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Special Peace Team to Gaza, February 22, 2009


Today we traveled from Cairo eastward to Al Arish, where we arrived by bus soon after 11:00pm. It is 27 miles from Rafah. While on the bus we got word from one of our friends in Gaza that the Rafah Crossing, which had been closed since last Wednesday, was open today and will be open tomorrow. We are expecting to enter Gaza in the morning.

There are two Rafahs. In 1982, as a result of the Camp David Accords, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and the city of Rafah was divided. One Rafah remains part of the Gaza Strip. The other Rafah is part of Egypt. To cope with the division, smugglers made tunnels, connecting the two parts. These tunnels became an integral part of Rafah's economy on both sides.

Families were divided when that split took place. As the Israeli Occupation of Gaza grew more oppressive, Israel built a huge security wall along the border with Egypt. It was difficult for families to see one another, though living perhaps a few football fields' distance away.

In 2007 Israel began a closure of the Gaza Strip, which continues to this day. Increasingly Gazans have been without adequate food, water, medicine, and many basic necessities of life. Smuggling basic necessities has been a lifeline for Rafah in Gaza. Smuggling has included weapons used by Hamas to fight the occupation.

During the terrible 22 day Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip that ended January 18, Israel continually bombed suspected tunnels along the border with Egypt. It was not only horrible for the people of Gazan Rafah, but also for Rafah in Egypt.

Egypt, which signed a treaty with Israel, tightened control over the border. It has intensified efforts to stop arms smuggling via the underground tunnels. During the invasion it made aid distribution through the Rafah Crossing difficult. Near the end of January it installed surveillance cameras along the 8 1/2 mile border with Gaza to detect smuggling activity. The United States is pledging $32 million in detection equipment, and offering army engineers to provide assistance on the ground.

All of this activity makes life a hell for Gazans. What will we see when we enter Rafah, Gaza City, and other parts of the Strip? We brace ourselves for the devastation we will witness. We will look into the eyes of our friends, and continue to walk with them, and we will tell the world of their suffering and their cry for justice.

--Liz and Peter

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