At 30 mph, cars seem as if they are speeding on the dusty road of Qarrara, a village just south of Abu Ali checkpoint and a few minutes north of Khan Younis, in the middle of the Gaza Strip. The checkpoint is open now. F-16s are rumbling overhead on their way to terrorize Rafah. Israeli soldiers are shooting in Mawasi.
It’s been a long wait for thousands of Palestinians milling about in the desecrated fields and road leading to the checkpoint. This is simply to pass from north to south in the Gaza Strip. The heavily armed Israelis sitting in sniper towers at the checkpoint may shoot to frighten or to kill. It is the local Israeli military government that gives the order to open or close a checkpoint. They arrive in a white jeep. These are also the people who often crawl through the streets, taunting and shouting that curfew is imposed.
Last night when the checkpoint finally opened after hours of waiting, hundreds of Palestinians walked past carrying their belongings. One man among the exhausted fell down on the street. He was on the ground for five minutes surrounded by people trying to help him. He got up and kept walking.
Palestinians have been waiting for days to enter Mawasi, a 12 km long and 1 km wide strip of land almost on the Mediterranean, just west of Qarrara. It is divided in to two main areas, Khan Younis Mawasi and Rafah Mawasi, and is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements. Under international law, all Israeli settlements are illegal.
Today was the third day of waiting at this checkpoint, called Tufah, on the road between Khan Younis and Mawasi. To enter or exit Mawasi Palestinians must wait for days or months. Israel will not allow Palestinians access to the beach or to most of their land. This is considered a “yellow” area. It is not Area A, B, or C. Some refer to it as “C Extra” or “Special C”. It is under such Israeli control that Palestinians are not even allowed to have running water.
When the Tufah checkpoint opened three days ago it was after 20 days of closure. Palestinians spend the day waiting, never knowing when it will open, but must seek shelter at night away from the checkpoint in Khan Younis. Israeli soldiers spend the nights shooting from their towers into the refugee camp and waiting area.
An 80-year old woman showed me her Israeli issued I.D. card that proves to them she is a resident of Mawasi, “like in prison.” This is similar to the cards issued to all Gazans by Israel when they were allowed to leave the Gaza Strip long ago if they underwent a search and swiped their cards through a machine on their way in and out. The letters on the card are written in Hebrew. The elderly woman, dressed in black, is a number in the thousands.
A boy about 15 showed me his card and the plastic holder where the Israeli soldiers wrote his Mawasi ID number. He asked me to write down his number and do something on his behalf. Local volunteers told me that the waiting Palestinians and I would be shot at if I even took a photograph here.
A young boy, saying he is 13 years old but looking 9, waits everyday with 10 other kids. They work at the checkpoint. When trucks come to deliver food only a few are allowed passage when the checkpoint is open. Israel gives or denies permission. The job of the young boys is to ride with the trucks through the checkpoint. Israel will not allow any truck without at least 3 people in it to pass. Israel requires this is in case the truck blows up. The little boy stands in front of me offering a tangerine.
Two UN trucks full of sacks of food turned around and left. There is an illegal Israeli settlement called Tel Katifa surrounding the Tufah area of Khan Younis Mawasi. The population of the settlement is 15 Israeli families on 176 dunams of land. There are over 3,000 Palestinians in Khan Younis Mawasi. The 60 settlers have 2 km of the Mediterranean beach for their personal use. The Palestinians have none.
A family of seven, including two small children, sat against a stone wall on the ground. They had several bags with them and waved me over. This family has been sitting here for two days. They went to Khan Younis from Mawasi for medical service.
The repressive closure of this area of Mawasi has choked the population to the point, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and many other NGOs, that there are no basic services except for a school for the children. Fishing and agriculture are disallowed by Israeli policy. There is no infrastructure, no electricity or water. For Palestinians cultivation of their own land is prohibited by Israel. I am told, “you can see with your own eyes,” but the Israeli military forbid me to pass through.
Kristen Ess is a political activist and freelance journalist from New York City, who has lived in the West Bank and Gaza since March 2002, where she does solidarity work and reports for Free Speech Radio news and Left Turn magazine.