Today we arrived in Gaza. It is very hard to believe and it is very hard to describe how I am feeling. We left Al Arish this morning around 9a.m. and made the 40 minute drive to Rafah. This morning Medea and the group told us that at their meeting last night with the Red Crescent, they received greetings from the wife of President Mubarak and an assurance that we would be getting into Gaza today. This was really hard to imagine since so many have been waiting for days to get in and humanitarian aid is rotting at the border. It is obvious that the Egyptian government does not want the negative attention that would come from not letting our group in. Our group is full of journalists and activists that would be sure to get the message out that a humanitarian mission is being denied entrance into Gaza. It is hard enough to get a sheet of paper into Gaza and we got not only 59 people but a bus as well.
When we arrived at the border, there was a lot of confusion as to what would happen exactly. We were out of the buses waiting when in true CODEPINK fashion we started singing songs of peace. There are a lot of talented people with us and we actually sounded pretty good. We had our large pink banners out. Inside the terminal took a lot of time – passports were taken and counted and stamped- misplaced, found, more confusion……..and finally after many hours we were on the buses and on our way to Gaza City.
Once we cleared the Egyptian side, we were greeted by the mayor of Rafa, journalists and other Palestinians. They told us of how the bombs destroyed their infrastructure and that there is nothing to rebuild with. They told of us how many women and children were killed. They told of the civilian men that were killed. They greeted the Corries warmly and with much enthusiasm. Rachel Corrie is truly a hero in Palestine. We heard actual bombing nearby during this period. The mayor talked about the tunnel s and said that without them, they would have nothing. He said it is so sad that they have had people die in the tunnels but it is the only way that they can survive. He said that no other country has had to live under a siege of this magnitude or for this duration – now it is almost 2 years.
Seeing my first bombed out buildings, flattened homes, destruction…..was shocking and horrifying. Can you picture a building destroyed beside a playground that still stands. Police stations, government buildings, offices, homes…….destroyed. This is only what we saw on our short drive to Gaza City. I cannot even imagine how much more we will see in days ahead. I hope that we have the strength and the wisdom to hear the stories, witness the devastation and be able to bring these stories home with us. The children walk without joy, there is an obvious sadness in their eyes….I could see it on the bus. They didn’t return our waves or our smiles. I am so anxious to meet women and children over the coming days and especially tomorrow on International Women’s Day.
Our UN orientation was quick and simple. The UN representatives have worked hard to arrange our itinerary and our accommodations. We were warned not to walk in the rubble. We were warned about unexploded ordinance – warned about the dangers of white phosphorus that burns to the bone in seconds. The UN employees are in a Level 4 state which means they cannot be out after dark, they have to call before moving locations, they have to travel in armed cars and this is the final level before evacuation. We also had a question and answer period with 2 Palestinian men about the political situation. I am now in the Al Quds hotel in Gaza City and this will be my home for 4 days. I have a wonderful roommate from Tacoma, Washington near Seattle
Congratulations everyone, perseverance and determination pays off, yet again. What an amazing way to celebrate International Women's Day. I'll be wearing my Code Pink ribbon around my neck today at work in celebration and honor of all those amazing women out there who have and will make a difference in this world. Get your boots on girls!