Our last day in Cairo was the 3rd of January. Our original plan was to fly to Amman then cross over into Jerusalem and spend a couple days there before heading back to Amman on the 6th to fly back to Canada. Our main goal was to visit and pray in Masjid Al-Aqsa. After everything that happened in Cairo, we left Cairo with the intention to just find the earliest flight out of Amman and get home as quickly as possible, completely bypassing our plans for Jerusalem.
Once we arrived in Amman and realized that all flights were overbooked, we decided on a whim to just go ahead and try to get to Jerusalem anyways. We took a taxi to the King Hussein bridge (about $30 JD). Once at the bridge entrance, we gave our passports to the departures clerk who then told us to get on the charter bus. We got our passports back on the bus with a white stamped paper tucked inside. We paid for our luggage/bus fare ($8 JD) and were on our way. The bus went through a couple checkpoints, one of which someone came on the bus and collected those white stamped papers. The bus then finally made it to the Allenby Terminal where we and our luggage were unloaded from the bus. The baggage clerk took our luggage and put a white sticker on our passports. Then a window clerk looked at our passports and put a red sticker on the back.
After all this, we were finally inside the terminal and went through the security check. The clerk held onto our passports and motioned us off to the side and told us to wait a few minutes for questioning. There were a few other people waiting as well and they said this was normal if you had recently been to other areas in the middle east. After about 2 minutes, we were taken into individual questioning: who we are, where we just came from, why we were there, how come we came through Amman (and not another crossing), how long we were staying, if we planned to visit any other areas, etc. After about 10 minutes of questioning, they gave us back our passports and told us to wait in line to get our entry visas. Five minutes later, we were at the visa window and were asked some more redundant questions. The clerk asked if she could stamp our passport and we asked her to stamp a separate paper instead.
She then gave us a tourism information sheet to fill out. It had basic questions which mirrored those that were asked of us earlier. When they asked where we were coming from, we wrote “Egypt” and when asked what we were there for, we wrote “tourism”. We didn’t disclose the fact that we were there for GFM because that whole plan ended up not happening. After we turned in the form, we were told to wait in the waiting area for further questioning.
It was probably about an hour and a half before we heard anything. First Basem was called in for questioning. The agent seemed really hung up on the fact that we looked completely different from our passport pictures; I now wear the hijab and Basem now wears his beard long and a kufi on his head. Basem was asked about our religiosity and what happened that changed our level of spirituality. After this, Basem came back and said that I did not have to go in.
We waited for another two hours before we heard anything. Finally, they asked us to come into the next waiting area with our bags. We brought our bags into the baggage check area and were told to leave them there for further security checks. We waited just outside this area and had a clear view of what they were doing inside. We saw them completely emptying our bags and checking EVERYTHING inside. Anything that could have been opened and dumped was opened and dumped. They didn’t just search our bags, they ransacked all of our belongings…it was quite the sight!
We again waited for another hour before they asked me to come in for some questioning. By this time they had found our Gaza Freedom March t-shirts and were aware of our activities in Egypt. The agent, Shabak, asked me again why were in Egypt and I told him matter-of-factly that we were there for one reason, which didn’t happen, and were forced to stay in Cairo for 5 days for tourism purposes. He said that we lied by saying we were just there for tourism and should have disclosed the GFM information. I clarified again that GFM didn’t happen and we stated tourism because that is what we put on our Egypt visas as well. I also explained to him that our Jerusalem plans were completely unrelated to the Cairo visit and that we were here on our own personal spiritual journey which we’d been planning for a long time. He said ok, and that now this process would take “an awful long time”, which I accepted and went back to the waiting area.
During all this time, I must say the agents were all very kind and polite to us; they offered us an area to pray when we asked them, they offered us water, they constantly checked on us to make sure we were alright, and one younger person came up to us to ask why we were ther for so long and expressed his condolences for the fact that we were still there after nearly 7 hours.
After about 7 hours of being at the entrance terminal, Shabak asked us to come back into the baggage check area and repack all of our stuff into our bags. After that, they told us that we could have all our stuff back, that there would be no problems, but that that we would be transferred over to the border police who would then make the decision of whether or not to let us into Israel. Just 10 minutes later, we were told to go back to the previous waiting area, where the border police would cooridinate a bus to take us back to the Amman-side of the King Hussein bridge. This was obviously embarrassing since we were the only ones going backwards in the through the terminal. Our passports, which had already been stamped with a visa, were then marked up in a red ink stamp “ENTRY DENIED from Allenby Crossing” — fairly large and obvious. We waited outside for the bus that would take us back to Amman. We asked if this meant we would never be allowed back into Israel; we didn’t get a conclusive answer, but the general idea was most likely NO.
Waiting for the bus, then on the ride back to Amman, it all started to hit me that I may very well never get the chance to enter Jerusalem or pray in Masjid Al-Aqsa. It was very depressing and saddening. I felt personally deprived of Jerusalem and the holy land. Not only were we not allowed to enter Gaza through Rafah, but we were now being denied entry into Jerusalem through Israel. All I could think about was how stupid we were for not disclosing the GFM information on our information form. Why we didn’t completely rid our bags of GFM paraphernelia. Why we didn’t just tell the truth! But then after my head cleared a little, I realized something. In retrospect, remembering everything that happened and the way that it happened made me realize that we were probably never going to be allowed in anyways.
From the second they saw our passports at the first indoor security check, they immediately held onto our passports. I think this was not only because we were just in Cairo, but also the dates we were in Cairo were the exact dates of the GFM trip, which they are obviously well aware of. Also, looking back at all the questions they asked us, it became very clear that not only did they know that we were part of GFM, but they were trying to fish that information out of us. They knew exactly who we were, why we were in Cairo, and that we didn’t get into Gaza as we’d hoped. So now we were trying to enter into Jerusalem, looking completely different from our passport pictures; they thought we had disguised ourselves to look like we were religious so they would let us into Jerusalem. I think they thought we wanted to attempt to get to Gaza through Jerusalem or the West Bank, which is completely ludicrous but I understand where they were coming from. After all we did in Cairo, they obviously didn’t want any trouble in Jerusalem or anywhere in Israel. The troubles and challanges GFM caused the Egyptian government was all over the news by then!
After my initial depression, then completely understanding exactly what happened and why, now we’re at a place where we both feel personally and spiritually deprived of Jerusalem, Palestine, and the Holy Land as a whole. Before this, we both were very passionate about the Palestinian cause, but after being denied entry into both Gaza and the West Bank, we have a much more personal passion for all of this. We now feel like the numerous Palestinians all over the world who cannot even enter back into their own homes! It’s definitely a personal struggle now. It’s a positive thing though because it gives us that real fire in our hearts to motivate us and push us even harder to fight for this issue of liberating the Holy Land, insha’Allah.
The many things we did in Cairo and the many more that will come out of our meetings in Cairo will have much more purpose and substance for us personally, and we can’t wait to get started on all of those initiatives. It would be an understatement if we said that this trip didn’t go as planned! Not one thing went as planned and our trip took on a whole new direction, meaning, and purpose! We found out that Gaza is not only under siege by Israel, but also Egypt! We learned that before we liberate Gaza from the Israelis, we must raise a revolution in Egypt to allow us to break the siege from that side first.
We learned so much about the Egyptian mind-set and just how much work there is to be done in Egypt, but we also come away from this trip with a heightened sense of accomplishment. We really riled up emotions and opened up hearts and minds in Egypt. We planted little seeds in everyone’s consciousness about the Palesinian cause and the fact that so many internationals were willing to converge on a foreign country and rally and protest against that country’s government and policies. So many locals voiced their support of what we were doing and were so happy to see that foreigners could now see the plight of the Egyptian people as well.
El horriya li Ghaza, el horriya li Masr! El shab el masry ma’ana!
(Freedom for Gaza, freedom for Egypt! The Egyptian people are with us!)