Wednesday, July 08, 2009

"You will never leave Gaza"

AS if Israeli piracy and kidnapping of aid workers was not enough, Egyptian authorities helping maintain the siege of Gaza are not only holding up relief supplies and harassing international volunteers trying to get into the Strip, but have given a new twist to their dirty game, by stopping two people leaving, according to a message received today.

The message, posted in among other places the Just Peace UK group on Yahoo says:

Action alert for Jenny and Natalie – “You will never leave Gaza”

Jenny and Natalie, both British passport holders, and both long term human
rights workers in the Gaza strip, are being prevented from leaving Gaza via the
Rafah Crossing. Please take action on their behalf.

Jenny Linnell is a co-founder of the ISM Rafah group, and an original crew
member of one of the "Free Gaza" boats. For the last year she has been
accompanying Palestinians and documenting events in the Gaza strip, both before,
during and after the war. You can see footage of her work with fishermen and
farmers under fire at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDD8ANFgwtA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTUYivihoTE&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Ffishingu...

Natalie, from Lebanon (but with a British passport) also entered Gaza via one
of the Free Gaza boats and has been working as part of the International
Solidarity movement within Gaza since November 2008. You can see her work at
http://gaza08.blogspot.com/


Since the end of May Jenny has been trying to leave and return home via the
border crossing at Rafah into Egypt. She keeps getting turned away, most
recently under pretty extreme circumstances, as outlined below. Natalie also
needs to leave Gaza in order to take up her place at a British University. The
Egyptian Border Guards told both women that they were being refused exit because
of their work with the Free Gaza boats. They were told that they would 'never be
let out'.


Natalie has written an account of their treatment, and their inhuman treatment
of so many Palestinians at the Rafah crossing, in ‘The Gates of Hell’

http://gaza08.blogspot.com/
(June 30th post)


For the sake of both women and other peace workers it is vital that this
treatment is not allowed to continue unchallenged. Please help us get them back
by ringing the British Foreign office and the Egyptian Embassy in London.



The Egyptian Embassy in London
phone 020 7499 3304/2401
Fax: +44 (0)20 7491 1542
The British Foreign Office
Middle East Desk
Tel: +44 (0)20 70088784
Email: jill.bayl...@... and trish.wi...@...



Or the Consular team: phone the Foreign office on +44 (0)2070081500 and ask to
be put through to the Consular Assistance team, ( who are there to assist
British travellers when abroad).



If you get a chance to mail me to let me know when you rang, and how it went, it
would be great for helping us keep tabs on how effectively the mobilising going.
Many many thanks on behalf of Jenny, Natalie and their friends and family.


Liz Snook. lizthesnook at gmail.com.
(UK support team for Jenny and Natalie)

Sample letter:

Dear sir/ madam

I am concerned about the continued refusal at the Egyptian Border with Gaza to
let British citizens Jenny Linnell and Natalie Abou Chakra leave Gaza for return
via Egypt to the UK. In the past months they have been engaged in humanitarian
work in Gaza and it is important that as British Citizens they must be given
whatever legal protection and entitlement is necessary for their safe return to
the UK.

They had been assured that their documentation was in order and yet on the 28th
of June it was deemed to be inadequate despite assurances made to the contrary.
There appears to be a missing link in the coordination between the MFA and the
Egyptian Intelligence Services, or between these offices and the officials
working in the crossing, resulting in Ms Linnell and Ms Abou Chakras continued
refused entry into Egypt.

As a matter of urgency, it is essential that a greater level of assurance is
acquired from the MFA that this situation does not arise again, either through
further coordination or documentation, or by the physical presence of a
representatives to ensure the border guards at the Egyptian crossing implement
what appears to have been agreed by more senior Egyptian officials.

The women have every reason to believe that simple reiterations of documentation
and assurances alone will not be sufficient. They have put their faith in these
mechanisms for over a month now, with no effect. They first approached the
British Embassy in Cairo on the 31st of May. On the 9th of June they were told
that they had the required coordination and paperwork from the MFA, this was
faxed through to the British Embassy in Cairo. They took a copy of this fax to
the Crossing when they attempted to pass. They had been told that it was
acceptable for British nationals to leave before the date of the official
opening of the Crossing so they attempted to cross on the 10th of June. After
several hours and several trips backwards and forwards by the by the Palestinian
official responsible for coordination they were told that the Egyptian
Intelligence office at the Crossing had informed him that we were not allowed to
go through at that time and said things would work out once the Crossing opened. Despite several calls to Ms. Hayek from the MFA, they were refused entry.

On Saturday 27th June, 2009, the first day of the officially announced three-day
opening of the Rafah Crossing, 4 British citizens including Ms Linnell and Ms
Abou Chakra passed through six phases of checkpoints, before finally being
allowed onto a bus waiting before the gates to the Egyptian side of the
Crossing. This meant that they were still on the Palestinian side, in a bus in a
queue of around seven buses and dozens of ambulances, stranded waiting for the
Egyptians to open the entry gate to the Egyptian terminal. At 7.30pm local time,
the Egyptians called the Palestinians to return back. The Egyptians then allowed
some ambulances through, although 20 ambulances and the buses were left stranded
again until 11pm, when all were returned back to Gaza.
The following day, Sunday 28th June, the four British nationals headed to the
crossing in the early morning. At 2pm they were asked to get on a bus heading to
the Egyptian gate. At 3pm, the four British nationals had gained entry to the
Egyptian terminal. At 7.30pm, the other two British nationals were allowed into
Egypt, however Ms. Linnell and Ms. Abou Chakra were told their passports were
being checked and were then questioned by the border officials regarding the
purpose of their stay in Gaza, their arrival, and marital status. An hour later,
Ms. Linnell and Ms. Abou Chakra's names were called as part of the list of those
to be “returned back” to Gaza. The afore-mentioned protested against this,
thinking that there must have been a misunderstanding, reiterated that they had
"tanseeq", or coordination from the MFA based on the request of the British
Embassy and repeatedly showed the document from the MFA.

They were told by a uniformed officer that the faxed document was in fact a
letter from the British Embassy and what they actually needed was a letter from
the Egyptian Government, despite the fact that the document was written on
letter-headed notepaper from the MFA emblazoned with a governmental emblem and
that it bore a governmental stamp below the text. They were also told that they
weren't being allowed to pass because the British Embassy hadn't approved of
their departure from Gaza.

The officers and Intelligence personnel threw the faxed document on the ground.
Ms. Linnell and Ms. Abou Chakra attempted to refuse to leave the Crossing,
demanding to know why the permission they had previously been granted was not
now being honoured. No answer was given although an Intelligence officer there,
Mr. Saeid, insisted that they needed “tassdeeq” which constitutes a call by the
MFA to their office at the Crossing. He said the document from the MFA meant
nothing. Ms. Dina Hayek from the MFA had previously explained to Ms. Linnell
that it would have been impossible for her to have sent the fax to the British
Embassy without the approval of the Intelligence Services.

After approaching other Intelligence officers, they were denied entry to the
Government Security office that they'd been recommended. At around twelve
midnight, when one of the women was speaking to the media about the situation at
the Crossing, Mr. Saeid approached her saying “I will make sure you will not
leave Gaza,” and assured her “We are untouchable” (literally, meen hayhasibna).
During these hours, Ms. Linnell and Ms. Abou Chakra were speaking on the
telephone with family members who contacted the British Embassy in Cairo. “We
are working on it,” was a repetitive answer.. Hours later, they received a
'phone call from Caroline, the Duty Officer at the Embassy saying, “I've seen
this happen before,” “Wait till tomorrow when we can sort things out,” and “You
have everything you need to cross, the problem is from them [Egyptian
Intelligence Services].”

The two British women informed the Embassy that they would remain in the
crossing until an explanation was given as to why they had been denied entry
based on unjustifiable and potentially false grounds. The Egyptian officials at
the border asked how they entered Gaza, and on explaining that they arrived on
the Free Gaza Movement Boats they were told, “So, you don’t need us to answer.
You already know why you’re not being allowed out.”

This would seem to suggest that they were detained as a form of unofficial
punishment for their humanitarian work in Gaza. This is extremely alarming.
Officers then forcibly removed them from the departure hall to where there was a
bus waiting outside. Moments later, Ms. Abou Chakra was also assaulted and lost
sight of Ms. Linnell. Officers again threatened Ms. Abou Chakra with her
continued detention in Gaza saying saying “We will make sure you will never get
out,” and, “You are lucky you are not in Jordan. Our boots would be in your
mouths by now.”

The treatment Ms. Linnell and Ms. Abou Chakra were subjected to was abusive and
unnecessary. The Egyptian authorities at the Crossing have failed to acknowledge
their right of passage. As is evident from the verbal exchange mentioned above,
this is a ...

As is evident from the verbal exchange mentioned above, this is a direct
challenge from the Egyptian authorities to the democratic rights of any person
who has been working aiding the desperate situation in Gaza.

I would be grateful if you would fully investigate this matter further and urge
you to act on this information to secure an efficient and safe passage from Gaza
for these two humanitarian workers, which they have so far been unjustly denied.
I would appreciate you keeping me informed of the results of your enquiries.
--Yours sincerely

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2 Comments:

At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlie I hope you got my apolgy for belonging to that campaign.

I am not a member now.

The Internet is so rapid and I get so much stuff I didn;t realise what I was joining.

Best wishes for your excellent Blog.

Andrew

 
At 5:43 PM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

Andrew is referring to a "Proud to buy Israeli goods" campaign. I thought this was a provocation, and did not wish to associate with him. Glad to hear it was a misunderstanding.

 

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