As medical workers went on hunger strike today at the Rafah border crossing into Gaza in Egypt, Israeli jets could be heard flying overhead, the sound of explosions and vibrations could be felt on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing.
No mercy was shown by the Egyptian authorities, who kept the border closed, not even sick Palestinians were allowed through back into Gaza, they were simply told that the border was shut. However there was a great deal of activity at the crossing with military vehicles passing through all day. There were some ‘VIPs’ crossing the Rafah crossing, but it was unclear who they were as the vehicles had blacked out windows and travelled well protected with armed soldiers at the front and rear.
For most of the day the Rafah border has been quiet, only the sound of birds can be heard disturbed by Egyptian military and police vehicles entering the border compound, but everything is periodically drowned out by the piercing screams of Israeli jets as they fly over Gaza.
Reem al Tahloot, 26, arrived from Cairo after receiving treatment for a brain tumour but was told that she could not go home to Gaza as the border was now closed. She was asked why she did not come earlier by the guards even though she had been in hospital and had left at the first opportunity.
70 year old Salaha Skeyg arrived with his 65 year old wife Salma at the Rafah crossing at 6am in the morning, only to be told that it was closed. Salaha Skeyg had been in hospital in Cairo suffering from kidney stones but could not afford for the operation he required to remove his stones that had blocked the passage between the kidneys and bladder and was therefore forced to return to Gaza. Now they wait in the blistering sun of the southern Sinai, sitting, waiting for the Egyptian authorities to show some mercy to allow them back home to be with their family in Gaza.
Meanwhile aid workers continued their hunger strike in protest at the Egyptians not allowing urgent medical help through to the Gaza Strip. British reconstructive surgeon Sonia Robbins-Bolos and her Greek husband Dr Nikolos Bolos of Mercy Malaysia have been waiting to enter Gaza for 40 days, with no avail.
“There have been issues around entering Gaza before, it has always been difficult but nothing like what we are experiencing right now,” said Sonia. Sonia and Nikolos are members of the group of aid workers that have entered into a hunger strike over the Egyptians refusal to allow them entry.
Dr Omar Mangoush a cardiac surgeon from Hammersmith said, “We are trying to enter Gaza, we are doctors, we have a humanitarian mission to carry out but we are being prevented from doing that by the Egyptians and the lack of help from the British consulate.”
Two Irish medics were allowed through into Gaza this Monday which suggests that the Irish consulate has put pressure on the Egyptians to allow their citizens through into Gaza, something that the British are reluctant to do.
The Egyptian intelligence agency is making it as difficult as possible for the hunger strikers, even forcing the local shop at the Rafah crossing to close, where the aid workers were purchasing water and phone cards.
For now the aid workers and Palestinians are waiting in the searing heat of the southern Sinai for the border to open so that they may cross into Gaza, to help and return to their families.
Salama Skeyg pleads with the guards, asking them to let her and her husband pass; her husband has a bag attached to his bladder. She cries out, the sound of her cries drown out everything, the wind, the vehicles and even the Israeli jets. The Egyptian authorities look on, unmoved, untouched by the plight of this old couple who do not even have anything to sit on except a small dirty wall. The police sit on chairs provided by the local cafeteria, but they prevent the owner from allowing anyone else to sit on them.
Oktay Balci an aid worker from Belgium asked the police, “Do you not have a heart? What If she was your mother?” At this the officer looked them straight in the eyes and said, “It is not our decision, we do what we are told.”
Egypt and the rest of the Middle East can be summed up like this. It is not their decision; they do what they are told, whether it is from their governments or foreign powers like America and Israel. But the Palestinians refuse to do what they are told, refuse to accept decisions made by others about their future, and refuse to give up their hopes; this is why they must endure so much punishment at the hands of everyone.