It was great to finally meet Karem Shehada (left) and Mohammed El-Madhoun (right) tonight. Mohammed is the editor in chief of Watania Media Agency, Gaza’s most prominent news outlet and Karem is head of IT. The two were co-participants with myself and Beirut Report in 4M, a six month accelerator program to support independent media in the region. But Karem and Mohammed never made it to Beirut– where the program was being held– until today, for the last week of the cycle. This is because of repeated closures at the Egyptian/Gaza border following the war, as well as the election of Egyptian general, Abdel Fatah Al Sisi. (Palestinians were far freer to travel and cross the border under deposed president Morsi, they said).
At 25, it was Karem’s first time out of Gaza and first time on an airplane. It was Mohammed’s first time on a plane since he was a child. But the trip was not easy. The two had to travel to the border–which they say can only be accessed through “wasta” (connections) and where they say Egyptian guards charge up to a whopping $700 per person for crossing– far out of the range of most Gazans. Once in Cairo, they and other Palestinians are escorted to the airport, where they are held in the basement–they are not allowed out and there is barely any food inside. Along with the other Palestinians, they were forced to sleep on the floor overnight and had to pay triple or quadruple the price to have food brought to them by Egyptian airport workers. Both were really excited to be here. “I’m trying to absorb everything,” Karem said, wide-eyed and with a big smile as he looked up and down Hamra street.
They only had one complaint: “I can’t believe how slow the internet is,” Karem exclaimed, telling me the upload and download rates in Gaza are 4mbps, more than 4 times the average download speeds in Beirut and more than 10 times the upload speeds.