“Only God knows” in Gaza, under cruel Israeli-Egyptian siege
I have tried many times to write about my experience at the closed Rafah border crossing with Egypt that has left thousands of people in Gaza stranded. Every time I start, a deep sigh comes over me. Shortly after I feel paralyzed, and finish by tearing apart my draft. I have never found it this difficult to write about a personal experience. No words can capture all the suffering and pain our people in Gaza deal with collectively under this suffocating, inhumane Israeli-Egyptian siege.
As I write, I am supposed to be somewhere in the sky, among the clouds, flying to Istanbul to begin my graduate studies. But I could not catch my flight, as I am still trapped in the besieged Gaza Strip, sitting in darkness during the power cuts caused by fuel crisis, trying to squeeze out my thoughts during what is left of my laptop’s charge.
As much as I am attached to Gaza City, where I was born and spent all 22 years of my life, each day I spend trapped in it makes me despise living here. Each day that passes makes me more desperate to set myself free outside this big, open-air prison. Each day makes me unable to stand the mounting injustice, torment, brutality and humiliation.
Hardships and happiness
I have never experienced as many extreme ups and downs as I did this month. Despite the hardships throughout September, I also had some immensely happy moments. I think will remember them the rest of my life. This is life in Gaza: highs amid lows, everything in the balance, nothing secure from day to day, no plans, no guarantees.
At the beginning of September, I started the process to secure my visa for Italy. I am supposed to be there on 10 October to celebrate the publication of my first book, the fruits of my work over more than three years of writing. It is the Italian version of my blog, Palestine from My Eyes, which I started in May 2010. My book launched on 22 September. It was impossible for me to attend its release in Italy.
My blog was never about me as an individual. It is rather about a young Palestinian woman who grew up in the alleys of a densely inhabited refugee camp with an imprisoned father. It is about a woman whose awareness of her Palestinian identity was shaped in a besieged city under the brutal Israeli occupation. My blog is about our people, who are routinely dehumanized and whose stories are marginalized and unknown to the majority outside. It was about our Palestinian political prisoners and their families, whose lost and missing loved ones have become statistics, numbers which fail to communicate all the injustices they face under the Israeli Prison Service, which denies them their most basic rights.
The book, inspired by the harsh and complex reality we are forced to endure, makes me feel that my responsibility as a voice for our Palestinian people has doubled. Some amazingly dedicated Italian friends are fixing a busy schedule of events, book fairs, conferences and presentations in many different cities. My presence in Italy is very important, because I am sure few people there have met Palestinians. I am anxiously waiting for the Rafah border to open so I can be there for these events, to help my book spread as widely as possible.
I read on Reuters last Tuesday: “According to Abbas’s request, Egypt agrees to reopen Rafah border crossing on Wednesday and Thursday for four working hours each.”
My first reaction was laughter. Where was Abbas while the Rafah border was closed to thousands of patients seeking medical care abroad which they cannot access in Gaza, or students whose dreams to pursue their education overseas were crushed?
We are not only paying the price for the unsettled situation in Egypt. We have even become the victims of our own divided Palestinian leadership. It makes me furious to think that the opening of Rafah crossing, a lifeline for our people in Gaza, has come under the influence of the internal division between political parties competing to seek favors from our colonizers. The ruling factions seem to have become participants in the collective punishment we suffer.
The headline infuriated rather than relieved me. Opening the Rafah border for eight hours over two days was not a solution to the crisis caused by the complete closure of Rafah for more than a week.
The same day, in the taxi heading home, I received a call telling me I finally got a visa to Italy. I was so happy I forgot the conservative nature of my society and started screaming out of happiness in the car. The visa process took shorter than I thought. I called my friend Amjad Abu Asab, who lives in Jerusalem and received my passport for me, since Israel prevents Palestinians in Gaza from visiting the city, urging him to find someone coming into Gaza via the northern Erez checkpoint on Wednesday.
This can be my chance to leave Wednesday or Thursday, I thought. My happiness didn’t last. “Erez checkpoint will be completely closed from Wednesday until Sunday, 22 September, because of the Jewish holidays,” Amjad said. “No express mail, and no person, can cross Erez to Gaza during this period.”
“What an absurdity!” I screamed. “When the Rafah border crossing finally reopens, Erez checkpoint closes. We have to deal with Israel from one side and Egypt from the other. How long will we live at the mercy of others? There must be some emergency exit.”
Life of uncertainty
“The definition of uncertainty in the dictionary is Gaza,” my fellow Electronic Intifada writer Ali Abunimah once told me. That describes in short my life at the moment, and the lives of our people generally: a life of uncertainty.
I had no choice but to wait for the Jewish holidays to end for Erez to reopen and to get my passport. But on Wednesday, I insisted on going to Rafah. I refused to sit at home, powerless, unable to do anything but wait. At Rafah border crossing, I saw a gate of humiliation. People crowded on top of each other, roamed the waiting hall, waited impatiently for some news to revive their hopes, and ran after policemen, asking for help and explaining their urgent need to travel.
I met many of my fellow students who were stuck as well. They came with their luggage, hoping they could leave, but ended up dragging it back home.
I stayed until 2:00pm, hoping that I could at least register. I did, I think. I explained my situation to a policeman at the gate. He took my scanned copy of my passport and returned after about five minutes, saying, “Your name is registered.” I am not sure what he meant, but he did not say anything else. I asked him if there was a certain date I could leave. His reply was, “Only God knows.” I wish someone could tell me when I will be able to leave so I can have a break from worrying. But no one knows anything, “only God knows.”
While doing an interview with the Real News Network that morning at the border, an elegant elderly man in a formal black suit and holding a black bag interrupted. “I would like to make an interview,” he said. “I speak English, and if you like, I can do Hebrew.” The old man looked very serious as we awaited his poignant words. “This border, all this area, was mine. They came and stole it.” As he continued, the Real News crew and I realized the interview was descending into farce. “I have bombs in this bag and I can explode the whole place in a second!” the man said. We started laughing and said jokingly, “Go explode, then. We’re standing by you.” Yes, this Rafah gate of humiliation must be wiped away so we, Palestinian people in Gaza, can have some breath of freedom.
The Rafah border crossing closed again after 800 persons left to Egypt on Wednesday and Thursday. I am sure this closure would be easier to understand if it was a natural disaster. But knowing that other human beings are doing this to me and 1.7 million other civilians living in Gaza, while the rest of the world looks on, is too difficult to believe. It is more painful and shocking to realize that our neighboring Arab country, Egypt, is joining our Zionist jailers and collaborating with them to tighten the siege.
This experience made me believe that human dignity has become a joke. International law is nothing but empty, powerless words printed in books. We are denied our right to freedom of movement, our right to pursue our education, our right to good medical care, and our right to be free or to live in peace and security. But no one in power bothers to act.
I spent September worrying about the border and my dreams which may fade away if Rafah remains closed. This takes a lot of my energy and makes me suffer from lack of focus and sleep, and makes it hard for me to sit and express myself in writing or with a drawing. Our people’s tragedy caused by the ongoing closure of Rafah border continues, and the crisis is deepening. Living in Gaza under these circumstances is like being sentenced to a slow death. Act and set us free. It is time for these injustices we face on a daily basis to end.
You are in my prayers I know that God will ultimately prevail.
May peace be with you.
September 25, 2013 at 7:38 am
September 25, 2013 at 5:45 pm
What a beautiful and poignant drawing. Your words describing the situation in Gaza are very touching and make me feel also so angry against all our governors who are so coward and just powerless regarding this situation. Not powerless, no. Just inhuman in their support to the oppressing forces. I’m French and all this makes me disgusted and so shameful of the position of the French government, and also the European community,concerning Palestine.But believe me, many, many people are becoming aware of this situation and just don’t take for granted any longer what the media try to make us believe. I feel so humble in front of you, I think you’re very strong and brave and your writings are just so powerful. I just wish your book will be a great success (Are you planning a French version?) inshaAllah and hope you’ll be able to travel to Italy and also to Istanbul to study. Good luck and God bless you. wassalamu aleikum
September 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm
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Is it that….The popular uprising against the MB in Egypt has, in effect, brought the Egypt military at odds with the MB linked Hamas. Egypt is battling extremism in Sinai and wants to cut off Hamas support via Rafah. The collective punishment on the people of Gaza inflicted by the barbaric Israel, is inadvertently being shored up by Egypt military. But, I believe, this is not the long term agenda of Egypt whether they receive US ‘aid’ or not. The Egypt revolution(s) were not about this. In fact, justice for Palestine and Syria is a big factor in the direction Egyptians want to go.
September 25, 2013 at 2:57 pm
I had no idea of this. An airport in Gaza to espcape? A sailboat? No other way out?? God bless you for your struggles. It will have to end soon, yes? I pray you are in Italy by the end of the year. Thank you for shedding light on the blight of the Palestinians. I do follow Harry Fear and he’s educated me as well. Linda in New York.
September 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm
I wish all you mentioned was available but we are occupied from land, sea and air. We used to have an airport in 2000 but it worked for only two year and then got completely bombed by Israel war planes. My people in Gaza aren’t allowed to go farther than 3 miles in the beach or else the Israeli navy start shooting at them and arrests them. We live in an unbelievably cruel siege, Israel from one side and now Egypt from the others.
September 25, 2013 at 5:56 pm
the Palestinian factions need to unite and declare independence.
September 25, 2013 at 8:01 pm
The shame of a nation, Egypt’s current complicity with the disgraceful and inhumane blockade of Gaza. And that shame is shared by the international community that still refuses to hold Israel to account for what is an ongoing human rights abuse, collective punishment. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, your blog becoming a book Shahd. Now people with get an idea of how cruel the blockade is with the collation of your stories of life in Gaza over the last three years.
InshAllah more eyes will be opened, more voices will be raised, the call for the ending siege of Gaza will become a deafening thunder that cannot be ignored.
September 26, 2013 at 12:16 am
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So sorry to know of your pain, and that of others. i hope for the very best.
September 26, 2013 at 1:52 am
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I just reblogged this post. with the comment “The daily experience of a young woman trying to leave Gaza to continue her studies abroad now that the border crossing points are closed by Israel and Egypt.”
September 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm
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Reblogged this on Free UniversE-ity.
October 4, 2013 at 8:08 pm
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