Sunday, December 10, 2006
By Gideon Levy
"Laila El-Haddad spent the last three weeks in a dismal apartment she was forced to rent in El Arish, Egypt, together with her son Yusuf, who is two years and nine months old. Every few days the two tried to travel to the Rafah border crossing, about 50 kilometers away, attempting to return to their home in Gaza. These were distressful efforts: Together with another 5,000 or so residents of Gaza, who have also been waiting in recent weeks to return to their homes, she was crammed with her toddler for hours in an endless line at the crossing. "Elbow to elbow, like cattle," is how she describes this in her blog, until being pushed back in shame once again.
El-Haddad, a young journalist who splits her time between Gaza and the U.S., can afford to pay $9 per night. But most of the unfortunate people around her, including cancer patients, infants, the elderly and students, the injured and disabled, cannot allow themselves such luxuries. Some of them rent a tent for 1.5 Egyptian pounds per night. The rest simply sleep out in the open, in the chill of night, or crowd together in local mosques.
These people want to return home. Israel does not even allow them this. They are human beings with families, plans and commitments, longings and dignity, but who cares. In recent weeks, even the Palestinian Minister of the Environment, Yusuf Abu Safiya, was stuck there. El-Haddad tells of how the minister could be seen one evening collecting twigs on the beach of El Arish to light a bonfire. During the summer, at least seven people died of heat and dehydration while waiting at the border. For many of those who are ill, the wait is a nightmare that threatens their lives. For students, it means losing an academic year. There is almost no mention of this cruel abuse in the newspapers: After all, the occupation in Gaza has ended.
Without anyone paying attention, the Gaza Strip has become the most closed-off strip of land in the world - after North Korea. But while North Korea is globally known to be a closed and isolated country, how many people know that the same description applies to a place just an hour away from hedonist Tel Aviv?
The Erez border crossing is desolate - Palestinians are not allowed to cross there, foreigners are rarely allowed to cross and Israeli journalists have also been prohibited from crossing during the past two weeks. Only wheelchairs are occasionally pushed through the long "sleeves" of the security check, leading a deadly ill person or someone seriously injured by the IDF to or from treatment in Israel. The large terminal Israel built, a concrete and glass monster that looks like a splendid shopping mall, juts up like a particularly tasteless joke, a mockery. At the Karni crossing, the only supply channel for 1.5 million people, only 12 trucks per day have passed since January. According to the "crossings accord" signed a year ago, Israel committed to allowing 400 trucks a day to pass through. The excuse: security, as usual.