originally from Hebron and as passionate as any Rotarian I have ever met. After him Samir Seikali came, he is the Past District Governor of District 2450, which is geographically the largest Rotary District in the world, encompassing nine countries in 3 continents; Samir is originally from Haifa.
It did not take long for the conversation to warm up; Samir and Moustafa were very engaging and soon the others came as well. These were Muhsen Mufleh PP RC Amman West, George Dallal originally from Yaffa, President RC Amman, Petra and Mr. Barghouti originally from Ramallah. It comes as no surprised that many of the main players here were Palestinians ex pats.
If we needed an omen that this trip was going to be a good one, meeting these fine people in this very fine environment over the best food in the Middle East was it. Nader and I felt encouraged. We touched on ways to continue this initiative in hopes that Rotary will become an active force in promoting humanitarian help as well as foster human relations in Palestine/Israel.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Hey ALL me beloveds,
We’re in Cairo now; it is about 7 PM here 9 AM in SD. We arrived by flight from Amman. Nader and I were sitting at Amman airport all went well, security was fine we made it on time, got a ride and Nader and were commenting on how flipping well it was all going. Then I get my boiling hot cuppu-blooddy-cino all over myself…my pants and everything full of it (right on the groin of course).
These Jordanians really know service – this young guy comes up to me as I scramble to move the laptop and what is left of my dignity out of the coffee and he looks at me quietly and asks: Are you OK? Then he asks what kind of coffee I had and gets me another, free of course while another cleans up the mess. Good thing I got dark grey suit on so it doesn’t really show. Anyway I had to laugh, I was fine after that, much more relaxed.
Then we got on the flight, brand-spankin-new plane, Alia Jordanian airlines, 1 hour and 10 minute flight over desert and more desert and then we arrive in this mega oasis, CAIRO. The nicest Rotarian in the world, our dear friend Ayoub from Egypt met us like we were all old friends and takes us through this bustling city in a tiny car to our hotel. We drove for about an hour; it is like a tiny bug maneuvering through giant dinosaurs. We got to the hotel, the Hilton Cairo WTC. We got 2 huge suites for the price of a regular motel room in the US, one of which we gave up. This is a huge suite. I gave N the master bedroom, he is pretty sick with a flue and now I am in the office. I opened the window to see the Nile and the lights of the city, the smells the noises, I feel like I am in a 50’s movie Casablanca or something. Very colonial this place is.
Now N is sleeping and in an hour they are coming to pick us up for diner. I am very happy here. Not sure yet what the plan is tomorrow I will find out when we meet everyone tonight.
We spent an evening with District Governor (DG)Zakaria Elshafi and Ayoub and the assistant DG Tawfik, we had dinner at the Cairo City Club, a private club that could have been in London Paris or New York. We had great conversation and parted late at night. I awoke to prepare for breakfast and then Dr. Nahidh (N’s son in law who is a pediatric heart surgeon who works at Loma Linda hospital and is originally from Gaza) came and joined us. He and Rania were in Cairo but they had to return Wednesday and Nahidh could not join us on this trip to his homeland, Gaza that he is forbidden to enter.
We drove with ADG Tawfik to pick up the equipment, it was one of those usual 10 minute turned 2 hour drives in Cairo, the most heavily congested place on earth. The equipment was not ready so we ended up ordering it again and waiting with Nahidh’s family, who were very gracious. We finally left at 5 PM instead of 1 PM, which aint bad for Egypt. We really enjoyed the company of Nahidh’s family who were grateful because they too have family in Gaza
We arrived in El Arish in Northern Sinai a round 11 PM and got a room at the Swiss Inn. I had some coffee, Nader devoured a huge meal and we both enjoyed a marvelously beautiful and talented Egyptian singer by the name of Shireen on a local TV channel.
Wednesday morning. I am sitting outside my room at the Swiss In in El Arish watching the waves of this magnificent and empty corner of the Mediterranean. Not a soul in sight and the horizon is clear as can be. I was awakened by the Muezzin again around 4:30 but went back to sleep until now. Its 6:30. At 7 they serve brkfast and at 8 the driver and guide that Tawfik provided us, two very nice and very dedicated young Egyptian gentlemen will come to pick us up. This is it! We are an hour away from the city of Rafah, the gateway to Gaza. Last night Suheila Tarazi, out contact in Gaza said it would take a miracle for us to get it. I have never believed in miracles so fervently in my life. As I thought about it this morning I decided it would take a miracle for them to keep us out. We have come a really long way. From SD, through Europe to Israel and Jordan; Then to Cairo and overland crossing the newly built bridge over the Suez Canal connecting Africa with Asia. Stopping at Egyptian checkpoints along the way for short minutes that seem like very long hours. Now we are here. It is the day. I told N we should be prepared to dress with suit and tie.
Before we left Cairo, we waited for the car with our shipment of ENT equipment at Nahidh’s uncle house in Medinat AL Nasser, a wealthy neighborhood of Cairo. N went to sleep as n Nahidh and I sat and talked. Then lunch was served. It was close to 5 pm already. We had planned to leaver at 1, so by Cairo standards were doing fine as far as staying on schedule. Besides the meal was worth the wait.
Then farewells, Nader had his daughter, son in law and of course his adorable 18-month-old granddaughter Me’i.
I was standing on the balcony on the 18th floor when it began as a simple chant. Then, within minutes it turned into a chorus as the muezzin in hundreds of Cairo mosques called the faithful to Friday prayer. Gradually the chants subsided and the Friday sermons began over the loud speakers, going from one to two to a multitude of loud voices that sounded to me like some cosmic mideastern yelling match.
After 20 minutes I had to go back into the hotel room and into the relative silence it offered. I was in one of Cairo’s many Hilton hotels trying to make sense of the past week’s events. Everything went so perfectly well that we were certain we could not fail. Even the coffee I spilled all over my new suit at Jordan’s Amman airport seemed to be a good omen. But when we approached the gate that separates the Egyptian city of Rafah with the Palestinian Gaza strip it was impenetrable and we could not enter Gaza. There, I said it, after all this hard work and expectations and all the fears we had to overcome, we were not able to enter Gaza. It felt as though we were fighting a three-headed monster with nothing but a goddam toothpick.
But it was precisely because this monster is so big that we thought we would be able to sneak by. Nader and I were determined to enter Gaza at the point where we thought we would encounter the least resistance: the godforsaken city of Rafah where the Sinai Peninsula touches Palestine. But the border crossing at this desolate spot, inhabited by farmers who are dirt poor and Egyptian intelligence agents with snake eyes and faces of beat-up bulldogs anxious to rip apart their next victim was unmoved by our efforts, by our cause or by the fact that 100 feet away 800,000 children are locked up without food, water, electricity or medicine.
From the 19 year old Egyptian soldiers in their sloppy black woolen uniforms, berets that make them look pitiful and AK 47s that are too big for them to handle, to the more slick weasel like agents of the “muhabarrat”, or intelligence agents slithering around and glancing at us with their yellow eyes trying, to pick up a hint of information they can then move up the chain of command in return for some morsel of favoritism for being good little agents, no one was moved.
What we learned the hard way was that this three-headed monster is not only big, it is effective. With Israeli brains, American money and Egyptian cheap labor it is able to keep 1.5 million innocent civilians (as though there are any other kind of civilians) locked up in a giant concentration camp. One really has to congratulate Israel for creating such a harmonious union that is effective, demonic and at the same time manages to function just under the radar of the world’s conscience. Of course, in a world with such a small conscience it is not that hard.
Bluntly, undiplomatically and unapologetically put, here are two important points:
- Israel’s policy towards Gaza has stained 5000 years of Jewish history with a stain that we as Jewish people will never be able to erase.
- Even though our mission was a noble one and everything was going right, we were screwed when we thought we were making love.
These are two very difficult things to swallow and even the grand wedding we were able to attend upon our return to Cairo could not take our minds off of the tragedy, not our own failure which is minimal but that of the people of Gaza. It was the wedding of Cairo’s hottest singer, the young and brilliant Hamada Helal and it so happened that the bride was the daughter of the sister of the uncle of Nader’s son-in-law Nahidh. So how could we possibly not attend? Well we did and every big name of Arabic music scene was there to sing. Dinner was served at 3:30 the following morning. By 4:30 AM Nader and I passed out in our hotel room beds only to be woken up by the 6:30 call to Morning Prayer. That was the end of a 72 hour cycle that was, plainly put, un-f_ _ _ _ _g believable!
Now I am waiting confirmation that tomorrow morning the ship will indeed sail from Jaffa to Gaza, like some ancient mariner. Stay tuned.
The following pics are in chronological order.
Me, Club Pres. George Dallal, Past DG Samir Seikaly and Nader in Amman, Jordan
Me, DG Zakaria Elshafi, Nader, Ayoub, Rania and Tawfik at the Cairo City club.
Between two continents, crossing the Suez Canal.
Rafah, Egypt a poor and desolate city.
The photo they did not want us to take. Riot police waiting by Rafah gate.
Nader and I facing the closed gates to Gaza at the Rafah crossing, Egypt.Beyond that gate, barely 100 feet is Gaza
Nader on the phone with security officials.
Me returning empty handed.
Before parting, Nader and I thought it fitting that we stop at Mt. Nebo, the site where Moses was held from entering the promised land.