BEIRUT: Politicians from the March 14 and March 8 coalitions agree on little. But amid the war in Gaza, leaders from both sides of the political divide expressed their support for Palestinians by visiting the embattled area.
A delegation from the March 14 coalition visited the Gaza Strip in November, shortly after the cease-fire ended the eight-day war between Israel and Palestinian factions. The visit came after Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, who is from the March 8 camp, and other Arab ministers visited the strip in the middle of Israel’s aggression. Sidon MP Bahia Hariri and a delegation from the city traveled there in December.
And Lebanese politicians aren’t the only ones traveling to Gaza to show their solidarity. Activists are also seeking to travel to the territory, though they face hurdles.
They say it is rare for them to be granted permission to enter, even after filing a formal application with the Egyptian authorities.
“Even if you fill out an application and have an invitation from an organization in Gaza and have all the right documents, you will be denied entry, which was what happened with my friends,” said Farah Rowaysati, a Lebanese activist.
“As far as I know, nothing has changed after the offensive. The border isn’t exactly open,” she told The Daily Star.
Rowaysati’s Lebanese friend tried to enter with the Egyptian convoy that traveled to Gaza during the Israeli offensive. “They gave permission for others, [but] he is Lebanese; he was not granted permission to cross.”
Rowaysati arrived there shortly before the offensive by coordinating with friends to enter via a tunnel. She did not try to pass through the Rafah border crossing, saying she knew that most Arabs were forbidden entry.
Getting inside Gaza turned out to be easier than leaving, for Rowaysati.
“I was kind of trapped for three days until I had to leave because my visa [to Egypt] expired the same day. So we drove to the Rafah border crossing, without making any previous coordination,” she said. “There were still some people responsible for the tunnels, so I kind of had to convince the guy to let me through. You have to pay when you go in and when you go out, it costs like 100 shekels [each way].”
Still, her experience has left her eager to go back to Gaza again. “I’m a huge supporter of the Palestinian cause and I’ve been trying to go to Gaza ever since the Gaza Freedom March three years ago,” she explained. “I definitely want to go back to Gaza. I did not wish to leave, had it not been for the Israeli offensive.”
According to the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanese seeking to travel to Gaza must fill out a visa application provided by the embassy, specifying the reason for their visit. The expected dates of travel should be noted as well, and passport photocopies should be provided.
The application is sent to the Interior Ministry’s Authority of Passports, Immigration and Nationality in Egypt. It takes at least 10 working days for the applicant to receive an answer and, potentially, a permit to enter.
Abed Atta, a Palestinian activist living in Lebanon, said he was determined to get to the Gaza Strip, with the hope of staying in Palestine for the rest of his life.
“I tried to visit Ramallah, which is my hometown, but it did not work,” he said. “I wish I could go to Gaza or Ramallah and never return.”
Atta lamented that the Palestinian Authority passport he carried allowed him to travel everywhere except the territories occupied in 1967.
But according to the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut, Palestinians carrying a PA passport or a Lebanese Refugee Travel Document can apply to go to Gaza as well.
The Egyptian Embassy says that each application, whether from a Lebanese or a Palestinian, is considered independently.
Over one-and-half-million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
Israel withdrew in 2005 and the area came under the control of Hamas in 2007.
A senior source from General Security said Lebanese authorities have no problem with Lebanese nationals going to Gaza. “This is something new for us ... but there is no problem as long as the Lebanese passport has no Israeli stamp. Gaza is no longer an occupied territory,” he said.
Journalists in Lebanon wishing to travel to Gaza must send a request to the Egyptian Embassy’s media adviser in Beirut, who forwards it to Egypt’s Information Ministry for approval.
The request must include an invitation for media coverage in Gaza or a proof that the applicant is a journalist.
Once the request is approved, the applicant can travel to Egypt where he or she receives a permit from the country’s State Information Service to enter the Gaza Strip. – Additional reporting by Annie Slemrod