Dec 2014: dear friends and colleagues, our Gaza trip will still be happening, but I wanted to let you know it is now postponed, possibly for about 6 months. Here is an edited message of the email I’ve sent to friends and donors that I had contacts for, explaining why… (I am hoping this post will reach remaining donors)
Frustrating though it is to do so, P and I have decided to postpone the Gaza trip that we were meant to be going on at December’s end. The Ansar Beit al-Maqdis attack on an army checkpoint in the Sinai last month that killed 31 soldiers has meant the Rafah border has been closed now for the third week, and the Sinai itself – which holds the road you have to travel for half a day to reach the Rafah border – has been under a state of emergency.
Before this happened, people had been asking me if the various conflicts going on with ISIS were likely to make the Gaza trip more risky and I’d said I didn’t see why it should, and I wasn’t aware of an overt ISIS presence anywhere we were going. When the Sinai got more dangerous I understood it was internal political conflict and was not targeting civilians.
However last week this happened: “five police offiers and soldiers were killed in Egypt after suspected allies of the Islamic State terror group set up roadblocks in the Sinai peninsula. Masked militants blocked roads with pick-up trucks and stopped vehicles with troops or policemen, said government officials. In one attack, near the town of Sheikh Zuweyid, militants dragged three soldiers out of their car and killed them. In the other, two policemen were taken from their vehicle near the border town of Rafah and shot dead. All the victims were off-duty and wearing civilian clothes.”
We looked further into recent developments and found that Ansar Beit al- Maqdis, active in the Sinai for a long time, has just announced (on my birthday, thanks a lot!) itself to be affiliated to ISIS:
Most foreigners don’t use the Rafah border to Gaza but enter through Israel’s Erez border. Being one of the very few exceptions, it would be very hard for us not to stand out, and if we were turned back on our initial attempt at entering Rafah (as has happened to colleagues) we may have to do the journey from Cairo through the Sinai twice or more before even getting in, as well as the return journey.
Thinking back, I don’t remember ever making any decisions related to Palestine volunteering that were based on my own safety. I am finding it very hard to do – the ability to choose safety for yourself or someone you love is a privilege no-one actually in Palestine has, and doing so makes me feel very uncomfortable. I suppose it’s probably good for me to have to accept somewhat humbly that apparently there are times when I will hang onto my privilege as tight as anyone. I guess what it comes down to is I have already lost someone I loved to kidnap and I can’t be doing it again…
…because of work, and that my team takes into account who is available for months ahead when we take client bookings, the fairest thing to do is to postpone for 6 months and reassess leading up to that time. If anyone would like their donations to the trip back, that is of course absolutely fine and please just let me know. I am very happy to keep your donations for the postponed trip (which saves me having to do the fundraising over again!) or redirect/return as you request. £300 from one trip donor has actually just instead gone to a little Gaza family who were in financial difficulty after the dad of the family lost his work as a driver due to developing epilepsy.
Sigh. It is hard to give up seeing my Gaza friends this month, as it is 5 years since I saw them, and some I have not been able to contact via the phone since the last attacks. Meanwhile some of the Gaza ISMers that lived through the last attacks remain in Gaza posting regular reports, and longterm Irish volunteers in Gaza Jenny and Derek have successfully got a donor-funded well installed at Umm al Nasser!