On March 18 I went straight to the manager of the main terminal for transport between Al Arish and Rafah and explained to him what I am doing, and that locals had told me it’s not a good idea to hitch hike in North Sinai. He kindly provided me with transportation to Rafah.
After getting to Rafah Crossing safely I explained to the Egyptian border guards what I am doing. They refused to let me cross. They asked me to go back to Cairo and the British embassy, to get a special visa to go to Gaza. This would involve getting in touch with an organisation with an interest in Gaza, to see if they can appprove my peace pilgrimage. With this approval and permission from the embassy, the border guards said I would be able to depart Egypt for the Gaza strips in the land of Palestine.
My reply to them was simple and clear, I said “This border has been created by our hands. Let me, ‘the man of peace’, go through this land, it is a way to say yes to peace which we all desperately need, especially here and now in the land known as Palestine”.
As I was speaking to the guards some people who were working at the gate heard what I am all about and spread the word around that “This man wants to abolish all the artificially created borders, including this one here, he is doing this peace mission alone and not for any organisation or government!” So then I had to sit down and explain to the people more about what I am doing, especially the younger generation were interested and quite happy to hear what I had to say. They offered to write me a letter of support in my notepad and some of them even offered to get me to Gaza through a secret tunnel. I thanked them and said “We have to get rid of this border so that everything which is necessary to life can go through here and not through dangerous tunnels.”
At 4:30pm the border officially closes and the army moves in and takes everyone out of the area, and if anyone refuses they take them out by force. So I had to explain again what I am doing and asked if would be okay for me to set up my camp there. The soldiers made contact with their superior and after about half an hour another pick-up full of military personnel turned up and they told me I have to go all the way outside the area, even outside the UN camp area as well. They seemed quite scared.
After leaving Port Said in the north of Egypt I had found that the area from Al Kantara towards Al Arish is very military. It even reminded me of Iraq, especially in Al Arish and then out towards Rafah and the surrounding area. Apparently this has happened after about 16 Egyptian military personnel were killed by insurgents last year.
Anyway, after a few hours scouting about I managed to speak to a coffee shop owner and he kindly let me to sleep inside overnight and even offered me some basic dinner and breakfast, which I want to thank him for here.
Next day I went straight back to the gate again, this time to speak to the manager and show them my translated message in Arabic and the Occupy support letter, which together I hoped would ease my passage. Unfortunately after about an hour in the queue, and even though everyone was showing me support, they said that I am not going anywhere with just this.
While in the queue I was speaking to a kind young person who was very supportive and he asked me to stay at his place for the night so he could show me around the area and see the life of the Bedouin, which is similar here and in Gaza on the other side of the Rafah gate. I accepted his kind offer to stay and decided that next day I’d travel back to Al Arish.
I really enjoyed staying with the Bedouin and seeing their way of life and their places for gathering and socialising after work. The young guy even took me to near where the Egyptian, Israeli and Gaza areas meet, with his motorcycle. After I’d enjoyed their good hospitality and had thanked them, he also helped me to get back to Al Arish.
From Al Arish I tried to go to the next gate into Palestine, in the south east of Egypt, but I was told by some people at the bus terminal that I have to find a different route and it will take me more than a day, so I decided to go back to the kind person I met on my first day in Al Arish, which is where I am now writing this.
I hope tomorrow I’ll find some alternative way to meet the next challenge of my peace mission.