The saga of journalist and blogger Laila El-Haddad, who writes at Raising Yousuf and Noor: diary of a Palestinian mother, was carefully covered by Global Voices last week. However, as El-Haddad moved into her 36th hour at the airport and her tweeting and blogging ceased, fans, friends, and readers became concerned. When we left off, El-Haddad had been deported back to the United States, despite carrying the proper documentation to enter Gaza. She was concerned, for her U.S. visa had expired. Here, she tells her story:
The trips to the outdoor recreation store- in preparation for what I anticipated to be a long and tortuous journey across Rafah Crossing to Gaza. The inspect repellent; the mosquito netting; the water purifier; the potty toppers for my kids ad the granola bars and portion sized peanut butter cups. This time, I wanted to be ready, I thought to myself-just in case I got stuck at the Crossing. The Crossing. My presumptuousness is like a dull hit to the back of my head now.
Speaking of her documentation, she explains:
I hold a Palestinian Authority passport. It replaced the “temporary two-year Jordanian passport for Gaza residents” that we held until the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the mid '90s, which itself replaced the Egyptian travel documents we held before that. A progression in a long line of stateless documentation.
It is a passport that allows no passage. A passport that denied me entry to my own home. This is its purpose: to mark me, brand me, so that I am easily identified and cast aside without questions; it is convenient for those giving the orders. It is a system for the collective identification of those with no identity.
El-Haddad ensures her readers that she followed proper procedure. She writes that she had no thoughts that she wouldn't be let in:
I did not want to repeat their ordeal, so I called the embassy this time, which assured me the protocol had changed: now, it was only Palestinian men who were not allowed to fly to or enter Egypt. Women were, and would get their visa at the Egyptian port of destination. I was given a signed and dated letter (April 6, 2009) by the consul to take with me in case I encountered any problems: “The Consular Section of the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt hereby confirms that women, who are residents of the Gaza Strip, and who hold passports issued by the Palestinian Authority are required to get their visa to enter Egypt at Egyptian ports and NOT at the various Egyptian consulates in the United States on their way to the Gaza Strip for the purpose of reaching their destination (i.e. Gaza Strip)” it read.
She describes the attitudes of Egyptian authorities, depicting the debasement she and others were subjected to:
Officer #1 divided up the room into regions: the 5 or so south Asians who were there for whatever reason-expired paperwork, illegal documentation- were referred to as “Pakistan” when their attention was needed; The snoozing, sleep-talking woman in the back was “Indonesia”; and the impeccably dressed Guinean businessman, fully decked in a sharp black suit and blue lined tie, was “Kenya” (despite his persistence please to the contrary). There was a group of Egyptian peasants with forged, fake, or wrongly filed Id cards and passports: a 54 year old man whose ID said he was born in 1990; another who left his ID in his village 5 hours away, and so on.
As we now know, El-Haddad was deported back to the United States, the country from whence she had came and for where she did not have a passport or permanent residency. Upon arriving, she tweeted:
She later described in more detail:
Eventually, we reached Dulles Airport. I walked confidently to the booth when it was my turn.
What was I going to say? How do I explain this? The man took one look at my expired visa, and my departure stamps.
“How long have you been gone?”
“36 hours” I replied bluntly.
“Yes,I see that. Do you want to explain?”
“Sure. Egypt forbade me from returning to Gaza”.
“I don't understand- they denied you entry to your own home?”
“I don't either, and if I did, I wouldn't be here.”
With that, I was given a a stamp and allowed back inside.
Although El-Haddad and her two children became mildly ill following their trip, all three are now safe and in the United States, a country which has been a second home to them for some time now. El-Haddad concludes:
Now that we are warm; clothes; showered, rested and recovered from whatever awful virus we picked up in the bowels of Cairo airport, I keep thinking to myself: what more could I have done?
“The quintessential Palestinian experience,” historian Rashid Khalidi has written, “takes place at a border, an airport, a checkpoint: in short, at any one of those many modern barriers where identities are checked and verified.”
In this place, adds Robyn Creswell, “connection” turns out to be only another word for separation or quarantine: the loop of airports never ends, like Borges’s famous library. The cruelty of the Palestinian situation is that these purgatories are in no way extraordinary but rather the backdrop of daily existence.”