From Gaza to New York – Phase 1: Survival
When you usually ask people about their hobbies many of them will mention traveling. I don’t blame them, who wouldn’t enjoy traveling the world and exploring new cultures? I know I would. But if you live in Gaza, traveling can never be your hobby unless you want to kid yourself.
I was shortlisted, chosen and invited by the UN (United Nation) Headquarters in New York for media training. The Palestine, Decolonization and Human Rights Section,
UN Department of Public Information, usually invites Palestinian media practitioners every year for 5 weeks of media training.
I feel like the timing of this is perfect. 2012 has been an overwhelming year, allot of good and bad, but I did achieve allot. I am among the top 5 rankings of the 100 most influential Palestinians in Social media next to names like: Mourid Al Barghouti, Ali Abu Nimah and many other awesome Palestinian public figures. Its surreal and humbling but most of all it gives you reassurance that you have a voice and you are on the right path in getting it heard.
Ofcourse, I was ecstatic. I have been craving New York for nearly a year now and I cant stop saying how much I want to visit it, then the UN training came and actually offered me the chance of making my New York dream come true.
So if you were NOT Palestinian and NOT living in Gaza: All you have to do is visit the nearest US consulate, fill the visa application then head to the airport on the day of the assigned travelling trip. But gladly, I am Palestinian and I do live in Gaza.
So my anticipated trip to New York is divided into a number of phases. Phase 1 is all about survival. Taking it one step at a time but having a nervous breakdown every day. UN provides everything but the US visa, obtaining the visa is our responsibility and I am sure you know how hard obtaining the US visa is.
First, you have to choose between applying for the visa through Jerusalem or Cairo. Its like choosing between dying by a lethal injection or dying by an electric chair. If you choose Jerusalem: It will be hard or even impossible to get an Israeli permit, even if you do, you won't guarantee passing Erez checkpoint (linking between Gaza and the West Bank) peacefully. And you cant guarantee that the Israeli authorities will issue the permit before your actual appointment.
If you choose Cairo: You are risking losing so much time and spending so much effort. You would have to go through Rafah border a couple of times to reach Cairo and apply for the visa and wait for your appointment or maybe head back Gaza and visit Cairo again when the appointment time comes if there is too much time in between. You cant guarantee the always-closed Rafah border, you cant guarantee reaching Cairo and you cant guarantee managing to head back in time for your appointment.
The good news is: Even if you went through all that, you cant guarantee actually obtaining the visa. Good news? Who said good news? I think my dark humor is kicking in.
Say you obtained the visa by a miracle, YOU ARE NOT OVER YET. You still have to cross Rafah border, and what do you know about Rafah border? Aside from the endless hours of waiting on the Egyptian side for no legitimate reason, and aside from all the humiliation you will be showered by the Egyptian border soldiers, you might not be able to guarantee your entry to Egypt and catching your plane on time. Or they might simply ask you to turn back and go home without giving any explanations.
While people worry about going shopping before they travel, we worry about making constant traveling arrangements to guarantee that we actually reach New York.
Whenever I get nervous about the border, the airplane trip, reaching New York, the UN training, thinking about possible futuristic inner conflicts about staying there or coming back, I just stop and remind myself: "Omar, you still haven’t finished your visa application and even when you do you might not be able to attend the appointment, and even if you do you might not get the visa". So, I calm down again for a few seconds and promise myself to take things slower but then I go to being nervous a little afterwards.
This is the price you have to pay when you live in Gaza, a besieged impoverished costal enclave that is smothered by Israel and Egypt is there to tighten Israel's grip. Nothing is guaranteed. Instead of daydreaming, shopping and planning, you just sit and wait and contemplate and wish and hope and work and push and try and apply and ask and…… .
You will have only the last minute to worry about shopping, obtaining international health insurance, packing and all these stuff.
Stay tuned for Phase 2: THE VISA SAGA….. If and whenever that happens.
Love, support, peace, humanity, equality and hugs (and kisses don’t hurt),
Omar from Gaza