Gift of the Givers Team in Gaza
This was going to be the most unconventional response to a major disaster situation in that a rapid decisive intervention was not possible because borders to people dying in hundreds and injured in their thousands were inhumanely sealed off. This is the first war in history where civilians are completely sealed off facing a massacre and extermination, unable to escape through borders of neighbouring countries. It is in this context that our efforts to gain access to Gaza commenced on 21 July 2014.
The journey was long as the whole process had to be facilitated by South Africa's Department of International Relations and Co-operation with the Egyptian Government both through the Embassy in Pretoria and directly in Cairo. Even though the Egyptian Ambassador was called in to Dirco on 24 July and officially informed in writing of our intention to cross the Rafah border the approval only came on 20 August although initially we were told it takes 5 days. The drama didn't end there. Having departed South Africa on 26 August and expecting to travel to Rafah on 28 August we were called by the Egyptian Government and asked not to leave for Rafah even though approval was given in writing to Dirco. A very angry reaction by the South African public to Egypt's response saw thousands of phone calls and emails being sent to the Egyptian Embassy on Friday, 29 August. The reaction was immediate. That same night we were called to say that our approval was immediate and we were cleared to travel. We left at 3 am on Saturday morning and crossed the Rafah border just after 2pm. It was an eleven hour journey but we had no difficulty, obstruction or deliberate delays either at the many Egyptian checkpoints en route or at the Rafah border.
For now the greatest difficulty we have is the non - arrival of our medical equipment and supplies which are holed up in a warehouse in Macedonia as Dirco battles to get clearance from the Egyptian Government for almost a week now. This pattern of obstruction and deliberate delays for the entry of supplies is characteristic of the Egyptians as almost every aid initiative has been frustrated through their intransigence. Inside Gaza there is a shortage of equipment, spare parts and zero availability of at least a 150 categories of essential drugs and zero availability of 52 categories of essential theatre items severely impeding medical procedures which are urgently required for a civilian population in great need of instant medical care.
In spite of these impediments and in spite of the fact that the Egyptians only granted permission to 10 medical personnel to cross Rafah even though we had requested permission for 38 given the huge medical response that is required in Gaza, we are finding ways to be effective.