Thursday, 16 April 2009

Tourist admits defeat (don't expect it to happen again...)

After ten days of waiting (it seems like longer) I've finally been urged to, and have painfully agreed to, admit defeat in the face of the Rafah border. All indications are that there's "no way" I'll be allowed in (that's a direct quote from Cairo's Ramattan Bureau. They were very helpful in offering advice and paperwork and contacts, but ultimately couldn't do anything more for me)

It was very bad timing, after all, nothing more dramatic than a series of separate incidents that all combined to make the crossing virtually impossible for me. First, Laila El-Haddad was refused entry to Egypt and detained in Cairo airport for 36 hours (sleeping on the floor with her two children, aged 4 and 1). Laila's a Gaza resident, so at least that would have made it easier for us both to get across Rafah (which is typically only for Palestinian residents, but during the war in January was open for a while for international journalists, and is still occasionally open for delegations).

Then, an undercover Hezbullah sleeper cell was apparently discovered operating in Egypt. That accusation alone would have been bad enough to close the border, if Nasrallah hadn't admitted it was true two days later...

So, with these factors piling up, crossing the Rafah border was becoming more and more difficult. Then the Egyptian Government Press Office announced it was no longer issuing papers to foreign journalists crossing into Rafah, and THEN the British Consulate announced it was no longer even issuing papers absolving itself of all responsibility for UK journalists wanting to cross! They can't even commit enough to sign a piece of paper saying I can't sue them if I die? Things are getting really bad...

By that point, it seemed the only people being allowed through Rafah were injured Palestinians getting medical treatment in Egypt or returning home to Gaza. As dedicated as I am to my work, I'm (only slightly) above pretending to be an injured Palestinian.

Oh, and a few bright sparks also pointed out that even if I did get it, it might be difficult to...what was it again? Oh, that's right. Get out.

Luckily, in the meantime, I've managed to take my stress and boredom and frustration and make another film while waiting. Of course I can't tell you anything about until I leave Egypt, otherwise it wouldn't be any fun, (and probably not a very good documentary if it was done with the approval of the Egyptian state)

Friday, 10 April 2009

Laila back in the US

The latest news is that Laila finally arrived back in the US at 3am this morning, after a transfer through London. I haven't heard directly from her yet, but will let you know when I do...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Laila living in Cairo Airport

Laila has now been in Cairo International Airport for 20 hours, sleeping and eating on the floor with her two kids, aged five and one and a half. After hours of arguing, the guards are now telling her nothing. Instead, they're just stalling - telling her something's happening, someone's coming to see her, a decision is coming soon. But they don't seem to know what happened to her file.

She's still not being given access to a phone, and is eating the food she brought with her and donations from the airport staff.

The whole thing is looking like a maze of bureaucracy and illogical arbitrary rules, with her and her kids trapped in the middle.

One of the guards just asked her if she wants him to put up a shelter for her, so she has the feeling she's going to be there for a lot longer...

At the moment, I don't know what else to do. Myself, her husband and father have been calling and appealing to everyone we can think of. Politicians, journalists, NGOs, diplomats - even with some high-up connections, nothing seems to be making a difference.

Laila in the Airport

Laila arrived in Cairo at around 11:30 last night, but since then has been detained by security with her two children, Yousuf age 5 and Noor age 15 months. She's been there for 17 hours so far, and they've given her no access to a telephone. She managed to find a wireless signal in the room and has been keeping in touch with her family and I for hours, but the latest news is that they intend to send her back to the US because orders for all Palestinians to be refused entry unless Rafah crossing is open.

I'll keep you posted as more information comes in...

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Back in Cairo

I'm back in Cairo after only a few weeks away. (I had a feeling I'd be back so soon...)

At the moment Laila El-Haddad in on her way over (I think she's still airborne at this moment) and when we meet here, we'll start planning for Gaza. At the moment, I have no idea what the situation is with the border, when/if it will open, how/if I can get through as a journalist. I'm hearing completely different stories from different sources. The British Embassy says they have nothing to do with crossing any more - they don't provide any letters or paperwork. The Egyptian Journalists Union were providing press passes during and just after the war, but now they say go to your embassy...

UNRWA says it should be no problem going through Rafah with a commission letter from a news media.

I think we'll just end up going to the border on a rumour and taking our chances...