Ill and hungry, Palestinians in Egypt long for home

TO EVERY SINGLE GOVERNMENT AND POLITICIAN RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS SITUATION:

WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO THESE PEOPLE?? WHY DON’T YOU ACT?? STOP RELATING TO THEM AS PAWNS IN POLITICAL GAMES – THEY ARE HUMANS LIKE EACH SINGLE ONE OF YOU!!

OPEN THE BOARDER AND LET THEM GO HOME!!!

By Deena Douara / Daily Star Egypt

AL-ARISH: The thousands of Palestinians stranded in Al-Arish and Rafah are broke, hungry, and homeless, but you won’t hear a single one asking for these basic necessities.

“We just want to go home,” is the anthem among these Palestinians, young and old, poor and less poor.

“We don’t want their food,” shouts one woman, “we won’t eat or drink, just get us back.” “The Palestinian people don’t get hungry,” she adds.

She stays in one of the better types of accommodation — at an outdoor community center where tents were pitched up — along with about 70 others.

When asked for her name she responds, “My name is Palestine!”

She has been in the camp for over a month and a half and says she has developed diabetes during her forced stay in Egypt.

Everybody here knows the exact number of days they have been away without thought or hesitation. One child even responds “since Wednesday,” by which he means Wednesday nearly two months ago.

Nine-year-old Maged and his younger sister have been in Egypt with their father for 46 days, returning from pilgrimage in Mecca, while their mom waits for them back in Gaza. He is visibly tired and reticent, uneager to discuss his thoughts and feelings on their situation.

Other children are more willing to talk but all have the same thing to say: they miss their siblings and families and only know they are here because the border has been closed.

That these children do not know who to blame is not only due to their young age, but reflects the fact that their parents and the Palestinian community trapped in Egypt do not uniformly blame one party over another. More often, they are uninterested in blame or blame everyone equally: Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, and Arab leaders.

“What did we get from any of them?” says the woman from the community center. “We need a leader from outside.”

That equal blame may start to change, however, as many are pleading directly to Mubarak to reopen the border. “Egypt can [let people cross], it’s not that they can’t do it,” says one Palestinian waiting to cross from Rafah.

Factional tensions are also not apparent amongst those waiting to return home.

Contrary to media reports, most of those interviewed by The Daily Star Egypt were not fleeing violence in Gaza but were abroad seeking medical treatment. Regarding the possibility of crossing through an Israeli-controlled checkpoint, while few refused the idea, most did not seem to care which gate they crossed through so long as they got home.

“I don’t care who rules Gaza, I don’t care about politics,” says Moeen Fayez Khudeir “we ask both Fatah and Hamas not to use us as pressure cards against each other.”

Khudeir stands at the old Red Crescent camp in Al-Arish, arm in a sling, waiting with hundreds of Palestinians to see if his name will be called out to receive any sort of assistance. He had injured his arm while working on a construction site and had come to Al-Arish for medical treatment 50 days ago. He sold his blanket the day before for a paltry sum of money to survive.

Waiting for him in Gaza is his second wife and the firstborn son he has been waiting for for eleven years, a child he is yet to see.

“This humanitarian crisis surely supersedes any agreements, or should people have to die for it?”

“We are neither Fatah nor Hamas,” says another woman to anyone who will listen to her. Local coordinator for Palestinian Affairs Abdel Sattar El-Ghalban in the neighboring town of Sheikh Zwayed, who is housing 150 Palestinians in his care, says that may soon change. “It is very possible that tensions [between factions] could erupt,” he says, adding that “sparks” are already beginning to ignite.

If Palestinians are left in their current situation much longer “they will explode” he says.
According to Palestinian Ibrahim Awad, also in Sheikh Zwayed, the situation cannot continue much longer: “We’ll storm [the crossing] if we have to.”

Awad, frustrated and irate, explains that he can point to his house in Palestinian Rafah from this side of the border, where his children and grandchildren await him.

“Today we’re quiet and we say ‘tomorrow,’ ‘tomorrow,’ for Egypt’s sake,” he says. “But we cannot wait more than this. Neither Israel nor [anyone else] will keep us here.”

While many are just as angry, diabetes, kidney failure, heart problems, cancer and various other injuries and diseases may prevent some from the kind of active revolt Awad alludes to.

Two men here walk with bandages on their feet. While one man was shot in the foot while fighting for Fatah in Gaza, the other is not so lucky. He is a diabetic and so his plastering forebodes amputation.

Those in Sheikh Zwayed claim that 28 Palestinians in their area have died and been transferred home already.

Others will simply not have enough energy to revolt. While the Red Crescent, the Physicians’ Syndicate, and a private group of activists could be seen distributing meals and foodstuffs, they are not enough.

In Sheikh Zwayed, for example, the one daily meal is expected to feed about four people, as 400 meals are delivered in this area in which 1,500 Palestinians are currently residing.

Other Palestinians are relying on each other and locals for food and shelter.

Musa Abou-Ayaad in Rafah took in seven Palestinians he found on the asphalt and under trees. He says it was “a responsibility, a duty,” rather than charity. However, not everybody is sheltering those in need for love of God.

One man who has been in Egypt for 45 days to undergo triple bypass surgery and treatment for his children’s epilepsy, says he pays LE 25 a day for accommodation. Others say they pay up to LE 70 to sleep in a home or chalet with at least thirty other Palestinians.

Money for shelter, however, competes with money for medicine and treatment. One man’s fury echoes across the Rafah farmland as he tosses a bag open to display the X-rays and boxes of medicine he has spent all his money on, shouting that he does not have enough left now even for a ride into town.

“What am I to do?” he pleads desperately.

The estimated 6,000 Palestinians stranded in Egypt since the Rafah border crossing into Gaza was closed a month and a half ago are hoping their voices will soon be heard. With additional reporting by Abdel Rahman Hussein.
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