“Welcome to the Erez Crossing”. The sign on the way out of Gaza really says this. Yes. Greetings. Welcome to a half a mile of concrete barriers and barbed wire. Welcome to electrical wires and fortified soldiers’ bunkers. Take no notice of the machine guns pointed at your head. Follow the arrows and obey the signs. Put your hands up, leave your bags behind you, walk slowly, show us your passport, tell us what the hell you think you’re doing in this human garbage dump. No, you can’t be trusted. You’re living in Gaza. Welcome to the Erez Crossing. Make yourself at home.
A young, blue-eyed soldier with a crew cut and a machine gun watches me enter the main office at Erez. I say a meek “shalom”; I don’t want to get into a conversation. But he wants to know where I’m from and what’s my name. His eyes pierce mine and he grins in an unpleasant manner. He looks like the stereotype of a Nazi soldier, I catch myself thinking. Don’t. Don’t have that thought. It’s not allowed.
Outside, another hundred meters away, is the last guard post. I pass by it easily, handing over my gate pass, and feel relieved to see that my taxi is waiting for me. But in between me and my last few steps at this God-forsaken transit point is a family of four, a mother, father, and two young children — sitting on the pavement in the sun, the 100-degree-Fahrenheit, humid Gaza sun — waiting for the master boys in uniform to deign to let them back into prison. How many hours have they been kept there in the withering heat?
The soldier at the gate shouts for the father to approach in the tone of voice used for disobedient dogs. I feel sick. “I’m so sorry. I know my country is paying for this.” They’re the only words I can find and I utter them in broken Arabic. The father looks at me surprised. “Never mind. It’s not your fault.”
Worthless lives can sit for hours at the gates of an inferno. No one will ever know. And the man who waited at Ben Gurion airport for ten hours to get permission to return to his Gaza hovel was finally allowed in — without his wife and daughter, who were threatened with deportation for no apparent reason. You never heard about him either or the hundreds with similar stories. Or about the woman sitting in the back seat of a taxi with her child one early morning this past June: Soldiers in a nearby outpost fired bullets through the window of their car killing them both. They have no names, no faces, no relevance.
More than 150 people have been murdered by the Israeli Occupation Forces in the Gaza Strip just since the middle of March. Three made news in the US. The New York Times labeled them “suicide bombers” though they had no explosives on their bodies. They were 14 and 15 year old boys stupidly driven to trespass into the Netzarim settlement, illegally situated on their land. They were shot in the head and chest, ridden over by an armored vehicle that disemboweled and utterly disfigured them, and left to the mercy of dogs until the next afternoon. Do you remember them?
Are we really surprised that an F-16 warplane would drop a 2,000-pound bomb on a family home at midnight killing 15 people, nine of them children and two of them mothers? Where has the outcry been up to now that over a million human beings — treated like refuse, spoken of like vermin, drained of the trappings of basic dignity — live in a ghetto walled off from humanity surrounded and strangulated by an occupying army that kills them at will and with complete impunity? Why should fifteen more deaths matter when the hundreds of others never did?
Because this time the killers were so purposefully indiscreet.
When I step into my taxi for the weekend trip to Ramallah my Arab Israeli driver greets me tentatively at first. I thank him for being at Erez so promptly; for not making have to wait in that miserable place. Anguish fills me when I turn back to look at the entrance to Gaza. Let me try to forget for a while. “Where are you from,” I ask the driver in Arabic, in an attempt to focus my thoughts elsewhere. “I am Palestinian,” he answers me in a voice of controlled calm.
Erez, it seems all your greetings have failed.