In an interview with PJM, Ms. Booth says she has tried three times to leave Gaza — once via Erez Checkpoint, which leads into Israel, and twice via the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. She was turned away by both the Israelis and the Egyptians, but told me she holds Israel solely responsible for her predicament. I pointed out that both a senior IDF spokesman and several well-informed Palestinian journalists confirmed that Israel has “zero control” over who crosses the Rafah border. In other words, perhaps Egypt was at least as responsible as Israel for forcing her to remain in Gaza. This elicited an angrily dismissive response from Ms. Booth, who claimed that “high up sources told her” that Israel is pressuring Egypt into keeping her trapped in Gaza. She would not reveal the source of her information, nor did she explain how it would serve Israel to have her stay indefinitely in Gaza.By the way, since I am still upset over the JPost stealing my idea and pretending that they don't steal from bloggers, I was the first blogger to report that members of Free Gaza were stuck in Gaza after being denied permission to cross both the Israeli and Egyptian borders, and the excellent Media Backspin looked at my sources and noticed that Lauren Booth was one of them, before any of her many interviews seeking sympathy.
...Referring to the interview she gave to Noa Raz, I asked if she had compared Gaza to the Nazi concentration camps. “Yes I did,” answered Ms. Booth. And do you really think the situation in Gaza is comparable to that in Darfur, where 400,000 people have been killed over the past five years? “Well,” she said, “Do we want to wait until 400,000 Gazans are dead?” She added that she had visited a camp in Gaza where 16,000 families had malnourished children, and the rate of unemployment hovered around 90 percent. If accurate, these are shocking figures that should concern all Israelis. But does Ms. Booth really expect to arouse our sympathy by making the grossly inappropriate suggestion that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza?
“Do you think that Gaza receives less media attention than Darfur?” I asked. “Absolutely!” the British activist answered vehemently. So I did a search on Google news for “Darfur,” where 400,000 people have been killed over the past five years, and received 13,912 results. A search for “Gaza,” where, according to B’tselem, 810 Palestinians were killed in 2006-2007, brought up 17,605 results.
Asked how long she thought she would be stuck in Gaza, Ms. Booth answered tartly, “As long as the Israelis decide I should be here.” Then she added in a passionate tone, “I must see my children! They are 5 and 7 and they are waiting for me in France!” She did not explain why, if she was so concerned about her children, she elected to stay illegally in Gaza when she had the option of leaving on the same boat that brought her there.
But what irritated me the most about Ms. Booth’s long tirade was her description of what happened at Erez Checkpoint, which leads into Israel. I crossed Erez several times before it was closed to Israelis, and remember it vividly.
According to Ms. Booth, she arrived at the checkpoint without a permit to cross, which means that the Palestinians, who coordinate via phone with the Israeli border police on the other side of Erez, would have prevented her from continuing. Ms. Booth: “I tried to coordinate with the Israelis two days in advance, via the British Council, but that didn’t work. So I went with an old lady who did have a permit to cross, although she had been turned back several times.”
Ms. Booth said she was prevented by Israeli soldiers, who threatened to shoot her. “There were Israeli soldiers on the Gazan side of Erez?” I asked. Hearing the incredulity in my tone, she answered with irritated impatience, “Oh, I don’t know what they were. They were uniformed men with guns, alright?”
“Okay, I said.” “They were Palestinian men guarding the checkpoint. So, did they stop you?”
“Oh no!” she answered. “The Palestinians advised me not to cross, but I walked right into the tunnel and started walking. I was nearly at the Israeli side when a Palestinian man came running up behind me, holding a mobile phone and shouting that the Israelis had told him they would shoot me if I took another step.”
Perhaps the Palestinian border guard really did call his Israeli counterpart to tell him that Ms. Booth was trying to cross into Israel against their orders, and to ask him what the Israelis would do to her if she continued. And perhaps the Israeli border guard really did tell his Palestinian counterpart that he would shoot Ms. Booth if she continued another step. But I really doubt the incident occurred as Ms. Booth recounts it. Here’s why:
The entrance to Israel via Erez is practically impenetrable. It is a maze of turnstiles that lock automatically, bulletproof glass, closed circuit cameras and disembodied voices that issue instructions via the public address system. One does not see an Israeli soldier until one has passed through security, which is remotely controlled. During the June 2007 civil war, dozens of Fatah members took shelter from Hamas fighters in the Erez “sleeve.” But none tried to make a dash for Israel, because it is simply not possible — physically — to just push through.
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