Hello from Rafah

Palestinians carrying empty bottles and other containers gather around the public water taps in the southern Gaza Strip, 2 July 2007. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

28 June 2007

Here in Gaza, we’re all listening to the radio and watching the news every hour (our only way of knowing what’s happening in the outside world), waiting to see what Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), Israel and the US are planning for us, and where our fate will take us.

This has become more than a prison for the people of Gaza. It’s hard not to feel like animals in a zoo, where we are caged and have enough food for two weeks at a time to keep us alive, but not well or free while someone decides what to do with us. At least in a zoo, if an animal gets sick, its taken out of the zoo and taken to a hospital. Here in Gaza, God forbid you get sick or injured — hospitals are packed and one can’t easily go to Egypt or the West Bank for medical attention. So one is at the mercy of those few people that run this gated zoo, Mr. Abbas, Israel, and the Quartet.

Let me say a few lines about the border, just to give you an idea. It is one of the most dehumanizing and demoralizing forms of injustice that the Palestinians have to go through. There are two gates between Egypt and Gaza, one on the Egyptian side and one on the Gazan side. People wait in line to get in, some go and wait at the gate before dawn so they can be first in line. So they start waiting at 3 or 4am until the EU officials decide to come. If they come, they arrive at 9, 9:15, whenever they make it. Sometimes they don’t come at all.

The gate opens every few hours and whoever can make a run for it gets in and who ever cannot run waits. Some people jump over the gate in a desperate attempt to get in, but the Egyptians catch them and send them to the back of the line. The elderly and those with children wait, as they cant run for it. Some of them wait for days. The image that stuck most in my head is the opening of the gate and people fighting to get in, and I couldn’t help but feel like animals running toward our freedom. Nothing was more demoralizing than that moment. Once inside the gate, we go through the Egyptian side of the border, and then we go through the same process with the Palestinians. But this time, the Egyptians (sending us off to Gaza) pack us in buses like sardines, with windows that don’t open in 100 degree weather and the buses wait until the Egyptians open the second gate to get to the Palestinian side of the border. They pack as many people in the bus as they can because the border may close at any point. Our bus had people hanging from the windows, and people on top of the bus. I stood in the bus for two hours. By the time the bus starting moving my shirt was soaked with sweat.

There are currently as many as 5,000 people waiting to get into Gaza, at the gate on the Egyptian side of the border. They are in no man’s land. They can’t go beyond the border further into Egypt. They are Palestinians who don’t have homes in Egypt and some don’t have money to stay in hotels built at the border in Arrej. And they also can’t get into Gaza. So they sit in the sun all day and wait. And every day people die while they wait, from the heat, from exhaustion or of despair at their fate.

I think a lot of us had some hope the day before the Sharm al-Sheikh Summit last Monday — we thought Abbas would represent us, the people of Gaza. We had faith and didn’t think he would abandon us and cut us off from the rest of Palestine, or allow us to live without our freedom. We also thought he would at least negotiate the border closures, or the release of $40 million in aid from the EU that’s waiting and ready (86 percent of Gazans now live below the poverty line, where in March, it was 80 percent). But to our disappointment, Abbas did not mention’s Gaza economic sanctions or the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, nor did he represent us or our needs. Haniyeh, who represents’s Gaza’s needs, who was “disposed to immediately take up this dialogue,” was not welcomed. To punish us even more, Israel is releasing all the taxes it withheld in the last 18 months to Abu Mazen’s government, and Gaza will receive nothing. All the while, Israel is launching missiles at Khan Younis and Sufa, killing 13 and injuring 40.

The meeting was aimed at bolstering Abbas and isolating Hamas, and that’s exactly what it did. But what the world fails to realize is that it’s not Hamas they are isolating, its 1.4 million men, women and children, who like the rest of the world want to live in freedom and who like anyone else have hopes and dreams for themselves and their families. I’ll end with this:

A woman whose 12 year old son was killed in Khan Younis yesterday (he was not a Hamas militant) was on the radio and the broadcaster asked her about what happened. Her response follows:

“Where are you Abu Mazen? Come see my son, he’s dead — where are you? Where are you, you forget about us? And let Israel slaughter us? Come Abu Mazen, come fight off the tanks and missiles. Come, but we won’t move, we stand still and won’t move and won’t leave our homes like Israel has planned for us. We’re standing still and praise be to God, praise be to God, we’re standing still.”

And so we wait to see what is decided for us.

Yassmin Moor is a Palestinian-American writing from Rafah, Gaza. She is currently working to implement a gardening project through an organization she co-founded, Save Gaza. Yassmin can be reached at yasminemoor A T gmail D O T com.

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