Borderline Bedouin

This video rush captures some of the shots taken while stuck at the Rafah Crossing at the mercy of one Egyptian military general.

The border control had become a playground for Bedouin children and a micro-economy for the Bedouin people living around the Egyptian/Gaza border. The men run bags and goods on trolleys for people passing through the border for one Egyptian pound each time (10 pence). The women sold fresh and dried nuts, seeds and beans.

It was well known throughout the Bedouin the main trade was through the tunnels. It was the largest economy along the border. Under pressure from Israel, the Egyptian authorities built a wall along the entire southern border that cut four metres went into the ground.

Did this stop the tunnels? No. They just dug down twenty metres, underneath the subterranean wall. When people learned we were being stopped from entering Gaza, some offered us the tunnels, jokingly. When desperation took hold and I finally asked about the tunnels, nearly all told me it had become so dangerous in recent weeks that no one would take us through. That week, just before we arrived at the Rafah crossing 19 people had been shot and killed exiting a tunnel into Gaza. One thing we learned very quickly from the Bedouin, many things happened on the border that would never get reported wider than by word of mouth. Like the Israelis shooting the Egyptian military. This was local news only.

The Bedouin are very simple people. They want nothing to do with cities, technology and all the noise and chaos that come with it. They prefer the desert, the quiet and to farm the land – which is not an easy thing to do in a desert. The water sits some sixty metres down in the sand and the only way to extract it is with an extensive water pump system that costs in the region 20,000 Egyptian pounds, nearly twice the average annual wage.

But the Bedouin do not earn an average wage due to their status in Egyptian society. Just like in Israel, they are considered second class citizens, criminals, violent – something to be feared. They earn around 100 Egyptian pounds a day, half the wage of an Egyptian. Those scraping a living on the Rafah crossing earn substantially less. Their living standards and housing reflect this, ignored by the previous regime and certainly no support given to irrigate the desert for agriculture. Add to that brutality the Bedouin faced daily from state security under Mubarak, beaten, arrested, extorted, banished from nearby cities. Their old way of life, that of nomadic tribes had more or less been made illegal, if not just impossible.

But for all the negative talk we heard before leaving for the Rafah Crossing we found the Bedouin, inviting, friendly and warm, quiet, respectful people who just wanted to be left alone to live their lives. Nothing more, nothing less.

© Jason N. Parkinson/

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Egypt/Gaza Border Tension

Egyptian military checkpoint at Rafah Crossing

In the days that protests calling for unification between Hamas and Fatah broke out across West Bank and Gaza, missiles struck Gaza City and machine gun fire regularly rang out along the Rafah crossing, myself and photographer Jess Hurd spent several days trying to get from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, to no avail.

The main point of contention for Egypt, we were told, was the fear of anyone (especially foreign journalists) crossing the border, being killed by the Israeli military and drawing Egypt further into an already tense stand-off.

Whilst stuck on the border east Gaza City was struck with missiles by F16 jets, killing at least two people, a fisherman was shot by naval forces on the coast and agricultural land in East Rafah was occupied.

Scores of people had been killed in tunnel crossings recently and there were even reports that some Egyptian troops had been shot in border skirmishes with the Israeli military. Machine gun fire had become a daily occurrence according to the Bedouin children we spoke with. Anyone who strayed too close to the border was regularly shot at from anonymous grey watch towers peering over from the other side of the wall.

Rafah Crossing

Still, these days stranded in the desert were spent sat around learning about the Bedouins, who had devised their own micro-economy around the border crossing. The women and young girls sold seeds, beans and nuts, the men and boys carried bags and goods from the Egyptian side to the the Palestinian side for one Egyptian pound (10 pence) each way. The most common daily wage in Egypt is 20 pounds (£2). There was also a very lucrative taxi service to Egyptian Rafah, Al Arish and Cairo.

We also learned about the treatment of Bedouins by Mubarak’s police. Extortion, racism, false arrest, arbitrary imprisonment, beatings, torture and murder were all commonplace.So, it came as no surprise to learn all the police were chased out of the Sinai region during the revolution by heavily armed Bedouin, some were killed, and all checkpoints and police stations were burned to the ground.

© Jason N. Parkinson/

Please contact Report Digital to access this material and the extensive six-year video archive.

Police Arrest FIT Watch Activists on Gaza Protest

Police make arrests after FIT Watch activists blocking surveillance cameras on the protest opposing the BBC refusal to broadcast a charity appeal to help people of Gaza rebuild their homes, London, UK. 24/01/2009.

1024X576 25fps footage © Jason N. Parkinson


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