Certainly the situation on the border hasn't changed in the slightest. Aid, all of which, despite assurances to the contrary, is still rotting in El Arish; for Palestinians, most of whom cannot pass, or can pass with difficulty very little has changed. And of course exports are simply not allowed.
I arrived again on foot on Monday morning, was processed with a friendly cup of coffee, and put on the bus to Egypt. This bus only travels about 500 metres, but you must be on it, you cannot walk. The bus took 12 hours to cover this 500 metres the day before, during which time everyone got on and off several times, scrambling to get back on when it moved forward 100 meters, then getting off again to sit in exactly the same place as before, or walk back to the departure lounge to use the toilet.
On the Monday we got through to Egypt at an early 3pm, only 5 hours after arrival. The delay is caused by the Egyptians, who call through the buses when they want them.
Because I am the last of the convoy, travelling alone, I will be transitted with the Palestinians.
They, many having been down this route before, tell me that we will be put on buses, taken under police escort to Cairo airport and deported ~ sorry, transitted to our country of destination. All, or nearly all, Palestinians seem to be treated this way.
Most of my group are travelling to Saudi where they used to work, until the border was sealed. Now after several attempts by most of them, they are being allowed to go back there, but the Egyptians have not, and seemingly will not, grant them visas for Egypt, so they have to travel by escorted transit, which is, to be fair, a not uncommon procedure, and is one that I have certainly experienced widely.
I moved to the transit lounge at about 7pm, after only three hours waiting! A further 5 hours or so lolling about there saw us being loaded up in buses which were fairly comfortable, and a further 4 hours on the parked bus, about 3 or 4 am found us begin slowly moving towards Cairo.
Daylight found us stopping for half an hour at a cafe, the first opportunity to buy food other than sweets since entering the whole system, and the first opportunity to use the toilet in about 8 hours, and then onward to Cairo Airport where we arrived at 10 am or so. We were then processed through passport control twice, making a total of perhaps six times on the journey, and were led outside the terminal building to our Transit Lounge.
I think the Palestinians were not expecting me to be taken there with them, and when I arrived, I was warmly welcomed and given scraps of bread and cheese which people had saved from their journeys. People told me, partly with satisfaction that a Westerner was experiencing their plight, at last, and partly with a sense of concern for my delicate constitution, that NOW, I could understand the Palestinian condition!
The collection of rooms was a maximum of 13 metres by 27 metres, but this was divided into rooms in haphazard fashion, some of which were locked and a large one of which was a toilet and shower room, the only one. The only windows were the double entrance doors, at the end of a corridor leading into the complex. The ceiling was low, about 8 feet, although there did at least seem to be some ventilation.
There was no facility for rubbish disposal, and internally, the rooms were entirely unsupervised, so that any intimidation or racketeering could not have been controlled.
Our buses deposited about 150 people into this space, but it was not empty when we arrived, there were people there who had spent days, and one man claimed a month, though I could not verify it. These long termers had staked out scraps of prayer mats as beds on the dirty stone flagged floor, and sat there guarding their spaces. I took a couple of photos, but was warned against it. But here they are.
The problem for the Saudi workers was that they had expired visas, and no-one has political representation in Gaza (except the UK!), so to get a new visa, Palestinians must travel to the embassy in Cairo!!!! They cannot get into Egypt to do this however, without convincing the Egyptian authorities that they will, indeed get one, so they have to get a pre-visa pass authorised by the Palestinian representation in Cairo and passed to the Egyptians, and then keep turning up at the Rafah crossing until, magically, one day their name is on a list.
When they get to Cairo, they are kept in this dungeon until the Palestinian representative meets them, gets some paperwork, takes it the Saudi Embassy, and then returns it to them, usually two days later. But even when you get the visa, or work permit, or if you already have it, you must still stay in the hole until it is time for your flight.
In my group there was one American citizen, and apart from me, two British subjects, but no-one took any notice of them! Why?, because they were joint Palestine nationals, and thus 'Palestinians' as far as the Egyptians are concerned.
The Brits contacted the Embassy, and were actually allowed to sit outside the dungeon in the sun 'because they had a small child', although I noticed that other mothers with small children did not manage to achieve this, so maybe being British does have its use.
They had already booked a flight ~ for Sunday, five days time, and they were to be detained until then. I asked why they booked so far ahead, and they answered that they had no idea how long their processing would be, and indeed, it had taken three days already, so taking a gamble on an earlier flight would have been foolhardy.
They had rung the Embassy to try and get the flight re-arranged, but were not being allowed to go to the real transit lounge to do it by themselves. This means that they were under arrest, as far as I can see, by any meaningful definition.
I do not know by what rules a married couple with a child of 2 can be detained in a mixed sex prison for five days without beds, separate bathing, child facilities, rubbish disposal, daylight, privacy, or even food, unless they can afford the inflated prices charged by the runner who goes to the local cafe and brings food back. They are under arrest, not in any sense in transit, and their only crime, as usual, is that they are Palestinian ~ even if they are British as well.
We were all taken under the supervision of a single policeman, to the real transit lounge. Getting my ticket was an interesting experience, but the main point was that I had no freedom of action. Sit here, stand there, bags here, go there, that's the flight and price, take it or leave it and go back to prison.
I was very sorry to leave my acquaintances there:
Ali, the American citizen with an open ticket to Dallas, who had had to wait months for permission from the Egyptians to leave Gaza. The American Embassy had refused to co-ordinate his exit through Rafah, insisting that he go through Israel. He agreed and duly filled out an application for a crossing through Erez, he received an acknowledgment from the embassy that they were processing it, but in five months he had heard nothing else, so had made his own way to Rafah.
There was Sahal, who had been working in Saudi for 30 years and who had not been able to make his annual visit to his parents and family in Gaza for two years before he gave up everything to go back nine months ago, for his daughter's wedding and because his father was 90. He realized that he risked never going back, and indeed his return was after a gap of nine months, and three attempts at the border.
There was also Mahmoud, also a Saudi worker, waiting for his renewed visa from the Saudia embassy, and the man in charge of the battered fragments of bread and cheese that I was regaled with on arrival.
These men, sat disconsolately in a shallow side corridor, on their scraps of carpet, because they had staked out these quieter spots the day before. Along the end of the wall was a row of 'lifers', the long term residents who had been there for up to a month.
One of these men had a family, the woman staying in a side room that had become women only, and joining him only when someone got some food. They had a girl of about 10 who carried things between them with a skip in her step.
People saw me taking photographs and measuring the size of the room, and some at least rallied round and helped. All asked that I 'Tell the World About this", while many more were resigned and weary, but at least looked with a flutter of interest.