Al Arabiya's correspondent in Gaza was shocked to find Hamas gunmen knocking at his hotel door on Saturday to kick him out of the strip for no reason other than the fact that he was no longer "wanted."
Wael Essam, one of the most famous war correspondents in the Arab world, told AlArabiya.net he was outraged that he was being deported from his homeland and said the gunmen told him Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal did not want him in Gaza.
Meshaal doesn’t want you here
"It was four in the afternoon when two gunmen dressed in police uniform came to the hotel where I was staying. They introduced themselves as officers from the Security and Protection Unit affiliated with Hamas' Ministry of Interior. They were accompanied by an officer from hotel security," Essam told AlArabiya.net.
Essam explained that he was told to pack his belongings and get his passport so that he could be taken to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, where he would leave the strip.
Essam said he tried to resist but one of the officers told him: "Khaled Meshaal doesn't want you here." Essam added he wasn't sure if the officer was being serious or sarcastic.
"We don't know you, and we have nothing against you. We just received orders that you have to leave the strip," the gunmen told him.
Essam said that one of the two officers had previously come to Al Arabiya's office in Gaza, in civilian clothes, and warned him to leave Gaza in two days.
"I am Palestinian and will only leave on a stretcher," Essam told the officer at the time.
Nothing to do with Arabiya
Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said Essam's deportation was an official procedure and had nothing to do with the fact that he works for Al Arabiya.
"We are going to inquire about the reasons for this procedure," Barhoum told AlArabiya.net. "The police must have an explanation, but I don't. We do not interfere in the work of the police."
Essam was done with his work in Gaza, but was planning to spend a few extra days with his friends in the strip, said Dubai-based Nakhla al-Hajj, head of Programs and News at Al Arabiya News Channel.
"How could they kick a Palestinian out of his country? I don't understand," he told AlArabiya.net.
Kicked out of Iraq
Essam, who has reported in some of the world's most dangerous conflict zones, and was in Gaza to cover the Israeli assault that began in December 2008. He also covered Israel's war with Hezbollah in July 2006, the Nahr al-Bared conflict in Lebanon and the civil war in Somalia.
This is not the first time Essam has been kicked out of a country and faced a similar situation in Iraq—where he worked for 10 years—when the government charged him with publishing pictures and reports that incited violence in Falluja after he made a film called The Republic of Falluja.
Essam was jailed for 14 days and although he was found to be innocent of the charges against him, the then interior minister issued an official decree to deport him and he was given 24 hours to leave Iraq and never come back.
"I cannot believe that what happened to me in Iraq, my other homeland, is happening to me now in my native Palestine," Essam said after he was deported from Gaza. "I was kicked out of the two most important countries in my life."
Wael Essam is a Palestinian refugee from Lod in central Israel. His family moved to the West Bank in 1948 after which many of them scattered between Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait. Essam's parents settled in Qatar in 1967.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid.)