Use a Tuk Tuk
Visiting Gaza in 2015, Part 1
This is my mother’s story, a reminder that this New Year carries with it old wounds. Gaza is still in our hearts. The injustice of the occupation continues. –Abbsi
I am from the Gaza Strip. I was born and raised here, spending my childhood and teenage years on this small piece of land between Israel, Egypt and the sea. I studied in Egypt, and by the time I graduated, there was war. So I left Egypt to live in Libya. There I met my husband, who is from Bethlehem. After six years we returned to his family and home in the West Bank.
Of course, my family was still in Gaza. We visited often, driving to see them nearly every week. That was long ago. After the second intifada, everything changed. One change was that we were no longer allowed to drive there with our own cars. Then, things got worse. We were completely separated from Gaza, and I was no longer able to visit my family at all. Years passed. Two brothers, a sister, and many more relatives passed away. I was not able to get permission to visit them. Twelve years passed, and all I knew of my one-time home was through media, messages and phone calls I made to my brothers and sisters. I came from a large family, but it felt small the longer we were kept apart, the farther away we felt from each other.
In December 2014, the Israeli military announced in the news that there would be special procedures where those who have relatives in Gaza can go and visit them. I could not believe my ears when I heard the announcement. The next morning I ran to the Palestinian military office and applied for permission. After a few days, I received the response that my request was denied as I did not have a ‘good enough’ reason to go to Gaza. There was a good reason – my family was there, and it was all the more urgent as my sister had cancer, she was dying, and I wished to see her before she went to be with the Lord.
What could I do? My brothers from Gaza requested a medical report, and as soon as I received it, I sent my second request to the Palestinian military office to be sent to the Israeli office (in Gush Etzion). We kept following the news. A week later, I was rejected again.
In December everyone was celebrating the Christmas holiday, but my heart was heavy as my mind searched to find a reason why I was denied entry to Gaza. After applying a third time, I gave up. I was rejected three times, and many others I know were rejected as well. Christmas came and went. New Year’s passed as well. My sister was in pain during chemotherapy; she is no longer young.
On January 18, I received a call from the Palestinian office that I received permission. It was almost four in the afternoon. I immediately went to the office, which is 15 minutes away. Then I rushed home and packed for another 15 minutes. I frantically made phone calls, looking for taxis to go to the Erez Checkpoint. It was difficult for me to do this all on my own. My daughter and husband who applied with me did not receive permission. I accepted this, but I had more to do alone as a result. My daughter helped me call at least four taxis, and none could take me as it was Sunday, and they were not working. One said he was not sure where Erez is, so he might get lost unless I knew how to guide him. It has been 14 years since I last visited my family, so I didn’t want to trust my memory about how to drive there. We didn’t want to take the risk that we would get lost and waste precious time.
We were all panicking because the Erez checkpoint closes at 7:00 pm. I only had two hours to get there, and the distance from Bethlehem to Erez is about an hour and a half’s drive. After another 40 minutes of arguing and calling and anxiety, we finally found a taxi. I left Beit Sahour at 5:20pm, and sure enough, I arrived at Erez at 7:00 pm. The financial burden was great, but I hardly thought about it, ready to enter Gaza.
I had such mixed feelings as I stood before the soldier at the crossing. I was excited, happy, eager. I couldn’t wait to see all of my sisters, especially the one who is sick. And then my brothers and my extended family. Yet I felt humiliated because of my frantic journey, and because of the long, dark ride that awaited me through the checkpoint where Palestinians are treated like animals, herded through bars and walls. I would be put in a narrow area where I could not see, but there is a path. A tuk tuk waits on the side. The walls are high. It is dark, and soon the electricity would be cut off on all of Gaza (they only have electricity 6-8 hours a day).
‘We are closing,’ the soldier said. My heart sank. I am a human. I deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. But this is occupation. I thought to myself, ‘It is okay if I am insulted at this point, so long as they promise to let me in...’
To be continued.