Stranded at the border

Palestinians demonstrate near Rafah crossing during a protest against the closure of the border at the southern Gaza Strip, 19 July 2007. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)


My wife and myself, like thousands of other Palestinians, are currently stranded in Egypt since the Rafah crossing to Gaza was closed in mid-June.

We are now staying closer to our home of Gaza. The destination this time is not Cairo. Rather, it’s the coastal town of al-Arish now that my wife has completed her medical treatment in the Egyptian capital.

In the evening of 7 July, we cheerfully smiled for the first time since my wife was hospitalized in a Cairo hospital a month ago, after the doctor assured us she could leave the hospital.

The first thing I thought of was, of course, heading back to Gaza, where our beloved four children, along with the rest of our family, have been anxiously awaiting our return.

For an ordinary traveler, all he or she needs to do is to book tickets. But for us as two Gazan Palestinians, it is not that simple, because Israel has banned our airport from operating since 2000, and since been destroyed by Israeli tanks.

At any rate, we have another means of entering, which is the Rafah crossing terminal. However, Israel has ordered the closure of this crossing for the past five weeks, preventing me from moving, thinking or even fully enjoying that happy moment with my wife.

I had an idea by then — moving towards the closet destination to our home of Gaza. So we moved to al-Arish, about 45 km away from Gaza, hoping we could get to the border as soon as possible so we could resume our lives.

We have been here for two weeks; however, al-Arish’s golden sandy beach, palm trees or even its lit streets haven’t and could never compensate for a single moment with our kids.

Aseel, my ten-year-old daughter, asked us over the phone, “Dad, when you are coming? We are fed up, we want you back.”

I told her very quietly, “Aseel, my darling, we are coming soon, just take care of your brothers and sister, especially Mohammad as you are the eldest, and wish for your mom a speedy recovery.” Mohammad is our eight-month-old baby.

The coastal Gaza Strip, 40 km long and about 10 km wide, is home to 1.4 million people, including my family. We have but one outlet to the outside world — the Rafah crossing terminal, to the south of Gaza.

Despite the fact that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and despite the US-brokered arrangements for running the crossing with the help of European observers, Israel frequently closes the passage to the extent that in 2006 alone, the terminal was only opened for a fifth of the time.

Recently, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to reopen all Palestinian crossings in order to avert a humanitarian crisis.

Unfortunately, the crisis has already begun as the Egyptian Red Crescent Society has provided blankets, food stuffs and medication to hundreds of stranded Palestinians who have run out of money and personal affects — and their patience has run out as well.

Along with these border-bound people in al-Arish, there are about 5,000 Palestinians, 20 percent of whom are medical patients, who staying in other Egyptian border towns like Sheikh Zweaiyed and Egyptian Rafah.

Twenty-eight medical patients have lost their lives at the border since the crisis began in June, according to Palestinian health ministry.

The Rafah crossing terminal is situated on the borderline between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. When exactly my wife and I will be able to cross that line to reunite with our family is left to Israel’s whim.

Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including the Palestine Chronicle, aljazeerah.info, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari at hotmail.com.

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