Use a Tuk Tuk: Part 2
Use a Tuk Tuk: Visiting Gaza in 2015, Part 2
‘We will let you pass,’ the soldier said. My heart leapt in my chest. I will make it across the border! ‘Use a tuk tuk,’ he said, ‘It is a long, narrow and dark area, too long to walk.’
I was able to cross the checkpoint to the Palestinian side. It had been 12 long years. So much had happened. Two wars had taken place in the past five years alone. The Palestinian National Authority was dismissed and Hamas was ruling -- What could be worse? I blinked a few times as I passed the Israeli side. Goodbye, Israeli soldiers! I am in!
But wait, the Palestinians have a checkpoint, too. I am not afraid this time, standing in front of a fellow Palestinian. I wanted to scream with frustration at the continued delay and bureaucracy. ‘It was enough with the Israelis; why you?,’ I ask the Hamas soldier in front of me. ‘I have been away for so long, and this is the way you welcome me?’
‘Oh cool down,’ he replied, ‘I will not inspect you or what you have. It seems you’ve brought electricity with you’ (usually there is no electricity or light by this hour). ‘Welcome, come on in.’
I then called my family. I had 10 missed calls from my daughter and husband, checking to see if I was okay. I talked to them as I was in the taxi on the way to my sister’s home. So many things were on my mind. I was happy, but I had tears. My two brothers, a sister, and cousins passed away and I was not allowed to attend their funerals or visit my family. How much nicer it would be if I were also coming to see them!
I finally arrived at my sister’s. She has Alzheimer’s, but when she saw me, she remembered me very well, and even called out my name. In that moment, I felt pure joy. I came to see her, spend time with her. I knew that these days would be the last we would have together.
My time in Gaza was so limited, and the quickly passing time was a constant reminder that I’d just arrived, and I would soon leave. I was only allowed a two day visit on my permit. I have a large extended family, over 50 people whom I had not seen in 12 years. I felt I was visiting Gaza as a stranger; I was not allowed to decide how long to stay or when to come and go.
I wanted to spend time with my family, I wanted to see the city and destruction that took place in the last war, and I wanted to see the land I inherited from my father. (The land was confiscated by Israel so settlers could build there, but that was a long time ago. The settlement is no longer there, but we cannot build on the whole area because of a ‘security reason,’ and it’s now no-man’s land. So we grow carrots on a small portion of the land, a terrible business really. We are not allowed to export carrots, so they are only sold in Gaza very cheaply.)
When my sister took a nap, I called my brother. I wanted to make the best use of my time, and I wished that the days were longer than 24 hours. Remember, in Gaza we have to hurry and finish our visits before dark. Once electricity is finished for the day, it is very dark and inconvenient to move throughout the city.
My brother picked me up to take me to visit the rest of my family. The longest I could visit each relative’s house was five minutes at the most (this is no exaggeration). It was so quick. Most of them had new houses or moved from their old homes for security or financial reasons. I walked into their home, said mabruk (congratulations) for the new home, and then moved on to the next house.
I also wanted to see what happened in the war. I saw the devastation. It was shocking. It was five months since the war at the time of my visit, but the destruction was so massive, it looked like it had happened yesterday.
When I compared my life in Bethlehem with that of my family in Gaza, I thanked God that I didn’t live here, that I didn’t suffer through those hard times that are not temporary but permanent. I thanked God that my children do not have to go through this, that they live a relatively better life in Bethlehem. Before 2000, Israel used to allow people from Gaza to go and work in Israel, but now no one leaves.
I looked at my extended family, and I cried. They could not leave, as I would.
The clock was ticking. I was running out of time. What should I do next, in the short time left? I found myself feeling like I’m in ‘wonderland,’ like Alice, because things made no sense. Maybe nothing is meant to make sense here in Palestine, and that is why Palestinians are unique, because they try to adapt as much as possible.
Before I knew it, it was time to go. My whole family gathered at my sister’s house, and we took a group picture to capture the memory of these fleeting moments. I said goodbye to all of them with tears, because I knew there will be no second visit.