FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Welcome to Gaza

by RAMZY BAROUD

The Palestinian security officer at the Rafah border was overly polite. He wore a black uniform and walked around self-assuredly, as he instructed weary travelers on their next moves before being allowed back into Gaza. On the other side of the border, in Egypt, there was much anxiety, fear and anticipation.

‘Things will get better,’ said a Palestinian engineer from Gaza, who once studied and now works in a Swedish town south of Stockholm. What he meant was that things will get better at the border crossing, in terms of the relationship between Gaza and Egypt. Without a decisive Egyptian decision to reopen the crossing ? completely ? Gaza will continue to reel under the Israeli siege. Others agree, but Gazans have learned not to become too confident about political statements promising positive changes.

However, the Egypt of today belongs to an entirely different political category to the Egypt of Hosni Mubarak’s leadership. Palestinians, especially those trapped behind the shut borders in Gaza, are well aware of this. Still they are cautious. ‘Inshallah’ ? God willing, they say, ‘May Allah bring good things.’

For now, things remain difficult at the border. When Egyptian border officials collect passports for examination, and return a few hours later to read aloud the names of those allowed in, a large crowd gathers around them. Tensions soon escalate to yelling, and occasional tears.

‘Go back or I will not give any his passport back,’ shouted a large Egyptian officer with some disdain. The veins on the side of his face suddenly bulked up. The crowd disbanded, only to return seconds later. The officer looked exhausted and clearly fed up. The Gaza travelers had already moved beyond the point of humiliation. They simply wanted to get from here to there, and back.

A young woman with a contorted back trotted behind her mother. Her pain was apparent on her face. ‘Yallah yamma,’ ? hurry, daughter – urged the mother. ‘They might close the gate any minute.’ The girl, in her twenties, paused, closed her eyes tight, as if summoning whatever strength remained in her frail body to carry on for a few seconds longer.

The gate of the Egyptian border point was very wide, but only a small gap of a few feet was open. When it opened, early Thursday, May 19, hundreds tried to rush in at once. Large bags were tossed over people’s heads, children cried in panic, officers yelled, and a few dared to yell back. ‘Just open the gate, the big one,’ someone said. A white-haired little man, in an oversize, ancient suit, stood back and shock his head. ‘It’s a tragedy,’ he said. Soon, he too was forced to lose his civility and push against the mass of desperate humanity. Later, I saw him inside the border point, circling around nervously and intently puffing on a cigarette.

Here at the border, everyone is nervous, even those who have no reason to be. The Egyptian officers are edgy, as if their fate too is being determined somehow. Both sides know that the Gaza-Egypt border is undergoing an important transition. Egypt’s new foreign minister, Nabil al-Arabi, had already promised a breakup with the past, thus an opening of the border between his country and Gaza. There is much trust among Palestinians that the new Egypt is genuine, but also a fear that a politically vulnerable Egypt might be forced to compromise on its early stances.

But the Egyptian people seem determined to keep their government in check. Palestine is a major theme now in large protests. Hundreds of Egyptian activists were arrested, and many were wounded as they rallied near the Israeli embassy in Cairo, which was closed for few days before re-opening again. An Egyptian call to march to Gaza, in commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 ? the Day of Catastrophe ? was aborted after the Egyptian army sealed much of Sinai. Tanks still dot the highway leading from Cairo to Gaza via the Sinai desert. The soldiers are very polite, though. The Egyptian driver who took me to Rafah in a very late hour seemed happiest with the revolution in his country, simply because he is now treated with respect by men in uniform. ‘Officers used to treat us with so much disrespect,’ he said with a retrospective sense of grief. ‘Now, we are like brothers.’ The driver extended his hand for an unnecessary handshake with a noticeably short solider, wearing a pair of slippers.

The sense of joy, however, hasn’t made it to the Gaza border yet. The hope and anticipation that Gazans feel towards the changes underway in Egypt can only be understood after a degree of investigation. The distance between Cairo and Rafah is long and arduous. It will be no easy task to translate political will in the former into meaningful policy in the latter. Still, the Egyptian people are keeping up the pressure, and Palestinians in Gaza remain hopeful.

At the end, no one was turned back. Everyone made it into Gaza. The man with the very old suit was still smoking and cursing for no apparent reason. The girl with the hurt back was still in terrible pain, but also happy to be home. The Gaza-Swedish engineer had a crowd of young cousins waiting for him. In Rafah, I found myself invited to a lunch followed by Arabic coffee with many men I didn’t know, most of whom were called Mohammed. They all seemed happy.

‘So, Egypt has changed, right?’ asked one Mohammed with a knowing smile and a nod. Everyone seemed to agree, although they didn’t pinpoint exactly how that change has affected Gaza so far. Palestinians in Gaza survive largely because of the 500 or so tunnels that connect the impoverished, besieged Strip to Egypt. Now, they feed on hope and cheap cigarettes, much of it also coming from Egypt.

‘Ramzy Baroud,’ called out an older officer loudly. ‘Welcome home, son,’ he said, as he handed me my passport and waved me in. No words could possibly have been sweeter at that moment.

After seventeen years of constant attempts to visit Gaza again, I am finally here.

I am in Gaza. I am home.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail