Human Rights Workers Denied Exit Through Erez Checkpoint and Rafah Checkpoint


GAZA (2 Sept. 2008) - Four foreign nationals from the UK, USA, Ireland and
Australia, who helped peacefully challenge the siege of Gaza by traveling
through international waters with the Free Gaza Movement, have so far been
refused exit to Israel via Erez Crossing, or to Egypt via Rafah Crossing.

For over two years Israel has severely restricted access to Gaza, blocking
aid shipments and trade. As a consequence, Gaza’s economy has collapsed,
forcing most industries to close and dramatically increasing malnutrition
rates among children. Eighty percent of families in Gaza are now
completely dependent on United Nations food aid.

Travel outside of Gaza has been likewise blocked by Israel. Over 200
people have died as result of not being able to leave Gaza for medical
treatment. Hundreds of Palestinian students, accepted to universities
abroad, have also been denied exit visas by Israel.

Among the internationals currently stranded in Gaza are Irish activist and
former Hawaiian legislator Kenneth O’Keefe, British journalist Lauren
Booth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and
Dr. William Dienst, a family and emergency room physician from the USA.
This refusal of entry by Israel and Egypt effectively confines the
internationals to the 40 by 10 kilometre enclave of Gaza, along with 1.5
million Palestinians, likewise sealed off from loved ones who live abroad
and denied freedom of movement for purposes of education, medical care,
leisure, or work.

The four internationals attempted to peacefully exit Gaza through Israeli
controlled Erez crossing on August 19th; Israel denied the exit, stating
that the activists had entered Gaza illegally by sea, even though that
voyage had been formally allowed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and
Internal Affairs Ministry, according to newspaper reports. An official
statement by Israel’s Defence Ministry (August 25th) declared the Free
Gaza Movement did not violate any laws, and that their action posed “no
security threat” (Ha’aretz).

Diplomatic channels are trying to negotiate the exit of the human rights
workers, who wish, like Palestinians, to exercise their human rights under
Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: (1) Everyone has
the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each
state and (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his
own, and to return to his country.

Erez Crossing

by Donna Wallach:

“I along with others from Free Gaza Movement decided not to return with
the SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty to Cyprus and instead to remain in Gaza
Strip for a while to continue the work of breaking the siege. Throughout
the time I am staying here I will participate with the others in various
actions in Rafah, Gaza City, and other areas throughouth the Gaza Strip,
including going out in fishing boats to challenge the Israeli Navy
preventing the Palestinian fishermen from fishing more than 6 miles out.
In addition, we are re-organizing ISM Rafah, to do Palestinian led
solidarity work here.

“This past Friday a 64 year-old Palestinian woman from Beit Hanoun, Gaza
Strip arrived to the Erez crossing accompanied by all of the remaining
members of the Free Gaza Movement. She has been suffering for seven months
with a tumor on her spine. Without the necessary surgery granted her by
St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem, she will become paralyzed and will live
in contant pain, from what I understand. We, FGM members, walked in front
of her as a protection for her to not be shot by the Israeli soldiers
guarding their border. She was being pushed in a wheelchair. Slowly we
approached the Israeli side, holding our arms in the air and many of us
clutching our passports.

“A Palestinian man was the liason between Dr. Mona El-Farra and the
Israeli “authorities”. Dr. Mona El-Farra was the main organizer for this
action of bringing this 64 year-old woman to cross the Erez checkpoint.
The Palestinian man kept on telling us that we needed to stop because the
Israelis told him they were going to shoot us. We decided it was more
important to challenge the Crime Against Humanity of Israel not permitting
this woman to receive the urgent medical treatment she needed, so we
continued to walk towards the Israeli gate with our arms up in the air. We
finally reached the Israeli gate without a shot being fired, not a bullet
not a tear gas cannister or a sound bomb. In the end though, the Israelis
heartlessly told the woman she had to go back home, but could return an
8th time.

“On Sunday 31st August, we from FGM arrived at about 9:00am from Rafah,
the southernmost area in Gaza Strip, to Erez crossing, the northernmost
area in Gaza Strip. We came to continue standing in solidarity with the
woman from the village of Beit Hanoun. We arrived late and she and Dr.
Mona El-Farra had already left for the border. We gathered inside the
crude fenced in area where all Palestinians and others wait for permission
to cross the dirt pathway to arrive to the Israeli gate. We waited hours,
then we heard that the woman was turned back again, with ridiculous excuse
that a member of her family must accompany her into Israel to the
hospital. This woman came back, yet was not defeated. Almost all the
members of her family have been wrongfully blacklisted by Israel, meaning
that they cannot enter the Apartheid State of Israel. Finally the woman’s
75 year-old husband was granted permission to enter Israel with her. After
he arrived to Erez and the paper work for him was filled out, they went
off to the Israeli side. We continued to wait in the heat to hear that she
had crossed and was inside the Israeli ambulance that would take her to
the hospital and to her surgery which was supposed to have started on
Sunday. Dr. Mona El-Farra told us that she continued to tell the Israeli
authorities that members of the Free Gaza Movement were waiting at Erez to
ensure that the woman would enter this time and that we were willing to
die, we would walk again to the border even if the soldiers would shoot
and kill us, we would do what it takes so that the Israelis would allow
her to enter, which they finally did. The 8th time was the charm for this
very brave and courageous woman sitting in a wheelchair who defied the
Israelis with all of their gunpower.”

31 August 2008
Donna Wallach, Free Gaza Movement